By Chason McKay
A University of Georgia graduate has found a spot in the new wave of young California winemakers.
Phil Stice, owner of Stice Wine, Co., left his hopes of joining the medical field to take up winemaking.
“It was sometime after my freshman year of college when a distant relative in the wine industry came to visit,” Stice says. “He invited me to see him in Napa, California if I was interested in learning the ropes. I went and I liked it, so I decided to ditch studying medicine for wine.”
Stice started his winemaking education in Mexico, where he worked as a day-laborer in the vineyards for nearly two years. He says this experience developed his respect for the hard work that is necessary for quality wine.
After working in Mexico, Stice worked for his family in California for two years.
“We have one harvest per year, and it is always in the fall. That’s the only time you get to make wine. In the meantime, I tried to get all the practice I could through extra harvests,” Stice says.
Undertaking extra harvests required Stice to travel to the Southern Hemisphere. For four months at a time, Stice harvested grapes in Argentina.
“I felt like I was ready to make wine on my own after a couple years of multiple harvests,” Stice says. “My wife had just begun her Ph.D. in Athens, so I had to think about how I could keep making wine while living in Georgia. I’ve been able to do this with help from my family.”
Throughout the year, Stice’s family manages small procedures of the winemaking process for him, such as flipping the bottles or changing the temperature of the wine storageroom. Then in the fall, he flies to California to participate in the annual harvest.
Stice is among a small group California of winemakers who have started producing wine from fruit and land that they do not own. He says that most people around his age are unable to own land in California because it is some of the most expensive agricultural land worldwide.
Even though they have to harvest fruit from land owned by wealthier winemakers, these producers are still making a name for themselves.
“The people that do it like this are passionate about making great wine at good prices that everyone can enjoy,” Stice says. “It’s not people trying to make a trillion bucks, but rather people that are longing to establish something of their own.”
Stice Wine, Co. has two wines commercially available. His Zinfandel can be found in Athens at Jay’s Bottle Shop, Five Points, and the Kroger on Alps.