Joullian Vineyards still has Oklahoma connection

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Joullian wines.
A sweeping view of the contoured Joullian vineyards.
The Joullian Vineyards Carmel Valley Village Tasting Room.
Tom and Jane Hamm Lerum at the Joullian winery in California.
Tom and Jane Hamm Lerum walk through the vineyards.

Fine Wine – Joullian Vineyards still has Oklahoma connection

By Linda Miller

An idea to establish a small vineyard on Jane Hamm Lerum’s mother’s ranch in California turned into an opportunity to purchase an existing winery and vineyards, and to continue an Oklahoma connection.

Last summer, Hamm Lerum and her husband Tom bought Joullian Vineyards in Carmel Valley, founded almost 35 years ago by Oklahoma City families Ed Joullian and Richard L. “Dick” Sias.

Hamm Lerum, daughter of Harold and Sue Ann Hamm, grew up in Enid and Oklahoma City. She and her husband, an officer in the United States Air Force, live in Los Angeles.

Buying a winery, even one that produced award-winning wines, wasn’t on their radar at first. They were just looking to enhance amenities on the ranch, a favorite getaway when they wanted to relax and escape the city.

“It was our oasis of sorts,” Hamm Lerum said.

Since they were novices about vineyards, they enrolled in a certificate program at UCLA.
“We educated ourselves and then the more we learned about wine and vineyards, we realized it would be easier to purchase an existing winery and vineyards than starting from scratch,” she said.

Then they found out Joullian Vineyards was for sale. Could it be a sign? She went to school with the Joullian children. It was as if the stars aligned, she said.

“I get to carry on the Oklahoma legacy and they have some really good wine.”

Joullian Vineyards has a tradition of winning awards and it’s continuing with the new owners. Their Roger Rose Chardonnay and Semillon won Best of Class 2016 in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, one of the largest in America. More than 7,000 entries vied for top honors.

It helps to have a talented, trusted and experienced winemaker such as Ridge Watson who has been with the vineyards from the beginning. Hamm Lerum said he was trained in the Bordeaux style and all of Joullian wines are Bordeaux. They have a lot of complexities and are not as fruity as Napa wines, she said.

From conception, the goal of Joullian Vineyards was to produce estate-crafted wines with the complexity, finesse and age ability characteristic of the finest wines of the world. The plan was to develop the special combination of land, vineyards and facilities.

Planting emphasized Bordeaux varieties with two-thirds of the vineyards committed to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Owner Sias personally planted Carmel Valley’s first Zinfandel.

The remaining acreage, after originally being planted to Chardonnay, was eventually planted to ensure more complexity of wines and the winery, completed in 1991, allowed the subtleties and nuances produced in the field to be transferred into the bottle.

While the winery is remote, the tasting room is in the heart of Carmel Valley Village in a building echoing the style of an old-world Burgundian stone church. River rock flanks the exterior. Inside, salvaged redwood was transformed into exposed ceiling beams, paneling and posts. A bar is made of textured cypress wood.

Since the couple lives in Los Angeles, a visit to their vineyard means a 5 ½-hour drive or a costly plane ride. They try to get there at least once a month, but they know the operation is in good hands with a general manager handling sales and day-do-day operations. And Watson the winemaker lives on the property. Joullian Vineyards has 10 employees.

Not everyone could handle taking on a new business venture after being married less than a year. The couple wed in October 2014. Hamm Lerum said her husband likes to say he has two full-time jobs. When he’s not working for the Air Force, he works for Joullian. And on weekends, both of them tend to vineyard business.

“It’s easy to be passionate about it … it’s not really that difficult to put in the time for either of us,” she said. “We’ve really been enjoying it and we have great employees.”

As for the future, Hamm Lerum said they’re taking it slow. They want to grow the wedding venue business and their wine club membership. An expansion of the vineyards may come later.

Hamm Lerum also hopes to get involved with giving back to the community. Previous owners donated thousands of cases of Joullian wine for galas and benefits, especially in Oklahoma City.
Right now, the new owners are still learning the business and concentrating on making great wine. It’s a big undertaking for two 25-year-olds.

“I feel like we’re doing pretty well,” she said.

Plus, there’s that connection that drives her.

“I’m excited to be carrying on the Oklahoma legacy,” she said. “It’s a pretty cool thing to be doing.”

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