Keep your feet clean
Zane Dobson, PaZa Vineyard and Winery
It’s been nearly a decade since Zane Dobson and his wife Pamela moved from Roseville to rural Auburn, where in 2007 they started a microwinery, planting vines with a little help from friends and family. The rest, as they say, is history for PaZa Vineyard and Winery. Well, if by “history,” one means hands-on field work and constant care. Dobson, originally from Oklahoma—where he nurtured a passion for car racing—also still works a 9-to-5 job as a principal engineering tech. Now, as he juggles that with this return to his salt-of-the-earth roots, Dobson (who admits he’s a bit compulsive) says he didn’t take his jump into viticulture lightly. Instead, he prepared by taking courses to better understand how to run a vineyard and winery, studying topics such as the pH balance in soil and how to operate corking machines. Dobson took a break from picking grapes to chat about foot stomping and how to deal with tipsy tasters.
After I moved [to California], Pamela and all her friends [and] family were into wine, and … I started learning about wine, [because] I hadn’t really had great wine. I’m from Oklahoma, so it’s mostly just beer and spirits back there. I just really started enjoying it, the lifestyle. You know, you fall in love with the glamorous sides of the wine world, [but] the glamorous times are few and far between as an owner. We do have a lot of fun when we do have those times, but there’s a lot of hard work in between. To be able to create something from the beginning was really a dream, kind of a fantasy at first.
What were your goals?
We wanted to be this—an estate winery. We wanted to grow our own fruit, we wanted to make the wine and have a direct connection with everything. It was creating something—art, almost. That connection that it was mine. I’m hoping it will shine through [in the wine].
Best part of owning a winery?
Probably all the friends we've made. The good times we have between the work. For us, it's brought our family even closer together. They always know it's a good party place for family events. The friends and relationships we've developed is the best.
Do you foot-stomp all your grapes?
No, that's just for fun. There are wineries that do that. They have real expensive wine and swear it is still the best way. It's usually one of those things that people do for a few minutes, get the photo op and get out.
Where is the wine made?
We have the old barn that we renovated—it looks a lot better now than when we started. It works out perfect. Right now … we have about 450 cases per season. Pamela and I joke, because we are into stainless steel instead of gold and diamonds for anniversaries. A few years ago, we bought each other a press, then a bottler and a destemmer. We're a little twisted, but I still sneak a little jewelry in there for her when I can.
What is the process?
We love having friends and family [over]. I go through with everyone showing them [how to sort]. It's really pretty simple. You know, you come across clusters that are not that great: If you wouldn't want to eat it, you don't want to make wine with it. So we sort the grapes on the vine. So it's all hand harvested with a direct connection with the vine. It's organic. We use only oak barrels; it usually stays in the barrel 12 to 18 months, sometimes even 24 months, so it's a long-term investment. Then you start to taste when you think it's getting close, until you make the decision. Pamela usually makes that decision; she has a better palate. Women usually have better palates.
How involved in the tastings do you get?<
Very! It's just the connection we like, it's all the aspects we like. It's really fun, and it's a cool challenge to kind of expose people. Some will say they don't like cabernet or merlot, and you say, “Well, taste this one, it's different.” And they kind of open their mind.
Do people try to pretend they know more about wine than they really do?
Occasionally, yeah, and what we've learned from it [is] that you let them. Somebody knows, that's cool. The ones that make you kind of leery are the ones that you can tell really do, and they don't tell you. And you're like, “Hmm, where do you work?” Wine people, overall, are really fun. They are a little adventurous, going on backroads and finding new things, meeting the owners.
Do they ever taste a little too much and get crazy?
Yeah, it's not too much. It's always a little bit of an uneasy feeling. You know, how do you cut them off or tell them it's too much? But the times you have those folks are usually during big weekend events, where they are trying to go to many [wineries] in one day, and they don't have a driver, and you're like, “Really? Eight wineries in one day?” These roads are windy, and there are cyclists and deer that decide to commit suicide. For those, you give them water, then more water and are like, “We have this light wine,” which is water.