Winemaker Profiles


Need a bio written about your Winemaker? Never fear, Back Label Girl is here! Following are a few Winemaker profiles I’ve written. Enjoy!

Fred Nickel – Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery
The mid-day sun beat down mercilessly from a white-hot Western sky as Fred Nickel (aka “Lead Nickel”) faced his opponent in the middle of the dusty ghost town street. A bead of sweat trickled its way slowly down his chiseled face as he swore under his breath and prepared to draw his gun…

Fred Nickel, Winemaker for Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery, is an avid participant in Cowboy Action Shooting – it’s what he does for fun. Cowboy Action Shooting is a shooting sport in which contestants dress in period costumes and compete with firearms typical of those used in the taming of the Old West. The competitions are staged in an “Old West” style and shooters compete on a timed basis. Each scenario, as they are called, features an array of situations, many based on famous incidents or movies scenes, in which the contestants must shoot at steel targets.

When not shooting down opponents, Fred spends much of his time making wine and fine brandy at Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery. This is a man who loves what he does and where he lives – he is a Mendocino County winemaker at heart.

After graduating from UC Davis in 1979 with a major in Enology and a minor in Viticulture, Fred worked for some very well-known Mendocino County wineries, including Fetzer, Parducci, Kendall-Jackson (he was their first winemaker), Parson’s Creek, McNab Ridge, Zellerbach, Brutocao and in 2009, he started working with Ken and Diane Wilson at Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery.

Fred’s winemaking philosophy involves patience (knowing when to step away and let the wines mature) and knowing exactly what the grapes on the estate are capable of.

Take my advice and wander on up to Jaxon Keys Winery, just north of Hopland in Mendocino County, say hello to “Lead Nickel,” and taste his wonderful wines. Just don’t say “draw!”


Rick Sayre – Rodney Strong Vineyards
Rick Sayre is a hard-working, well-respected winemaker who has been working in Sonoma County’s wine industry since 1970. Along with his years of practical, hands-on experience, he possesses movie-star-quality easy charm and good looks (he will probably blush when he reads this about himself – he’s a humble man).

Rick was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan and grew up in Southern California. He and his family moved to Sonoma County in 1966. Shortly thereafter, his parents bought a ten-acre prune ranch in Windsor, where Rick and his lovely wife Peggy still live today.

When Rick was a teenager, both of his parents worked full-time (his mom was a schoolteacher and his dad was in construction), so Rick ran the ranch…and he hated it. Here’s a little-known factoid about Sonoma County’s agricultural history – back when Rick was tending the family ranch, school would be delayed for up to two weeks in the fall so the local kids could harvest prunes. What child labor laws?

Even though Rick hated agriculture back then, it took root in his soul and he soon found himself working at Simi Winery in 1970, and loving it. During his years at Simi, he worked with MaryAnn Graf (the first American female winemaker), Zelma Long and winemaking legend André Tchelistcheff, who became Rick’s mentor. “André took as much pride in the people he trained as he took in his wines – I was fortunate to be one of those people,” Rick tells me with a shy smile.

“It’s so important to be aware of everything,” Rick says. “André taught me that a winemaker must live with his wine; even the smallest details can have an effect.”

Rick worked hard at Simi, alongside luminaries André Tchelistcheff, MaryAnn Graf and Zelma Long for the next nine years. “I did everything,” Rick tells me. “At Simi, everyone did everything.”

In November of 1979, Rodney Strong came calling, and Rick signed on to make the winery’s estate, reserve and Sonoma County varietal wines. His position at Rodney Strong also included crafting Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines, so he spent several weeks studying all things bubbly at Piper-Heidsieck in the Champagne region of France.

Many award-winning wines later (and other awards too – including “Winemaker of the Year”), Rick is still happily working away at Rodney Strong. Vineyards. He is passionate about what he does and is very involved in all aspects of winemaking, from the vineyard to the bottle.


Brian Maloney – DeLoach Vineyards
Brian Maloney is a man who loves his job as Winemaker. You might even say he was born to it. His great-grandfather (on his mother’s side) planted vineyards and founded a winery near the wine-drenched hamlet of Calistoga at the turn of the century (and his family is still involved in the wine industry today), his father’s family has been involved in local agriculture for the past 150 years and during the dark days of Prohibition, Brian’s grandfather was a bootlegger.
Brian grew up on a sheep and cattle ranch right on the border of Sonoma and Marin counties. He became involved with agriculture from an early age – he worked on the ranch and participated in the local 4H chapter for as long as he can remember.

Agriculture drew him to UC Davis, where he fell in love with wine. He graduated with degrees in Viticulture and Enology in 2003.

Before ultimately landing at DeLoach Vineyards in 2003, Brian did internships at Balletto Vineyards, Kendall-Jackson Winery and Point Reyes Vineyard. Once settled at DeLoach, Brian’s star quickly rose – he was promoted from Assistant Winemaker to Winemaker in a very short time.

When asked what his favorite aspects of his job was, Brian replied, “I love the “Jack of All Trades” aspect of my job – it’s cyclic and slightly different every day. On any given day, I might be walking in the vineyards, tasting blends, pouring wine for visitors or traveling the country, promoting our wines.”

Brian’s winemaking style can be described as balanced, complex and subtle – he likes to highlight layers of a wine’s flavors, while keeping all the elements in harmony.

When not busy crafting fabulous wines, Brian enjoys working in his huge backyard garden in Calistoga, cooking and listening to music.