Drinking and driving—not typically thought of together in a positive way. For Kevin Buckler, however, it’s a way of life.
Buckler owns Adobe Road, a winery in Pentaluma, Calif., not too far from the Pacific Ocean in Sonoma County. Since 1979, when he was a 20 year old traveling the wine regions of South Africa, Buckler has been fascinated by wine. After a decade or so of building a large real estate firm (200 employees) and becoming an increasingly avid wine collector, Buckler and three friends decided in 1995 that it was time to actually make their own wine.
[At this point in Buckler’s story, I have to stop and warn the reader that Buckler is a mischievous troublemaker—not a shifty way, more like I’ll-steal-your-diamonds-and-bring-you-back-some-gold kind of way.]
After couple years of making a barrel or two with his partners, Buckler wanted more. He sold his real estate firm and bought out two of the three partners in 1998. By 2002, he was the sole owner.
“If you added it all up, we had about $600,000 in [capital] stuff at the winery,” Buckler said during his swing through town in late September. “We took a mortgage on the house and I promised my wife that everything would be fine.”
[Naturally, Buckler did not know everything would be fine. This is the wine business after all.]
Charming and charismatic, Buckler makes friends easily. One of these friends (a well-placed executive at Silver Oak Winery who remains anonymous at Buckler’s request) told Buckler to quietly bring his pickup truck to the west gate of Silver Oak’s Alexander Valley vineyards. Buckler was given the OK to fill the back of his truck with these highly prized grapes just before the pickers came to harvest the ripe fruit.
From 2003 to 2005, Buckler was buying amazing grapes, making about 1,000 cases of respectable wine using a commercial winemaking facility and renting the skills of a winemaking consultant. He built gorgeously appointed tasting room next to his other business so he could sell his wine. He told his wife, Debra, he was merely building a small storage area for the winemaking equipment. She believed him.
As his fortunes in the wine business improved, Buckler realized he needed to expand. He would need to build a winery.
[Buckler thrived in his other line of work (which this author will get to in a second), but those who are wildly successful in their primary occupation are rarely wealthy enough to build a winery. Buckler, too, was not that fortunate.]
Buckler wondered out loud one day in 2006 how he would ever get the funds to expand his winemaking venture. Fortunately, he was standing quite close to a couple of gentlemen who were instrumental in the great achievements in his other career.
“We don’t want to own a winery,” as Buckler recalled the discussion with the soon-to-be investors. “But we would like to help you out.”
[Now would be a good time to let the reader know that Buckler is one of the most successful race-car drivers and team owners in the United States. If you’re not familiar with his name, it’s because you don’t follow Grand Am racing. That’s where highly modified versions of sports cars race in places like Le Mans, France, where Buckler himself has won. His company, The Racer’s Group, operates out of the other side of his “modest” tasting room. TRG employs more than 100 people and fields racing teams in a number of categories, including ARCA, NASCAR Truck Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup.]
Several million dollars of investment money later, Buckler had his 8,000-square-foot winery filled with shiny, refrigerated fermentation tanks and all the other trappings required to make quality wine. He now produces about 5,000 cases of well-regarded cabernet sauvignon, syrah, zinfandel and sauvignon blanc. His fame and fortune mostly comes from motor sports (Buckler stopped racing himself in 2005), but he knew he had finally made it in the wine business when several tourists showed up at his tasting room/garage one day and asked: “What are all these sports cars doing here?”
Buckler had to excuse himself from his interview because he had to prepare the TRG team for the 10-hour Le Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta in Braselton (his No. 63 Porsche 911 beat the Porsche factory team by five seconds in the GT Challenge). As we walked to the door of the St. Regis Hotel, I restated the skepticism I voiced earlier about his pledge to maintain his meager 5,000-case production level. With an engaging smile, he assured me of his commitment of remaining small and focused on quality. So we must take him at his word…that is until he finds a way to turn his diamonds into more gold.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator with the Society of Wine Educators. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Golden Thumb Award
• This wine has everything, aromas of violets, dark chocolate, plum and dark berry fruits. Despite its full-body, it has a smoothness to it with intriguing flavors of blackberry, black cherry, tart raspberry and blueberry with distinct mineral notes. It finishes with a playful touch of jalapeño.
• Two Thumbs Way Up
• Quite aromatic with earthy scents of leather, black cherry and violets. Nicely balanced with flavors of ripe black cherry, notes of cinnamon, a touch of toffee and fresh acidic tartness.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.