Bedrock Wine to Open Plaza Tasting Room

Twain-Peterson connects historic vineyard with historic building in city of Sonoma

by Stacy Briscoe
Now known as the General Joseph Hooker House, the Sonoma, Calif., structure was built in the 1850s by Hooker who was then a lieutenant colonel. Hooker would serve as a general in the Civil War.

Sonoma, Calif.—“We had zero plans to open a tasting room because we don’t really need one per se,” said Morgan Twain-Peterson, owner and winemaker of Bedrock Wine Co. “It was really just a function of happenstance.”

It seemed like fate when Sonoma’s Hooker House, located at the back of El Paseo alley off First Street East in downtown Sonoma, Calif., came up for lease at the beginning of 2017. The historic salt-box style house, erected in the 1850s by Army Lt. Colonel Joseph Hooker, has been preserved by the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation since the 1970s. Twain-Peterson himself remembers taking many a school field trip to the museum. Hooker would later serve as a general in the Civil War. 

But more than just childhood memories tie the winemaker to the property.

Twain-Peterson grew up in Sonoma, immersed in the wine industry alongside his father Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood Winery. In 2005, Peterson purchased his first vineyard: the 152-acre Bedrock Vineyard — the last remnant of Hooker's 400-acre ranch, containing old vines dating back to 1888.

Twain-Peterson calls Bedrock Vineyard the “foundation” of his family’s winery. “My dad always quipped for the first 30 years of starting Ravenswood that he would never own a vineyard,” he said. “However, the family’s purchase of it provided the impetus and motivation for me to start Bedrock Wine Co.”

When the Hooker House became available to rent, Twain-Peterson jumped at the opportunity to connect the historic vineyard with the historic home and share Sonoma’s winemaking history with the public. “This is the first time [the Hooker House] has ever come up for lease. The connection, the story, was too good to pass up.”

Just in time for city approval
The new tasting room comes at a time of controversy for the city of Sonoma. On Dec. 4, 2017, the city council approved an interim moratorium on wine tasting facilities near the town’s large central park, called the plaza. The moratorium, scheduled to last until September 2018, is intended to put a pause on the opening of new tasting rooms while the city determines “what constitutes healthy business diversity and an appropriate balance of resident-serving and visitor-serving uses,” according to the notes from that December meeting.

The city council reports that since 2012, the number of tasting rooms in Sonoma’s Plaza District has increased from 13 to 23, noting retailers and residences alike worry about maintaining the integrity of the historic downtown: “Sonoma’s history of tourism is connected to our historical assets...its legacy of historic structures is unique and it differentiates the downtown from other commercial settings, ” states the City’s summary from the Study Session on Wine Tasting Rooms and Related Businesses meeting conducted last September.

Luckily for Twain-Peterson, along with four other winemakers who have recently opened tasting rooms, he applied for his permits before the moratorium took effect.

Twain-Peterson, who received his degree in history and political science from Vassar College, said he’s working with the Sonoma League to curate historical exhibits within his tasting room. “I want to continue the ethos of what the house has been about for the past 30 years. I’m using it as a tasting room, but want to focus on the education as well,” Twain-Peterson said.

From a chicken coop to 10,000 cases
Twain-Peterson founded Bedrock Wine Co. in 2007, making wine in a chicken-coop-turned-winery in a friend’s backyard. The first wines were “heritage wines,” made from old vine field-blends from the 27 inter-planted varieties in his Bedrock Vineyard, as well as a few small-lot single varietals harvested from the Petersons’ partner vineyards. Today, alongside business partner Chris Cottrell, who joined Twain-Peterson in 2013, Bedrock Wine Co. produces more than 30 wines in, what Twain-Peterson calls “an unsexy but well thought out winery” in the warehouse district south of Sonoma on Eighth Street East. Grapes are harvested from various vineyards throughout the state, and total case production reaches 10,000 to 12,000 a year — 80% of which is sold DtC through the winery’s mailing list.

“I worked on starting the mailing list, even before I sold the first wine,” said Twain-Peterson. As a young winemaker, Twain-Peterson started a blog, writing about his experiences and engaging with his readership. “I encouraged people to provide input on labeling and created online polls to learn how to market the wine,” he said.

He was also an early adopter of the online wine community Wine Berserkers. “At that time — 10 or 11 years ago — there were a lot of people looking at those boards,” he said.

It is through the foundation of a solid online presence that Twain-Peterson was able to form the building blocks of his successful mailing list-only sales.

But the real key to his strategy, said Twain-Peterson, is his prices.

“Our first wines were released in the height of the economic crisis,” said Twain-Peterson, who noticed that during this time, people didn’t stop drinking but they did “drop wineries” who increased prices. “I saw wineries face-plant during that time,” he said.

With respect to his consumers and the fragility of the wine business, Twain-Peterson said he’s never raised his prices, maintaining an average bottle price of $30. Despite numerous accolades from renowned critics he said, “I don’t want to put wine on a pedestal. …I’m willing to take a lower profit margin from the mailing list because we make so much from the list.”

Bedrock Wine Co.’s mailing list has increased about 25 times its initial membership. Though Twain-Peterson won’t disclose the actual size of the current list, he stated the current wait list consists of “a few thousand people.”

Twain-Peterson suspects Bedrock Wine Co. will do well in its first brick-and-mortar and is confident the venue will support his already successful DtC mailing list sales. “We’ve never had to do much in the way of hard selling or marketing,” he said. “The wines speak for themselves. I’m fully confident on just relying on that.”

Bedrock Wine Co. is scheduled to soft open the Hooker House tasting room in a few weeks. 

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