For four generations, the Schoch family has been forging the way in the Napa Valley’s now bustling wine world. Our distinct history, paired with a longstanding passion for the environment, led us to become exceedingly critical of what’s actually in our glasses.When you sip your wine, do you think about what’s in it? Grapes, you think, straight from the vine — what’s cleaner than that? Not always, these days. Since 1974, America has used over 1.8 million tons of glyphosate, which is the toxic chemical in Monsanto’s Round Up herbicide, used in most vineyards that aren’t farmed organically or sustainably. There’s also currently 76 additives approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, but no requirement that a label disclose these to its consumers. We set out to change this.
Wine Fellas is all about transparency, along with farming practices that respect the earth. Because let’s be real: when you pick up your favorite beverage (other than vino), you see a breakdown of the ingredients you’re consuming — so why shouldn't you be offered that same luxury with a bottle of wine? We give you the lowdown, always. As for those aforementioned bothersome chemicals, our hand-picked wines are entirely free of them, guaranteed. Authentic, organically grown, gently made, additive-free wine that tastes superior. Boom.
The Wine Renaissance Revisited...
The Wine Fellas saga starts with Benno Schoch, who in 1941 was already a major export activity and the very first to export California wines to Central and South America. He was the OG, if you will. In 1946, his son, Napa Valley pioneer viticulturist Ivan Schoch, began managing Martin Stelling’s To Kalon Vineyard holdings — a property that is now widely considered the most valuable, historic vineyard in the Napa Valley. Well-respected in the field, he planted Hanzell Winery’s first vineyards for Ambassador James Zellerbach in Sonoma County, and advised Joseph Phelps in selecting some of his first iconic vineyard sites.
After Martin Stelling passed away, Ivan was presented with the distinct opportunity to buy the majority of Martin’s vineyard holdings, most of which Martin’s wife had sold to Italian Swiss Colony. Italian Swiss Colony agreed that Ivan was better suited to manage the vineyard, so in 1953 they sold him what was, in fact, a considerable portion of the now infamous To Kalon Vineyard (approximately 428 acres). Ivan continued to farm To Kalon, providing exceptional grapes to both Beaulieu Vineyards and Charles Krug Winery, until 1962, when he sold most the vineyard to C.K. Mondavi & Sons.
When Robert Mondavi (now there’s a name you recognize!) ventured off to start his own winery four years later, ushering in the start of Napa’s modern wine industry, Ivan Schoch was one of Robert’s two investing partners. The Rainier Brewing Company bought out their Mondavi shares in 1968, after which Ivan next purchased Souverain Winery on Howell Mountain. As with the Mondavi investment, Ivan brought not only his capital, but also his unmatched knowledge of Napa’s unique terroir.
Meanwhile, Ivan’s son Nikko was developing a reputation of his own. A long line of wine-loving fellas, as you’ve gathered. While Ivan was a master grape grower, Nikko was more inclined to winemaking, learning from industry legends such as André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards. Also a decorated Vietnam war hero and peace activist, Nikko quickly proved to be a natural at winemaking. He was responsible for many outstanding wines produced throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, including those made for Shafer, Folie à Deux, Trentadue, and Freemark Abbey. Nikko and his wife Bonnie established their own brand, Schochenfels (Schoch & Sons), in 1978.
Gotta keep it going, right? The bloodline continues with our present-day rebel of natural wines: Nikko’s son, Galen. An ‘80s baby and a Napa Valley lifer, Galen’s been absorbing the vast wine knowledge surrounding him since childhood, nabbing his first job at age 13, working at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. He later gained certifications from the Society of Wine Educators and the Court of Master Sommeliers, which ultimately led him to the marketing side of the industry. Galen managed major retail chain and restaurant accounts for Southern Wine & Spirits, the country’s premier wine distributor. There, he represented the leading portfolios in the industry — among them Constellation, Treasury Wine Estates, and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. What resulted was priceless insight into how premium wine is made and sold in America. Now, Galen tirelessly builds on that experience as the founder of Wine Fellas. He has also recently revived his parents’ historic wine brand Schochenfels, as winemaker. In keeping with the historic philosophy shared by all four Schoch generations, Galen remains dedicated to his family’s commitment to pure, organic wines.
And there you have it: the Schoch family’s everlasting imprint on California wine. Each a leader in his own era, each an innovator committed to the ideals of mindfulness in their dealings with people, grapes, and wine.
Wait, so what IS a “Natural” Wine anyway?
There’s no official industry-backed definition for “natural wine,” but here at Wine Fellas, we start in the vineyard, with the requirement that the wine must be organic or biodynamic equivalent. Chemicals and herbicides, such as Roundup, are never used in the vineyards. Pest management and soil health is achieved by utilizing cover crops and natural predators only. Yields are low, and grapes are hand-harvested.
In the cellar, intervention is kept to an absolute minimum. Only wild, native yeast is used in fermentation. There are no additions of sugar, and no use of harmful additives or chemicals, with minimal filtration. Only natural fining agents are used, if any. If sulfur dioxide is added, which occurs naturally during fermentation, it’s minimal. When oak treatment is used, it’s exclusively “old” or neutral so it does not impart noticeable flavors into the wine. Our producers follow the “nothing added, nothing removed” philosophy, and are considered true low-interventionists.
A note about producers of conventional wines: they often value consistency above all else to keep up with supply and demand, which sometimes means sacrificing a wine’s true character through over use of sulfur dioxide and chemical manipulation, in order to duplicate one vintage to the next. This is what you’re used to. We invite you to have your mind blown. Once you experience a truly natural wine, you’ll notice how much better you feel, and how reviving it tastes — without harm to the environment. Just as it was traditionally meant to be enjoyed, natural wine more closely replicates what our ancestors consumed for the last 7000 years. Only in the last few 100 years has advanced technology developed in winemaking.
For millennia, making wine was dead simple. You just grew a bunch of grapes, crushed them, put their juice into a vessel, and let ambient yeast work its magic to ferment that juice into wine. Nature did all the work. Over time, human interventions were developed to solve grape growing and winemaking problems, but with every new tool, the experience of drinking wine became one step further removed from the simple ideals of our ancestors. As vineyards adapted to industrial farming and wine cellars built labs filled with chemicals and technology, wine lost its way. Today, so many wines — especially those found in grocery stores — taste pretty much the same, stripped of character, mass produced, and too often dosed with unwelcome adulterants.
Natural wines are made as they were before science and technology took over. The challenges have always been there, the difference is that before the industrial age, winemakers found natural ways to solve them. And those natural ways still work — by engaging mindfully with nature, by nurturing the vineyard and observing carefully, rather than imposing control. Let the grapes express themselves: this is the Wine Fellas way.This is the way of the past, but so obviously the way of the future.
Connect What’s in Your Glass to the Natural World Around You
Natural wines taste earthy, complex — perhaps unusual to folks only accustomed to wines that have been shaped and manipulated in the modern manner. Natural wines come directly from unmediated earth, and to us, this makes the choice a simple one.
Wine Fellas feature only dry wines, with between zero and nine grams per liter residual sugar. These are wines that are friendly to the earth and all lifestyles. You can’t buy these wines in a grocery store, or even a fine wine shop with the plethora of information and analysis you’ll get here. Sourcing the wines we offer isn’t easy — because of the delicate nature of the goods, there are casualties along the way. Therefore, the natural wine industry is small but mighty! Pure, beautiful natural wines do exist, and Wine Fellas is your in.
We are the leader in transparency
In this day and age, we’re all hyper-aware of the many benefits of food and wine that’s grown and produced locally and organically. We go above and beyond to ensure accountability in wine world. By running a chemistry analysis panel on each of our wines, we’re able to provide our members with accurate technical data containing extensive ingredient and nutritional information. Straight talk.
Most of our featured producers offer lower alcohol options as their grapes are harvested earlier than conventional wines, and typically they come from cooler climates. Although many of our featured producers are awarded high points, we don’t believe in placing a point system next to an artisan wine. These are vintners who dedicate their lives to their craft, who produce wines filled with life and energy. To put a point next to it could demean the nature of their passion. We’re offering you a chance to choose your wines differently without compromising quality: ethical farming practices, pure ingredients, and sense of place.We say passion, not points.