Interview with Ryan Prichard Three Sticks Winemaker
Three Sticks started in 2002 after Bill Price III (“Billy Three Sticks” was his nickname growing up – pointing out the three roman numerals after his name) bought the Durell Vineyard from Ed Durell.
The winery started out small, making just a barrel or two of Pinot Noir and has slowly grown over the years. Three Sticks now owns additional Grand Cru vineyards throughout Sonoma County (Gap’s Crown, Walala, One Sky, William James and Alana Vineyards), creating one of the most exciting lineups of cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines.
We interview Ryan Prichard, Three Sticks Winemaker, to learn more.
What type of wine do you specialize in?
Ryan Prichard: We specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Three Sticks Winery but also make small lots of Pinot Blanc, a Rhone Red wine called Casteñada Red (Syrah, Grenache, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier), a Rhone White wine called Casteñada White (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier).
Share a popular tasting experience at your winery.
Ryan Prichard: Our tasting experience at Three Sticks is like no other.
Our tastings are held right off the square in downtown Sonoma at our Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe home. The Adobe was originally built in 1842 by Salvador Vallejo, brother to General Mariano Vallejo, and has been lovingly restored as a Sonoma landmark.
Our tastings are intimate, sit-down experiences where our team will walk you through some of our wines and explain our vineyards and winemaking process. We want to share what we call “table fellowship” because we believe wine is meant to be shared and enjoyed across the table, creating lasting memories with the people you care about.
What makes your wine unique?
Ryan Prichard: What makes our wines unique is taking the exceptional fruit from our world-class vineyards and marrying that fruit with a winemaking approach that focuses on highlighting those unique characteristics. We create wines with lively acidity and rich structure that are exceptional upon release but that will age and evolve for many years to come.
Favorite food and wine pairing?
Ryan Prichard: It is always tough to pick a favorite. Wines change with time, change with context, change with the season. My favorite wine on a hot sunny day and ceviche will vary from my favorite wine on a cold winter night with a hot bowl of soup. I will say this, though – It is hard to beat the Gap’s Crown Chardonnay when you have a freshly grilled halibut in front of you. And the Cuvee Eva Marie Pinot Noir and Armenian beef kebab will put a huge smile on your face…
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your winery?
Ryan Prichard: I think that most everyone who has interacted with our team at Three Sticks knows that we are very serious about our vineyards and wines, very serious about caring for our customers and providing an unsurpassed tasting experience. All of that is true but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We believe in enjoying wine for the experience of it – in belly laughs and table fellowship. Isn’t that what life is all about?
What do you love about winemaking?
Ryan Prichard: I love winemaking because it gives me a new puzzle to solve every year. Once that puzzle gets put together, it stays a physical being that starts off with a certain life and like our own, evolves with time. People all around the world are picking up a bottle of our creation, having conversations over glasses with our wines in them. Imagine what our wines have heard! I love playing a small part in the lives of the people to open a bottle of our wine.
Describe your winemaking approach.
Ryan Prichard: My goal is to showcase our vineyards and create wines that are exhilarating and age-worthy. This requires an approach that focuses on doing the right things in the vineyard to grow fruit that has natural concentration, intensity, and aromatics.
Once in the winery, I employ techniques that are gentle on the wine and that focus on preservation of aromatics and the wines natural characteristics. Timeliness and attention to detail are paramount in crafting wines like this.
Every decision that isn’t timed and executed correctly will leave a fingerprint on the wine. We want the wine’s natural potential to shine through in the bottle.
Another consistent thing I think about when making wine is that wine is supposed to taste differently at various points in the process. Take picking decisions or putting an early blend together for example.
Oftentimes I feel that if the fruit or the early blend taste too good then you’ve missed it. Early in the wine’s life it needs those hard edges so that in time it can soften them and still have a framework of structure that will last the test of time.
Finally, I often say “wine doesn’t wait.” It, of course, needs time to develop via aging but in the process of making wine, it isn’t on our life’s schedule necessarily. You have work on the wine’s schedule to catch things just right or prevent negative things from going on with the wine. So that’s what we do – work on the wine’s timeline.
How did you get started in the wine industry?
Ryan Prichard: I grew up in Berkeley, CA knowing more about West Coast rap than I did wine. It wasn’t really on my radar.
I went to study Engineering at Cornell and was able to take a wine appreciation course through the Hotel School my senior year which started my appreciation for wine. After college, I started a career outside of wine but over the years it became an increased obsession for me on my off time.
I started reading books about winemaking, visiting wine regions on all my vacations, making kit wines in my spare bathroom, volunteering at local wineries on the weekends. I started taking classes through the Extension program at UC Davis to soak up more knowledge and around the time of my final class, I decided I wanted to make a change in my life and pursue winemaking full time.
My wife had just finished getting her PhD at University of Colorado at Boulder and we decided to move back to California so I could leave a comfortable job and drag hoses as a harvest intern.
The goal was to learn from the best and I was lucky to get a position at Williams Selyem Winery in Healdsburg. Working with and learning from Bob Cabral was a perfect place to begin my winemaking career and learn what it takes to craft exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?
Ryan Prichard: Most of my wine experiences early on were tasting wines that were affordable and relatively young. In my wine appreciation class, every week we would learn about variety or region and would taste 6 samples of those wines and talk about them. Alumni from the university would sometimes gift their cellars to the school and they would include a special wine during these tastings. I remember tasting a 1952 Gevrey-Chambertin in that class that floored me. Newly released wines had all of these fresh fruit and spice characters but an aged Pinot Noir like this took on notes of tobacco, forest floor and aged spice. I loved how wine was something that you made with your hands that could (if made right) evolve and last the test of time.
Do you have any winery traditions with your team?
Ryan Prichard: We have a good number of traditions. Champagne on 1st harvest day, bringing a fresh hop cutting from the vineyard to the winery to hang on the wall, certain songs that we play at different parts of the winemaking process, special clothes that we wear at different times of harvest. The list goes on and gives us a bit of levity in a sometimes-anxious time of the year.
How does your team help you as a winemaker?
Ryan Prichard:My team is the lifeblood of our wine, it could not be done without them!
As a winemaker, we have hundreds of decisions to make, but one of the most crucial parts about the process is how those decisions are put in place. Every aspect of and action in the winery must be thought about ahead of time and a plan put in place for it.
From Carl and Emily, our Assistant Winemaker and Enologist, respectively, to Hector and Kevin in the cellar, to our harvest interns we need a team that works together, with the right attitude to get the job done. And they are the best in the business!