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William James Cellars: Family on the Vine

Robin Bogue Talks Wine, Santa Ynez, and Golfing the Vintners’ Fest


When your dad is vineyard irrigation expert Bill Bogue, who’s worked on properties from the Santa Maria Valley to Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, and beyond, you’d guess that winemaking might be your obvious career move. But fourth-generation Santa Maria Valley-ite Robin Bogue opted for graphic design first; she got a degree from Fresno State and pursued newspaper work in Tracy, California.

The fermented grape juice did come calling in 1992, when she and her then-husband began home winemaking in the cellar of their barn with a batch of Monterey County merlot. Then the hobby moved back to Santa Maria with her in 1996. By 2002, with wines like the Tom Boy Red, featuring her overalled, pigtailed daughters on the label, winning best-in-show awards, Bogue eclipsed the maximum production amount allowed for home vintners. “We’d already maxed out,” she recalled. “It didn’t make sense to just do home winemaking anymore.”

<b>CHEERS TO VINTNERS WEEKEND:</b> Robin Bogue’s William James Cellars is sponsoring the April 10 gold tourney at Sandpiper, which kicks off the S.B. Vintners Spring Weekend.
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CHEERS TO VINTNERS WEEKEND: Robin Bogue’s William James Cellars is sponsoring the April 10 gold tourney at Sandpiper, which kicks off the S.B. Vintners Spring Weekend.

In 2003, she made the first vintage of William James Cellars, named after her father and son, who are, as she said, “the two men that nobody can take away from me.” Production boomed to about 5,000 cases around the time of the economic crash, when distributors — who were selling the wine in Chicago, Maryland, Florida, Texas, and elsewhere — went belly-up with Bogue’s bills unpaid. “They take a pallet of wine, they get 30 days to pay, and sometimes it’s four years later and you still haven’t seen anything,” she explained. “It’s nerve-wracking.” After that she scaled back production to about 1,500 annual cases and stopped distribution entirely.

Today, her wines — which include a sparkler, chardonnay, dessert chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, grenache blanc, rosé, sangiovese, pinot noir, cab franc, syrah, grenache, a red blend, and a port — are sold straight to wine-club members and visitors to the tasting room, which moved from Los Olivos to Santa Ynez about six months ago. “We went from being one of 47 tasting rooms in Los Olivos to one of four in Santa Ynez,” said Bogue, whose only pouring neighbors are Imagine Wine, Fontes & Phillips, and Carr Winery. “We love being in Santa Ynez. It’s warm and welcoming.”

Family remains at the core of the business, with help from her kids, siblings, and, of course, her father, who helps secure fruit from his friends, some of the region’s pioneers (like syrah from Dale Hampton, for instance). “Dad gets a lot of credit,” said Bogue. “He’s not an owner of the business, but you would never know it. He’s always got our logo gear on, and he’s always at events and in the tasting room. He’s very supportive.”

As part of the upcoming Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend, Bogue is taking to the links as the wine sponsor of a tournament at Sandpiper Golf Course on Thursday, April 10, just one of the many fresh and South Coast–located initiatives launched by the countywide vintners’ association’s new director, Morgen McLaughlin, who is bringing Sideways author Rex Pickett to the course, as well. “I haven’t picked up a golf club in two years,” said Bogue, “so I’ll make a joke of myself, bring in the booby prize, and get some good publicity by having the highest score of the day.”

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The Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend features a series of events from Thursday, April 10- Sunday, April 13. Visit sbvintnersweekend.com for tickets and info. William James Cellars is located at 3640 Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez, and is sponsoring the April 10 golf tournament at Sandpiper Golf Course. For more on the wine, call (805) 478-9412 or visit williamjamescellars.com.

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