Robert Goyette’s winemaking journey started at 70 miles-per-hour on the open highway on a 1970 two-stroke Suzuki 350cc motorcycle, his feet hoisted up on the front pegs, and his life’s possessions fastened to the back. It was 1972, and the Navy had transferred him – from Chicago to California.
Bob is a self-described, mechanically inclined lifelong student. He taught himself how to rebuild ’56 Chevys. In 1975, after his stint in the Navy, he didn’t know what do, so he bought a dodge van, retooled the roof to make it triangular and more aerodynamic, and drove it back and forth across the country (today, the van is parked in his driveway).
At a friend’s suggestion, he decided to start a winery. It seemed like the perfect nexus of science, mechanics, artistic endeavor and learning. So over the next two years, he taught himself how to make wine in the French Burgundian way.
In 1979, he and noted winemaker Rod Berglund started La Crema Venera, known today as La Crema. Bob practiced the Burgundian winemaking tenets that he had learned – like barrel-fermented Chardonnay and lees aging for red and white wines – and La Crema became a catalyst for Burgundy-inspired, California winemaking.
By 1984, the La Crema wines had taken off, but Bob had run out of cash. He sold his stake and went to work as winemaker for Benziger – from diving into debt to pay for basic winemaking equipment and grapes to holding the keys to the castle. The Benziger family owned hundreds of acres of Sonoma County vineyards, and multiple, decked-out winemaking facilities.
During the day, he orchestrated the production of millions of cases of wine for Benziger’s riotously successful fighting varietal Glen Ellen label, and in the evening, he tapped into his resources. He cherry-picked Benziger’s best parcels from the best vineyards and vinified them into 6-barrel lots. He played and experimented with different winemaking techniques. What eventually came out of a lot of trial and error was the Imagery Series, the tiny-batch super premium label that he created, still going strong today.
Goyette found the freedom and creative outlook that he was looking for as a winemaker. He also gained the precious experience that only experimentation can teach you.
In 2005, he (finally) started his eponymous wine brand, Robert Goyette Winery, to showcase the Sonoma Coast’s top Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and Sonoma County’s top Cabernet Sauvignon, from his favorite sites – all crafted in his trademark style developed over the last five decades.
In the cellar, he employs modern winemaking technology to bring his fine-tuned, traditional winemaking practices to life. His signature is extended aging in hand-picked French and American oak to yield polished, classic Sonoma County wines that perform way above their price point.
Goyette is still a wine industry pioneer. He feels more pride in seeing his wines in a glass than on a shelf with a three-figure price tag.