Not many Winemakers can say they were “born in a barn,” but in the case of Unturned Stone’s Owner & Winemaker Erin Mitchell, that’s exactly what happened. In 2010, Erin and her husband, fellow Winemaker Randy Czech, began an experiment that would change their lives. And it all began, you guessed it, in a barn.
At the time, Erin had been in the wine industry for over 15 years, but never had the desire to make wine herself. Then one day they were given an opportunity to buy a ton of high quality grapes, and decided to take a leap of faith. Without any kind of facility of their own, the question then was: “Where do we make it?” Luckily, they had a colleague who had “jerry-rigged” a winery in his barn in Duncan Mills, a small town in Sonoma County, and agreed to let Erin and Randy use it, taking guerrilla-style winemaking to a whole new level. “That first harvest was a huge learning curve for me,” Erin says, “but also a hell of a lot of fun and incredibly satisfying.”
Q: “What was it like making wine “guerrilla-style?”’
A: “Having come to winemaking without any formal training, making wine in the barn in Duncan’s Mill was an incredible education which forced me to be resourceful, intuitive, and most importantly, willing to take risks. Honestly, I didn’t know what the hell we were doing but Randy had such a clear vision that I never questioned the process. In retrospect, I think it made us both better winemakers.”
Since their humble and inspiring beginning in the barn, Erin and Randy have had a specific passion and goal: making truly natural wines, using sustainably farmed, organic grapes, and a holistic, non-interventionist approach to their winemaking. “All our ferments occur naturally, with no additions or subtractions in the winery other than minimal sulfur as needed. We believe good wine makes itself and we see ourselves simply as custodians to the process.”
As of 2018, Erin has been a powerhouse in the wine business for 24 years, and boasts an impressive resume: moving up from Gourmet Foods Department in a Macy’s Department store, to a number of retailers in Seattle, including Schiering Wine Merchants where she was hired as their first female manager in 1997. From 2001-2008, she was a co-owner of Triage Wines, Inc., a wine distribution company in Washington and Oregon that represented, among others, Louis/Dressner, José Pastor Selections, Rare Wines, Terry Theise Selections, Becky Wasserman and a portfolio of boutique wineries from Washington, Oregon and California. Today she works for Farm Wine Imports in San Francisco, Marin, and Sonoma counties.
Throughout her career she has had the opportunity to work with a number of amazing winemakers including, Patricia Green, Steve Edmunds, Elisabetta Farodori, Silvio Messano, Marc Olivier, Tom Lubbe, Jean-Paul Brun, and Kenny Likitprakong, (just to name a few) all of whom she feels are influential in the choices she’s made as a new winemaker.
Erin and Randy (an experienced Winemaker in his own right) make all their wines together as a team, while both holding down their own day jobs, making Unturned Stone a true labor of love, and a journey they were able to embark on together from the start.
Q: “Where does the name Unturned Stone come from?”
A: “Unturned Stone refers to the potential in winemaking for something new and untried. Randy and I both feel that there is always an ‘unturned stone’ out there waiting to be turned over to expose an undiscovered world.”
Q: “You and your husband make the wine together. What’s it like making something you love with someone you love?”
A: “Having a life partner as a business partner presents its own set of challenges and rewards. It has been a huge learning process for both of us and I can’t say it has always been easy. We have gotten a lot better at not stepping on each other’s toes, separating work from home, and, most importantly, listening to each other. This all being said, there is something really special about collaborating with someone you love. Owning my own business has been such an incredible journey and it has been amazing to share this journey with Randy.”
Today, Erin and Randy make three wonderful wines:
- “Spider Chase,” (the wine that started it all,) a Bordeaux blend from the Waterhorse Ridge Vineyard in Fort Ross-Seaview, with lots of herbal aromatics with strong olive, and tobacco notes.
- “The Stowaway,” a brisk and lively blend of Zinfandel and Carignan from vines planted in 1948 in the Talmage Vineyard outside of Ukiah, bursting with strawberry and spice.
- “The Hatchling,” their newest creation made from Sauvignon Musquè (a strain currently making a come back from the brink of extinction) using a modified skin-contact technique resulting in a wine with lots of spicy aromatics and a beautiful golden color.
Each wine is wonderfully unique, and in very small production with only 400 cases in total made each year.
Q: “Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?”
A: “Harvest 2018. Randy and I are planning on expanding our production of The Hatching and The Stowaway and hope to include two new wines in our line-up. We started making our wines at Two Shepherds Winery in 2017 and, finally, feel like Unturned Stone has a good home. We were such a gypsy operation for so many years, making wine wherever someone would squeeze us in and not always under optimal conditions.”
In less than ten years, Erin and Randy have learned to create beautifully natural wines so alive, so full of passion, that every sip is a new experience, and a testament to their hard work and dedication. And they’re far from done: “As with everything at Unturned Stone, we hope to grow organically,” Erin says, “embracing opportunities as they come our way, and not being afraid to turn over a stone or two that might be in our path.”
For more information on Unturned Stone Wines, visit UnturnedStoneWine.com.