In September 1997 Roy Cloud was asked by the Michel-Schlumberger winery in Dry Creek Valley to become the buyer for a new line of French imports. He accepted, despite the fact that his French was worthless at the time. Fortunately, his brother spoke the language well, so he came along on the early travels as a clandestine translator. They trooped across France and doors were opened, giving them an abiding appreciation for the pride the better farmers took in their work. Nearly every one of those early growers who signed on via handshake—because then, as now, the moral contract rather than a legal document guided our relationships—remain in the portfolio.
In early 2003 Roy purchased the assets of the Michel-Schlumberger import business and formed Vintage '59. The name was changed to an iconic vintage in France (by chance, Roy's birth year). The heart and soul of the company, however, has stayed firmly focused on artisanal domains making excellent regional wine—classic vin de terroir.
As importers, we look for wines with depth of fruit, length and elegance, rather than for obtrusive oak, over-extraction, or excessive alcohol. That said, we don't tell growers how to make wine because that's their expertise, not ours. And we don't work with fatheads, regardless of how good their wine might be, because it's not worth it. The company focuses on the rich relationships that spring from the community of growers, instead of just the commercial imperative. So we look for people who share sensibilities, and that makes them as important as the wine they produce. The rule is simple: you work with people who make you proud and whose wine you drink at home.
In 2008 we opened V59 Wines, a separate company to distribute our wines in northern and southern California. Since then, this distribution company has carefully expanded beyond its French selection to include similarly-minded growers from around the world. Our warehouse is an old one down in the foggy flats of the East Bay, managed by a crazy world-class bike polo playing Norseman.
Vintage '59 Imports
Roy Cloud, President
Roy grew up in Pittsburgh during the time when Roberto Clemente was God in that town. On the dinner table at home often stood a half-gallon of Almaden Burgundy, but he knew from busing tables at the restaurant up the road that there were other wines from cultures entirely different from his own. In college he experimented with that gateway drug, Mosel Riesling. During a year abroad, he hitched across France to Madrid and drank cheap co-op wine from bottles with plastic caps (the Almaden, it must be said, was better). He fished commercially in Alaska, a country barren of the grape—which made his landing in California something of a shock. His family had moved to Berkeley, where Roy came to earn a living as a carpenter while exploring all manner of wine routes with his father. He was in grad school in NYC making ends meet by working in one of the city's first wine bars when the '82 futures broke (a case of Pichon-Lalande cost $200!). Later, in our nation's capital, he married his best friend from college, took a job at MacArthur Wines, and wrote. That was when Michel-Schlumberger tapped him on the shoulder.
Roy still writes (back labels and profile pages, among other things). He is the author of the memoir To Burgundy and Back Again.
Michael Daniels, Partner
The road to perdition began for Mike at age 14 when an older neighbor suggested he take French for his high school language requirement because, "Those classes are almost all girls." A few short years later, thanks to the efforts of an inspiring teacher, Isabelle Carduner, he managed to spend a week outside of Paris with a French family. He was served wine at dinner and ate Brie de Meaux and was even offered a couple of hand-rolled cigarettes when the coffee came out. The hook was set. Subsequently, he spent a year in Paris. In 2005, following a stint as a vagabond English teacher in Prague, Mike met Roy in DC at precisely the right time. He has since held the following positions at Vintage '59: administrator, director of currency manipulation, sales coordinator, chief hostage negotiator, CFO, logistics guy, receptionist, cook, human resource manager, cat pan man, translator, swim instructor, and tour guide. In 2008 he became a partner.
Nearly everything of note that he knows about wine is thanks to the family of V59 growers that have graciously welcomed him into their homes, their vines, and their cellars year after year.Michael lives in Takoma Park with his partner, Korin, their two wonderful children, and a couple of Czech cats.
Debra Lewis, National Sales
Debra came to work for Vintage '59 Imports with a varied past. She has sailed around the world, lived and worked in France, ran a city-wide art program in Los Angeles, and worked both front and back of the house in restaurants. It was in restaurants in North Carolina where her wine education began as a buyer. She moved to distribution as a salesperson, and then became a sales manager before going on to run a nationwide brokerage of small French producers. She built lasting relationships with these growers, and brought a number of them with her to V59. From Debra's perspective, V59 continues this thread of having a deep history and personal relationships with each of the domains it represents.Debra is part of the national sales team in the Southeast and Midwest, where she finds pleasure each day working with the family of Vintage 59 growers and sharing their wines with consumers.
Pierre Delamare, Operations Manager
Pierre started with Vintage '59 Imports in 2012, after graduating college in Wisconsin and working as an online consultant for NGOs in America's capital. Originally from Normandy, Pierre's wine resume consisted of having a French passport and an outrageous accent—slim but not negligible assets. Vintage '59 has been an especially personable workplace, one that has allowed Pierre to reconnect with his roots while fanning his growing interest in artisan wines. After just over a year in the Washington, DC office, Pierre relocated to the Bay Area to become the operations manager for the California distribution company.
Crystal Williams, Los Angeles Sales
Crystal hails from the foothills of the North Sierras, where her grandpa still maintains a gold mine. Later in life she moved to San Francisco to study Women and Gender Studies at SFSU, while also indulging her senses by exploring the inspired SF restaurant culture on and off the clock. Crystal worked at Bar Tartine and Commonwealth, feeding her love of food and naturally developing her love of wine. In 2011, Crystal relocated to Los Angeles to open the Southern California region for V59 Wines.When she's not peddling wine, she's hard at work in her bountiful vegetable garden.
Fred Makapugay, Los Angeles Sales
Fred grew up in the Bay area and was, by default, exposed to California's wine country. His passion was ignited circa 1993 when he was dining with family and friends and tasted his first special wine—1970 Chateau Cheval Blanc. The experience hooked him and he plunged into the world of wine. Before joining the V59 team in 2014, Fred was the LA Key Account manager for Angeles Wine Agency and assisted in the management of Jeff Welburn Selections.
Susan Thornett, San Francisco and East Bay Sales
Susan first caught the taste for wine working as a server in London, back when a "business lunch" for two meant opening at least three nice bottles! After stints in Sydney and Los Angeles, she landed a job in San Francisco working with John Ragan, an inspiring wine director who led her to consider wine as a career. Initially, Susan's tastes were influenced by white Burgundies and Mosels; subsequently, she became smitten by Champagne and the Loire. She jumped at the chance to work with V59 and its artisanal wines.Since she began with V59 in 2013, Susan's highlights have been visiting the welcoming growers, being teased by JP Charlot in Volnay, and getting to know many wonderful and hardworking individuals in the industry who contribute so much to the vibrant SF Bay Area wine culture.
Gretchen Pen, San Francisco and North Sales
Gretchen is a thoroughly West Coast girl who grew up in Bellingham, WA and attended the University of San Diego on swimming scholarships. After earning degrees in Political Science and Environmental Studies, she canvassed for US PIRG and performed so well that the company promoted her and sent her to San Francisco. There she became an avid Giants fan, and there she got into sales at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, where she was introduced to the V59 book. She interned under winemaker Ed Kurtzman at the August West Winery. In 2013, she started with V59.Gretchen currently lives in the "homeless Riviera" a.k.a. the Tenderloin district of San Francisco with her partner, Peter, their daughter, Ingrid, and their dog, Hank. "I love my family, my city, and my job," Gretchen says. In another life, however, she would be teaching a class on Political Conspiracy Theories at the local university, and spending her summers lost south of the border.
Per Henning Iverson (a.k.a. "The Viking"), SF Peninsula Sales
Henning is a Bay Area native who started washing dishes and chopping vegetables in a professional kitchen as an impressionable fifteen-year-old. As a result, he left his coastal paradise to study at Purdue University's school of hospitality, and learned the fundamentals of wine during an internship at the Inn at Little Washington. After graduating, he staged at Era-Ora in Copenhagen (a Michelin one-star and the largest importer of fine wine in Northern Europe), where he worked with wine by day and cooked on the line by night. When the money ran out, Henning returned to the States to assist in opening and rehabilitating resorts on the East Coast. He then jumped into the wholesale side by taking a job with Virginia's The Country Vintner, which represented Vintage '59. Alas, he desperately missed the big blue Pacific! He returned to its waters and climate, picked up a V59 bag, and works up and down the coast.When Henning is waiting for the next big one on his surf board, he thinks often of the 1962 Jean-Michel Gaunoux Pommard Les Perrières he tasted at the domain.
Ailis grew up on a small farm in rural Connecticut where she learned French at an early age (her first words!), never expecting to use the language in the workplace. After earning degrees in International Studies and English in Boston, and consulting with organizations and individuals in content marketing strategy, Ailis ventured down to Washington, D.C. at the end of 2013 to join the V59 team. Fluent in French and competent in Italian, yet with no prior knowledge of wine, Ailis has observed intently while Roy, Mike and the growers have explained some of the most interesting wines she has ever tasted. Every time she tastes a new (or revisits an old) wine, Ailis thinks back to the lessons and impressions she learned meeting the growers at the Roadshow event in D.C. She is excited to continue her education.Outside of wine, Ailis enjoys dancing ballet, climbing rocks, and meditating in a patch of sun on the porch.
Sue got into wine back in 2000 when she joined a brokerage of small growers that Debra later came to manage. Sue was attracted both to the requirement of French fluency and the managerial prerequisites, having taught French, been a preschool director, and the manager of a research lab. To this day, Sue considers it a privilege to have the opportunity to use her French language skills so frequently.When Debra made the transition to Vintage '59, Sue was asked to stay on a few months to help and never left. For her, the most enjoyable part of working with Vintage '59 is the interactions with people. "I love each and every one of our French growers, who are all good friends at this point," she says. "I also enjoy the people I work with; we are truly a team." Sue has four grandchildren, aged 2 to 12, who give her great joy—as does traveling with her husband, whose work in physics sends him the world over.