Once upon a time, a quarter- century ago, mischievous twins David and Phil Ogilvie and their friend Tom Merwin played on their family farms in bucolic Clarksburg. The three got into scrapes and played pranks on one another — like the time two of the trio lured the third into a muddy booby trap, soaking his brand new boots.
They grew up and took different paths. Phil studied viticulture at Fresno State but went into ministry before veering into web development. Merwin pursued international security policy. Dave got a viticulture and enology degree from UC Davis, worked in wineries and then, by way of hobby, plunged into the world of beer and ran a big brewhouse back east.
Yet time and circumstance eventually led all three back to the family farms of Clarksburg and, ultimately, to a table at Club Pheasant in West Sacramento. It was there, in March of 2014, they decided to do together what all three had dreamed of separately: open a winery.
There were a lot of details to work out, but the name was easy: Muddy Boot Wine. “We were just laughing about it so hard,” recalls David. The Ogilvie twins do quite a bit of laughing. You won’t find any pinkie-in-the-air wine snobbery here, but they’re not kidding around about their boots-on-the-ground approach to wine.
“When we sat down to create this, we were all set on what we wanted the brand to communicate,” Phil says. “We wanted to highlight the vineyard worker. We wanted to highlight the farmer. For a lot of people, the winemakers are the celebrities out there in the wine world. As farmers, we wanted to highlight the farm side of things, say, ‘Hey, those grapes that the winemakers work with come from somewhere. They have to be grown well.’”
All three have kept their day jobs. The brothers work at their family’s Wilson Vineyards, and Merwin is the eighth generation to run his family’s farm. They all dumped their savings into the new startup. They juggle responsibilities, but generally, Phil brings the marketing know-how, David manages production and Merwin keeps an eye on long-term strategy.
The first Muddy Boot offerings, released this year and available online and at a number of local grocery stores and restaurants, were a 2012 red blend, a 2014 Chardonnay and a 2014 Chenin Blanc. The wines are $12.99 to $14.99, and just under 1,000 cases were produced for the first vintage. The winery isn’t releasing sales figures, but the three say they’re getting repeat orders and are planning to increase production for the next vintage.
“Our greatest strength is our story and where we come from. The more we tell our story, that’s how we sell our wine. In the local market, people are craving farm-to-fork. For us, we call it vine-to-wine, and that’s what we are.” Tom Merwin, Muddy Boot Wine
On the competition side, Muddy Boot Chardonnay won gold and Best of Yolo County at the Sonoma-Marin County Fair’s recent North of the Gate wine competition. It’s a good start, but that doesn’t change the fact that launching a new brand into the sea of existing California wines is a tough proposition. Still, says Merwin, they’ve got an advantage in being in the Capital Region with its farm-to-fork focus on buying and drinking local.
“Our greatest strength is our story and where we come from. The more we tell our story, that’s how we sell our wine,” Merwin says. “In the local market, people are craving farm-to-fork. For us, we call it vine-to-wine, and that’s what we are.”
They’ve tapped social media to better connect with millennial and gen-X customers, a target demographic. The three are active on a number of channels, have stamped #MuddyBoot right on the cork and created Spotify playlists to pair with their wines.
So far, the brand’s local, unpretentious message seems to be resonating, says Curtis Shiner, a wine specialist and adult beverage manager at Nugget Market. The stores have been carrying Muddy Boot since February and, “It’s been a very popular wine,” Shiner says. “The label and the marketing behind it has been great. We’ve got a big farming community around here, and the name Muddy Boot just speaks to the farmers and all the hard-working people.”
As Muddy Boot grows, the trio is looking for the right distributor relationships. Until then, they’ve been taking the wine around themselves, doing tastings with wine buyers at stores and restaurants and literally delivering the wine out of the back of their trucks. David worked in wine sales before getting into the beer business, so that’s an advantage. Muddy Boot doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar tasting room, but the wines are available at several stores in the region, including Husicks Country Store & Tap House in Clarksburg (offering free Muddy Boot wine tastings) and Nugget Market in West Sacramento, the Pocket and Elk Grove.
Z-Pizza in Sacramento also serves Muddy Boot. The red blend and chardonnay are among the better-selling wines on the list, according to Mike Sessler, director of operations for the upscale pizza chain.
“We’re an artisanal pizza restaurant, so we try to have everything local,” he says. “(Muddy Boot) is right down the street from us; that was definitely an advantage.” Sessler likes the wines because they pair well with food. He says the red is rich but not overpowering, and the Chardonnay is “not super oakey, so it goes with different things. Goat cheese goes great with it; things with fruit go great with it.”
Getting a startup off the ground requires help, and the partners have gotten that. Clarksburg Wine Co., Julietta Winery and Miner’s Leap Winery have all assisted with expertise and support. When Muddy Boot recently ran into a problem with labeling, Spenker Winery in Lodi, where David worked in college, came through with a hand labeler. California Wine Transport set the guys up with storage space.
Looking forward, the plan is to grow slowly, stay in the $10-to-$15 price range and make sure Muddy Boot is synonymous with Clarksburg and the men’s roots.
“What’s so great about the Clarksburg appellation is everybody’s in it together. We definitely have that culture,” David says. “We want to highlight Clarksburg, that is our goal with this label. Between our two families, we’ve got enough vineyard to be able to keep our current clients happy but also grow our own label. We’re not trying to be a boutique winery in Clarksburg. We want to take great Clarksburg wine and get it out to the nation.”