He's out to change the future of wine - meet your organic specialist
When Angels voted for more organic wine options, we heard you loud and clear. Now you’re funding one of the leading organic-focused winemakers in the business — Chris Condos!
Chris is an award-winning, highly sought-after organic expert who’s dedicated his career to showcasing the best organically-grown grapes from the northernmost reaches of California wine country.
- Now you're helping him share his love of organic wines with Angels everywhere. First up are Mendocino Chardonnay and Cabernet made from 100% organically-grown grapes — and that's just the start!
Chris Condos's Story
People who thrive in their field — that beam after braving the chaos and confusion of the day-to-day grind — are people whose passion spills over into other aspects of their lives. That’s the case with Chris Condos, Organic Winemaker. He allows his passion and curiosity for organics to extend beyond the confines of the vineyard and the walls of the winery. In fact, it was there before he found wine at all.
Originally from California, his father’s job in wine sales took their family to a “pre-cool” Portland, where Chris spent ten pivotal adolescent years. The Pacific Northwest’s environmentally friendly ethos left its mark. When he was 18, he went back to California to study plant ecology at SF State, and while in school, found a part time job that let him hang out in a small slice of the PNW — he worked at an early branch of Whole Foods Market.
In the 90s, the mainstream push for organic produce hadn't yet taken off. The USDA had no official regulations regarding labeling of organic products until 2002. However, once there was a word for it, consumers formed a clear relationship between organic and quality.
“If you give someone the option between a conventional tomato and an organic tomato, it’s pretty clear to them that the organic tomato is gonna be better. It piqued my interest, I wanted to understand why that link was there.”
Chris started exploring wine as a hobby around this time, and his interest in the two converged. Based on the observation that an organic tomato was clearly tastier than a conventionally farmed one, he hypothesized that organic wine must be phenomenal. What started as an interesting thought while organizing produce displays between classes became his life’s passion.
Pursuing the Question
Near the end of his time at SF State, his wine hobby gained a degree of seriousness. He applied to the UC Davis wine and viticulture masters program with the intention of understanding the link between organics and quality in wine at a granular level. With equal parts surprise and delight, he got in.
He was a sponge — absorbing every ounce of information from the some of the foremost educators in the field through lectures, books, and relationships he made professionally and personally. It was everything he had hoped for… almost. To Chris’ dismay, the conversation about organics wasn’t given the attention he thought it deserved. In fact, it rarely entered classroom discussions at all! He pursued the topic on his own, outside of the expected curriculum — his thesis even researched the effect of sulfur additions on wine preservation. He concluded that “just using a little sulfur goes a long way” in preserving the quality that’s so present in organically grown fruit.
His Organic Career
After school, Chris found positions that let him keep learning. In 1995 he found a position as enologist for the esteemed Pine Ridge Winery in Napa. A few years later he and fellow Naked winemaker Richard Bruno co-founded a wine brand, Vinum, focusing on “growing the wine in the vineyard.”
“My most memorable moment in winemaking was in 1997, when [we] started Vinum Cellars. We both maxed out two credit cards to start that first brand.”
The former taught him strict sanitation practices that follow him to this day, and the latter let him experiment with varieties that caught his attention and interesting yeast strains. It also gave him the opportunity to hone his skills at a small, hands-on scale. In 1998, he was brought on as a consulting winemaker for the organic Kathryn Kennedy Winery in Saratoga.
He started Horse & Plow Winery (and cidery!) with Suzanne Hagins as an opportunity to regroup and showcase all that he had learned from his career in organics with a portfolio of beautiful food-friendly, small lot, site-specific, all organic or biodynamic wines. Today, he’s a busy, busy man.
“Currently, I’m winemaker for Kathryn Kennedy Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, winemaker for Cox Vineyard in Mendocino, Winemaker/Owner of Vinum Cellars in Napa, and Winemaker/Owner of Horse & Plow Winery in Sonoma County.”
And then he met Naked Wines…
After an Angel poll determined that the time was ripe to introduce a fully organic winemaker to our lineup, Richard Bruno introduced us to his friend who went a little further into the rabbit hole of organics. It was perfect, and so were the wines. While he was hesitant to have his name on the label, always wanting to showcase the vineyard instead of his skills as a winemaker, Chris jumped at the opportunity to work with Naked Wines. He says, “I joined Naked because of their support for the actual winemakers. All the money goes to the fruit, winemaking, and winemaker. What a way to support and lift up the winemaker’s ability to get great fruit, make amazing wine, and deliver the wine directly to the customer!”
“As an Angel-funded winemaker, I hope to turn more vineyards into organic vineyards. I also hope to make true balanced and unique wines from certified organic grapes.”
So why isn’t the wine labeled “Organic”?
To be labeled an “Organic Wine” by the USDA, it must be made entirely from organically grown grapes and sulfur dioxide cannot be used in its production. Chris studied the use of SO2 in his Master’s program and found that it improves and preserves quality with little to no downside. In his own wines, he values that quality above all else and chooses not to sacrifice it for the sake of a label. His vineyard sources are all Certified Organic and his winery and production methods adhere to a rigid set of Best Practices. Every effort is made to ensure that his wines taste as good when you drink them as they did when he made them.