A lot of winemakers say they “make the kind of wine that I like to drink.” Dave Ready Jr. is the first one I’ve met who says, “I make wine because I like to drink it.”
That sort of unaffected, unreserved approach epitomizes this Edina native, who grew up aspiring to be a rock ’n’ roll drummer and now is head winemaker at one of Sonoma’s biggest outfits, Murphy-Goode. The wines — a wide range of varietals and blends — reflect their maker: exuberant, honest and hearty.
Ready not only wears his heart (and soul) on his sleeve, he also puts it into the business. His Homefront Red wine is in the process of raising perhaps $300,000 for military families and veterans in need. For each case sold, the winery is donating $6, and Ready said most distributors are matching that.
Oh, and the $15 blend (syrah, merlot, zinfandel and petite sirah) is also delicious, with robust, spicy fruit and a soft, smooth finish.
The cause is timely, but also a tribute to Ready’s heritage. His father served in Vietnam, both grandfathers in World War II, and “my great-grandfather, who I watched wrestling and Lawrence Welk with growing up, was in World War I.”
And the charitable bent comes from his roots, as well. Ready said he remembers walking out of the Colonial Church of Edina and his father saying, “When the good times roll, it’s all good. But why not make it about ‘being good?’ ”
A bit of history
Back then Dave Ready Sr. was a pioneer of sorts in bringing California wines to Minnesota. “He’s really the guy who put ‘fine’ in front of California wine here,” said Larry Colbeck, owner of local wholesaler the Wine Company. “It was a huge step in opening doors for Minnesota consumers.”
In 1982 Ready started Winery Associates of Sonoma Valley, a national cooperative for small wineries, with John Hoffman, who remembers “Junior running around their house as a lad.” Three years later, Ready Sr. and two partners started the Murphy-Goode Winery in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley.
The younger Ready graduated from Edina High in 1988 and soon headed west, thinking more about rock than vines. While his father shared the love of music — they attended a Grateful Dead concert together — he undoubtedly was happy when Junior went to work at the winery, as a “cellar rat.” And when it turned out he had an aptitude for the job.
“Dave Jr.’s got a very good palate like his dad, which is pretty important in what they both did,” said Hoffman, who still runs the Winery Associates business with his wife, Lucy. “There’s also an energy when they’re around people. Both of them really like being around people.”
The next generation
Junior learned the ropes from one of California’s best winemakers, Christina Benz. He became associate winemaker in 1997 and head winemaker in 2001. Since then he had been honing his skills at a winery that now makes 54,000 cases a year.
The Readys always have folded a bit of their personae into the winery. Dave Sr., who died in 2010, was instrumental in having the labels made in purple and gold, Vikings colors, and Dave Jr. often dons a horned helmet while avidly following his favorite team, or even just walking around the vineyards.
The winemaker also makes a chardonnay and occasionally a red blend called Minnesota Cuvee, using barrels from his home state. “The first thing you are going to smell is that Minnesota oak,” he said, “the creamy vanilla aroma.”
Still, Ready has started moving away from oak, especially with his whites, “slowly moving the needle” because devoted fans have an expectation of what Murphy-Goode wines are supposed to taste like. To him, that means “easy-drinking wines.”
And it’s a safe bet the vintner will be among those drinking them, sometimes with a pair of horns on his head.