Interview with Clay Mauritson, Founder of Mauritson Winery.
The Mauritson family has a long history in wine country. Their ancestors homesteaded their first property in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley in 1868. Now, the Mauritson family manages more than 300 acres of vineyards in Dry Creek, Alexander Valley and Rockpile.
Clay Mauritson (6th Generation) graduated from college and almost immediately came back to Sonoma County. He worked at Kenwood, Taft Street and Dry Creek Vineyards. In 1998, with backing of his family, he founded Mauritson Winery with their inaugural release of their Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. We interview Clay to learn more about his family’s history and winery.
What’s a popular tasting experience at Mauritson Winery?
Clay Mauritson: One of my favorite tasting experiences that we offer at the winery is our Library Tasting. This takes place in our wine library, a stunning cellar that holds around 4,000 bottles of wine. We keep a small quantity of each of the wines we have ever made in this library and there is nothing quite as special as being able to open a 20-year-old Cabernet to celebrate a special year for guests or showcase how well our wines age!
What wine do you specialize in?
Clay Mauritson: There is no doubt that we are best known for our Zinfandels and Cabernets. It’s not hard to understand why when you look at the incredible Rockpile vineyards that we have to work with.
Tell us about your family’s long wine country history.
Clay Mauritson: Our family is going on its 7th generation in Sonoma County. We have been farming here since 1868. There are few people that have deeper roots than we do.
I often joke that my childhood was more like indentured servitude. If we weren’t in school or playing sports, we were working in the vineyard. In all honesty, I thought I never wanted to see another grapevine for the rest of my life. But like the saying goes, sometimes in life you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
It took me getting away from Sonoma County to appreciate what an amazing place it was to be born and raised here and how incredible my family’s history was. That being said, I knew that I needed to find my own path. After graduating from college, I went to work in the wine business. I very quickly started to question why my family was selling all of our grapes and not making our own wine. In 1998 my parents agreed to cosign a loan for me and we started Mauritson Winery.
The ultimate inspiration to start our family winery really comes from the incredible legacy my family has built in Sonoma County. I believe that making wines from our vineyards gives our family a greater opportunity to be in this amazing industry for generations to come.
What do you love about winemaking?
Clay Mauritson: At its absolute core, what I love most about winemaking is that it represents the perfect intersection of art and science, or another way of saying it is, the left brain and right brain. There are few vocations in the world that you use science and creative leisure simultaneously. I love that every vineyard site and every vintage represents a new challenge. I love that when made with the highest level of attention to detail, you can consume something that is as simple as one ingredient, yet as complex as your imagination.
Do you have any winery traditions with your team?
Clay Mauritson: We have some fun pre and post-harvest traditions! Before harvest, we take our winemaking team and all of our interns out to Hog Island Oyster Co. We always bring some great wines, champagne is also a must, and eat oysters until we can’t eat anymore. After harvest, we take the entire crew up to our Rockpile Ridge Vineyard and eat In-n-Out burgers. The best part of our post-harvest tradition is that everyone climbs an old oak tree. I think our record is getting 20 people in the tree at once!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the winemaking process?
Clay Mauritson: There is no substitute for experience!
Tell us about your team at Mauritson Winery.
Clay Mauritson: Emma Kudritzki-Hall is our winemaker. She has been with the winery since 2011 and was promoted to Winemaker in 2019.
Adrian Reyes is our cellar master and has been with the winery since 2013. Between the three of us, we have nearly 60 harvests under our belts. We cannot make the great wines that we do without every hand that touches the grapes/wine/bottles.
This, of course, includes everyone on the vineyard side of the equation too. It is a great comfort to know that we purchase the majority of our fruit from our family’s vineyard operation and they always have our best interest in mind!
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your winery?
Clay Mauritson: I wish everyone knew about Project Zin, the incredible charity event that we put on annually with Chef Charlie Palmer. My oldest son, Brady, was born with Down syndrome. My wife Carrie and I helped start a nonprofit, the Down Syndrome Association North Bay, and then created Project Zin to fund the nonprofit.
I know I am biased, but it is truly one of the greatest wine events in the county. I am beyond humbled at how our winery and culinary community comes together to support one another and support great causes.
We have raised over $1.5 million dollars for the DSANB and other nonprofits that support individuals with Down syndrome.