Earlier this month Sokol Blosser in Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills announced that CEO and co-president Alison Sokol Blosser would step down to spend more time with her children. Her brother Alex, who has run the company with her since taking it over from their mother in 2008, now has the sole title of president.
As co-president, Alex was in charge of the winegrowing and making. Going forward, Robin Howell has been elevated to winemaker. Howell started out at Sokol Blosser as enologist in 2012 and most recently served as associate winemaker.
Here, I talk with Alex Sokol Blosser about what’s coming next for the winery, which was founded in 1971. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Congratulations on becoming president.
Thanks. It’s bittersweet. I loved being winemaker. That was something that I enjoyed doing tremendously since 2012. That being said, I was really excited to hand the baton to my associate winemaker, Robin Howell. I’ve been making wine with her since 2012. She’ll be able to even take it to the next level.
Are you going to remain involved in production in any way?
Robin is still going to be inviting me to all the blendings, tastings, and whatnot. So I’ll still be doing some of that, which I love. I am still operating and overseeing all of vineyards, which I’m thrilled about because that definitely keeps you grounded.
As you settle into your new position, what are other things you’re immediately focused on?
In the family business, one thing that’s always been drilled into Alison and myself is that you can make great wine, but if you can’t sell it, you’re nowhere. So the challenge of remaining relevant in the marketplace with your messaging is so, so important, and relevancy changes every couple of years.
How do you try and accomplish that?
Our goal is always to make the top wines coming out of the state every vintage, and that in amongst itself is a challenge. How people access wine changes, how people buy wine changes, and sometimes those are subtle changes.
So much of what we do is, I make wine the way I love it. What I find is our customers love it too once they hear that story. So it’s telling the story about why I made the wine in a certain way, or why Robin made the wine a certain way, and getting people to catch that vision. Ultimately, I think Sokol Blosser is going to succeed or fail based on how well we are telling our story.
Do you see how you approach that differing with a change in generations?
I do. It’s not to say that Millennials or Gen Zs won’t like that same message. It’s not just that they only want to drink spirits. They need to hear the story in a certain way that resonates with them.
I think they will be into wine because they care about the environment. They want things that are real. They want to have relationships with brands, all the right stuff. We just need to talk to them in a way or communicate in a way that they will embrace it.
We’re often our own worst enemy in the industry in terms of making it too intimidating. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m gonna keep trying to figure it out.
How do you see the entry tier Evolution wines fitting into that mission of appealing to a different audience?
Evolution, we’re driving the value into that wine, trying to get something that we’re proud of, that we want to drink from an entry-level standpoint, that also speaks to people at that price point.
If you’re spending $22 on a bottle of our current vintage 2021 Evolution Pinot Noir, our hope is consumers taste that. They read the story on the bottle. They see its Evolution by Sokol Blosser. They see the Sokol Blosser story, and it creates an interest in potentially going up that ladder to our Dundee Hills, our Yamhill-Carlton Vineyard, Kalita, to Blossom Ridge Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. It’s another way for us to tell our story in a way that’s definitely more affordable.
In terms of the market, what types of changes having you been seeing at the winery?
What is ticking up consistently for us is Sokol Blosser. Buying the 22.3-acre Kalita Vineyard in 2021, that definitely allows us to make more of our estate Pinot Noir.
We’re up to about 128 acres on our estate here, the Dundee Hills, Yamhill-Carlton, and Blossom Ridge. So with that, 2022 will be our biggest production year making Sokol Blosser estate wines than ever before. We will continue to increase that. Our estate wines were in that 30,000 case range. We’d like to get up to 40,000 cases. That will take our current vineyards, and we’ll look at vineyards in some other areas as well.
Where are you planning to look?
We’re looking at soils. We have deep volcanic [soils] here in the Dundee Hills. We have shallow volcanic [soils] with Blossom Ridge in the Eola-Amity Hills. We have marine sedimentary [soils] in Yamhill-Carlton. What we don’t have is that windblown soil, that loess.
Tasting wines on the northern side of the Chehalem Mountains that are in that soil, I think those are some compelling wines. Those are wines that are unique because of that soil. I’m very interested in that.
What other trends are you seeing in Willamette Valley?
Pinot Noir still is the number one by far, but there’s more playing here in the valley. We’re part of that trend as well. I’m buying as much Sauvignon Blanc as I can get my hands on. That’s direct-to-consumer only. We don’t make enough of it to send into distribution.
You launched the Bluebird Sparkling wine label in 2018. Talk to us about that wine and how that fits into the bigger picture at the winery.
For Bluebird, we’re trying to keep it at that $36 price. The blend is Pinot Noir, Chardonnay. We add in some estate Riesling and some Mueller Thurgau and just a touch of Muscat and keep it en tirage for about a year.
It’s not going to be the brioche-y flavor. It’s gonna be more of that reductionist, purity of fruit sparkling wine. We are continuing to increase how much we make and continuing to spread the distribution out across the United States on that wine. We’re very bullish on sparkling right now.
As you take on running the winery in full, what are you hoping it looks like in the future?
My goal, and this is continuing on from my sister, is not only for Sokol Blosser to be known as a Pinot Noir house. We want to be known as sparkling house too, and that is not easy. Give me another 10, 20 years and see if we can get that moniker of a sparkling wine house on there.
Image by Carolyn Wells-Kramer, courtesy of Sokol Blosser.
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