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In the summer of 1994, Steve
Dooley established a small wine production company based
in San Luis
California. After completing seven vintages (1987
through 1993) as
and Winemaker for the highly esteemed Edna Valley
Central Coast, Dooley made the transition from
and now produces wines under his label "Stephen Ross".
A U.C. Davis graduate with winemaking ex- perience at Louis Martini Winery in the Napa Valley, and the Edna Valley Vineyard, Steve Dooley also served winemaking stints in both South Africa and Australia.
For Dooley, winemaking has turned out to be a passport to adventure. From his boyhood home in the Minnesota River Valley - also known as the "Valley of the Jolly Green Giant" (where he packed corn in cans as a teenager) - to California, Dooley's career path has taken him to far-flung locations in the Australian outback and the South African Cape. Experiences and insights reaped along the way have played a significant part in shaping his personal winemaking style.
Dooley recalls first becoming intrigued with winemaking around 1970, while still a high school student, after reading an article in Time Magazine about the emerging U.S. wine industry. The combination of agriculture and artistry he perceived in winemaking continued to spark Dooley's imagination in college and, after two years of study at Minnesota's Mankato State University, he transferred to U.C. Davis for his junior year. There, he embarked on the study of enology.
Following graduation, Dooley met with what he considers an extraordinary piece of good luck. He was hired to work at the Louis M. Martini Winery in the Napa Valley, one of the early pioneers of today's California wine industry. Starting out, as Dooley himself likes to put it, "at the bottom of the totem pole", he was initially employed as a "shoveler", shoveling pomace out of red wine fermentation tanks. Dooley was to spend ten very educative years at the Louis Martini winery, eventually becoming the assistant winemaker.
In 1985, while still at Louis Martini, Dooley heard of a winery in South Africa which was searching for someone from Napa to instruct them on how to barrel-ferment Chardonnay. Dooley leaped at the opportunity to travel and took a nine-week sabbatical to work at the Backsberg Estate in Paarl in the Cape of Good Hope. For the rather shy man from the Midwest, it was an eye-opening experience.
On returning to the States, he resumed work at Louis Martini, where he met a young Australian who had volunteered his services at the winery in exchange for the chance to learn about its operation. The two became friends and when, at the end of the year, Australian Steven Schapera left to build his own winery back home, he invited Dooley to come with him. It was an opportunity too good to miss, so Dooley left his job to help in the final stages of winery construction and in producing the 1987 inaugural vintage at the Chittering Estate in Western Australia.
Once his mission at the Chittering Estate had been accomplished, the winery built and the harvest safely gathered, Dooley returned to the United States in mid-1987. Shortly after his return, he was "discovered" by the Chalone Wine Group. The Chalone Wine Group which owns Chalone Vineyard, Acacia, and Carmenet, jointly owns Edna Valley Vineyard with the Paragon Vineyard Co., hired Dooley for the post of winemaker there.
Dooley found himself quickly adopting the "Burgundian style" of making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In the years that followed, Dooley continued to make wine at Edna Valley Vineyard along the lines established by Chalone, but over the course of time, added many of his own nuances of style. A major factor in the winery's success, according to Dooley, is the extraordinary fine grapes supplied by the Edna Valley. The Chalone Wine Group, a leading proponent of Burgundian-style winemaking techniques in California, expressed its confidence in Dooley by arranging for him to go to Burgundy to observe winemaking there as well.
After completing seven vintages at Edna Valley Vineyard, Dooley left Edna Valley Vineyard during the summer of 1994 to form his own company, and develop his own label under his first and middle name "Stephen Ross". A friendly and engaging man, Dooley is a firm believer in a hands-on approach - as he puts it "in order to maintain the highest quality possible". In addition to his own label, Dooley is the consulting winemaker for a limited number of Central Coast wineries.