The year 2020 has been one of milestones for Michael David Winery. The sixth-generation Lodi, California producer, led by brothers Michael and David Phillips, finished an ambitious winery expansion and visitor experience overhaul, saw its business grow by 12% and donated $100,000 to fund virus research at the University of California, Santa Cruz in conjunction with a new wine project, Going Viral.
Navigating Covid-19 restrictions to maintain momentum in its direct sales and hospitality operations, the business also completed a transformation of its brand lineup and tripled the size of its production facilities. The dramatic transition began in 2018 when it sold Seven Deadly Zins, the number-one selling Zinfandel brand in America, to The Wine Group.
The current reinvigoration is part of a 36-year legacy of innovation, creativity, leadership in promoting Lodi as a quality grape-growing appellation and foresight in sustainable farming—not to mention irreverent humor in marketing.
Growing up as the fifth generation on their family farm in the California Delta, Michael and David both went to the University of California, Davis. Michael, who is 10 years older, studied science, and David majored in international business.
Michael started the family winery in 1984, when wine grapes were just one of many crops grown in Lodi, and only a handful of wineries existed. David joined in 1989.
Today, Michael is CEO and co-owner with David, who is president and, in his words, “number one cheerleader.” Michael’s son, Kevin, is vice president of operations, and his daughter, Melissa Phillips-Stroud, is vice president of sales and marketing. They all give a lot of credit to their key staff members, including Director of Wine Operations Adam Mettler, who won the Wine Star Award for Winemaker of the Year in 2018.
Michael says that Consulting Winemaker Barry Gnekow was instrumental in developing the Michael David style of wine, which is ripe and bold, showing ample oak flavor without being extreme. David describes their wines as balanced.
“I like that middle path, as in Buddhism, taking life not too extreme in either direction,” says David. “People can take our wine to a party and everyone’s going to like it.”
The Freakshow brand, priced around $20 a bottle, is now Michael David’s biggest seller in stores and the one poised for the most growth. Earthquake, Petite Petit, Inkblot, Rapture, Lust, Politically Correct and 6th Sense continue the attention-getting branding, while the recently repackaged Michael David line is styled more for fine dining.
While the brands are provocative, the family itself is warm and welcoming.
“They advocate for their neighbors in Lodi, and their sense of community and sense of place comes through in their wines,” says Laura Glenn, director of supplier relations for Empire Distributors in North Carolina. “They want to engage with not just the wine drinker, but the world.”
Wine Enthusiast is proud to honor the Michael David Winery as American Winery of the Year, recognizing the Phillips family’s successes and outstanding service to consumers, the wine trade and their winegrowing community in Lodi. —Jim Gordon