As we’re getting ready to launch our new non-alcoholic wines this year, I’m excited to welcome curious new visitors to the Oceano site and blog. I’m Rachel Martin, Oceano’s founder, winemaker and CEO, and I’m thrilled to tell you more about our company.

Wine has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and my history in the business stems back to a family vineyard in Middleburg, Virginia. More than 20 years ago, my stepfather approached me to run his vineyard and winery and I jumped at the chance. I had always loved wine, so I went to Bordeaux, France, and to Napa to get educated about how to make and taste wine and manage a vineyard and winery.

That winery, called Boxwood, is still in business today and is actually a farm where several members of my family live. My brother runs the winery now and my parents live on the farm. In 2012, after 6 years of petitioning, I succeeded in establishing an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Middleburg which now includes more than 30 Virginia wineries and vineyards. This means that the geographic specifics of the vineyard are implied by the designation on our labels. I’m very proud of this accomplishment as there are fewer than 300 AVAs in the United States and only eight in Virginia. This process was my first step to really understanding terroir.

People are familiar with the idea that only wine made from grapes from the actual region of Champagne in France can be called Champagne. But what a lot of people don’t understand is that every geography is unique. This is what we mean when we talk about terroir – the way that geology, soil, climate, rainfall, temperatures, humidity and other factors all play into a wine’s taste and quality.

In 2016 I was invited to visit a vineyard in San Luis Obispo, called Spanish Springs. And as soon as I set foot on the vineyard, I had a vision of what I could make there. I could taste the wine before we made it.

Spanish Springs is so magical. It’s only a mile and a half from the coast, making it the closest vineyard to the ocean in California. It’s built into a canyon with multiple elevations, expositions and different varieties of grapes. It’s the coolest climate for grape growing in the state of California and the soil combinations and proximity to the ocean really excited me.

Spanish Springs is also part of an AVA, the San Luis Obispo Coast AVA. It’s comprised of 50 wineries and 78 vineyards. 97 percent of those are within six miles of the ocean, but, only a handful are less than three miles away.

It was an interesting turn of events for me. For the previous 15 years I had made the best wine I could with good terroir, but terroir that we didn’t choose solely based on its attributes – part of our decision was driven by already living in Middleburg. The wine is wonderful, but, I was very interested in starting from scratch and choosing a vineyard deliberately because of the innate qualities of that site. And that’s why I was so inspired by Spanish Springs and how I started Oceano Wines.

We started with a Chardonnay because I knew I could make a Chardonnay that was unlike any other Chardonnay being made in California. My background is in French wine and my palate is very European, so I was able to bring that sensibility to our California wine. I wanted to create something distinct and unique that I felt was missing in the market – a brighter, fresher and more elegant premium wine with higher acid and lower alcohols.

American Chardonnay is polarizing. People either love it or hate it, and there’s not much in between. But we have this specific geographic site that lends itself to a style more associated with French wine and we found that people who love Chardonnay loved our Chardonnay and we were even able to turn Chardonnay haters into Chardonnay lovers.  So I felt like I had proven the concept and shown that my instinct when I first visited Spanish Springs was right. And two years later, we followed up with our Pinot Noir. We leaned into that French sensibility again to incorporate those really bright strawberry, pomegranate, and cranberry notes with a lot of savory herbs and floral characteristics.

Now we’re moving into the non-alcoholic space and will be putting all of the same care into our new wines. What sets us apart is the continued focus on terroir-driven wines – wines with a sense of place. Most non-alcoholic wines are not vineyard-focused wines; they may be made up of wines from multiple vineyards without much care being put into the quality of the wine. But Oceano Zero wines will start at Spanish Springs, just like our original Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, for a premium quality and taste. And they will have their designated vineyard and vintage. You can feel the ocean in the wine and the wine tells you where it is from. 

All of these specifics and details are so important to me because in a very real way, I look at winemaking as art. Before I got into wine, I studied fine art. And making wine is my artistic expression. That’s also why, in a lot of ways, Oceano is more than wine. It’s a lifestyle encompassing all the things that are important to me – community, sustainability, freedom of expression, and social justice.