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Healdsburg vintner takes risks

  • David and Carla Ramey in March at their newly acquired vineyards, part of a 75-acre purchase at Westside Farms in Healdsburg. (CONNER JAY/The Press Democrat)

David Ramey may not be a trapeze artist or a tight-rope walker, but he's a risk taker, a bold and audacious one at that.

Ramey, 62, is the head poobah of Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg. He likes being his own boss and prefers khakis to pinstripes. He's tall, 6-foot-1, and casual is his style — a tweed shirt, khakis and sandals that look like a highbrow version of Birkenstocks.

The intrepid guru makes classy wines with his own label, but he's also raising the caliber of other brands in Wine Country, often anonymously. Ramey is the wine consultant for seven brands, in some cases under the radar.

David Ramey

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Rodney Strong Vineyards in Healdsburg, however, is one client who keeps Ramey's name on its materials, and the consultant is turning heads with the winery's top-tier bottlings and the Davis Bynum brand it acquired.

“They just ask for my advice and it's financially well worth it,” Ramey said. “I enjoy helping my clients because they see the results, and it's positive for everybody.”

What's Ramey's high-priced advice? In a nutshell, be a risk-taker.

“What I often find in colleagues is that they're operating more from a place of fear rather than one of progression or optimism,” he said.

Ramey sometimes experiments with a controlled variable — one lot, say, of his total bottling.

“The fear (of my colleagues) is that you're going to make bad wine, that there's going to be spoilage and people will lose their jobs,” he said. “And if that fear is greater than their commitment to making great wine, they'll make safe wine.”

Ramey is not a fan of “safe.”

“How did General Motors get itself in trouble?” he asked. “Through making safe, unimaginative cars.”

Then he added, with a sly grin, “You can't steal a base in baseball without risk. ... You can't throw a strike without risking someone might get a hit.”

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