Note: This is part of a series of profiles on Twin Citians who have fulfilled a dream of all wine lovers: starting their own wineries.
Determination and drive helped make Dan Gustafson a business success, but he's nothing if not pragmatic. "Every time I run into a stone wall," he said, "I change my plans and end up with a better result."
So when the owner of Twin Cities-based property-management firm DH Gustafson Co. decided to open a winery, and his plans for making pinot noir on the remote northern Sonoma coast were stymied, he came up with a markedly different plan -- except for the remoteness.
"I found this old sheep pasture above Lake Sonoma, with nothing on it but a well," Gustafson said. "It was across the lake from Rockpile Vineyard, with the same soil and same elevation, so it's very similar terroir."
Rockpile is justly famous for petite sirah and zinfandel, but Gustafson didn't want to stop there. On plots at elevations ranging from 1,500 to 1,900 feet and grades averaging 19 percent, he has planted those grapes as well as syrah, sauvignon blanc, riesling and cabernet sauvignon.
Earlier this spring, the dream was completed with the release of the first Gustafson Family wines, an impressive lot, especially considering the youth of the vines. The Mountain Cuvee is delicious, with beams of sundry flavors befitting a blend; the petite sirah is a deft amalgam of mountain fruit and just the right touch of oak, and the zinfandel is straightforward and tasty.
Two wines made from syrah shine the most. The Estate Syrah is rustic but approachable, with great depth and structure. Gustafson's Rosé de Syrah has a nose to die for and way more complexity and weight than most any pink wine you'll ever find.
Gustafson has been "hands-on from the very beginning," both in terms of the winemaking and the 247-acre property itself. A landscape architect by trade, the Rosemount native designed the striking house/winery (check it out at www.gustafsonvineyards.com, where you also can order the wines) and has made sure that "we walk lightly on the land."
All the watering comes from springs and wells, and the 20 acres of vineyards "tend to be little patches because of all the trees." One of them is believed to be the largest madrone tree in California, more than 11 feet in diameter and four centuries old.
Gustafson has added more than 250 olive trees from Italy to the mix, so olive oil is in the Gustafson game plan -- even if the man himself claims that "we have never had any great plans, just making the best wine we can make, all estate-grown.
"Besides,," he added with a chuckle, "I'm too old  to be pioneering something that's going to take 20 years to develop."