SAN MARCOS — If there were no documentation to prove it, it would hard to believe that a couple of empty nesters from the Silicon Valley with no previous wine-making experience won a silver medal for their very first batch of wine at their first ever competition. But there it is. Winemaker Malcolm Gray stands holding a bottle of the winning Sunset Red, and the certificate from the San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge 2018.
“We were shocked,” his wife Kathryn said. “Delighted but shocked.”
They had bought the Twin Oaks Valley Winery in San Marcos only five years earlier. They had no experience at wine-making or running a winery at all. Sure, they liked wine and belonged to a few wine clubs, but that was the extent of their experience.
They had been looking for a business for when they retired, Malcolm as an electrical engineer and Kathryn a business manager. They explored the possibility of a sandwich shop or bed and breakfast, but nothing captured their imagination until the opportunity to buy a winery presented itself.
They first questioned their own sanity and then jumped right in.
Although they had to learn the business from the ground up, they had help and support from other winery owners and Lum Eisenman, a legendary winemaker and teacher who passes on his secrets to fledgling winemakers. Oh, yes, and they did take a couple of classes at UC Davis, which offers classes on grape growing and wine making.
During their first harvest, they processed 30,000 pounds of grapes by themselves.
“We had bruises in places we didn’t know you could get bruises,” said Kathryn Gray with a chuckle.
They bottled their first batch in 2015 with encouragement from Eisenman in the form of the comment “that’s not bad.”
In the meantime, while that wine was aging, life has gone on at the winery and three years have passed. The Grays lived, learned and expanded. They now offer 10 red wines, five blends and two white wines under two labels, Twin Oaks Winery and San Marcos Winery.
Son Michael, who came on board to help with the heavy lifting, also handles the wholesale marketing, distribution and has become the in-house viticulturist. His mom calls him a “godsend.”
The Grays bought a home that sits just above the vineyard and they bought more vines.
Malcolm Gray said he has learned much more about wine making, mostly about the commitment to it.
“It requires a lot of heart,” he said. “You really want to have to be there.”
He wants to be there.
“I enjoy what I do,” he said.
Their goal is to produce about 800 cases of wine a year and keep the business small and manageable.
They are mindful of the environment and do everything they can do save and reuse water and other resources. They also stay involved with the community. Kathryn Gray was just elected president of the Friends of San Marcos, which is a group whose mission is to keep the city’s parks beautiful and inviting.
The Grays opened their first tasting room at the end of March and have had many visitors who arrive by car, bicycle and even horseback.
“We are considered the neighborhood winery,” Kathryn Gray said. And since their grand opening, they already have more than 20 wine club members.
When the winning three-year-old wine was entered along with 1,500 hopefuls, they didn’t know what to expect from their inaugural effort.
“You tell me,” said Malcolm Gray, holding the certificate and a bottle of the wine.
The tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday 2 to 6 p.m.
The Twin Oaks Valley winery is at 1575 Mulberry Dr., San Marcos.
To learn more, call (408) 712-712-0487 or visit www.twinoaksvintners.com