Up a narrow, winding road somewhere in Mountain Ranch, there sits a home with a story about perseverance.
In the early 1990s, Bob Moody’s property fell victim to the Old Gulch Fire. The family lost everything. At the same time, they gained an opportunity to create something more.
Moody and his father discussed growing some form of produce on three and-a-half acres of their property. They considered apples and a few other fruits but landed on grapes, specifically Cabernet Sauvignon.
Initially, Moody said he grew the grapes just to sell for the juice. There was never any thought to making his own wine. Through a series of connections with people who gave him the education he needed, Moody began making Moody Ridge wine. Every year, his crop yields 650 to 700 cases, and his wine is sold from Calaveras, Tuolumne and Amador counties to the Bay Area in 57 different stores.
What follows is a look at Moody’s last 20 years in the wine industry in his own words.
“Bad” grape juice led to a good decision. “Being in trucking, you meet thousands of people from all walks of life, and I made maybe a dozen deliveries to a winery in the Bay Area. It was called Brandborg (Vineyards), now it’s in the Umpqua Valley (in Oregon). Every time it was my lunch hour, I timed it so I could see what this guy Terry Brandborg was doing at this facility and he had never grown any grapes at that time, but he’d been a winemaker for 20 years. So, I called him up and told him (a buyer said the Moody juice was bad). And he said, ‘You know, before you make any rash decisions, just go get samples of the juice and bring it down here on Monday … I’ve got a lab. I’ll test it.’ By the time I left this house to go down to the Bay Area—we just had push-in corks—from the pressure of 3,000 feet to sea level, one of them came out of the bottle. I could tell in the trunk of the car—you could smell wine. I took a whiff of it … I took a couple sips of it, and I’m thinking, ‘You know, if I put out a platter of spaghetti and a salad and garlic bread, I bet everyone would like the taste of this.’
“I met (Terry) first thing in the morning before we were both going to go to work. He called me back that night and said, ‘I think that’s going to make a pretty nice wine. Get the juice, get a tanker in there, bring it down here, I’ll teach you how to make some wine.’ To this day, I can’t put a price tag on what he did for my family.”
To grow the business or not to grow. “I was going to plant more and do more, and when you look at the big picture of the industry, you feel bad for anyone now that’s dependent on a tasting room or restaurant sales. I still sell to one restaurant, Gus’s Steakhouse in Sonora. I got more into wine stores, grocery stores, that kind of thing. We’re doing between 650 and 700 cases per year, depending on the year, and that’s just about the right number to handle the outlets that I have without over-producing. I’d have to say if you were going to start this business today, it’d be a tough thing to get going.”
On winning awards and what makes a great wine. “The (2014 and 2015 vintages) were silver medal winners at the San Francisco International Wine Show, this ’17 was a bronze medal winner at the International Wine show. I’m still waiting to see what the (San Francisco) Chronicle does with it. (A great wine) is all about balance. It starts right out there in the field. You try to keep things in balance the best you can. That’s why we do soil every year and see where the balance is in the soil. It seems to be working out. I’m not too caught up in awards. At least you know you’re competitive with the rest of the industry. I did a pour against Lange Twins (of Lodi) down in the Bay Area. You would have laughed. One of the grocery stores I sell to … set this thing up. When you go head-to-head, it tells the tale real quick. I sold 19 bottles, they sold seven. They actually made the store manager open a bottle of my wine to see what they were up against. It’s all entertainment. I’ve done some things at Fort Mason. They lay them all out on a table, from the $10 bottle to the $100 bottle and everything in between. It’s fun to watch people. They automatically think that $100 bottle is probably what they like, when nine times out of 10 it’s actually the $10 bottle that’s more to their tastebuds.”
Having a tasting room. “It’s not really cost-effective anymore to have a place in town, especially for one wine. Regardless of how many wines you have, when you think about back in the day my wife and I had an antique store in Murphys. You could rent a place for $250, $300 a month. You’re lucky if you could rent that same place for $2,500 a month now. If you’re going to spend a lot of time standing there, pouring wine for people, is that really what you want to do? I’d rather not.”
All natural. “I’m not using any chemicals. That’s how I fall into some of these organic stores because you are sustainable, I can’t see farming any other way. Would you want to buy fruit that’s on a major highway? People think, ‘You wash the fruit before you process it, right?’ No, that’s not how it works.”
The Moody Ridge philosophy. “You’re dealing with Mother Nature. You never know what cards you’re going to get dealt. People say, ‘Why’d you start pruning so early?’ My dad and I have been out in the snow pruning. What ends up happening, late in the season, we’ve had 3 feet of snow here in March. So, if you’re not ready to go, if you’re not taking advantage of good weather, it could come back to bite you. Then you’re in a mass scramble.”
One thing. “I’m kind of a black sheep. No one pays attention to me. I just do my own thing. I wish everybody the best. It’s a lot of work. I just try to get good at one thing. I’d rather have one halfway decent (wine) than five that suck. This was always about trying to turn a negative into a positive.”