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Brett Escalera, Consilience Winery

1997, four friends sat around a table to hold a blind vote on a name for their new venture, a winery. It had to be perfect. It had to immediately evoke the meaning and feeling of their dream. It had to be the payoff for a lot of hard work and planning – kind of like christening a boat's first sail.

The vote came down to a final four names. The friends looked at each other, scribbled their choice on a piece of paper, and put them all in a hat. The vote came back unanimous: Consilience.

Ironically the word they chose unanimously for their new winery actually has a similar meaning to their very action.

Don’t try to look up the word in a modern dictionary. You won’t find it. Consilience. Say it a few times to yourself. It is a word that rolls off the tongue melodically and feels familiar. However, it is not familiar to the modern world. In fact, it is an old world scientific term that has long since been out of use – until now.

Consilience, in a nutshell, means “unity of knowledge”. Consilience is a singular word that embodies an old-time professor’s philosophy about science and its methodology. He feared that his colleagues were so busy using science to break everything down to its most minuscule size, that it caused them to lose site of the whole picture. He suggests that things work harmoniously in unity with each other and cannot be removed from their context without losing a bit of their own unique reason for being. He appealed to scientists everywhere to not lose sight and in so doing, science all over would be unified in thought as well.

That’s some pretty heavy stuff, but very fitting for wine and a perfectly expressed idea succinctly coined with one word for four friends. Wine is the unity of the universe and man and a winemaker can never lose sight of that.

Brett Escalera is the winemaker for Consilience. He comes well-equipped for the job too, because he “daylights” as the winemaker for Fess Parker. With Fess Parker since 1996, Brett has learned the skills it takes to be a winemaker for a large production winery making hundreds of thousands of cases and what it means to make his personal label at a mere total of 4000 cases. Brett handles both with ease although they are very different, “The biggest difference is when you are small, what you bring in is all you’ve got. There is no room for error. You’ve got to be careful. When you make wine for a larger facility, you have more options. You can cherry pick.”

Large or small, Brett loves making wine and feels lucky that Consilience has so far achieved much of what they have set out to do, “We wanted to create wines with a strong regional identity and we have been able to accomplish that. The other part is seeing the reception our wines get from people who drink them. It is most fun when you start to see people gravitate towards your wines”.

Consilience has a nice line up of wines now although they started with only one varietal, Zinfandel, in 1997. Brett remembers, “Our first vintage, the Zin came in from Contra Costa county and it was super ripe. I didn’t think I could make the kind of zin I wanted to, so I made a Zin Port.” Now, with 6 years under their belt, Consilience has 6 varietals in total. Brett estimates they probably will not add to their juicy line up any time soon, except for “maybe a Cab” in the future. Right now, Consilience makes a Roussane, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Zinfandel and when the ‘97 vintage is sold out, he may add another Zin Port to the mix.

A winemaker cannot always be hard at work. On Brett’s days, or should I say “hours” off, he loves to go home and spend time with his wife Monica and his friends and partners, Tom Daughters and Jodie Boulet-Daughters. However, his absolute favorite pastime is coaching his 6 year-old son, Brett Jr’s tee ball team and taking father-son karate lessons.

I am not sure what his karate future is, but certainly the future of consilience is to stay small and continue to grow by name across the nation. They are off to a great start because many of their wines have been well-rated by the critics and this will help put them on the map for those not lucky enough to see them in Santa Barbara where they will soon be opening a tasting room.

The Petit Sirah featured this month is a great feat in taming the tough grape that can be so tannic it is undrinkable while young. You will not find this with Brett’s Petit because he has taken painstaking care to ensure its drinkability.

Brett’s style of winemaking is three-fold; express the land, impress the fans, and keep the prices reasonable. He has achieved all three. Brett urges feedback from the people who drink his wines. He loves to talk about the style, the creation and what people are really looking for in the wine they drink. It might be that it is his way of creating a forum for wine drinkers to get what they are looking for by talking about what they like - in other words, a unified thought or in one word: Consilience.

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