Cultivating Quality with Kurt Beitler
“A nice mushroom risotto, a tender rack of lamb and a big beautiful salad paired with a top grade Pinot Noir—that’s a wonderful thing.”
With a simple description of a meal, you quickly get a sense of Kurt Beitler’s dedication to quality. Like a master craftsman, he starts with the end in mind—making wine with ageability and longevity, that’s beautiful and pure, and that tastes amazing with good food and good company.
That’s the goal, the vision, and then he goes about making countless decisions along the way to deliver the desired result—the highest quality wine he can bottle.
After graduating from Santa Clara University with a degree in finance, Kurt immediately found himself drawn to the family tradition of wine growing and to the Sonoma Coast in particular. “My mom had been in the business for a long, long time.”
He was inspired by the local wineries there, by the diversity of the agriculture and all the changes that happened with the seasons. He loved how much there was to discover, that there were a million different things you could try, and perhaps most of all, the end product.
So after taking a few courses, studying independently, and gaining a couple years of practical experience, in 2004 he made the jump and started his own winery. That’s how Bohème was born.
Hands On, Every Step of the Way
Vertical integration lies at the heart of Kurt’s wine-growing philosophy. “I believe you can only achieve the greatest quality wine by being directly involved in the process. You need the ability to execute on decisions that will be beneficial for quality. You need to be a hands-on wine grower.”
That started with handpicking the vineyard sites. “Every vineyard that I work with has its own distinct characteristics and attributes. One shines in the area of earthiness and mineral details. One has a fantastic tannin profile with very complex flavors. Another grows gorgeous high-tone fruit. My job is to allow those objectively beautiful features to show in the wine.”
He does that by forming a clear idea of what he’s looking for: the size of the crop or tonnage per acre, what level of acidity and desired sweetness.
“Sometimes we might want to go in and remove clusters. Cull say 30% of the grapes and leave only those clusters that will be ripened by healthy shoots. That way there’s less dilution and they’ll enjoy all of the energy of the vine. Since the main consideration is quality, we’re willing to take a hit on production and crop load. I’d rather have higher quality grapes with more flavor detail and complexity.”
Getting the acidity right is especially important. “For a wine to be very enjoyable with food, and for it to have ageability and longevity, the grape needs to be harvested at a moment when the acidity is still fresh and bright.”
There’s very little room for error because Kurt prefers to steer away from additives and any undue adjustment at the winery. “I prefer the grapes to not need any manipulation. The very best wine comes from grapes that have little to no adjustment.”
It’s a delicate balance, but one which he enjoys immensely. “I love the process. It’s beautiful working in concert with nature, using my hands to guide the natural process of growing, ripening and fermenting to yield beautiful wine.”
Ecology, Technology, and Continuous Improvement
In his quest to make better and better wine, Kurt pays special attention to the health of the soil and the vines.
“We’re always considering soil health and encouraging biodiversity. It keeps the vines healthier and in turn allows the fruit to have more complex flavors and interesting aromas. It’s just like our diet, eating a broad variety of foods keeps your gut and mind healthier, you have stronger bones and greater immunity. It’s a part of living well. And it’s the same with plants. To be the best versions of themselves, they need to live in a healthy environment. All of that translates to the quality and flavor of the wine.”
English Hill Vineyard, in particular, is a place where cattle have grazed for decades. “The cattle made the soil wonderfully nutritious, filled with worms and fungi. The vines need practically zero nutritional supplementation.”
But his focus on hands-on growing and responsible ecological farming doesn’t make Kurt dogmatic or prevent him from being forward looking and adopting new technology when it makes sense to do so.
He evaluates new things on a case by case basis. “To be a non-technologist is a delusion. Everyone uses tractors and fridges. It’s all technology and it can’t be avoided.”
Instead, for him it’s all about whether the technology “can help us get closer to achieving our goals.”
“I’m excited about Lumo, for instance, because it will give me near perfect knowledge of the amount of water irrigated per vine. We can then draw conclusions through experimentation and by looking at historical data to figure out what’s the very best amount of irrigation.”
He loves the idea of being able to run more experiments, gather more data, monitor things in real time, and make more precise changes when and where appropriate.
Reaping the Rewards
It’s no surprise that fall is Kurt’s favorite season. “In Northern Cali the air turns a bit dry. You can smell decomposing vegetation in the forest and you know you’re nearing the finish line, that the grapes will soon be ready to be harvested.”
When asked about what growing wine has taught him about life, he says simply, “Patience.”
“You have to embrace nature as an unpredictable force. You’re not working in a science lab with a repeatable environment. Things are always changing. The worst thing you can do is stress. Take it all on. Allow it to make you scared and depressed. It will wear you down if you let it.”
“You have to realize you can’t control it. There’s so much out of your control that you have to just take it as it comes, just as you do in life. Be light on your feet. Thick skinned. Confident. And just keep moving forward.”
You get the sense that all the hands-on work is hard, but worth it in the end.
“When a dear friend or family member gives me a call or sends me a text message after having a bottle and says, ‘This is absolutely incredibly delicious. Thank you for what you do.’ That’s very rewarding. Improving other people’s lives. Maybe inspiring them or bringing a little bit of love and joy to their table—that’s what it’s all about.”
That's high-quality wine at its finest.