Clay was recently asked to submit a bio for his company newsletter that focused on him as a winegrower. The rest of us loved this snapshot of him, so we voted to post it here. Enjoy!
My interest in wine began during my freshman year in the dorms at UCSB, where our standing Friday night jam sessions were enlivened by Gallo Hearty Burgundy. I later learned that Gallo Hearty Burgundy had, in fact, nothing to do with Burgundy, but I did like it anyway.
It never occurred to me that one could make wine at home until I ran into a guy pressing grapes in his driveway to make wine for his restaurant while walking my dog in the Berkeley Hills. Celeste and I later wandered down to the local winemaking supply store (there are such things) and left with a five gallon carboy. One thing led to another and after about ten years of making wine successfully (believe it or not I won a silver medal at an international wine competition), I found myself enrolled in a UC Davis three year, science-oriented enology program for individuals employed in the wine industry, which I finished in 2010.
In the Fall of 2009, on a lark, Celeste and I drove up to Sonoma County to meet a broker specializing in rural properties. We bought the first property he showed us, four days later. It felt right, and it has turned out to be right for us. With the help of one of my Davis professors, we assembled a team and planted a vineyard to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. One step at a time, and we are now in our ninth year of farming. We have sold each crop to Kosta Browne Winery. For those who aren't familiar with the wine industry, they are among the top two or three Pinot Noir producers in the Russian River Valley, which (in my opinion) makes them among the top Pinot Noir producers in the world. I tell people who don't know the business that our journey is like graduating from high school and becoming the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees. No pressure! But, it keeps us on our toes.
Along the way, I was privileged to be elected to be the president of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers, which is our association of winemakers and grape growers. It was a crash course on the wine industry and very challenging. Having served as managing shareholder of the Steefel firm during the period culminating with our combination with Manatt, I think I am in a unique position to compare the legal world with the wine world. Believe it or not, I think lawyers are probably easier to manage (though they talk a lot more than farmers or winemakers, as a rule)!
These days, as far as my wine industry life is concerned, I really consider myself a farmer. My winemaking is limited to small batches for our friends and my family that I make in my well equipped home winery and lab. As strange as it may sound, it really is a way for me to communicate my love for all of them and it also satisfies some of my creative urges. Working in the vineyard gives me peace, and there is something humbling about farming--mother nature sets the schedule, and you have to take it as it comes. You can't rush things, and you can't slow them down--not at all like practicing law. I call it "tractor therapy."