Ryan’s first wine tasting experience was in 2002, on a whim, at Thomas Fogarty Winery, in Woodside, California. It was a day that arguably changed his life.
While he was in the tasting room, he bumped elbows with Jay Rambeau, the wine buyer for Bianchini’s Market, in Ladera, California. Ryan and Jay became friends right away. Jay introduced Ryan to different varietals at his market tastings and encouraged him to drink the best wines he could get his hands on.
Ryan’s curiosity about wine became insatiable. He read up on winemaking, armed himself with a new vocabulary and set out to one tasting room after another in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Often times, at 22-years-old, he was the youngest person in the room. He was also armed with the most questions: What kind of skin contact time does this wine have? What is the soil like in the vineyard? Do you use native or cultured yeasts?
To his surprise, the art and science of winemaking alluded a great many people in the industry that he came across. He decided he would never have these questions fully answered until he tried it for himself.
He started with a kit and a few small pieces of equipment; setting up shop in his apartment bathroom. He quickly took the next step: buying his own equipment to start making his wine from grapes.
After an exercise in patience and perseverance, Ryan befriended winemaker Michael Martella of Thomas Fogarty Winery. Michael was a wonderful advocate; kindly answering Ryan’s frequent phone calls and tasting samples Ryan would bring up to the winery. Michael assured Ryan that his Cabernet Sauvignon was on the right path and even had assistant winemaker, Nathan Kandler, run tests on the samples.
Ryan started to pursue the concept of becoming a professional winemaker in 2005. Since he was self-taught and had little experience, Ryan was uncertain where he would wind up in the wine industry.
That’s where the stars aligned: Michael Martella offered him a job for the harvest season at Fogarty Winery. Ryan’s 2004, 2005 and 2006 home vintages were made with his partners in wine, David Alessio and Bryon Kennedy. Their label, Bonfire Vineyards, was named for Ryan’s ardor for fire and the notion that to start a blaze, you need to start with a spark. The first Cabernet was aptly named “The Match”, the Barbera was “Fuel,” Cab Franc became “TNT” and the Zinfandel “Wild Fire.” In 2007, Ryan entered the WineMaker Magazine International Amateur Wine Competition where he won Best of Show Red for his Bordeaux style red that was a 1/3-1/3-1/3 blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ryan’s contribution as a winemaker continues to grow since those early days. He relocated to Calaveras County, after receiving an offer to work as the Assistant Winemaker at Lavender Ridge Vineyard in Murphys, CA. With winemaker Rich Gilpin as his mentor, Ryan has gone on to launch his own label, La Folia Wines. And that brings us to today’s accolades. See the growing list of awards the wines at La Folia continue to receive under Ryan’s leadership and exceptional palette.