Why Wine? An interview with Gregory Bergersen of Solitary Cellars Wine Company

Was there a specific wine, moment or place that unlocked your passion?

Gregory Bergersen: My love of wine happened during a camping trip with my good friend, Loch Ockey. His father had a very impressive cellar and for our 25th birthday, he let loose of a 1969 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. We drank that wine out of a plastic cup sitting around a campfire. Our meal selection was hamburgers and pork and beans. I have not, nor will I ever forget the flavor of that wine. The wine was perfectly balanced and it was amazing. Whenever Loch and I get together we drift back and laugh about that experience. It was then that I understood the magical qualities of wine and the memories a good bottle can deliver.

What did you study in school and what were you doing before you started in the wine industry?

GB: My path began in the restaurant industry where I learned the proper way to present and serve wine, and I developed my palate with Cabs, Merlots and Malbecs. I also found my love for Cognac. In 1989, I left the food services industry and began a career in the California Department of Corrections. My first assignment was the California State Prison-Corcoran. At the time, CSP-COR was the most violent prison in the nation. It was quite a change from serving Chardonnay.

It was here that I first met and worked with Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan and some others lesser known, but more ruthless and dangerous characters. As Correctional Officers do, I transferred to North Kern State Prison in Delano, Central California Women’s Facility and Valley State Prison. While at CCWF, I was assigned as the Lieutenant who was responsible for California’s female Condemned Row.

In 2010 I was honored as the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations Supervisor of the Year. From 2010 until my retirement I was assigned as the Administrative Assistant to the Warden. I retired from Corrections in 2014 to run Solitary Cellars Wine Company. I was also the Public Information Officer. My education consisted of a Liberal Arts degree and truly the School of Hard Knocks. Working 25 years in such an unpredictable and dangerous industry taught me many lessons about human behavior.

How has being in the wine industry changed you?

GB: Outside of always looking behind me, the industry has allowed me to meet the most interesting people. Solitary Cellars is a two man shop. Our growers are extraordinary stewards of our land. They have shown me true passion and the need to sweat the small stuff. Other winemakers are so helpful and enthusiastic about their craft. The wine industry is a vibrate community of doers. The industry has taught me that shortcuts will be noticed and everyone has their own experience when it comes to wine. The wine experience, from production to tasting envelopes the entire array of senses. I have learned to enjoy the ride and allow the wine to help guide my experience. I appreciate the industry and those who walk in it.

What’s your favorite part of being in the wine industry?

GB: The people I have met and those who drink our wines. The company is co-owned by Rick Quesada and myself. Rick is a working Lieutenant (too young to hang it up and too long in the saddle to quit), we work well together and he is much more outgoing than I am. What many people have a hard time understanding is that Corrections is a people oriented industry. How you interact with the inmates has a lot to do with your personal safety. I have taken the same approach to the North Block Tasting Room. I enjoy the people who come in. I respect everyone who walks through our door. Whether you are a Master Sommelier or a first time wine drinker, the fact that you are standing before me is an honor. I love the opportunity to pour our wine. I love meeting winemakers and growers. The respect for both is overwhelming. Both the grower and the winemaker are people of passion.

Looking back, was there something in your past that led you to wine?

GB: When I was a waiter, I realized that a dining experience was something memorable. For the evening, the couple before me has the opportunity to make a memory, to fill a page in a lifelong scrapbook, something to reflect on when they are older. I can vividly recall the Mondavi I drank on my birthday. I want every experience with Solitary Cellars to provide that same opportunity. Wine is something that evolves, that is shared and that builds a memory.

Please visit the Solitary Cellars website: www.solitarycellars.com

And their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/solitarycellars