Tech whiz turns grapes into vintner gold

Tech whiz turns grapes into vintner gold

Deepak Gulrajani is a techie turned vintner; a Bombay, India native who worked passionately in the California tech space for years until the lure of the grape, and dreams of making a great pinot noir, took root.

Exchanging his climate-controlled office for an arid piece of farmland in the Carneros area of California, Deepak began growing his own grapes in 2003 at his 31-acre Nicholson Ranch Winery.

nicholson ranch
Nicholson Ranch emerged as a gold-medal winery from a techie’s dream.

Utilizing an organic, dry-farming method that forces grapes to put down deeper roots and produce very aromatic, full-flavored and smooth wines, Deepak weathered economic challenges and occasional harsh climates to emerge as a gold-medal winemaker producing wines ranked 90+ by Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator magazines.

“I worked for years in the tech space and loved it. After I graduated from the (India Institute of Technology) I had a great career. But when I got a chance to buy a little land and plant a vineyard, I took it,” he says. “I started off as a home winemaker because I just loved pinot noir. And it turned into my career. I’ve been making wine full time for 10 years now, and I love it!”

In this week’s Q&A with Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand, Deepak explains more about his unique career path, its challenges and rewards.

Q: How did you go from tech pro to vintner?

I never had a real plan to become a commercial winemaker. It all started about 25 years ago with the people I worked with. I used to go to wine tastings with my friends and discovered I loved pinot noir. I started dabbling in winemaking, and bought home-winemaking kits, and studying everything I could find out about grapes.

Q: Your studies led you to dry-farming.

All the grapes are grown without irrigation. It’s an interesting process. In the first year, while they’re establishing their roots, they have to be irrigated. But once they’re established, they’re weaned off water, and this forces them to grow deeper roots. It’s stressful at first, but it produces a beautiful product.

Q: What characteristics do your dry-farmed grapes produce in a wine?

The wine is really aromatic, full flavored, and possesses a very smooth texture. There’s no dryness or bitterness. The wines are not processed at all, and we bottle them unfiltered and minimize the chemicals and movement of the wine. The aroma is very fragile at the beginning, and any movement can affect it.

The winery is built to use gravity, not pumps, to gently guide the grapes from harvest to fermentation. And all our wines are cellared in French oak barrels in our underground caves to develop concentration, texture and finish.

** Nicholson Ranch wines have been awarded Double Gold medals from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition four years running.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge?

 Just like any business, the great recession of 2008, which lasted until about 2011, was hard. Wine is a discretionary product, and the economic downturn was difficult. We adjusted by discounting some of our wines, and by building up loyalty through our club members.

Q: How have you kept your business strong?

We’ve made sure not to borrow too much money. The wine business is very capital intensive, but I deliberately kept our debt low through good, financial management. I’ve concentrated on good financial practices, and maintaining consistency with our product year after year. I’m 55 now and could easily do this for the next 20 years.

Q: You took a huge leap from tech to wine. What did your family think of your career path?

When I first mentioned this idea to my mother, she thought I was nuts! But I was very fortunate in the IT space, had worked at startups, worked in business, and invested. When I had the opportunity to buy some land and grow grapes, I seized it. The Nicholson Ranch was a cattle ranch at one time, and I decided to keep the name because that’s how everybody knew it. We do most of our business through visits to the farm. About 99 percent of my customers have been to the farm for a wine-tasting and they reorder after that.

Nicholson Ranch is located on the Napa/Sonoma county line along Highway 121. It uses Boxerbrand Menu Cover products in its presentation materials. Thank you!


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