The original plan called for The Parsonage to develop a positive bottom line in five to six years. In reality, it took a decade, and, in the process, Bill Parsons learned a huge amount about the financial realities of running a boutique winery.
A small winery producing handcrafted wines offers no opportunities for reducing unit costs by spreading them over a large inventory. The only way to make any money is to keep expenses at a minimum and do everything possible in-house. Cut out the middle-man, wholesalers and wine brokers. Keep office operations in the family. Be stingy with everything but the wine itself.
Fortunately, Parsons is a man of diverse skills. He entered University of California Los Angeles as an engineering undergrad, found he couldn't stand it, and got his degree in European history. That was followed by a master's degree in journalism at Columbia - which led to another change of course: He became a Special Forces buck sergeant in the military. That experience was followed by a stint as an Army intelligence spy (in Italy), which somehow catapulted him into a career in the waste management business. If it is true that winemaking attracts characters to its faternity, maybe Bill Parsons' ultimate occupation was inevitable.
And, hey, for the things Parsons couldn't do himself, there was plenty of talent in the rest of the family. Teamwork is a daily mantra and everyone knows his or her role. Bill's focus is on marketing, but he also oversees the entire operation and makes the final call when decisions are needed. Wife Mary Ellen does the artwork for the business, but also pitches in wherever she is needed - helping with the harvesting, bottling, or whatever. Son-in- law Frank Melicia is vineyard manager and does 90 percent of the wine-making. Daughter Ali (short for Alison) runs office operations, taking orders, fussing over shipping and keeping the books. Other family members (daughters Rachael and Brooke and Brooke's husband Marshall Moranda) have full-time jobs elsewhere but help out from time to time - for the glory, and maybe for a little wine.
Still, Parsons can't charge enough for his small bottlings to fully covercosts. Mother Nature is always a crap shoot. A couple years of lousy weather could put the whole operation deeply in the hole. Thus, Parsons decided on a second product line, a second label, he could use as a safety valve.
The Snosrap label - Parsons spelled backwards - made its first appearance in 2001, with purchased fruit from the Santa Lucia/Arroyo Seco areas. Parsons now sells 1,000-1,500 cases a year of Snosrap pinot noir, red blend, and chardonnay, all of which retail in the $20-$30 a bottle range. Parsons regards Snosrap as good value for the money from a consumer's point of view - with the added advantage for the winery that Snosrap's low overhead costs give the winery's bottom line some much-needed breathing room.
The seven-acre Parsonage Estate Vineyard, with the family home situated firmly in the center, sits a half-mile east of Carmel Valley Village, and is planted with syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and small amounts of malbec and petite verdot. Production varies a bit with the vintage, but the estate vineyard typically yields a half-dozen or so Estate and Estate Reserve wines - with the highly-prized syrahs and petit verdot blends being the most singular.
These small bottlings - highly-extracted, inky, full-bodied - currently retail in the $36-$80 range, with a total of perhaps 1,000 cases among the various labels.
Mary Ellen Parsons creates the winery's labels - vivid, bold and multi-colored. She was an established quilt artist before The Parsonage venture, and the broad scope of her work is apparent in the Parsonage Tasting Room and Quilt Art Gallery, where limited edition giclees - computer generated prints producing a high degree of fine detail - of her quilts are on display.
The Parsonage Village Winery Tasting Room and Gallery is located in Carmel Valley Village at 19 E. Carmel Valley Rd. Hours vary; call (831) 659-7322 or visit www.parsonagewine.com for further information.
Learn more about the Monterey Bay area at MontereyBayAdventures.com.