Christian Tietje, Winemaker - Sea Monster, 3 Ball, and Cypher

Christian Tietje, Winemaker - Sea Monster, 3 Ball, and Cypher

You know Christian Tietje – he’s the surfer, punk rocker, metal artist winemaker who started Four Vines wines in a Berkeley backyard. And then he grew Four Vines’ head-spinning Zinfandel and racy, unoaked “Naked” Chardonnay into national sensations. – and cashed out.

He sold the Four Vines labels to the corporate world and, just like Dave Grohl went on to start the Foo Fighters after Nirvana, Tietje started Cypher, 3-Ball, and Sea Monster wines.

He set up shop in Paso Robles for easy geographical access to Rhone varietals, his beloved Zinfandel, and the Pacific Ocean.

After over 20 years of making some of the state’s best Zinfandels, growers know him as the “Zinbitch” because of his commitment to only source from the best, head pruned Zinfandel vineyards and his credo that low yields produce the most remarkable wines.

Through the Cypher and 3-Ball labels, he’s growing his reputation. At Cypher, he makes big, badass Rhone wines and Zinfandel with names like Anarchy, Peasant, and Heretic and outrageous art labels. His 3-Ball Zinfandel blends California’s top three Zin appellations  – Sonoma, Paso, and Amador – into one bottle.

Sea Monster is a more personal, obsessive pursuit – his lifelong quest to make mouthwatering white wine that pairs with his other passion, seafood.

As a youngster, Christian discovered and fell in love with wine, oysters, and all things bivalved and finned,  in a small fishing town in Maine, where he summered with his family. Early on, the love affair guided him professionally. He cooked his way across New England in seafood and Italian restaurants, never far from the Atlantic. He paid for college in Boston by working in high-end restaurants and one of the city’s top wine shops, Bauer Wine and Spirits, on Newbury Street.

After school, he got serious and moved to California to find better surf, and to check out the world of winemaking. He landed his first harvest job working for Carneros Creek Winery. From the big cellar door of the winery on the second day of harvest, he watched a full, harvest moon rise right in front of him. He decided right then that he was going to be a winemaker (for the record, he had already decided that California was his destiny when, on his first day surfing in California, he saw a young, blonde woman ride a horse naked on the beach at a local surf break, Bolinas).

And he made wine. First, like a roadie in a band when other winemakers were looking for help (to do whatever they didn’t want to do), Christian would rack, clean and move barrels – whatever was needed. He then co-founded and worked on a joint project called Scaramouche with a winery in Southern France. He later returned to California to start, and later sell, Four Vines in Paso Robles.

Fast forward, and enter Adam LaZarre, a friend and fellow winemaker – and also a seafood and ocean obsessed soul mate. The two were a match made in heaven. Both can make wine in their sleep, both think nothing of a 20-hour work day and both wanted – no, needed – to recreate the seductive, racy white wines that the French make so well to wash down seafood. And they needed to make them better on American soil.

The only issue – LaZarre loved Sauvignon Blanc, while Tietje loved Chardonnay. So, why not make one of each, and why not make a white blend that was the ultimate seafood wine, and why not call it Octopussy? 

Thus was born Sea Monster – crisp, acid-driven Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from the cool coastal vineyards of Santa Barbara.  And of course, the madness of Octopussy – Viognier, Riesling, Grenache Blanc, and Chardonnay; bone dry and exotic, perfect for all seafood rendezvous.

Today, when Christian’s not being a “Zinbitch,” you can find him surfing on the central Coast of California or welding a mad sculpture that his wife won’t let him bring inside the house. Or find him at sunset, when you’ll want to be around while he’s popping oyster shells and washing them down with Octopussy.