An important change of the guard at Folded Hills: the popular winery has hired a new winemaker.
Michael Brughelli brings a diverse background to the Folded Hills project, which operates a sprawling estate and vineyard off Highway 101 in Gaviota and an elegant tasting room in Montecito. The 38-year-old Nipomo resident gained particular acclaim with Scar of the Sea, a label he co-founded that’s become a darling of wine media and consumers, and his stake in which he sold early this year. Mr. Brughelli has also been director of sales for renowned Bien Nacido Vineyard and currently operates the wine industry advisory company, Vignerons Consulting.
“Most winemakers are honed-in in one direction, running the vineyard or the winemaking,” he says. “What I bring to the table is that I know vineyards really well and I know winemaking really well, and the two form a unique perspective.”
Mr. Brughelli’s official title is consulting winemaker, though he says his role is far more hands-on than the position typically implies. And, as with his previous viticultural projects, his approach to the Folded Hills wines will be focused on the estate: its proximity to the coast, its exposure to winds and its unique soils. “We’ll let the vineyard guide the winemaking process,” he says. “You let the vineyard inform the decisions you make season after season.”
Mr. Brughelli is replacing winemaker Angela Osborne, a New Zealand native who’s been with Folded Hills from the beginning but who’s leaving now to focus on her own label, Tribute to Grace, which she founded in 2007. “It is a great honour to have a family’s trust be placed in one’s winemaking hands (or feet),” she sayidin a press release issued last week, “and I will always be grateful to [owners] Kim and Andy [Busch] for this privilege.”
Adds Kim Busch: “Angela Osborne has been a pivotal part of the success of Folded Hills. Her style of winemaking has been a wonderful expression of place.”
Mr. Brughelli says he’s excited about joining the Folded Hills team. “It’s a chance to work with great people and to tap into the great potential on that ranch,” he says.
Folded Hills launched in 2017 as the pet project of the Busch pair, members of the family behind St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch, the largest brewery in the world. Aside from close to 1000 animals, their 600-acre Gaviota farmstead is home to more than 15 acres of grapevines—grenache and syrah grapes that are farmed organically and biodynamically and that produce most of the Folded Hills portfolio of close to a dozen wines and an annual output of 5500 cases.
Mr. Brughelli’s role begins with oversight of the 2020 vintage, which he says “looks really good” thus far. Grapes will be harvested this fall and the wines will be made at the state-of-the-art Dierberg/Star Lane facility in the Happy Canyon area of the Santa Ynez Valley.
The Folded Hills tasting rooms are open but operating on a limited basis due to COVID-19. Reservations are required for visits to the Gaviota estate and are highly recommended for tastings at the Montecito salon. Find out more at foldedhills.com.
Mr. Brughelli is also working on his own eponymous label, Brughelli. His first wines, pinot noir and chardonnay from the 2018 vintage, should see public release this fall.