With a degree in international studies fresh in hand from the University of Illinois in 2008, Galesburg native Taylor Boydstun had no idea where life or a career would take him. But it’s safe to say owning a winemaking business wasn’t on his radar.
Goodbye Champaign-Urbana, hello Napa Valley, California, with plenty of stops in between.
Boydstun owns and operates T. Berkley Wines in Calistoga, California, a small city in California’s Wine Country. There, Boydstun produces a range of premium, small-batch wines sourced from grower partners. The son of John and Lisa Boydstun of Galesburg, Taylor lives in Napa with his wife Sarah Bray and dog Willow.
Through a Q&A, the 2004 Galesburg High School graduate tells us how he developed a love for winemaking, what he thinks makes a great wine and how he sees T. Berkley Wines expanding in the coming years.
Q: You say T. Berkley Wines was founded out of a love for winemaking. How did that love begin and evolve?
Boydstun: I was first introduced to wine while studying abroad in Europe during my time at the University of Illinois. I strategically chose International Studies as it required at least a semester studying abroad and was fortunate to spend some time in both Barcelona and Paris — in both places, the wine is practically cheaper than the water!
What started as a part of cultural immersion grew with a chance visit to Napa and Sonoma after graduation, which opened my eyes to wine production, a field I did not have much exposure to in Galesburg. Winemaking seemed to combine all the things I was looking for — time spent outdoors, constant creation and experimentation, a degree of physicality — with something artistic and highly cultural. In winemaking, I found I could use all parts of myself and that the work was equal parts rural and urban, agricultural and industrial, romantic and scientific … and from my first job in the industry I was hooked.
Q: What was your first experience working in the wine, or winemaking business? Give us a timeline.
Boydstun: After that 2009 visit to northern California mid-harvest, I turned to my recently minted International Studies degree and began looking at positions in the southern hemisphere, since harvest positions below the equator meant I wouldn’t have to wait a full year before diving in. The wine industry is very seasonal and wineries need extra hands, even inexperienced ones, during the harvest push, so I blindly applied to 50 or 60 wineries across three different countries and heard back from only three, all in New Zealand. Two said no and one said they would hire me for the three months of harvest to help pick their grapes. That three-month internship turned into a nearly two-year viticultural apprenticeship in Central Otago on the South Island — this proved to be one of the most formative experiences I could have asked for and was one of my most important work experiences. From there, I moved to California to work in wine cellars and have been out here ever since, albeit with some harvest-hopping to other countries thrown in.
Q: Tell us about T. Berkley Wines. How did it start, what do you do there, how many people are involved and what products do you offer?
Boydstun: T. Berkley Wines is a project that I started in 2016 to focus on the two grape varieties that have most intrigued me personally: Chenin blanc and Cabernet franc. After 10 harvests working for others in wine, combined with a surprise health scare following my 30th birthday, I realized that working solely on other people’s projects was not going to allow me to craft the kinds of wines that excited me the most. So, in 2016 I scrapped together five tons of fruit and while still working full time for another wine producer, crafted my first commercial vintage in my free time.
Five years on, I make a number of different wines: both a dry and sweet Chenin blanc, a number of different Cabernet francs, and a dry rosé of Cabernet franc — nearly 1,000 cases in total. I am still a one-man operation but have plans to expand over the next five years.
Q: How did the name T. Berkley Wines come about?
Boydstun: My full name is Taylor Berkley Boydstun and my middle name, Berkley, is my mother’s maiden name. I was always very close to my maternal grandfather, John Berkley Jr., and wanted to honor that connection and my family history. The name Berkley, as opposed to the more common and Californian Berkeley, is an American immigration story. My great-grandfather emigrated to New York City from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and John Berkov naturalized to John Berkley.
Q: How would you describe your products?
Boydstun: I produce a range of premium, small-batch wines sourced from outstanding grower-partners and made in a way that highlights the grapes and the places in which they were grown, which in winespeak we call a minimal interventionist style. My goal with the vineyards I work with is to respect the quality of the fruit and allow the character of the vineyard to show through in the finished wine.
Q: In your opinion, what makes a good wine?
Boydstun: Great wine is made in the vineyard. It takes an outstanding site, farmed with care and attention, to have any hope of making a truly great wine. I personally look to source from older vine vineyards, planted at elevation, that are farmed organically or sustainably.
Q: Do you have a favorite type of wine?
Boydstun: I love natural acidity in my wines, so I tend to prefer clean and crisp wines with lower levels of alcohol, either white or red … which happens to be the style of wines I make!
Q: Who were your influences along the way? Either people in the wine business, and/or people you have looked up to on a personal or business manner?
Boydstun: It was essential to me to work with people I respected and admired in this industry in order to learn from them, and I have been very fortunate in my career to spend time closely working with some outstanding producers:
Gareth King and the entire team at Felton Road in New Zealand taught me the essentials of impeccable, biodynamic farming to produce premium wine. Ted Lemon at Littorai Winery in California was instrumental in changing the way I approached winemaking, looking at things more philosophically. Emmerich Knoll of Weingut Knoll in Austria taught me to make white wines with concentration, texture and depth. Ian Riggs and the team at Brokenwood Winery in Australia renewed my appreciation for wine-as-culture with their outstanding approach to winemaking and wine education. They reminded me that this is also supposed to be fun!
Q: Was winemaking your career ambition? Or did you have something else in mind before developing a passion for wine?
Boydstun: I came to winemaking after my university studies, so it was most definitely not a career ambition I had, or even contemplated, until then. I had considered going into law, or business generally, but honestly did not have any idea what I really wanted to do when I graduated. Had it not been for the global recession in 2008, I most likely would have landed a job in some other field and would never have made my way to wine production!
Q: How do you distribute your products?
Boydstun: My selection of T. Berkley Wines is available through my website, www.tberkleywines.com, where I have a yearly Wine Club sign up and wines also available for purchase. I am currently working with a distributor partner in New York who operates in Illinois and has plans to bring the wine in in 2022, so keep your eyes out for some of my wines back home soon!
Q: What was it like growing up in Galesburg?
Boydstun: Looking back, growing up in Galesburg at the time that I did was pretty idyllic. I was fortunate to have a good portion of my extended family in town — I could walk to my grandparents’ home — and it seemed as though every street block near mine was full of kids around my age. Town felt small, but not stiflingly so, and what I remember most is spending so much of my time outdoors either riding bikes around town, playing sports, or simply running around the neighborhood. I will always look back on my childhood fondly.
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