In the wine-making world, Mica Raas is often described as a rebel—by the media and even by himself.
"I'm kind of trying revamp the Santa Cruz Mountains," he told a group of government and elected officials during . "It kind of makes me a rebel."
It's true; Raas is not your typical winemaker. The 29-year-old works out of a warehouse in Watsonville, a long way from the Sonoma County vineyards where he learned his craft. He counts a bike maker, a hydroponics store and a host of small manufacturing shops among his neighbors, not grape-covered hillsides and dedicated vintners.
But it's there, at 18 Hangar Wy., where Raas believes he can change the flavor of wine on the Central Coast. He's built the Winemakers Studio, a facility where he and three other up-and-coming winemakers home their craft as they try to get a toehold in the industry.
"This is a co-op facility," Raas said, explaining during the local leaders' visit that he is trying to bring younger, more creative winemakers to the region.
Raas is not impressed with most Santa Cruz Mountain wines. He's not shy about his disgust, but has the tact to not bad-mouth the wineries he believes could do better.
He's also over the Pinot Noir craze popularized by the movie Sideways. The wine—a style of red wine often characterized by fruity notes and peppery tones—flows freely in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Although Raas makes a delightful pinot, he says his best wine is a Cabernet Franc, a Bordeaux-style wine.
"Santa Cruz Mountains, from a winemaker's point of view, is a very intriguing place," Raas said. "We should be able to make fantastic wine here."
It produces about 6,000 cases of wine a year. Raas's wines, about 10 percent of that total, take 9 months to 3 years to age, though most average 18 months before they're ready to be imbibed. He's been in business three years and, so far, is his only employee.
Raas opens the co-op for wine tastings from 12-5 p.m. Saturdays and offers a wine club that targets locals, but his primary source of income is selling through a broker to restaurants and bars in Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Bay Area.
It's tough, he said. Business has been a roller coaster.
During his visit with local leaders, Raas also laid out the challenges he faces as an entrepreneur:
- regulations and rent. He tried to open on Santa Cruz's Westside, where there is a burgeoning wine community, but was priced out and put off by the hoops he had to jump though with the city.
- Appellation. No, not Appalachia, the East Coast mountains. Three decades ago, a federal agency mapped out wine regions across the U.S. Some areas were drawn in to the regions, called appellations, while others were drawn out. The floor of the Pajaro Valley—where Raas has vineyards—is one of those not-included areas. It's not the Santa Cruz Mountains (that's above 400 feet) nor is it Central Coast (that's to the south). Raas would like to see a new appellation created, either named for the valley or the Monterey Bay.
- more grapes. Regional winemakers need more supplies to make their product, but it takes four years for grape vines to be productive. It's past time to plant, according to Raas.
Raas grew up in Santa Cruz County. Though he's young, he has an impressive resume from his work in the wine industry and a clear idea of what he wants to create locally. Read about his vision on his website, here.
Eventually, he hopes to have wine and beer appreciation classes at the Winemakers Studio.
All said, he's happy to be making wine in the agriculture-rich Pajaro Valley.
"We are just glorified jam producers," Raas said. "We take fruit, we juice it, we make a juice product."
Mica Cellars will have a band and feature local artists on Saturday, April 21, as well as wine tasting.
Editor's note: This is one in a series about unique Watsonville businesses. Read more here.