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Vineyard Views
Cedar Mountain Winery spoke with Linda and Earl Ault (and their cats), owners of Cedar Mountain Winery, in the living room of their house on the Cedar Mountain Winery/Blanches Vineyard property in Livermore. We first met Linda and Earl in 1991, not too long after they were open for business. While they haven't been in the industry as long as Wente or Concannon, they are well-respected as leaders in the Livermore Valley wine community.

Wine-Food pairing with Cedar Mountain wines How did the name Cedar Mountain Winery come to be?
Linda & Earl Ault: Looking out the window from our house here in our vineyard, across Tesla Road and the vineyards in the background, is Cedar Mountain. In our early days we used to be mountain climbers, and so it seemed obvious when we looked at it daily to name the winery after Cedar Mountain.

Linda Ault of Cedar Mountain Winery

VV: Linda, we sometimes hear you called “Blanche.” What is the story behind that nickname?
LE: Blanche is a cartoon character from the comic strip Wizard of Id (the wife of the Wizard). Earl became the wizard from that strip and every time I would do something stupid Earl would call me “Blanche”. A little background: I grew up on a dairy farm up in Washington State and Earl was from the L.A. area, and had never been on a fork lift or anything in his life. When we bought this vineyard we decided to call it Blanche’s Vineyard in case something went wrong it wouldn’t be my fault (or Earl’s). It would be the fault of “Blanche”.

VV: Where did the two of you meet?
LE: We met in college at Long Beach State. We were both in Physics. After our second degrees we left L.A., went to Washington and eventually ended up in the Bay Area. You would think that a couple with 6 college degrees between them would be smarter than to start a vineyard and a winery! But it’s what we wanted to do; it’s a lifestyle and we enjoy it.

VV: What started your love of wine?
LE: We were in Washington State, and there wasn’t much to do outside of work. So to become part of the local community we joined the Enological Society, which was a combination of the growers, wineries and the fans of wine and food. It was a small organization, with the new wine industry starting up there in Eastern Washington. They had dinners, and other events so you could get to know all the people involved in the industry. We loved it. Then we moved to Dublin in the Bay Area and got jobs at the Livermore Labs. After about 7 years in Dublin we decided to sell our model home and buy the home and vineyard in Livermore in 1988. We love it!

VV: What are your roles in the winery?
LE: Earl works the farm and the winery and Linda handles all the business. Together we do the marketing and sales. We now have staff in the tasting room to help us.

VV: When did the winery open its doors?
LE: We purchased Blanches Vineyard in 1988 and opened the winery in 1990. In 1991 we bottled some Chardonnay from our juice that Wente had crushed. After 6 months in oak, we bottled it and we were ready for business. The Cabernet was ready about 18 months later. In the beginning we had an electric eye on our driveway, which informed us when we were having a visitor, so we could run to the tasting room from wherever we were.

Earl Ault of Cedar Mountain Winery VV: Earl, how did you learn to make wine?
LE: For the first two years here we sold our grapes to Wente, but also took some “crash” courses at UC Davis such as grape growing, wine making etc. In 1990 I decided to take a stab at making my own wine. So we started a real tiny operation in the garage, bought some new French oak barrels, some basic equipment and made 3 tons, 130 cases of our first vintage Cabernet. It was all unfiltered and unprocessed. We just drank the last magnum of Cabernet from the 1990 vintage for Earl’s birthday last May (2007).

VV: What is new at your winery?
LE: Well, this Spring we should be receiving certification from the California Wine Institute stating that Cedar Mountain Winery is Alameda County’s first “Green” winery. Green, or minimum impact winery means that we use solar energy, natural pesticides, planting legumes and wildflower to use as mulch for the vines, hawks and owls to take care of the rodents. We also are receiving a grant from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to plant tree seedlings on our property to help with erosion control and to provide a place for the birds to have their nests. We are also very involved with the advisory board at the local community college, Las Positas, in their Viticulture and Enology department. Earl is also very involved with DAS, Department of Applied Science. This is through the Livermore Labs (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), and they work closely with UC Davis and have extension classes in Livermore that tie in with the Horticulture program at the local high schools and the Viticulture and Enology program at Las Positas College.

VV: What percentage of the grapes you use are bought from other vineyards?
LE: About half we grow, the other half we get from our neighbors in Livermore. The only exception is the grapes that go into our Late Harvest Vintage Port, which we get from a vineyard in the Sierra Foothills.

VV: What do you do with the excess grapes from your vineyard?
LE: We sell the remainder of our crush as “juice,” not as grapes. And most of the juice stays here, or comes back eventually, as we help 10 other winemakers with various parts of the process, especially bottling.

VV: How many cases does Cedar Mountain bottle each year?
LE: About 2,000 cases for Cedar Mountain and 18,000-20,000 for the other winemakers. VV: What would you say makes your winery different or unique from others in Livermore Valley?
LE: We own the vineyard and the winery and are in control of the entire process from growing the grapes to the bottling all here on the property. We live here on the property so everything is under our control at all times. We also make Port, which has become our flagship wine and is one quarter of our production.

VV: What is your favorite wine to drink?
LE: (Earl) Usually it’s the last one I’ve made. I tend to drink lighter wines. I used to drink my Chardonnay all the time, then it changed to Sauvignon Blanc for a few years. Now we have just released a Pinot Noir Rosé which I like even better so I am drinking that now. (Linda) I don’t have a favorite wine. I drink my wine with food, so depending on what I’m cooking I’ll drink what will go well with that dish.

VV: Linda, what are some of the foods you enjoy pairing with your wines?
LE: I like the Pinot Noir Rosé with anything that has a little spice to it, because there is a lot of fruit in the Rosé. I do a lot of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern recipes because I cook whatever is fresh in the garden. I also buy a fresh lamb every year from the Alameda County Fair. I love to drink our Syrah and our Pas de Dux (“Pass the Duck”) which is a blend of 80% Cabernet 20% Syrah and the Duet, which is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot, with the lamb and meat dishes.

VV: What was the thought process behind your labels?
LE: (Earl) I designed the labels, and created them on Adobe. We initially had a designer back in 1990. There is one basic design for all the wines. The red wines have red leaves on the label and the white wines have green leaves, and our Chardonnay Port has amber colored leaves on it. The leaves on the label are actual grape leaves that we scanned on our printer. And of course the mountain in the background is Cedar Mountain that we see from our living room window every day.

VV: What type of corks do you use in your bottles?
LE: We like real corks, because this allows the wine to breathe, which mellows out the wines over the years. We do not like the synthetic corks.

VV: Tell us a little bit of the history of your winery cats.
LE: Cab Franc is 2 years old and is the youngest of the group. He is being mentored by Pinot Grigio, who was dropped off by someone as a kitten. Grey Reisling, who was discovered in the barn one day and was then skin and bones and could fit in the palm of my hand, now weighs 18 pounds. He is better known as “Chunky Wan Kenobi.” He owns the place and allows us to live here with him. The cats get kibble and water but “dine out” in the fields for the fresh catch of the day. They are all good hunters and take good care of the grapes and the winery.

VV: Do you have a role model in the wine industry?
LE: Robert Mondavi was our initial role model. In the past ten years we have become more involved in the California Wine Institute. In being involved in this we now have many wine growers and wine makers that have become friends, and mentors. We all learn the good, the bad and the ugly from each other and this helps to make our wineries and California wines a great product.

VV: What about the Cedar Mountain experience do you want people to remember?
LE: We make a product so that people can enjoy the gift of our land. Our slogan is “Wine, food and fellowship.” Please come and experience our winery our wines and our passion here in Livermore.

Linda is now on the Advisory Board to Alameda County Agriculture Commissioner and represents trees and grapes. Earl is on the board of directors of the California Wine Institute and is involved with D.A.S.

Cedar Mountain Winery is located at
7000 Tesla Road
Livermore, CA 94550
Hours: M-F 11am-3pm, Sat/Sun 12-4pm
Cedar Mountain Winery