For Rick Moshin, years of doing the work himself have paid off



We've all heard how expensive it is to start a winery, and that if you don't have the money, you need a lot of time to do it yourself.

Rick Moshin can tell you how much time. Twenty years after making his first wine and five years after beginning to build his Russian River Valley winery, Moshin feels like he's over the hump. Barely.

But it took 4? years to go from raw land to plans to permits to truck and tractor work, to welding, planting, painting, and dozens of other non-wine activities before Moshin Vineyards was finally a reality. And Rick did most of it himself.

Moshin, a former math instructor at San Jose State, made beer and even coffee-flavored wine decades ago in his garage, and "never gave a thought to becoming a commercial wine maker."

But he loved making wine and didn't eschew the dirty chores, so for years during summers he would work at the now-defunct Davis Bynum Winery, and fell in love with Sonoma County.

"I looked into the history of the area," he says, "and Russian River really had the stuff." He said the area grew superb pinot noir, but also gave wine makers a chance to make great zinfandel, merlot, and chardonnay. And many other grapes ripen with a distinctiveness that is hard to match in warmer regions.

Still, making wine wasn't on the agenda in the 1970s when he was making homemade wine and brokering grapes to other home wine makers.

In 1989, Moshin made his first commercial lot of wine. Making the wine at Bynum, alongside legendary wine maker Gary Farrell, infected him with a passion to make more. And he did for more than a decade, at wineries willing to lease him space.

However, he was commuting to Russian River Valley from his home near San Jose (a six-hour round trip), and at that time banks were not cooperative.

"I tried to get a loan to build the winery, but they wanted to see a business plan, and the companies I contacted were all too expensive. So I wrote my own," with the help of a software package.

For the design of the building, he designed a four-tier gravity-flow building on a hillside, so pinot noir wouldn't have to be pumped.

"The worst thing was getting permits for everything," he said.

Even then, banks were reluctant to help. "I went to six of them and no one would loan us the money, so I sold my house and bought a place up here where I could grow Pinot." That meant a reverse commute, from wine country to his job at San Jose.

Meanwhile, during every waking moment and each summer, Moshin did most of the work on the complex project -- digging, pouring concrete, and in short everything a winemaker hates.

His 10-acre pinot noir vineyard produced such good fruit, though, that he was able to sell most of it to prestigious wineries nearby.

And his own wines were being received with quiet acclaim. But his hummingbird-design label was still under the radar, in part because of small production and little promotion.

The first crush at the new winery building was 2005. Today the winery makes 8,000 cases of super-premium wines that are finally gaining traction.

To make ends meet, Moshin now leases space to a number of other small wine makers; 20,000 cases of what's made at Moshin are for others. It pays the bills.

I love the style of wine Moshin delivers, notably with his pinot noirs. Half of his production is sold nationally, and the other half through winery sales ( Some of his most interesting wines are sold at the winery only.

Wine of the Week: 2007 Moshin Pinot Noir, Russian river Valley ($36): A classic template for the region: with strawberry, cherry, and fine leafy complexity and a silky finish.

It will be better in a year or two, but so enticing now it's hard not to pull the cork!

Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes "Vintage Experiences," a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at