The Sit Down: Stockwell Cellars

For the fourth installment of the Sit Down series, we interviewed Suzanne Zeber-Stockwell of Stockwell Cellars. She and her husband, Eric Stockwell, officially launch the business back in 2014. Stockwell Cellars is a Santa Cruz urban winery specializing in old world wine making techniques and traditions. Located on the west side of Santa Cruz, Stockwell Cellars is one of nine wineries that make up Surf City Vintners. 

In this interview we learned more about their startup journey, their unique approach to wine making, and the collaborations they have in and outside of the local wine industry. 

Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do? 

I’m Suzanne Zeber-Stockwell, and I’m one of two proprietors of Stockwell cellars. My husband Eric and I started this business back in 2014.  

You are a husband and wife team, what roles do you and Eric play at Stockwell Cellars?

Eric is the winemaker and runs all of production. I take care of the tasting room, which includes running the wine club, doing all of the marketing, and everything else that needs to be done. I have a great appreciation for what Eric does, and we work together really well. 

How did you grow from making wine at home to opening Stockwell Cellars tasting room?

This is really a hobby gone wild. Eric started playing around making wine in our basement in Bonny Doon and over time he started working with other winemakers in the Santa Cruz area. He started bringing his fruit into other wineries and doing, what we call, a “custom crush.” At the end of the harvest in 2013, which was a really good year, we had 130 barrels of wine. It was pretty obvious that it was time to start a business. That was the creation of Stockwell Cellars.

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Why did you choose this space on the Westside? 

This was my husband’s steel fabrication business for about 25 years, and when he had an opportunity to move his steel business down the street this space opened up. It was a great opportunity. At first, we were utilizing just the back half of this space for production, and on occasion opening it up as a tasting room. When we were able to move into the entire space, we had the opportunity to create a space where people felt comfortable spending time with friends, tasting wine, listening to music, and not have all the business of having production going around.

You and Eric recently got married here. How did you personalize the space to make it a wedding venue?

It took a lot of work. The wedding gave us a hard deadline to finish out this space, which was wonderful. It was really special for us because we had built this business together. This was our first cooperative project, and it really represented who we are as a couple and it felt natural to host our friends and family here.

How have you seen the Westside develop over the years? 

It’s been exciting. It’s gone from a lot of industry to an area that really brings the community together. There are restaurants, wineries, bars, places for people to assemble, and there’s a real beautification that’s taken place. 

Can you tell me about how the wine industry has developed here in Santa Cruz? 

For a long time the wine industry here in Santa Cruz was really based on wineries that had their own vineyards. As an industry, I think we’ve gotten away from that. Winemakers, and people interested in making wine in Santa Cruz and elsewhere, aren’t limited by the fact that they don’t have grapes. The wine industry has opened up and pretty much anyone who’s interested in making wine can go out and source grapes from anywhere in California and come back and start a winery.

This is something you call "urban wineries", tell us more about that. 

Urban wineries are a thing of the present and they didn’t really exist much in the past. People still come in and ask, “where are your vineyards?” because it’s an assumed thing that a winery has a vineyard. Urban Wineries are a new industry trend, and winemakers at urban wineries are not limited by whether they have vineyards or not. 

This also gives us at Stockwell Cellars the opportunity to source grapes from multiple places, and that’s really fun for Eric because he’s not limited to varietals that are just grown in Santa Cruz. He first started working with grapes out of the Paso Robles area, Riverstar Vineyards, and we still have guests who come in really excited to see Paso Robles wines on our menu. They don’t have to go to Paso Robles to enjoy those.

What makes Stockwell wine unique?

I think our approach to winemaking is what makes us unique. We are committed to making wines in an Old World way. We do not use any commercial yeast, and all the yeast that facilitates fermentation is native yeast that’s coming in either on the grapes or is present in our winery. We don’t have manipulated wines, and we stick to minimal filtering of our wines in order to not strip them of all of their natural characteristics. 

It’s really important that each of our wines reflect a sense of time and place: the vintage they were made and the region that the grapes were sourced from.

What inspired you to use old world techniques in your wine making?

Eric had the unique opportunity to work with other winemakers in the area, as he was doing custom crush. With each new opportunity he got to see a little different way of making wine, and was able to figure out what was really important to him, what his style of winemaking was, what he liked to drink, and what really came from his heart. From year to year grapes come in, and it is really important to him to reflect the changes in each grape from year to year. In order to do that, he needed to take a minimal approach to the way he was making his wines.

What wines are you currently pouring and what you are most excited about?

Right now we have a Sauvignon Blanc, made from Paso Robles grapes, which is part of our wine club release this quarter. We have a chardonnay, the Tondre Chardonnay, which I’m drinking right now and tends to be a favorite of a lot of people. And we have our Tempranillo, which is a Spanish varietal, and that’s done in an Old World style, all native fermentation and the barrels are all neutral barrels

You also have an orange wine that you are pouring. How do you make an orange wine?

Good question. Our Orange wine is made from the Pinot Grigio grape which is considered a white grape, however it's skins have a slight grey tinge to them which is why it's called Pinot Grigio. "Grigio" means grey in Italian. We make a this wine by allowing the skins and seeds to remain in contact with the juice during fermentation. The result is a deep orange-hued wine with nice aromatics like a white wine, a refreshing tartness, and a touch of tannins. In this case, our orange wine is lighter in alcohol, which makes it a wonderful brunch wine. It pairs well with cheese, eggs, all the things you love at brunch time.

Tell us a little bit more about the collaborations you have with other wineries?

There are nine wineries here in our Westside neighborhood, and we call ourselves Surf City Vintners. We do events together throughout the year and have a website that people can turn to as well. This group includes us, Storrs, Odonata, EquinoxSilver Mountain, Sones Cellars, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, MJA Vineyards, and Rexford.

I just love all the folks in the neighborhood that are making wine. Everyone is super cooperative. People are there to help one another out and offer advice. Our orange wine is a great example of that. We weren’t sure we wanted to filter it, or how much to filter it. So, we marched over to our friend Barry at Equinox with a couple of glasses and were like, “this one or this one”? It was great to get his feedback, and that’s really the kind of support and collaboration we have here in the neighborhood.

What other local collaborations do you have?

We collaborate with the Arts Council on a monthly basis as part of First Friday Santa Cruz. We have local artists that display their art every month. We have had everything from mixed media to graphic art. It is a lot of fun.

One of the other collaborations is with Route 1 Farms. We participate in their farm dinner series in the summer, which is a blast. Most of the vineyards that we source grapes from are organically farmed, which really marries well with Route 1 Farms and their values. 

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Do you think that Santa Cruz wines get enough exposure and recognition?

Absolutely not. I believe that is partially because we are one of  the wine regions in California where you won’t see vineyards as you drive along the road. You go to Napa or Sonoma, and you can’t help but know that you are in the middle of a wine region. In Santa Cruz all of our vineyards are tucked away in these beautiful little areas up in the mountains, which are ideal for growing really wonderful grapes, and yet people don’t see them. As a result, people don’t really interpret Santa Cruz as a wine region, and I would like to see that change. Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Growers Association is committed to bringing about the awareness of Santa Cruz Mountain Wines.

What is it about Santa Cruz that encourages you to stay here and grow Stockwell Cellars here?

We love it. We have both been here in Santa Cruz for over 30 years. It is our home, and we feel a real sense of community here. The people of Santa Cruz are very welcoming to new entrepreneurs and new ideas, and that makes Santa Cruz an ideal place to start a business. It is also beautiful.

Where else can you swim, mountain bike, hike, eat good food, and drink good wine? Santa Cruz has a lot of offer and the people of Santa Cruz make it really that much more special. They are very passionate and appreciate other people’s passions. That is really what the foundation of this business is built on: a passion.

What is next for Stockwell Cellars?

From a business standpoint, we are looking to distribute wine to restaurants and wine shops. We want to get our wines out into the community a little bit more. 

To learn more about Stockwell Cellars visit them online or in their tasting room located at 1100 Fair Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

The Sit Down series is also a great representation of local collaborations:

Video production: Design by Cosmic

Audio production: Gadgetbox Studios

Hair & Makeup: Makeup By Holly Neal

Thank you to everyone who has helped to make this video series happen. 

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