Profiles in wine: Craig Holme, national sales manager, Tonnellerie Radoux

Craig Holme plays a crucial, little-noticed role in the wine industry.|

Craig Holme planned to spend only three months in California.

An Australia native, Holme had traveled to the Golden State to do a winemaking internship at Cakebread Cellars in Napa. That’s where he met Julie, a fellow intern and Napa native who would become his wife.

“As it turned out, we’d both planned to do a harvest internship in South Africa that spring,” said Holme, national sales manager for Tonnellerie Radoux, USA, an oak barrel producer in Santa Rosa. “It was a great coincidence because the harvests were at sister wineries. We ended up moving around a lot after that, but eventually landed back in California. I just love it here.”

The journey into wine

Born and raised on a sheep and cattle farm in Mount Benson, South Australia, Holme first became involved in the wine industry while working on his parents’ vineyard. From there, he studied wine science in South Australia, then went on to manage several vineyards in the region including Benson Hills and Cape Jaffa Wines.

After awhile, however, he realized it was winemaking that really intrigued him.

“I loved the science aspect of winemaking,” Holme said. “I loved the process — fermenting something and making a product with the grapes.”

Over the next 20-plus years, Holme dove deep into wine production, taking on winemaking roles at Vina Robles Winery in Paso Robles, Lewis Cellars in Napa, Chalk Hill Estate in Windsor and Holme Estate Cellars, a winery he launched with his wife.

The transition to oak barrel sales arrived when he and Julie decided to start a family.

“We really needed someone to look after the kids, so barrel sales seemed like a wise choice,” Holme said. “I didn’t have any sales experience, but I had a ton of winemaking experience and that made all the difference. I could talk to winemakers about barrels from a personal point of view.”

A competitive space

In 2016, Holme was hired as sales account manager at Tonnellerie Radoux, a company that produces and distributes French, American and Hungarian oak barrels, tanks and adjuncts (oak additives) for the wine, beer and spirits industries. With headquarters in Jonzac, France, Radoux expanded to the United States in 1994 when they set up an American outpost in Santa Rosa.

Today, Holme serves as national sales manager at Tonnellerie Radoux, where he oversees the U.S. sales team and manages all sales and distribution in the Napa Valley.

“It’s a great industry,” Holme said. “It’s fun connecting with winemakers, and I get to meet a lot of great people. The hardest part is the competitive nature of the business.”

For the average wine consumer, wine barrels aren’t top of mind. But for most winemakers, they are an integral part of the process. As a result, barrel sales is a competitive business. Holme said he and his team have to stay on their game.

To keep a competitive edge, Tonnellerie Radoux has developed a new technology called OakScan, which scans each barrel stave to determine tannin level and quality. That enables them to source oak from different forests then combine staves with similar tannin levels into a single barrel to maintain quality.

Staying in tune with what winemakers want is also important. For that, the company looks to Jean Hoefliger, a noted wine consultant who provides guidance on barrel toast levels that will appeal to winemakers.

As competitive as the barrel business is, Holme said he loves his job. As for making wine in the future, he said it will likely be just for fun rather than business.

3 questions with Craig Holme

Question: Is there a particular style of barrel that is trending right now?

Answer: Starting around 2005, winemakers have requested barrels with softer tannins. We call them “respecting the fruit” barrels. That is still the main style people want.

Q: Are you working with any up-and-coming wine regions?

A: We just started working with some wineries in Texas, where the grapes are typically grown in the north. The wines have definitely gotten better over the last 10 years. Right now, we have a consultant working with Texas winemakers to determine a barrel style they like.

Q: Tell me a little-known fact about you.

A: I love to make bread in a Dutch oven, especially sourdough.

You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or sarah.doyle@pressdemocrat.com.

Sarah Doyle

Wine & Lifestyle Reporter

Wine is the indelible heartbeat of Sonoma County. As the wine industry continues to evolve, my job is to share the triumphs, challenges and trends that affect our local wine region, while highlighting the people — past and present — who have contributed to its success. In addition, I cover spirits, beer and on occasion, other lifestyle topics.

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