Behind the Wine

Crowd funding rescued this wine that had been in the works for 11 years

Tim Olson made wine from this vineyard for 11 years. 

Tim Olson has come a long way since he started making wine in his garage in 1986.

I got chills seeing Tim and George Unti talk about talk about their collaboration over the past 11 years. They discussed the uncanny art of grape-growing and winemaking, how it’s sort of a game of trial and error to discover what the terroir lends to a wine and how the winemaker can best express that in any given year.

timothy olson george unti vineyard dry creek valley
Tim and George amidst the Unti Vineyards

That’s why the 11 years are so important! Tim’s been able to make wine from this one plot of land for over a decade. That’s ten long trials where he was able to see the hottest years in Dry Creek Valley (where the temperature rose to 106 degrees in this parcel) as well as the cooler years with their longer hang times. He was able to see the effect that organic and sustainable viticulture has had on this parcel and also seen some of Unti’s biodynamic processes and how they’ve affected the grape-growing.

He’s had 11 years to see how the wine changes if you ferment at one temperature range or another, if you inoculate with yeast or go indigenous, if you blend a little Viognier or if you keep it pure Syrah. I’ve only got 9 vintages under my belt, personally, in my whole career. Tim’s had more than that with just one plot of land. He’s connected to it. He knows what’s up.

It is a special vineyard — the first block Unti planted

timothy olson syrah unti vineyard dry creek valley
Tim Olson shows off his Syrah with a smirk

“Drainage is important for all grape-growing,” Unti explained with a sly smile. “You don’t need hill-side vineyards for great drainage… but it certainly helps.”

bud break syrah unti vineyard dry creek valley
Tim shows us budbreak

Tim nodded in agreement and the pair kept talking affectionately about the vines in that particular hill-top block of Syrah. Minutes passed before they remembered they were being interviewed and they looked a little guilty for getting all nostalgic and dreamy-eyed in front of me.

It was fantastic.

The wine he made from this vineyard used to cost $45 a bottle.

“We made some incredible wines,” Tim said with a complimentary nod to his grape-grower. “Many many many 90+ score wines.”

It was much easier to get them to speak fondly of the vineyard than it was to get them to brag about how good the wine was. But I did some personal research and dug up lots of scores and glowing critical praise.

Jeb Dunnuck (who has since become the Rhone specialist for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate), wrote about one of the Unti Syrah vintages: “A serious Syrah that boasts a deep purple color to go with rich, yet well defined aromas of bing cherry, candied flowers, graphite, pepper, and an edgy minerality and crushed stone like character that develops over the evening. Overall fresh and elegant, yet with a rock-solid core of fruit, a deft, light texture, and beautifully integrated acidity, this medium-bodied, cool-climate Syrah is certainly impressive…”

The Wine Enthusiast wrote “A gorgeous, brooding Syrah from Unti’s wonderful Rhone-inspired vineyard…An integrated and complex rendering of California Syrah, with smooth tannins and a fullness that doesn’t overwhelm.”

And I can personally vouch for that depth of color. That intensity. And a certain balance and freshness that keeps the wine from being “too much”.

And Tim sold out of the Syrah each year at Olson Ogden.

But he could sell the whole production at a good price and still end up unprofitable.

But the truth is that selling wine costs a lot of money. Tim was spending a lifetime on the road, hand-selling this wine to nice restaurants and small wine shops.

And I’ll add that Tim is a competent salesman (a rare quality in a good winemaker!) but Dry Creek Valley Syrah is not a world-renowned brand like Napa Cab so you really have to be out there hustling 24-7 to convince people to taste it.

Once people tasted the wine, it was an easy sell. But getting over that barrier takes time and time is money. So even selling at $45… it wasn’t really working out.

Crowd-funding allows him to make the same quality wine and sell it for $15 a bottle.

Now that Tim is crowd-funded, he gets to make the same wine from the same vineyard at the same price… wait no .. strike that, at ONE THIRD the price and he’s happier than before. How can that be?

“Without the worries of sales and distribution, I can focus all my efforts on making tasty wines from great vineyards that don’t break the bank.” That’s it. The wine is pre-sold to the very people who invested in him. So he doesn’t waste time or money on sales and marketing. Consumers pay less. Winemaker gets more. Everybody wins.

And what’s more, it’s not just sustainable, it’s growing. “We continue to grow,” Tim beamed. “We’ve added fruit from what we did before.”

He’s using more of the Unti fruit than ever before, expanding his relationship with Unti and the vineyard and making a larger range of wines than before.

And it’s all thanks to our Angels. That’s why this month, any Angel who orders 11 or more bottles gets a free sample of this delicious Unti Vineyard Syrah (while supplies last).

timothy olson syrah unti vineyard dry creek valley
Budbreak marks a new vintage of delicious Tim Olson Syrah already in the works 


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Karen S.
Karen S.
10 years ago

Love the story. I have a few bottles of Tim’s wine. Can’t wait to try…have been waiting for the perfect meal inspiration that a wine such as this deserves. Ryan, I really like your blog. It’s nice to be able to get more depth from your stories than the NW website allows. Was glad to get an update email for the new story and look forward to your next update! Thanks!

Naked Ryan
10 years ago
Reply to  Karen S.

It’s a really stunning wine. If you were smart enough to grab a few (and have the patience), lay one down for a couple years.

Karen S
Karen S
10 years ago
Reply to  Naked Ryan

That’s my plan. I have 3 or 4. Going to have one in next couple of weeks and save the rest. Very excited!

Robert W. Minto Jr.
Robert W. Minto Jr.
10 years ago

Great Story Ryan! Any Direction you are going with this? It is a great asset to the Naked Wine consumers.

Naked Ryan
10 years ago

Glad you like it. The blog mission is explained here.

But I think it’ll be about 1/3 Behind the Music-style stuff like this post, 1/3 responses to stuff happening in the world of wine like the Bloomberg/Jancis posts, and 1/3 soapbox.


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