David Girard Vineyards

Fine Wine is a Team Effort

David Girard Vineyards

Although David Girard is a practicing attorney, he is the dedicated owner of David Girard Vineyards with 85 acres outside of Placerville in El Dorado County. Since David is not a viticulturist or winemaker by training or education, he has developed his vision over 20 years with the help of others. It’s been a “team effort,” he says. So what happens when a star player, in this case winemaker Mari Wells Coyle, decides to leave? Initially, one might think that owners, who are winemakers, enjoy a big advantage because they will never confront a similar disruption. In fact, David admits that his reliance on experts has advantages and disadvantages. But ultimately, he feels that the owner of a small winery need not be the winemaker even though that is the more common situation.

“If you’re the winemaker, you have more control. That’s obvious,” he says. “On the other hand, if you can stand back and provide some over-arching views on what you’re trying to accomplish and work closely with the winemaker, there are some advantages to that, one of which is to make a determination of what it is that you want to do, to have a collaboration with the winemaker to make sure that standards and goals and objectives are met. All of those things go to the point of producing fine wine.” David emphasizes that the process has to be “a team effort. Everybody contributes. Otherwise it’s not a team. It’s just a top-down approach.”

Initially, David developed the vineyard with Merlot and sold the grapes, an easy decision because wineries couldn’t get enough of it to satisfy customer demand. But after ten years, he decided that he would be better off if his business were more diversified, so he built his own winery. At about the same time, he grafted the existing Merlot vines over to the Rhone varieties of Southern France. The soils, temperatures, and elevations in El Dorado County were similar to those in the Rhone, inspiring local winemakers to cultivate similar grape varieties. If he were going to make fine wine, he would have to plant grapes that were well suited to his land.

The wine style that David and Mari Wells designed corresponded to the vineyard and the fruit that it produced but also was inspired by an admiration for Rhone wines, which were aromatic, elegant, and lighter in alcohol and made without intrusive oak flavors. That was the model. But David points out that the French can make a wonderful wine at 12 percent alcohol. “We just can’t,” he says. “Conditions are different here.” So his wines range between 13.5 percent and 14.5, which may be higher than Rhone wines but certainly avoid the excesses of the last ten years, when 15 and 15.5 percent alcohol was common.

“Some people won’t like our wines. I get it. Some people like big, boomy, fat wines, and that’s fine. God bless them. But that’s not what we want to do.”

The style of David Girard wines was well established when Mari Wells decided to leave. David points out, “One of the huge advantages that we have is that it wasn’t as if she went to work for a competitor. She decided to increase her consulting, devote time to writing a book, and perhaps do some television work. And she stayed on as our consulting winemaker, which means that we’ll have consistency as we move forward.”

Mari also helped David find the new winemaker, Grayson Hartley. “A major part of winemaking is the vineyard…. If you produce quality grapes, and you spend time caring about the vineyard as we do, and we put a lot of time into it, and if you don’t

over-manipulate the wine, it should be good. That was Mari’s approach. That’s my approach. And that’s our new winemaker’s approach as well. We were very careful about interviewing the winemaker and that he shared this philosophy. Mari and I got together and developed questions. We interviewed Grayson. We sent him additional questions to ferret out his thoughts on a number of things…. The goals in selecting a winemaker are certainly technical expertise, but winemaking is an art more than a science by far, and so do you share the artistic goal and artistic sensitivity? When you taste the wines, do you tend to enjoy the same kinds of things?

“I think about wine in the same sense of painting. You might have a school, the Hudson River Valley School. You can identify it immediately, looking at it. You can identify certainly Impressionism or Expressionism. But within those genres, you have the individuals, who are painting, so within Impressionism, there’s a wide variety. I like to look at boutique wineries like ours in the same way. There are different types and approaches to wine.”

David says that his life has taught him that change is good although managing it well is important. While it is uncomfortable, it is energizing. “You get excited again because the new people have ideas that they want to achieve.” David points out that right now, Grayson is respectful of what Mari has accomplished, what a wonderful winemaker she is, and he wants to build on her expertise. “He’s not the guy who goes into the new job and tries to change everything right away. He’s properly cautious and rightly so. I think, after he goes through a harvest and analyzes it with Mari still providing her valuable input, then we’ll start to see some differences.

“I could not expect, would not expect, that Grayson would be a clone of Mari. That’s not going to happen. There should be changes. But there are wonderful winemakers besides ours, who produce some great wines. They’re a little different than ours as they should be. I expect that over time our wines will reflect Grayson’s style as they should. It’ll be a wonderful style but still in the tradition, the art form, and the style that we like and want to produce.”

One of Grayson’s interests is organic farming, which he would like to implement in the vineyards and which David says will be a goal over the next two years. “What does that exactly mean anyway, organic?” David asked Grayson. The answer that Grayson gave was that they would exercise extremely careful control over the vineyard, monitoring everything that develops. Right now, highly respected viticulturist Ron Mansfield manages the vineyard along with other vineyards. “He is spectacular. I can’t say enough about him. But he’s got to have some kind of over arching plan so that he can’t differentiate us as much as he might if he’s got a business that manages two, three, four, or five vineyards. Whereas Grayson, as he moves to organic, can exercise more control. We’re close now, but we want to move more in that direction. Even as good as Ron is, and he’s great, we’d take more control over the cycle of spraying, pruning, and everything. We’ll continue to work with Ron because I love what he does, but we’ll be paying even more attention.”

Consumers may be extremely interested in how and where their food is produced, but they have not yet developed the same consciousness about wine. David says that rarely will someone in the tasting room ask about farming practices, whether or not the vineyards are organically farmed. David’s experience mirrors what other California winemakers say. Wine labels could be a big part of educating consumers if farming practices were addressed there. The information could at least alert consumers that how vineyards are farmed influences wine quality. “Organic farming will require more effort and be more costly for us, but that’s okay. I’ll tell you, if we put that amount of effort and cost into it, which we will, we’re going to shout about it.”

California Wines of the Month

Artisan Series

David Girard 2009 Syrah, El Dorado

Winemaker Mari Wells Coyle’s Notes

A classic Syrah in our lineup that is beginning to unfold. Layers of violet, tea leaves, and smoke frame a juicy core with tobacco, black raspberry, and earthiness. Some tar, resin, and black olive juice add interest to the fruit core of this wine, which was aged for 16 months in 20% new French oak barrels (alcohol 13.9%, brix at harvest 24.1, total acidity 6.3 g/L, pH 3.65).

Anna Maria’s Notes

The winery produced 530 cases of this medium-bodied, smooth, and elegant wine. This is a great summer red and can be served with anything off the grill or with a tomato sauce. Think France when you taste this wine, especially if you’re not planning a vacation there.

David Girard 2011 Viognier-Rousanne, El Dorado

Winemaker Mari Wells Coyle’s Notes

A racy blend in this vintage, with bright acidity brings a lemon zest quality to this full bodied blend. A very cool year adds citrusy qualities that melt in your mouth and last well through the finish. This year’s blend is light on its feet with gorgeous texture that is reminiscent of the unique vintage (alcohol 13.9%, brix at harvest 23-24.2, total acidity 6.26 g/L, pH 3.32).

Anna Maria’s Notes

This is a delicate white. To enjoy it to its fullest, pair it with clean and simple flavors, such as fish or mozzarella and tomato slices with fresh basil, drizzled with olive oil. The winery made just 277 cases of this wine.

Winemaker Series

David Girard 2010 Triptych, El Dorado

Winemaker Mari Wells Coyle’s Notes

A culmination of the spice rack in cedar lining, this bold version of Syrah and Grenache is blended with a large Counoise component. Subtle oak flavors accompany the ripe fruit. A bold expression of our Rhone blends, the wine was aged for 10 months in French oak barrels (alcohol 14.2%, brix at harvest 25.2-27.2, total acidity 3.6 g/L, pH 5.65).

Anna Maria’s Notes

This blend is 48% Syrah, 33% Grenache, and 19% Counoise and is named Triptych after the three-paneled paintings that were standard format for altar paintings from the Middle Ages. The winery produced 494 cases of this intensely aromatic and flavored wine, which is medium bodied. But don’t equate medium body with wimpy flavors. This wine is anything but banal. Aromas and flavors begin with ripe berries and finish with floral and mineral qualities. It’s a beauty, and its lighter body makes it eminently suitable for summer dishes.

David Girard 2010 Mourvedre, El Dorado

Winemaker Mari Wells Coyle’s Notes

Hints of fresh tobacco laves, black pepper, and tomato vine uncover a core of juicy plum flesh. Tannins like glass marbles create seamless waves of texture. Bright raspberry percolates from under the earth to show the bright side of this wine. Very balanced and designed to be enjoyed with food (alcohol 14.2%, brix at harvest 25.5, total acidity 5.53 g/L, pH 3.55).

Anna Maria’s Notes

This beautiful wine is 100% Mourvedre and is again medium-bodied like the other David Girard reds on these pages. The wine is subtly layered with aromas and flavors that begin with berries but end with chocolate and earthy notes on the finish. This Mourvedre, like all of David Girard wines, is the definition of a balanced wine. Fruit, acid, alcohol, and oak complement one another without any single component outshining another. The winery made just 481 cases.

Menu of the Month


Father’s Day Lunch

First Course

A platter of assorted salumi, prosciutto, mozzarella,
castelvetrano olives & grilled vegetables such as zucchini, asparagus & eggplant

Main Course

Organic fettuccine with fresh Roma tomatoes, basil, garlic & olive oil


Red & green organic lettuces with shaved fennel slices & a lemon, garlic, olive oil dressing


Mixed berry crostata

Recipe of the Month

Organic Fettuccine With Fresh Tomatoes, Basil, Garlic & Olive Oil

I love this fresh pasta when local tomatoes ripen. Only four uncooked ingredients flavor the pasta, five if you count salt, so each ingredient should be the best that you can find, including the salt. I prefer Baia whole grain pasta, which is made in Oakland from artisan, organic, California-grown wheat, comparable to fine Italian artisan-produced pasta. Since the “sauce” is uncooked, Roma tomatoes are best for this dish because they are less juicy, but cherry tomatoes are great, too. You can include small mozzarella balls if you prefer. Obviously, the olive oil should be the finest. As I write in the middle of May, wind bangs at the windows, although generally temperatures have been in the mid 70s. New Yorkers expect rain. This menu expresses hope that by the time you receive this package in June, temperatures will warm all of us equally and the tomatoes, too.


1 pound of fettuccine pasta, whole wheat or white

2 cups of fresh organic Roma tomatoes, diced

4 garlic cloves very finely chopped

1 bunch fresh organic basil, stems removed and cut into ribbons

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt to taste, at least one teaspoon for the pasta water and another for the vegetables.


Put all vegetables, including olive oil, in a large bowl, big enough to accommodate the fettuccini. Mix the vegetables with the olive oil, and add salt.

Fill a deep pasta pot with water and bring to a rolling boil. Add salt and pasta. Stir pasta carefully until it softens and bends into the pot, and the water returns to a rolling boil. Taste periodically to monitor cooking progress.

When the pasta cooks to the point that it is al dente, drain quickly, leaving some of the water, and dump into the bowl with the vegetables. Mix well and taste for salt. Add more if necessary. Add more olive oil if mixture needs additional moisture. Let flavors marinate for a few minutes, mixing occasionally, then serve. You can also prepare the pasta before you and your guests sit for the first course, let flavors marinate, and serve in individual plates after the first course. Serves 6.