Tom and Ashley Darling, Courtesy of Darling Wines
Tom and Ashley Darling, co-owners of Sonoma’s Darling Wines, have a strong belief in balance and being grounded in the present moment. As winery owners and yoga teachers, they were inspired by the connection of growing and making wine and how it brought together aspects of the Earth, organics, different cultures and histories.
The couple met in college in North Carolina and then moved to Washington, DC. The interest in wine began while visiting Virginia wineries and when Ashley bought Tom the Windows of the World Guide to Wine by Kevin Zraly. Their first visit in 2015 to Northern California, which was a ten day road trip from San Diego to San Francisco, sealed the deal.
It was the perfect time. Ashley started to add wine tastings to her yoga business. Tom was trying to figure out what inspired him. He was a successful college athlete where he played hockey and tennis and then worked in sales. He told me, “I didn’t grow up with wine on our table, but after working in sales, you start to learn what a good wine is.” After California, where he experienced the tasting room to the vineyard, he took a part-time tasting room job in Middleburg, VA and continued his learning and pledged to get closer to the source.
Courtesy of Darling Wines
Over the next few years, they got married and decided it was time to take the plunge moving to Napa in Fall of 2016. Darling Wines was launched in 2017 with two barrels of Syrah as the first vintage with wines sourced from McEvoy Ranch in Sonoma, a cool-climate coastal vineyard site surrounded by olive trees.
Even though Tom got his start with wineries in Napa, they made a choice to focus on making wines from Sonoma because it produced wines similar in style to the wines from Burgundy and Rhone that they were drinking.
Courtesy of Darling Wines
They pretty much figured it out with self-research, asking for advice and using traditional techniques. Next came Pinot Noir from the Petaluma Gap and finally Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast AVA made in an Old World style.
The wines are made sustainably, organically, bio-dynamically farmed and come from vineyards that are family owned. And, look at the back of the Syrah bottle thanking the farmers responsible – that’s not something you see often. Tom and Ashley talked about watching a coffee documentary and realizing that the people who worked the fields had never tried the product. They make sure that every person who works on a bottle of Darling Wines has the chance to try the culmination of their hard work.
They are also very candid about how this is a hard process, giving an example of having to hand label 600 bottles one year due to a malfunctioning labeling machine. Tom said, “maybe we’ll do that again, it was fun.” Ashley quickly shut that one down.
Ashley still incorporates yoga into the Darling Wine business. In fact, you’ll find members of their wine club participating in online yoga classes with a virtual tasting and community discussion. For Mother’s Day, they had an online yoga class and wine tasting for moms with an option for spouses or kids to join.
Tom also has a day job in sales at Springboard Wine Company, a company that represents family-owned boutique wineries. It’s helped to round out his understanding of the wine business of how consumers buy wines, how to price wines, etc. It also gives him flexibility to work both positions often starting his winemaker job at 6 am, conducting sales meetings from 10-4 and then back to the winery later in the day.
Tom and Ashley took me through the virtual tasting process the winery has introduced, which includes the story of Darling Wines with video bringing their story to life. It’s engaging, well done and definitely gives you a feel for the winery and personality of the owners.
I sampled two of the wines:
2018 Darling McEvoy Ranch Syrah – this is an Old World style wine with notes of violet, blue fruit, olive, licorice and spice. I brought this wine over to a label-loving neighbor’s house with a well-known, elegant Italian red wine and he preferred the Darling red. For the record, so did I.
2018 Darling Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast – another Old World wine with citrus, jasmine, apple, chamomile tea and toasted hazelnuts. A really nice expression of Chardonnay.
And some heavy hitter restaurants agree. You’ll find these wines on the list at Zuzu, The French Laundry, Meadowood, Bouchon and Redd Wood.
The Darlings also talked about some of their recent partnerships. From the “Through the Wax Series,” a show on Instagram TV featuring Sommeliers from Press and Meadowood Napa Valley discussing wine, to a Fourth of July Essentials Box packaging wine, bread from Royal Artisan Breads and cheese from Oxbow Cheese Merchant, it is clear they are dedicated to supporting local businesses. Contributing back to the community and helping businesses impacted by this pandemic is part of the balance they strive to achieve as a part of their mission.