Kathy Marcks Hardesty: Wines exclusive to club members
It’s really quite rare to find a winery that sells exclusively to wine club members and online, or to anyone visiting the tasing room, yet that’s exactly how it’s done at Carhartt Family Wines in Los Olivos.
Although the vineyard and tasting room have been entirely owned and managed by Mike, Brooke, and Chase Carhartt, they have never departed from that sales philosophy. After inheriting the Rancho Santa Ynez from Mike’s father, who registered the dairy and cattle brand in 1969, Mike registered the ranch as Carhartt Vineyard in 1996.
In fact, Mike grew up on the ranch starting at the young age of 6, where he learned to raise cattle and horses the cowboy way. The Carhartts’ son, Chase, explained that his grandfather moved Mike there in the 1950s and he noted, “The ranch foreman raised my dad.”
It was also in 1996 when Mike planted 10 acres of vineyards, merlot and syrah, planning to sell their harvest to winemaker friends in the Valley. But his wife, Brooke, who earned a master’s degree in psychology, became interested in winemaking.
In 1998, she made one barrel each of merlot and syrah. The results were so good, she began increasing the volume, making more wines each new vintage. Today, the wines are still made at the original ranch Mike founded in 1996. And their son, Chase, is Brooke’s enthused co-winemaker.
Over the coming years, changes grew the brand from making a few barrels to being a highly regarded family business making 7,000 cases annually in 2021. Chase, who graduated with an enology degree at Cal Poly in 2012, told me proudly that his mom was a “self-taught winemaker.”
To further hone his craft, while still attending Cal Poly in 2010, Chase began traveling round the world working harvest with winemakers in South Africa, the Rhone Valley in France, Tasmania in Australia, and Patagonia in Argentina. He was quite fortunate to be able to gain such valuable experiences.
Over the past three years, the Carhartts have been busy reworking the brand to better emphasize what they truly are, a family business run with enthusiasm and zeal in their efforts to evolve. The brand has been renamed Carhartt Family Wines; it’s now a multivineyard and winemaking ranch that focuses on remaining intimate and direct-to-consumer.”
“We don’t sell to retailers or restaurants, we’re 100% direct,” Chase explained, adding that his parents worked hard to create the family business. “We have a wine club focus, and put a lot of time into our relationship with our customers. We also surround ourselves with thoughtful people who are good at what they do in their jobs.” His dad, Mike, has always been the viticulture expert.
Recently, they created new wine labels, making Rancho Santa Ynez, the family’s original home, a focal point. The various colors represent the Santa Ynez Valley and the Central Coast, and help define their lineup of wines. They also have an awesome new website to better communicate with their members and patrons. My interview with Chase was enlightening, and I was surprised at discovering this spring is the 25th anniversary of Carhartt Family Wines. But I did enjoy learning more about this family brand, and learning about Chase, who’s only 32 years old.
I met Chase at the tasting room patio on a Wednesday, and despite it being a day when many tasting rooms are closed, they were busy. It was definitely a safe, socially distanced setup, but Los Olivos was a busy little town that day. Chase admitted that they get so many visitors on weekends, reservations are required. But they will accept walk-ins if tables are available.
The lineup was excellent, and I liked everything Chase presented. The wines show great balance and depth without going over the top in being overly ripe, hot wines (meaning high alcohol), including wines that are normally fruit bombs like zinfandel and petite sirah.
“My mom has always treated wine varieties with delicacy, and takes care with every wine we make.” Although Chase follows his mom’s lead with the classic varietals they produce, he has his alternative label, Carhartt Venture. It’s inspired by his world travels to various wine-producing countries. “Those wines are more progressive, made to be whatever they want to be, I simply go with it,” Chase added. “I’m always changing up the wine list in the tasting room. It’s like dining in a restaurant; I always want something fresh of good quality when I return.”
Your best deals will come by joining the “Rascals Wine Club.” The more you sign on for, the better the price breaks. You join by buying two, four, six, or 12 bottles for each shipment. The wines are shipped, or you can pick them up at the tasting room, with each of the four seasons.
Among the perks in joining the club, you get numerous complimentary tastings, special shipping rates, and discounts. There are many invitations to club events, like wine release parties, winemakers’ dinners, pop-up wine tastings, harvest brunch, the chili cook-off and much more.
“Because we don’t distribute (retail), our wine club is the centerpiece of our business, the focal point where we direct an immense amount of time and energy,” Chase explains on their new webpage at carharttfamilywines.com. “It’s no secret that members of our club truly get the best we have to offer. Thank you for your continued support over the years; it means the world to us, and we will continue to be the best we can be for our loyal following.”
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