The wines — deep, rich cabernet sauvignons — are almost incidental in the busy lives of Ron and Lisa Wicker. The fabric of their lives is made up of so many strands, it’s hard to count them all.
Woven into their 10-year marriage and a love of family and friends, are photography, the sport of fly fishing, their Howell Mountain property and their unwavering desire to ensure that everything is done right.
Their lives revolve around Wicker’s vineyard management company — he said he’s been doing that forever — and their home and vineyard.
It was nine years ago when the Wickers first saw the Howell Mountain property, its house and vineyards. They fell in love with it. Before the June 2000 closing date, Wicker arranged with the owner to tend the vineyards. “He wasn’t here full-time, just up on weekends, and I stepped in,” Wicker said. “I had a way I wanted to do things.”
Wicker pronounced the grapes they harvested that year, “incredible fruit.” Then he spent the entire summer of 2001, “beating on the door” of Dennis Johns, owner of White Cottage Ranch Winery. Finally, two weeks before harvest, Johns agreed to make the Wickers’ wine.
Four acres of the property are in vines, first planted in 1990. When the Wickers bought the property half of the vines were reasonably healthy, but the other half needed replacing. They pulled the vines by hand and replanted with clone 337 cabernet sauvignon vines from Lake County’s Grapevine Nursery.
Wicker characterizes his life so far as “a fun ride.” He grew up in Pope Valley where his father was the county trapper for 30 years.
“He was the ultimate outdoorsman and public servant,” Wicker said. “Everybody loved my dad. There was a surprise 80th birthday party at the Farm Center and everybody was there.”
Wicker graduated from St. Helena High School in 1966, attended Fresno State and graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1970. He went to work for Laurie Wood, who was hired to develop the Foote Ranch in Knights Valley, before it fell out of escrow. Next, when Wood was a partner at Freemark Abbey, Wicker worked in the cellar.
“It was really beneficial for me to get a sense of what happens to the fruit,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about wine.”
Today Wicker does what he can in his hillside vineyard off Crestmont Drive, but added, “I have a management company to run,” so when additional vineyard work needs to be done he’s likely to send some of his top guys to the property. The men, Lisa Wicker said, “are very proud to be working for the boss on his property.”
When it comes to describing a Wicker cabernet, the vintner claims he’s “short on lingo.”
“What’s important,” he said, “is for people to enjoy our wines.”
Last week as the couple sat at their kitchen table, Ron Wicker poured three glasses of the 2003 cabernet sauvignon and invited a visitor to sample the wine made from their grapes. After sniffing and sampling, the response was a quiet but heartfelt, “Wow.”
A smile spread across Wicker’s face. “We wait for the ‘wow’ factor,” he said. “I think this wine is going to get better. The ‘wow’ is from the fruit. This is pure cabernet fruit.”
Nothing is static in the Wickers’ lives. In October, Lisa Wicker left the company where she had worked for 14 years.
“It was time for me to leave them,” she said, “although it was not a good time with the economy the way it is.” She’s still adjusting, she admitted. Before, “I knew what I was going to do from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. I had to find out where I fit.”
Where she fits, she soon learned, is helping her husband sell the wine and sharing it with friends and family.
“Lisa has a phenomenal ability to make people believe in the wine,” her husband said. “She has a genuine enthusiasm about wine and life in general.”
She has decided it’s now time to be in the vineyard — “I’ve never seen us harvest our grapes,” she added — and time to go up to White Cottage Ranch Winery where their wine was made, first under Johns’ watchful eye and now by winemaker Rudy Zuidema.
The Wickers are distributing the wine through their Web site and selling it to friends. Their distribution area will soon include the Napa Valley, the Bay Area and maybe in Wisconsin, where they also have good friends.
No matter what’s next, however, it’s clear the two will keep busy — which is just the way they like it.