By Barbara Barrielle
Many know Mick Schroeter’s talents in winemaking and his path from the big reds of Penfold’s to the delicate Russian River Valley Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs of his current gig as Head of Winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer, as well as his entry to Sonoma County wines at Geyser Peak where their Sauvignon Blanc became the standard bearer for U.S. produced wines of this variety.
But, when you go to ask Mick’s friends and colleagues for insight into the man, both in the wine business and socially, it is Schroeter’s commitment to his family and community that people want to talk about. Even jokester John Holdredge of Holdredge Wines was hard pressed to come up with a funny anecdote or sarcastic riff. He just loves and respects Mick too much.
So, if you are looking for dirt and gossip on this mild-mannered but greatly talented winemaker, you can stop reading now. But, if you want to admire someone who has dedicated his life to fine wines as well as participation in his children’s’ schools, supporting wife Linda’s tremendous talent as an artist and teacher and his love of his adopted home of Geyserville, then you want to hear more about Mick Schroeter.
Schroeter grew up in a family of winemakers his father, Les Schroeter, and uncle, Kevin Schroeter, were at the top of their game at Penfolds. Mick, wanting to see if the winemaker life was for him, dropped out if high school in Nuriootpa (aboriginal for “meeting place”) to work in the lab of Kaiser Stuhl winery, which was soon after acquired by Penfolds bringing Mick into the family business.
Meeting local Australian girl, Linda, and marrying her 36 years ago preceded by a few years Schroeter’s pursuing a winemaking education at the age of 25 at the prestigious Roseworthy College where he graduated in 1987 and returned to Penfolds. There Daryl Groom was the head of winemaking and Mick became in charge of the day-to-day red winemaking, one of the premier winemaking jobs in the world at the time.
Married to a fellow Australian and killing it in his career, Schroeter, was offered the opportunity in 1992 to travel and visit the emerging wine regions of Chile and Argentina, an amazing wine immersion opportunity that fit in with the Australian love of adventure and exploring. He and Linda tagged on a trip to wine regions of Europe and, eventually, to California, where friend and mentor, Daryl Groom, was now entrenched at Sonoma County’s Geyser Peak Winery.
After working a harvest and getting to know the area, Daryl asked if Mick would be interested in staying. “I was leaving one of the plum winemaking jobs in the world,” says Schroeter. “But, it was one of those times, before kids, when we had to seize the opportunity … It was the thrill of adventure to uproot and move over and not really be sure … but, if we didn’t do it, we would always wonder if we had missed it.”
Upon arriving at Geyser Peak, Schroeter was asked to stretch his abilities into even more directions. Having never made a white wine in his career (he was primarily a Shiraz winemaker). “In the early 90s, Sauvignon Blanc was a minor variety, but, at Geyser Peak, we crafted a unique style that quickly grew to be half of the winery’s production,”says Mick. “We embraced the herbaceous characters of New Zealand white without being over stylized. A very approachable wine.”
During Schroeter’s 17 years with Geyser Peak, he made many different wines and played with a number of varieties that had not been in his theoretical quiver at Penfolds. Geyser Peak grew, as did the Schroeter family’s roots in Northern California. A year after arriving, daughter Mathilda was born, followed by Sadie in 1996 and Charlie in 1998. Mick and Linda immersed themselves in the Catholic schools the kids attended and in the community at large.
“Inspiration in wine does not just encompass winemaking. It involves who you are, what you stand for, how you engage in your community and how you interact with your peers, friends and family,” say longtime colleague Daryl Groom. “For all of these traits, Mick is truly inspiring. He is a wonderful father, husband, and friend.”
After allowing themselves five years to experience the winemaking life in Sonoma County, Mick and Linda have now stayed long enough to see their kids grow and experience life as Americans while never forgetting their Australian roots. Now empty-nesters, the Schroeters are still in the Healdsburg community while their daughters are working harvests in Australia and exploring winemaking themselves. Son Charlie is in college in Arizona.
Five years became seventeen years at Geyser Peak and Mick refers to life here as an “ongoing adventure for us.” The latest chapter in Schroeter’s winemaking adventure is the head winemaking job at the revered Russian River winery, Sonoma-Cutrer. Taking over from Terry Adams, only the second Director of Winemaking in Sonoma-Cutrer’s history, after his 30 year winemaking career there, Mick had the opportunity to work side-by-side with Adams while he was integrated in the house so well known for its classic Burgundian style Chardonnays.
Mick had the opportunity to steer the path of Sonoma-Cutrer and take advantage of the winery’s spectacular vineyards which were just maturing and expand the Pinot Noir program.
Close friend and fellow winemaker John Holdredge says, “I could say a lot about what a truly gifted winemaker Mick is-and how broad his skill set is. Just when the world thought his gift was Australian Shiraz and Cab, he reinvented himself with his Sauvignon Blancs at Geyser Peak, and then did it again by elevating the already excellent Chardonnays at Sonoma-Cuter to another level.”
Schroeter’s team at Sonoma-Cutrer is all female. Having only one son at home and some strong-willed women at home, Mick’s lifelong training seems to be working with his all-female winemaking team. Not only does he lead the hands on winemaking team of Cara Morrison who crafts Chardonnays and Zidanelia Arcidiacono who makes Pinot Noirs, Rula Theorory is Lab Manager, Myra Hernandez oversees Production and the Cellar, and Shannon Darnell is in charge of Vineyard and Grower Management.
Cara Morrison describes it this way. “Mick says it best when describing our all-female winemaking team. While proud of this quality, Mick quickly points out that it’s not just because Sonoma-Cutrer acknowledges the importance of female inclusion and leadership, but because each member of our production team is the best person for the job.”
“Mick has an excellent sense of humor, which is very helpful come the demanding and hectic harvest season!” Continues Morrison. “If times get a bit stressful, we just hand him his comfort food … a bag of Cheetos!”
Zidanelia, known as “Z”, who studied winemaking in Argentina, say Mick has a lot of energy and that he injects this energy in to work and working with your style. “The winemaking team gets along so well,” says Z. “Mick is a mentor and when he knows that you know what you’re doing, he gives you freedom. I do what I think is best … Mick is very empowering and includes the entire winemaking team on decisions. He seems happy here.”
Schroeter himself says it has been amazing how this team of women work together. “Most of what we do is as a team, not a ‘me’ environment,” say Mick. “The team works together, working in and overlapping boundaries to everyone’s advantage.”
With his team turning out the best wines possible from each harvest, Schroeter has had the opportunity to create a Winemaker series for Sonoma-Cutrer. These smaller production wines are available primarily to the wine club and in the tasting room and have included Sonoma-Cutrer’s first Sauvignon Blanc (of course!), a Rosé of Pinot Noir, a late harvest Chardonnay and, just this past Fall, a vintage 2014 sparkling wine from both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that is simply a stunner… and a bargain at $43.
Mick let out a small secret in that he may be producing a sparkling red soon, hoping to make an impact at Sonoma-Cutrer with this kind of bubbles that has been popular in Australia for decades.
“Mick is at a highly-focused Chardonnay and Pinot Noir house but can’t help wanting to create extra fantastic wine offerings,” says Daryl Groom. “While it shows off his well-known winemaking talents and is great for Sonoma-Cutrer wine lovers, it is also inspiring for his winemaking team to be engaged in a diversity of offerings.”
Continues Groom, “I do have to smile and quietly chuckle sometimes seeing Mick as Director of Winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer. Having known Mick and made wine with him for over 40 years, we both were indoctrinated early, particularly from our Penfolds days, that with red wines, bigger was better … now he is making one of the largest volume, highest quality Pinot Noirs in the world!”
Mick considers himself fortunate in his life and career. “The wine business is the greatest occupation. Every year is different, and at the end of the day you create elegance. It is very rewarding. And the reason we have stayed here for 25 years is that we have a work-life balance and are very integrated into the community. We don’t have direct family here, but we have friends that are like family.”
One of these friends, John Holdredge, says it best. “What truly defines Mick is his devotion to his family – his incredible bond with Linda (his childhood sweetheart and wife of 36 years), and how he revels in the success his kids are achieving. He’s not the kind of guy to talk about it – he’s the kind of person who quietly does it. And, as I think about it, his integrity as a husband and is the same integrity his wines convey.”