In the early 80's John met Gary Pisoni, the well-known Monterey grape grower and farmer. Gary introduced John to the craft of wine making and for four years the two of them made wine as a hobby. In 1994, John and his wife Jana traded their 250-acre citrus orchard in Soledad for 15 acres in Carmel Valley - land that had gone uncultivated for lack of water. The first well he drilled gushed enough water to irrigate his vineyard forever. In early spring 1997, they planted their first vineyard on their sun-drenched hillside.
Today more than 6,000 grapevines grow on 7 acres, producing fruit that is widely regarded as some of California's best.
"John probably owns the finest vineyard in Monterey County," says David Coventry, a UC Berkeley-educated chemist who acts as a consultant for Saunders.
"The first time I met John, I told him, 'Don't ever sell these grapes to anyone. You've got to make this wine yourself'."
The result is the Saunders Vineyard and his own label - Boete (Bwah-tay). The secret of the wine, Saunders says, is in the quality of the grapes, and old world wine making techniques that utlize French Oak barrels.
"Winemaking to me, is art," Saunders says. "If the wine isn't good, I'll run it back down the hill and into the ground, where it came from. But when I hear about people who enjoy it, that's when I really feel wonderful."
Working in the vineyard and winery is a family affair with sons Jesse, Sam, and Dillon working full-time alongside their dad. John makes all the vineyard and wine making decisions, with great attention being paid throughout the growing season and wine making process; from pruning to fermentation and aging, to blending and barrel selection.
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