Richard Steltzner '59, MA '62 (Art)

Steltzner masters a new art at vineyard

Richard Steltzner

Before he mastered the art of winemaking, Steltzner Vineyards proprietor Richard Steltzner was an artist of a different sort, studying under renowned ceramicist and professor Ruth Rippon while earning his master’s degree at Sac State.

After several years plying his trade in San Francisco he was ready for a change.

“I decided that it was lots of fun but it wasn’t really fitting my lifestyle,” Steltzner says. “I liked the country life so I started the vineyard.”

He began with one small plot and then another, eventually becoming a vineyard manager, and sold the grapes to wineries. A drought in the ‘70s led to his current role.

“I had to make sure that I had a market for my grapes so I started making wine,” Steltzner says. “I sort of backed into it. I never had a flaming desire to be a winemaker—I wanted to save my crop.”

From there, Steltzner says, he took small steps, starting by making 500 cases. “Then I was making 3,000 and thought I was big. Then made 5,000 and thought I was big. Now that I’m making 25,000 cases I know I’m big. Of course it took me 35 years to get to this point.”

His two daughters and son are also part of the business.

Steltzner’s wine is estate-bottled, made only from what they grow. The main grape is cabernet sauvignon but the vineyard also produces sangiovese, cabernet franc and merlot. And Seltzner likes to dabble in growing different varieties.

“I have an insatiable horticultural interest. I’m always trying new things,” he says.

Steltzner is also versed in the history of wine, calling it the “liquid that allowed civilization to grow.”

And while he jokes about the “wine malarkey” espoused in the tasting room—he subscribes to the theory that everyone has a “dominant nostril”—he also encourages those new to wine tasting not to get discouraged if they can’t identify a particular element in a wine.

“It’s a matter of articulation not identification. You may taste the flavor, but don’t speak the language. ‘Cinnamon’ or ‘berry’ to me may mean something completely different to you.”

This article was originally published in the Spring 2007 edition of Sac State Magazine.