A woman with an insatiable curiosity for all things involving wine and not shy about taking on the tremendous amount of work needed to tackle such an industry had her path altered by hearing the words, “it is not all about the formal education.” She was already working in wine public relations but the idea that she could be a winemaker was beyond what she thought was possible.
It was June 2020, when the world had been turned upside down due to Covid and Napa Valley wineries, which are known for their incredible hospitality and bringing wine lovers from all over the world to their vineyard paradise, not being allowed to have visitors. This was not only a blow to starting relationships with new customers but also threatened relationships with valued club members whose fierce loyalty allows a wine producer to continue with the highest quality practices even when it doesn’t equate to financial sense. And so Hall Wines, located in Napa Valley, under the leadership of their impressive owner Kathryn Hall with the help of her assistant, Morét Brealynn Chavez, was trying to pivot, like everyone else.
Morét had been initially brought on as an independent contractor to manage a book tour for Kathryn Hall, which included over 40 different stops around the U.S. with events and visits to media outlets, and so, when Kathryn’s previous personal assistant left due to family reasons, Morét became the ideal replacement as these women had really gotten to know each other over the tour. After Covid hit, Morét helped organize Hall Wines’ virtual “Happy Hour” that would often highlight Kathryn talking to celebrities such as Tina Fey and stars in the wine world too. One of those wine stars was Adam Lee, previous owner and co-founder of Siduri Wines, a winery that specialized in Pinot Noir wines from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to California’s Santa Barbara County and everywhere else in between, and today, makes tiny production Pinot Noir wines from two of the most iconic vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands, California, under his new winery’s name Clarice Wine Company.
The Beginning Of A Partnership
After Morét heard Adam talk on the show and was already impressed by what he had accomplished in the wine world, she signed up to become a Clarice wine club member once a slot became available. She kept in contact with him and she would join him to check out a vineyard from time to time, as Adam consults with many wineries, she would tag along to soak up everything and anything she could learn. Before coming to Hall Wines, she worked for another Pinot Noir specialist, Kosta Browne. She says she was the “annoying little sister” at Kosta Browne because she would go into the winery and ask anyone who would give her the time every question under the sun and even though it would seem that she was meant to be in the winery, her aversion to waking up extremely early made the idea of getting into marketing the wines much more appealing.
Yet the vineyards and winery still held an undeniable draw for Morét and during those vineyard visits with Adam, she knew that her next step in finding her place in the wine world would be to work with him as he needed more help with his Clarice Wine Company as he started to take on major consulting projects.
Due to the August 2020 fires that affected Santa Lucia Highlands, Adam did not need a new employee and called Morét to tell her the bad news and was so happy to hear that she had kept her job at Hall Wines. ‘Yeah, totally,” Morét responded with a slight sink of her heart as something felt so right about joining Adam. But she didn’t give up; she followed up with calls asking him what he was doing and if they could meet up so she could pick his brain and through time, they started dating with the idea that she would join him at Clarice in 2021. Adam always wanted Morét’s opinion when it came to tasting barrels and he noticed a potential within her that was untapped so one day he said, “You have a really great palate, have you ever thought of becoming a winemaker?” She immediately thought that was impossible as she was a psychology major who initially did such important work as being a teen center director for the Boys & Girls Club until her visits to Sonoma tasting rooms ignited a serious passion for wine.
“I was a history major that focused on the comparisons of the French and American prison systems,” Adam said in response to her concerns and he certainly had already carved an impressive name for himself as a well-respected winemaker.
After Morét and Adam found some excellent Pinot Noir fruit in the Russian River Valley, her wine brand Morét-Brealynn Wines was born, even though she is proud of coming from a large Mexican family and her Chavez lineage, she only uses her first and middle name for her label. As she noted, “Sometimes last names change,” and she shared the great news that she and Adam were engaged. She is still unsure if she will change her last name at this time and Adam certainly supports her keeping it if she so chooses. Her first vintage, of 2021, is receiving praise; she is already sold out of her Russian River and her single vineyard Lakeview from the Green Valley area of Russian River is running low. In the future, she will also make a Heintz single vineyard Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley.
Another project that Morét and Adam are starting is called ‘Stray Dogs’ and ‘Stray Cats’ that benefit stray animals, with proceeds going to local and national humane societies. The concept behind the wines is to take barrels that did not make the final blend for the wines of Clarice, Morét’s Russian River wines and Adam’s clients, which all include stellar vineyards, and create a Pinot Noir blend for ‘Stray Dogs’ as well as a Muscadelle white wine blend for ‘Stray Cats.’ Even though Morét jokes that they are the mutts of the lineup, it is more accurate to say they are like Goldendoodles because, for example, the ‘Stray Dogs’ Pinot Noir comes from top vineyards such as Garys’ and Soberanes, and so, it is blending the best of the best.
A New Venture
Adam and Morét have started a new joint venture with a vineyard land owner named John Wagner, with no relationship to the Caymus’ Wagner family. John owns Peake Ranch Vineyard and John Sebastiano Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, a cool-climate wine region on the Central Coast of California, who has come onto the wine scene over the past five to eight years with some lovely vineyards. He already has some very impressive wineries such as Siduri, Foxen and Dragonette buying fruit from him but the business model of being a grape seller of premium fruit is maddening to John, especially considering he is a physicist who became a founder of a hedge fund who is now a grape grower and winemaker. John said to Adam that he felt that the business model made no sense – he had no idea how many tons of grapes he would sell because yields can significantly vary, pricing can drastically go up and down and the hype of a vintage, before wines are even made, can either make or break deals between wineries and growers in the premium wine world.
Adam had wanted to make a more affordable Pinot Noir from high-quality vineyards in California, just like the one he had when he first fell in love with Pinot Noir. Adam didn’t drink premium wine growing up in Texas, so during one of his college breaks, he visited a friend in California who had moved there. During that visit, he drank a wine that ultimately changed his life, a 1984 Rochioli Pinot Noir, the first red wine he ever liked. At the time, it cost a mere $13 which he figured would be priced at $35 in today’s money. Yet the cost of grapes, marketing, packaging and everything else would require the price to be over $100 and Adam himself has to price his minuscule production of his Clarice Pinot Noir at $95. But if it wasn’t for Adam’s ability to have such an outstanding Pinot Noir at such a young age, he might have never become passionate about wine and he worries that the young people of today will never get the opportunity to taste great Pinot Noir.
And so Adam, Morét and John all came up with an idea that Adam and Morét would take any premium Pinot Noir grapes he couldn’t sell and handle the winemaking and selling of the wines with a guarantee on return as long as he took care of the cost of the packaging; any profits after the guaranteed return get split evenly. The wines are called Dial Tone and Busy Signal, with pricing around $29 and $39, respectively. Dial Tone doesn’t see new French oak, while Busy Signal gets around 10%. The labels are bold colors on drawings of old telephones that give a wonderful retro vibe and it has been so successful that they are working with John to get more fruit (not just leftovers) that will be earmarked for this project.
A Life That Isn’t Linear
Life doesn’t always work linearly. Those who feel trapped within that linear mindset and feel they need to know their path from the very beginning to achieve anything significant can miss out on their true calling in life. Adam Lee proves that someone doesn’t have to check all the superficial boxes to become an important winemaker shaping the wine world. And such is true for Morét, whose insatiable appetite for knowledge and lack of ego about her own talents and brilliance made her an incredible sponge yet she was fortunate enough to meet someone who empowered her to see her own potential. As both Adam and Morét decide the blends for all their wine projects together; whoever comes up with the best blend for a particular wine or vintage will be the one to determine that blend.
There is no doubt that Adam Lee was a big part of helping to make Americans fall in love with premium Pinot Noir and now, with Morét, a new chapter begins where he is going back to his roots of making tiny production of outstanding wine as well as making Pinot more available to the next generation, possibly on a larger scale in the future.
Sometimes the best journeys have many ups and downs, twists and turns and a few surprises along the way. The next chapter seems exciting for Morét and Adam and it is only the beginning.
***Link to original article on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/07/23/new-california-pinot-noir-winemaker-with-mexican-heritage-and-her-great-partnership-with-renowned-pinot-noir-expert/
2022 Morét-Brealynn, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: 100% Pinot Noir. A very pretty nose with red strawberries and lilacs with a nice amount of weight on the mid-palate, stony minerality and a lifted finish with bright acidity.
2021 Morét-Brealynn, Russian River Valley, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Deliciously delightful with plum tart, fresh blueberries and hints of jasmine with lots of energy and drive on the palate with tarragon and cherry compote.
2021 Morét-Brealynn, Lakeview Vineyard, Russian River Valley, California: 100% Pinot Noir. A lot more earthy with an intense minerality, crushed rocks and complex layers of forest floor and dried porcini mushrooms with a lovely purity of fruit and lots of vitality with a touch of lushness mid-palate with fine tannins.
2021 Morét-Brealynn ‘Stray Cats’ Sonoma County, California: 100% Muscadelle. Salty minerality and lemon zest with juicy peach flavors and citrus blossom.
2021 Morét-Brealynn ‘Stray Dogs’ Central Coast, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Broken earth, black cherries and warming baking spices on the nose with dried herbs and fine tannins on the palate with a floral finish.
Dial Tone and Busy Signal
2021 Dial Tone, Santa Barbara County, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Right off the bat, floral nose and fresh raspberries with lots of vibrant flavors on the palate, such as cranberry and fresh sage with silky tannins.
2021 Busy Signal, Sta. Rita Hills, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Intense concentration on the nose with strawberry preserves, crushed rose petals and cinnamon sticks with a broad palate and a soft texture that, through time, opens up with a multi-faceted aromatic and flavor profile.
Clarice Wine Company
For Adam Lee, much of the foundation of his wine career goes back to Rochioli, with the first red wine he loved, to advice that he got from Tom Rochioli himself. Tom told him to harvest young vines riper than normal as what one doesn’t get in complexity, one gets in big, ripe effusive fruit character. And that is why, earlier in his career, when he owned Siduri, he would pick wines riper as many of the vineyards were younger. Even though he never initially imagined selling Siduri, the business had become so big through its success that the winery began to run him. And so, when the vineyards he had been working with started to gain enough age to show complexity, he still felt he had to pick riper grapes, as Siduri’s loyal customers expected. And so, after he sold Siduri, he decided to start Clarice Wine Company in Santa Lucia Highlands. Today, he is making the wines he has always wanted to make from older vines that are picked earlier, as well as using a high amount of whole cluster during the winemaking process, around 75% whole cluster on the 2021s wines, to produce wines that have complexity, structure, elegance and longevity that are meant to be aged or have with food.
The below wines are either a blend of Garys’ Vineyard and Rosella’s Vineyard or a single vineyard bottling of one or the other. These vineyards are the top ‘grand cru’ vineyards of the area owned by two men, Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, who are considered the founding fathers of the high-quality wine movement in the area while still keeping their multi-generational farming roots alive. Adam Lee is very close to both men and it is a partnership that goes beyond making wine.
2021 Clarice, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: 100% Pinot Noir and a blend of Rosella’s and Garys’ Vineyards. Perfumed nose with layers of floral qualities such as rose oil and lavender candy with ripe cherries and bright acidity. A lovely balance on the palate of weight, structure – silky yet with a subtle firmness that gives a nice framework to the wine and juiciness of red and black fruit on the palate.
2021 Clarice, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Lots of earthiness on this wine with dark, brooding fruit with a hint of star anise giving it an aromatic lift that is elegant on the palate with blackcurrant leaf and gravel that has a linear drive.
2021 Clarice, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Multi-layered nose with tobacco leaf, savory spices and brambly fruit with a texture reminiscent of silk ribbons that gently caresses the palate with an extremely long, expressive finish.