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Meet Rodney Williamson of Cobblestone Vineyards

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rodney Williamson.

Rodney, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was born in Santa Monica and grew up in Culver City, Ca. as part of a family that migrated from Oklahoma. Our food was typical homestyle Midwest dishes (cabbage rolls, roast beef, chili, hamburgers, fried chicken, etc.) and my only recollection of wine was when Uncle Lee would break out a bottle of Blue Nun during the holidays. He told stories of his father making wine from native grapes in Hydro, OK. They weren’t exposed to fine wine but his father had a knowing expression ‘You don’t drink wine, you kiss it.’ That tells me that they knew that wine was something more than just an alcoholic beverage.

I was first exposed to fine wine as a waiter at The Chart House in Los Gatos, Ca. The staff was into wine and I remember the first time I smelled something other than a primary aroma in a wine. It was the Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant and I smelled smoke! I was hooked on the spot. I studied wine and spent time with people who understood it and went on to pass the Certificate Course of The Court of Master Sommeliers in 1999.

Following stints as Sommelier/Beverage Manager at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel and The St. Regis Hotel, I worked for a couple of wine distributors. I then took a break and moved to Ecuador where I taught English. There isn’t a culture of wine drinking in Ecuador so when I returned to Los Angeles I had to get my skills back so I started drinking wine again! While working as a Sommelier in Westwood I met Mr. Saul Levine and he offered me a job as the Senior Sales Executive for Cobblestone Vineyards where I work today.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
One of the challenges of learning about wine is how to have access to fine wine. There are two that I know of. If you are wealthy you can buy what you want and try it. If you are not wealthy then you need to work in the industry. That means working in a wine shop, restaurant, wine tasting room or for a distributor.

The greatest challenge to working for a winery is getting the wine buyers and consumers attention. It is not enough to have great wine. There is an ocean of wine on the market and more distributors and brokers than any buyer can possibly see. There are only so many spots on a shelf in a wine shop, so many spots on a restaurant wine list and so many people to drink the wine.

Even getting buyers to try a wine is a challenge. Being a small winery, we have to be creative in our approach. One thing that we employ is the philosophy that we are not looking for quick sales, but we are forming long-term relationships with clients.

We also focus on family-owned businesses as there is already a common bond.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Cobblestone Vineyards – what should we know?
First of all, we are a small production, family winery producing only about 3,000 cases a year of wine. We are not driven by sales quotas.

What drives us is making world-class wine from the best locations for each grape varietal. That is why the family owns a vineyard in Arroyo Seco, Monterey and produces Chardonnay there. The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the family vineyard on Atlas Peak, Napa Vally. And in the quest to make great Pinot Noir the family owns a vineyard in Martinborough, New Zealand. Each vineyard is designated for a specific grape varietal which thrives in that area.

Another unique feature is the family owns and operates radio stations. This lends itself to a vibrant, creative environment with musicians coming and going from the offices. I like it because it gives me a window on the world of music.

The Levine family operates KKJZ 88.1 FM Jazz radio and owns KKGO 105.1 FM Country Radio and KSUR 1260 AM Oldies radio. The creative influence of music guides our approach to wine in an artistic fashion rather than a strict sales-oriented approach. Wine and music are art forms.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I would like to thank Geoff Young who was the General Manager at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey when I was working there. He challenged me to take the step to becoming a sommelier. His support launched me on this career path which I am grateful for. It has been really enjoyable using my creative energy in the world of food and wine.

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