PLAYFUL NAME, SERIOUS WINEWinemaker Jeff Ivy of Roshambo Winery shares his thoughts with Scott Chemick.
Before becoming head winemaker at Roshambo Winery in the Sonoma Valley area, Jeff Ivy worked with companies like Quivera and Hidden Cellars. Jeff was kind enough to answer questions about distribution challenges, Roshambo's mission to "democratize" wine, and the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
How was it decided to name the winery Roshambo, and what does that name mean to you?
Jeff Ivy: The original name for the winery was Obsidian, but there was a trademark conflict. Naomis father, Tom Johnson, is a highly regarded cultural anthropologist, whose area of study is childrens culture and games. Roshambo is one of the few childrens games that defy cultural definition. That is, most childrens cultures have a version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The name just seemed natural. To me, Roshambo represents fun and playful irreverence. It also is much more original than most winery names that end in ridge or oak or are named after the owner.
My wife insists that rock should beat paper, any thoughts on this?
Jeff Ivy: It depends on whether your wife is actually holding the rock in her hand.
My understanding is that as a winemaker you believe that an excellent grape yields excellent product, with minimal human intervention. Can you give me a specific example of a case where another wine maker might intervene in the process, but you might decide not to?
Jeff Ivy: I believe most winemakers would agree that great grapes have the potential to make great wine. I just dont believe in making wine by recipe. I believe a lot of winemaking decisions are made strictly by the numbers. That is, if the pH of a wine is X, then we must add acid to get it to Y. I think if the wine tastes good and is evolving the way you want, then leave it alone.
Roshambo 2003 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc is one of our featured wines this month. What do you feel makes this vintage especially distinctive?
Jeff Ivy: 2003 was a late harvest. The SB is a blend of two blocks on the family ranch. Block 4 was picked on September 17, which is almost three weeks late. Block 10 was picked on October 4, which is almost a month later than normal. This vintage was also the first time the SB was fermented entirely in stainless steel tank; no oak of any sort and no malolactic. Stylistically, it is what I believe Sauvignon Blanc should be; grapefruit, lime zest, a hint of mineral, crisp and fresh. It begs for oysters.
What are some of the challenges for a newer winery attempting to get placement in stores?
Jeff Ivy: I find the challenges are more with distributors than retailers. With consolidation in many states, small wineries dont have much choice. Go with a large distributor that either loses you in their huge books, or turns you down flat because they are not interested in building another brand.
Roshambo president Naomi Johnson-Brilliant has been quoted as saying she "wants to breathe more life" into the wine industry. From architect Jacques Ullmans rejection of "standard" winery design, to the incorporation of an art gallery into the winery to sponsorship in the Rock Paper Scissors Pro-Am Tournament, activism and independent thought seem to be large bricks in Roshambos foundation. Is Roshambo wine for the iconoclast?
Jeff Ivy: I dont believe Roshambo is attempting to limit its customer focus. I think its more an attempt to demonstrate that you can have other interests and successfully incorporate them into a successful business model. Also, I think its a demonstration that wine appreciation and consumption doesnt have to be narrowly defined by a certain lifestyle or beliefs.
One of Roshambo's missions is to "democratize" wine. Have you gotten any feedback from more established wineries that may not share your worldview? Do you welcome controversy, shun it, or just do what you do, regardless?
Jeff Ivy: I think all wineries should practice democratization of wine. Given the average per capita consumption in this country, I believe very few wineries are in a position to limit their market outreach. Roshambos ultimate goal is to show people wine can be a part of their lives, regardless of how they love it. I generally try to avoid confrontation, but I believe in the winerys outlook and goals. Ultimately, my number one priority is to make the best wine possible.
Whats in your CD player right now?
Jeff Ivy: De-loused In the Comatorium by The Mars Volta.
Roshambo is also developing a line of active wear featuring the Roshambo logo. What inspired the company move in that direction?
Jeff Ivy: I believe it's an attempt to get the name and concept of Roshambo out to the masses. If youve ever been to the Ravenswood tasting room, everything has their logo, and its one of the most recognizable images in the wine industry.
What can we expect in the future from Roshambo Winery?
Jeff Ivy: Roshambo is releasing a Chardonnay and Merlot in the $10/bottle range. These wines have screw-cap closures and brilliant packaging, and truly demonstrate our effort to bring Roshambo to everyone. The wines are labeled Rock, Paper, Scissors and will be at a store near you soon. Thank you for supporting Roshambo! X