Chris Phelps on Wine and Life

CorkRules | Apr 05, 2023

With the exception of sommeliers and vintners, for most of us who love wine, no matter how many bottles you drink in your lifetime, and no matter how delicious, you rarely think of the terroir, the grape, or the growing process as you drink it.

That’s all about to change. Listening to Chris Phelps talk about his first foray into making wine makes you appreciate his deep knowledge and consideration for the grape and the land.

In Episode 283 of CorkRules, Robert Tas talks to Chris about his background in wine, how his son encouraged him to start making wine, and origin story of  Ad Vivum, but throughout this interesting conversation, one thing is clear: Chris has an immense passion for the land, the grape, and, of course, the alchemy that happens when you bring the grape through fruition, fermentation, and finally wine.


Wine for Body, Mind and Soul

Like so many passionate vintner’s Chris’ path into the vineyard was shaped by fate. Originally enrolled in pre-med at Davis University, he spent a summer firefighting where he encouraged a friend, a passionate wine geek, to join him at Davis where they ran a viticulture/enology program. The tables turned when the friend later encouraged Chris to jump from medicine to wine.


Fast forward a few years of studying and working in France and at various vineyards, including a wine château within the village of Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion in Bordeaux, and Chris is now a consultant for wineries, including Inglenook in Napa Valley, and Grounded Wine Company.


For Chris, the joy of selecting a varietal that produces exceptional and original fruit is just the beginning. He talks passionately about finding those unique grapes, picking them at the right time, not an hour later or earlier, and how the moment of tasting the raw, as yet unfermented fruit, a few days after cold soaking, reveals the aromatics and top notes.


Today, Chris produces small productions of select wines, usually just several hundred cases each year. The wines are selectively and directly distributed locally at wine shops and restaurants. He is the winemaker, and his son runs the business side of sales and promotion. The father-son team also run Coil Wines where they produce a Mendocino County Pinot Noir and a rare old-vine Napa Valley Chenin Blanc.


Chris believes the secret to good wine lies in the love of the land. He spends time in the vines, getting to know them, watching how they grow so he knows when they should be harvested. Timing is key when picking grapes, the sugar content and ripe factor play a major role in the final product. And of course, good vintners know that the vitality of the terroir is, well, vital for the health, growth, and taste of the grape. He pays attention to which grapes do well in which area of the land. He takes note of the sun, water, wind, and minerals in the soil all of which play a role in the magical science that turns vine into wine.


However, Chris also believes that wine is about more than selective wine tasting and the snobbery that may be encountered within the industry. Wine is about life, and his philosophy rings true with many wine lovers across the globe for whom the love of the juice reaches far beyond tasting notes: it’s about sharing and pairing; it’s about long conversations and enjoying an evening of  convivial company.


As Chris so eloquently states, “Ad Vivum was the first single-vineyard wine to emerge from a unique name: Ad infers movement toward a goal with intention. Vivum is the synthesis of two Latin words — vivere (to live) and vinum (wine). Ad Vivum, is, therefore, where wine and life meet.”


Cheers to that, Chris, and may your wine glass be always half full.



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