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.
F ortunately, 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, originally managed by a crazy world-class bike polo playing Norseman and today guided by an an ex-pat lady from Nice (the Norseman went off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to raise money for ALS research).
Roy Cloud and Mike Daniels interview by the North Carolina Food & Beverage Podcast, June 2020.
The Faces Behind Vintage ‘59
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.+ Read Full Bio
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.+ Read Full Bio
Debra Lewis, National Sales, South and Mid-West
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.+ Read Full Bio
Doug Mohr, National Sales, the District, Maryland, Delaware, northern Virginia
Doug’s restaurant career took him across the country and back again–from Sante Fe to San Francisco to Washington DC. From there he went into wine buying and managing sales teams. His joys are his three children, food and wine and all good things Detroit and Michigan. + Read Full Bio
Sally Marshall, Administration
After many years managing Trophy and Class A office buildings in downtown Washington, establishing a custom swimming pool design and construction business with her husband, and serving as the business manager for an historic, non-profit movie theater in Chevy Chase, DC, Sally is happy to be a part of the Vintage ’59 team.
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Sue Behringer, Administration
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. + Read Full Bio
Marianne Antic, Operations Manager
Marianne started with Vintage ’59 Imports in February 2016, after working in the copyright and fashion industries in France, opening a small B&B and restaurant in Costa Rica and importing furniture from Morocco in the Bay Area. Originally from Paris, Marianne got her MBA from the University of Kansas in Lawrence. + Read Full Bio
Susan Thornett, West Coast Sales Manager
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. + Read Full Bio
Neza Rufuku, Los Angeles Sales
Neza hails from Rwanda and the American Midwest. He dove into the craft beer industry in its early stages and was employed at a brewhouse while attending college for marketing.
He has 20+ years of employment in the hospitality industry. His excitement for the wine industry continues to blossom. + Read Full Bio
Krystal Kleeman, Los Angeles Sales
Originally from Oceanside, California, Krystal moved to Los Angeles in 2010. Her introduction to the restaurant and wine industry started when she helped open Fundamental LA and then went on to run her own wine programs. Krystal is an outdoor enthusiast and in her free time she enjoys hiking, backpacking and occasionally keeping up her golf swing. + Read Full Bio
Gretchen Pen, SF 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. + Read Full Bio
Abbey Chrystal, SF and Monterey Bay Sales
Abbey joined the Vintage’59 team at the end of 2018. She worked in wine production and quality control previously at such fine establishments as Dashe Cellars in Oakland, Equinox Methode Champenoise, and Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, CA. + Read Full Bio
Tara McDonald, SF and East Bay Sales
Tara joined the V59 Wines team at the beginning of 2019. She has traveled the wine route extensively and has multiple wine degrees (NASA Italian Wine Specialist; WSET advance; CSW; and CMS Certified). + Read Full Bio
Maria Castelli, SF Sales
Maria joined the V59 Wines team in September of 2021. She grew up immersed in a culture of food and wine, graduated from UC Santa Barbara, earned her CMS Certification, and served as the Manager and Wine Buyer at Vintage Berkeley. + Read Full Bio
Greg Clark, San Diego and Orange Co. Sales
Greg grew up in Charleston, SC. In 2016 he successfully completed the Certified Sommelier exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers. He is a 17-year veteran of the restaurant industry. His hobbies include surfing, hiking, and yoga.
+ Read Full Bio