Behind the Scenes With Winemaker, Adam Lee, and His New Label, Clarice Wine Company

Adam Lee is best known as the winemaker for Siduri Wines, but now his sights are set on a new, heartfelt project with the creation of Clarice Wine Company.

Adam Lee is definitely not your average winemaker. Originally from Austin, Texas, he obtained a cult-like following for the Pinot Noir brand he built from scratch, Siduri Wines, which he sold to Jackson Family Wines in 2015 and where he still remains winemaker. I met Adam when I worked for JFW and launched/managed the Siduri Wine Bar & Tasting Lounge in downtown Healdsburg, California. You could always count on Adam to tell an inappropriate (albeit hilarious) joke at the end of an important meeting with execs, or pull a prank like this, that was later referred to as "The Great Pinot Noir Kerfuffle."

As funny and charismatic as Adam is, it's just as important to note that he is also an incredibly talented winemaker and very well respected within the wine industry community. Last September, when he asked if I'd like to come sort fruit for the wines he was creating for his new label, Clarice Wine Company, I jumped at the opportunity to get an inside look at this innovative wine club membership model.

Clarice Wine Company is named for Adam's grandmother, Clarice H. Phears. Clarice was born in 1898 and Adam knew her as a prim and proper woman, but it turns out there was a much more scandalous story behind her romance with his grandfather. While we were waiting for the grapes to be brought over to the sorting table at the winery, Adam explained that her family set her up with a pharmacist when she was 15, but she was in love with a farmer, and they used to leave notes for each other under a rock at the nearby creek. Clarice decided to run away with the farmer, who later became Adam's grandfather, and they eloped, despite her father and brothers chasing after her.

Clarice never knew when her husband would be home from work each evening, so she would often make crock pot meals where she threw all of the ingredients in together at once, so the meal would be ready once he got home. The idea was that if you added ingredients in one at a time, it would taste like the last thing you put in, instead of all of the flavors blending together as they cook. Adam was inspired to use this idea in his winemaking approach with Clarice Wine Company. Typically, he would pick one block at a time in the vineyard, but instead, he threw them in altogether, just like his grandmother did with her crock pot cooking, in hopes that the flavors blended together better.

Adam is making his wines for Clarice Wine Company at Sugarloaf Custom Crush in Kenwood and this was the first time I had ever sorted grapes, believe it or not! The vineyard crew does a decent job going through the fruit in the vineyard, but the sorting process back at the winery helps to further pick out any leaves, twigs, or unripened berries that remain.

It was an exciting experience to be a part of, especially since we were sorting grapes from Garys' Vineyard, one of my favorite Pinots that Adam made for Siduri. His close friendship with "the two Garys," Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, allowed him to obtain top notch fruit from Garys' Vineyard and Rosella's Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands for this project.

Fast forward to February, when I visited Sugarloaf Custom Crush again with Adam to taste the wines out of barrel, where they had been aging since last fall. Adam produced three distinct Pinot Noirs for Clarice: Gary's Vineyard, Rosella's Vineyard, and a Santa Lucia Highlands appellation blend. I got the chance to taste the Rosella's and Garys' in different types of new and neutral oak, all of which tasted amazing!

However, what I found most innovative about Clarice Wine Company was Adam's business model for this project. Instead of selling these wines through a tasting room or in the grocery store, he aspired to create a sense of community around the brand. Clarice is a combination of an online wine community with limited enrollment of only 625 members, and a wine education forum where industry experts share their recommendations for wine, travel, and other related areas. In addition, Clarice members receive one case of wine and invitations to two members-only events per year. I loved the idea of creating a community around membership and can't wait to see what more is in store for Clarice Wine Company as it grows!

Want to get on the list for Clarice Wine Company’s new releases coming soon? Sign up for membership here.

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