In 1980, restaurateur/entrepreneur Walter Georis purchased a 40-acre historic cattle ranch in the rustic Cachagua region of Carmel Valley. Much of it was an ancient river bottom and full of the smooth, fist-sized river rocks that Georis calls, “Cachagua potatoes.” It is precisely this type of soil that fine wine grapevines thrive in. It’s difficult to farm and hard on equipment, but it makes the vines struggle. And that’s a good thing.
“The Cachagua area was kind of rough then,” Georis says, “the last of the Wild West. The land itself was challenging. Rototilling is hard work here and water
is always an issue.”
Walter Georis has always been a hands-on winery owner.
“I drove the tractor,” he says. “I pruned the vines for 20 years. I spent a lot of time out there, because I believe that wine is made in the vineyard, not the winery.” In fact, he was also the winemaker for 16 years.
Georis was the second to stake out a vineyard in the area, after Bill Durney did so on a neighboring property in 1968. His first planting of Bordeaux clones did not survive, due to an inexperienced vineyard manager. Live and learn.
“The next year we planted again—Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot—our first release was the 1983 vintage,” Georis recalls. Since Durney has undergone two ownership changes, Georis Winery is now the oldest Carmel Valley wine operation under the same proprietor.
“The way my wife Sylvia and I viewed and continue to view this enterprise is basically as a way to slow down time,” Georis says. “Every year, with every new vintage, I have a time capsule that reflects the weather of that year and the events of my family.” 1983? “My parents were still living, and we drank the first bottles from our vineyard with them.” 1988 and 1991? “The years my sons Max and Klaus were born.” And so on. The library of Georis wines is like a calendar or, more accurately, a Georis family diary. “But you don’t just talk about our family history,” Georis says, “you can taste it.”
Walter Georis’ life began in Belgium. Though his family emigrated to Southern California in the mid-20th century, he retains a very European viewpoint about many aspects of life.
“I approach the wine from a food standpoint, rather than from a scientific one,” he says. “Although of course we use analysis on the wine, it’s much more important to use your sense of taste. We don’t manipulate the wine in any way, we rely on blending to achieve our results.” Although he is no longer the winemaker, Georis is still intimately involved with the wines that bear his name. “I’m always in the blending process, no matter who the winemaker is,” he says.
There have been only four winemakers at Georis since its inception. The longest tenure was that of Walter Georis himself; he did the work from 1988-2004. He is an autodidact, taking no formal training and learning by watching others, including Dan Lee of the Morgan Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands who Georis tapped to produce the first Georis vintages.
“We wanted to make sure the grapes we were growing were worthy,” he says, “so after Dan got great results, I built the winery. I then traveled to France and worked alongside a winemaker friend there to further hone my skills.”
In the early 2000s, son Klaus was surfing the internet and found a surprise. “He found a winemaker named Damien Georis in France,” his father says. “I contacted him, and we met up in Paris on our next trip there.”
They found that they were from nearby Bel-gian villages and immediately bonded. Georis invited him to Carmel and the winemaker decid-ed to make this his home. He stayed with the company for more than a decade, helping to build the Georis brand and add Cowgirl and Endless Summer labels to the Georis portfolio. Greg Freeman, formerly of Hahn Family Wines, came on board recently. His first vintage will be 2019.
The first Georis release was of a single wine, a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend.
“Back then, people in the United States thought of Merlot as merely a blending wine, if they thought of it at all,” Georis says. “They would say ‘Cab is king’. But speak to any French winemaker and he will tell you that Merlot is the queen. It’s softer, a little more refined and elegant, but still age-worthy.”
The brand was expanded to include whites and a rosé (Les Abeilles, “the bees,” so-named because its nose is reminiscent of honeycomb) in 1999. Currently, Georis releases between eight and twelve varietals each year across the three brands, including their two estate flagships, Clos des Moutons and La Chapelle. Clos du Moutons is produced from petrus clone, known as some of the world’s finest, most coveted—and most expensive—wines.
“We make terroir-reflective wines, meaning that they are specific to our region. There are no others like them,” Georis says. All are marketed direct from the winery; Georis does not employ distributors. The family maintains three tasting rooms in Carmel Valley Village. Georis is at
1 Pilot Road, Cowgirl at 25 Pilot, and Endless Summer is accross the street, at 4 Pilot Road.
For more information and to purchase Georis, Cowgirl and Endless Summer wines, please visit georiswine.com.