Brenda Lee and I bought the ranch in May of 1988. Simoneau Vineyards was born, 12½ acres on the western side of Alexander Valley, just outside of Healdsburg, California. No grand plan, just two kids following our passion. All our friends thought we were crazy. What did we know about growing grapes? Brenda Lee was the gardener and I had been making homemade wine since 1983, so to us it made sense. That fall saw us at Santa Rosa Junior College taking Viticulture 101 from Rich Thomas. And we never looked back.
From Maine to California
Alexander Valley is a long way from our hometown in central Maine where Brenda Lee and I grew up. Through high school I had a secret crush on Brenda Lee, but being a shy Catholic boy, we never got together until college. Brenda Lee at the University of Maine and I at Boston University.
After college Brenda Lee spent her time educating grade school kids and climbing mountains in Maine. I, shunning grad school, started a country rock ‘n roll band and spent the next nine years following a dream to sign a record deal. And that’s what brought me to California. It was on my last road trip to Maine that Brenda Lee and I fell in love. In the spring of 1982 she packed all her bags and moved to California. We got married the summer of 1983.
Brenda Lee found a teaching job in Cloverdale and I now am a wine salesman for Windsor Vineyards.
We bought our first house in Jimtown in the Alexander Valley across the street from the famous Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard. Now with the winemaking bug, we sold that house and bought the ranch.
It was Mid-May of 1988 when escrow closed and we were now officially grapegrowers. At that time it was 5-acres of Chenin Blanc and 5-acres of Chardonnay. The previous owner had a lease arrangement with a vineyard manager, so Brenda and I had some time to figure things out. By 1990, with Viticulture 101 at the SRJC behind us, we bought a tractor and hired a field hand, Marcelino Valencia, who is still with us today. Tractor driving was a bit of a challenge at first, but this young Mainer would have made his father proud.
After t-budding the Chenin to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1990, phyloxera hit in 1992. For the next eight years we spent our time interplanting the Chardonnay and completely replanting the Cabernet Sauvignon one block at a time. Who said grape growing would be easy.
Fortunately we were able to sell our grapes, Beringer, Clos du Bois, and a vineyard designated contract with Windsor Vineyards. By 2005 with a few gold medals under our belt, we had built our reputation as grape growers and Simi, Silver Oak, and Lancaster came calling. All our hard work paid off.
Simoneau Wine Company
I made my first wine in 1983. A Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley, and yes, I crushed it with my feet. We won a bronze medal as an amateur at The Sonoma County Harvest Fair. To say I got the winemaking bug is an understatement. From 1983 to 2004 I won countless gold medals and Sweepstakes awards at The Harvest Fair and The Indiana State Fair. Proof great grapes make great wines. In 2004, our 2001 wines won ten gold medals and Brenda Lee and I decided to go professional. 2005 saw our first commercial wine, the 2005 Simoneau Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Today the Simoneau portfolio includes the Brenda Lee Chardonnay, a Chardonnay Rosé, a Bordeaux blend called FenceLine, and a Cabernet Sauvignon.
And that’s how we got here.