The vines are not the only beneficiary of Tom’s love for classical music. Stepping into the Primus tasting room is like entering a fine dining establishment in San Francisco or New York. The melodic strains of classical piano music emanate from a grand piano near the entrance. “Primus means ‘first among equals’ in Latin,” Tom relates. “ We want visitors to have a first-class experience tasting our wines in a relaxed yet elegant environment.”
Tom’s commitment to style and elegance is evident throughout the tasting room. In addition to the piano, a massive dark wood wine rack and bar back frames a large flat screen plasma monitor displaying scenes from the vineyard. The polished wood and glass covered counter/tasting bar serves as a display case for Tom’s prized corkscrew collection.
The quest for Primus Vineyards classic grace and refinement is less a matter of breeding and more a matter of entrepreneurial innovation and hard work. Tom Brown was born and raised in Placerville. Just out of high school at age 18, Tom started a shop doing custom interiors for Volkswagens. His business evolved into one of the most recognized and successful Volkswagen customizers in the country. A mere eight years after starting his business, Tom sold out and retired.
While trying his hand as a white water rafting guide, Tom met his future wife Michelle who was living in Napa. “I was not a wine drinker at all but Michelle introduced me to Napa wineries when I would visit,” Tom recalls. “I had heard about the wineries in El Dorado County so we came up and tasted some of the wines in the area. I told Michelle I thought I could do better and four years later here we are.”
“I found that there is a 200 acre parcel of land in Camino that has the best grape growing soil in the state,”
Tom started the development of Primus Vineyards by researching soils. “I found that there is a 200 acre parcel of land in Camino that has the best grape growing soil in the state,” Tom says. “This property is right in the middle of that parcel. It was the old Appletown Ranch started in 1971 as the original Apple Hill apple pie stand and bakery. The place had been in abatement for ten years and was overgrown with blackberry bushes when we bought it in 2000.”
Today, the dilapidated barn/bake shop has been restored while the blackberries and apples have been removed in favor of grape vines. A spanking new state-of-the-art winery and tasting room are now the centerpiece of the property. “We have five acres of vines; a little over one acre each of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Zinfandel,” Brown relates. “We have no plans to expand either the vineyards or the number of varieties we grow. At peak production, we should get about 25 tons of fruit from the vineyard.” The first full harvest of Zinfandel and Syrah was 2004. The Melot and Cabernet Franc were about a year behind.
Beside the ability to provide Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven to the vines, the digital vineyard management system can control and monitor everything from frost protection to the exact amount of water each vine gets. While expensive to install, Tom figures the system will reduce costs in the long term and result in superior grapes for distinctive wines.
Tom is the “wine grunt” when it comes to the actual wine making. Consulting enologist Brian Bumgartener is the winemaker for Primus. “Brian is a great winemaker who really knows about this area”, Tom says. “He tells me what needs to be done in the winery and I do it.”
According to Tom, the philosophy of Primus Vineyards is to produce limited quantities of exceptional wines employing state-of-the-art tools. Primus wines are fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. The “cap” is hand punched three to four times a day and the finished wines are aged in 100% new French oak barrels. “We like the taste, smoother tannins, and more buttery flavor we get from the French oak” Tom says. Plans call for the eventual use of hillside caves for barrel storage and an elevated crush pad to allow gravity feed from crusher to fermenters.
With while production is only about 1,000 cases, one can see why Primus wines are available only at the winery. Of course, having to venture into the charming El Dorado County foothills above Placerville to taste music-inspired wines not all that difficult any time of the year. There is a $5.00 tasting fee, half of which can be applied toward the purchase of wine and tasters get to keep the logo glass.
The Primus Wine Society is a wonderful way to regularly enjoy the Primus experience. Society members enjoy a 20% discount on Primus wines and can take advantage of all the winery’s amenities including the picnic area, deck and barbeque. Members will also be invited to periodic special wine events featuring guest pianists.
“We have spared no expense in the tasting room or winery to exhibit our commitment producing a first class wine experience for our customers.”
Tom Brown really wants Primus Vineyards visitors to have a comfortable, unpretentious wine tasting experience. “We have no secrets or anything to hide from our visitors,” Tom explains. “We have spared no expense in the tasting room or winery to exhibit our commitment producing a first class wine experience for our customers.”
From Vivaldi in the vineyard to Tchakovsky in the tasting room, Primus Vineyards is setting a new standard for music and wine.