HEALDSBURG, Calif. - If this whole winemaking thing doesn't work out, Anoka native Andy Cutter might just have a future in stand-up comedy.
"I hate all these buzzwords like 'fruit-driven wine.'" Cutter said. "I don't know what else wine should be, although some of it is oak-driven."
The wines that Cutter makes for Duxoup (pronounced, of course, "duck soup") are not so oaky. "We test a lot" at his rustic winery in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley, "and just as the oak [influence] comes up, we take it out of barrels."
That process, and a long-standing relationship with esteemed grower Ray Teldeschi, helps explain why Cutter and his wife, Deb. can craft lovely, tasty, balanced wines from such under-utilized grapes. Duxoup charbono, dolcetto and gamay noir (the best hamburger wine I've had in years), plus a sangiovese under the Gennaio label, all sell for $15 to $20.
Having an extremely small staff helps. "Deb and I do everything. We don't have any employees, except someone helps pack the bottles," Cutter said.
It's been that way since they launched Duxoup in 1981. "When we started, we didn't have any money, so one of us had to go to work," he said. "So we flipped, and she lost and found a job at the old Inglenook winery.
"All Deb and I wanted to do was buy grapes, make wine, sell it to people we like and make some more wine."
That's what they have done for lo these many years (2010 will be their 30th vintage). They were one of the first wineries to embrace syrah (their only over-$20 bottling at ... $21), never have made a white wine and gave up on zinfandel after 10 years.
"Zin can make you crazy. It doesn't get ripe," Cutter said. "That's why you get all these atom bombs, like Texas oil well wine, because people are waiting for it to ripen."
The Cutters have lived all along in a throwback-to-the-'60s house on a steep hill, a perfect setting for someone who grew up in farm country -- Anoka "was a long way out when I was a kid, but now it's all blurbed together" -- and would not look out of place on PBS' "The Red Green Show."
During a two-hour picnic amid the impossibly beautiful Teldeschi Vineyard, Cutter threw out down-home expressions ("he works like a ditchdigger"), called wine geeks "oeno-weenies" and reveled in the fact that "in one country charbono translates as 'douche noir.'" A few years back, a Japanese client expressed a fondness for a certain bathtub toy; the next year, Duxoup's labels, whose backdrop is a map, sported a tiny "rubber ducky" where the winery is located.
Key to the whole Duxoup game plan has been keeping it small (about 1,500 cases a year). "There are things you can do when you aren't tethered to a bookkeeper, and the good thing is you can make money when you do it right," he said. "You can't just build a temple to yourself."
Especially in the current economy.
"I can't think of one winery I've heard of that has held the prices on its wine," Cutter said. "Five years ago was abnormal. People are talking about things 'getting back to normal,' when it really would be 'getting back to abnormal.' And why should we be a bunch of crybabies? Other people have taken it on the schnozzola."
So while other wineries "chase themselves into craziness," the Cutters are content to continue making small lots of odd grapes, convert their winery to all gravity and enjoy life in this gorgeous valley.
"Wine's probably my 11th favorite thing in the world," said Cutter, "but it goes well with the first 10."
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643