Knightsen vineyard aims to expand

Dale Satre, @DaleSatre

An inconspicuous red warehouse in Knightsen has become a center of attention for the local wine community.

Petersen Vineyards is a new winery priding itself on growing, fermenting and bottling its grapes on site. Awarded a gold medal at the Central Coast Wine Competition in 2017 and “Best New Winery” by 110° Magazine this year, owner Peter Petersen actually didn’t start his journey in viticulture with grand plans.

“It was a hobby that turned into a venture,” he said. “When we purchased the land in 2011, it was 10 acres of California brown. We simply wanted to try to transform it to green.”

Petersen grew up on a Danish dairy farm milking cows, but became a successful electrical engineer by trade. He applied this meticulous approach to winemaking, tinkering with grapes and techniques to produce the best quality product and learning from the Internet.

“At first, we did everything by the book, measured to be exact,” he explained. “We approached it from a chemistry perspective, but the wine wasn’t getting any better.”

The breakthrough came in 2014, when he decided to ditch the chemicals normally used in winemaking and focus on organic processing that effectively removed all materials other than grapes. The wine turned out phenomenal, he said, and encouraged by friends, Petersen decided to expand the operation.

“I knew that this wasn’t going to be about events or anything else, this was going to be about making wine. I had no idea what was in the future, but this side gig was too good to say no to,” said Petersen. “I asked my wife and family to get fully onboard with this, and then moved forward.”

Petersen Vineyards spent the next two years acquiring approvals to ferment and distribute wine, and perfecting their product. The public debut came in 2017 with their Petite Sirah and Zinfandel blends. It was an instant hit with the friends who bought it.

“I owe a lot to my friends, the first people that joined our wine club,” Petersen recalled. “I made my first mistakes with them, and they effectively became my first salespeople. I sold them on authenticity. Selling out of my warehouse, with the steel fermenting vats and concrete floor, keeps it simple and honest. They liked being able to have a glass with the winemaker himself.”

Petersen Vineyards went on to take Brentwood’s 2017 Art and Wine festival with some clever marketing. Petersen bought a 1930s truck and 1930s clothing for his family to staff the event. This small investment turned out a huge return in local attention, effectively marketing his product for free.

“My marketing philosophy was simple. I wanted to create a something that people stumbled over, and that was the truck and clothing. The next essential was a 15 second ‘elevator speech,’ with the intention of getting off at the same ‘floor’ and creating a sale,” he said. “The goal of the first sale is to make people come back. Instead of paying for advertising, you make sure every customer is happy.”

Petersen hopes to recoup his costs in 2018 and make a profit.

“Our intention is to become a local household name, the to-go place for wines. I think I’ve successfully convinced my wife that this is my retirement,” Petersen laughed.

For now though, the wine maker is aiming to get his name out there and foster his own unique brand.

“When you’re starting a business, the challenge is telling everybody that you’re different, and why that makes you better,” Petersen said. “You never cater to the mass market — you cater to people who like to brag about their wine.”

Tastings and purchases are open to the public on Fridays from 4 to 6pm at 101 Blaine Lane, Knightsen. Private tastings can be arranged by calling 925-890-4841.