Represents the Living History of the Wine Industry
SONOMA, CA (January 5, 2022) — Not many people have celebrated 50 years in the wine industry, but Charlie Tolbert just did. Over his career Tolbert served as a vineyard worker, cellar rat, winemaker, and consultant. Charting his journey through the wine industry is a living history of California winemaking. While working with Ned Hill of La Prenda Vineyards Management, Tolbert celebrated his 50th harvest this past year.
“Looking back at fifty harvests, I’m grateful and fortunate to have been mentored and led by industry legends like Barney Fernandez, Don Van Staaveren, Al Brett, and Dick Arrowood,” said Tolbert. “Peter Haywood gave me my first shot as winemaker and I’ve worked with great people like Mike Benziger, Tom Smith, Dennis Martin, Paul Dolan and dozens more. Now, I’m working for Ned Hill, but years ago I remember his father Steve through my pals at Kenwood and his reputation from Durrell.”
Tolbert began his wine industry experience as a vineyard laborer at Buena Vista Vineyards. After spending a year learning the annual viticulture cycle, Tolbert moved into the cellars working as a cellar rat with the veteran and distinguished winemaker Al Brett. From there he joined a spanking new project: Chateau St. Jean. While the winery was being built, he worked in the vineyard. For harvest, Tolbert joined Dick Arrowood’s cellar crew and was quickly promoted to Cellarmaster and then Assistant Winemaker. After five harvests at Chateau St. Jean, an opportunity arose for the winemaker role at Haywood. He worked with Peter Haywood for ten years establishing a reputation for consistent high-quality wines.
His next stop was Benziger Family Winery, where he focused on the Benziger Family and Imagery labels. After five years with the Benzigers, Tolbert moved to Delicato Vineyards, then the nation’s sixth largest producer in 1997. “The enormity of scale relative to my experience was staggering,” Tolbert admitted. “Being immersed in the global scale of the California wine industry was invaluable exposure. My experience there led me to respect the challenges and skills required to produce a six-dollar bottle compared to a thirty-dollar one.”
Fetzer Vineyards offered the position of Director of Cellar Operations. Committed to industry leadership with organic viticulture practices while producing four million cases a year was an opportunity to expand his leadership skills. Returning to Sonoma Valley he rejoined Dick Arrowood this time at Arrowood Vineyards and Winery and subsequently at Amapola Creek where Richard and Alis Arrowood established their tiny 3,000 cases gem. In 2011, he decided to step back from the daily 7-5 commitment and began consulting projects working with local Sonoma Valley Growers.
Looking to reduce his responsibilities even further, he started with Ned Hill, of La Prenda Vineyards Management in 2018. “Ned had me gathering field samples and checking the status of vineyards, which is way more fun than dealing with the harvest complications of being a winemaker,” Tolbert confessed.
The following harvest Ned asked him to stay involved helping to organize bottling and any other projects that arose. The schedule is very part time and allows Tolbert to pursue other key interests including two grandsons, one 8 and one 3 months. He also enjoys golf and helping coach the Sonoma Valley High School Dragons baseball team. Interspersed with occasional fishing trips, live music events and continued camaraderie with industry peers it rounds out and very enjoyable work-life balance.
“Charlie Tolbert embodies the living history and development of the California wine industry,” explained Ned Hill. “He has vineyards in his soul and winemaking in his blood. It is a privilege to have him working with us.”
La Prenda’s new Tasting Room is open and ready for guests. Located at 535 1st Street West (next to The Red Grape), visitors can enjoy a 5-wine tasting flight while learning about their wines and grape growing in Sonoma Valley. Flights start at $20/person with the Sonoma Valley Tasting, $25/person for the Signature Tasting, and $35/person for the Reserve and Library Tasting. The tasting room is open Wednesday-Saturday 11am-6pm and Sunday-Tuesday by Appointment Only. For groups of 6 or more, please call ahead for a reservation at (707) 938-7228.
Sonoma Collection is a family-owned venture featuring sustainably farmed wines honoring Sonoma Valley grape farmers. Sonoma Collection even captured a top ten spot in Wine Business Monthly’s annual Hot Brands in 2015. Other labels include Fifth Hill, La Prenda, Happy Wife, Quarantine Wife and 95476. La Prenda Vineyards Management has been in business for 15 years and farms over 30 properties in the Sonoma Valley, Carneros, Sonoma Mountain and Bennett Valley appellations that are certified Fish Friendly Farming. They provide quality farming while increasingly incorporating mechanization in a changing farming environment. For more information visit https://www.laprendavineyards.com/.