Founded by Sarah and Chris Pittenger in 2009, Gros Ventre Cellars is a small, family-owned winery operating out of Healdsburg, CA. We produce about 2,000 cases of wine, including vineyard-designated Pinot noir from the West Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley, and several wines from the El Dorado region.
Sarah and Chris Pittenger
We launched Gros Ventre Cellars soon after our 2008 marriage. But it really started in the place we met – near the Gros Ventre River in Jackson Hole. Chris had been working in bottle shops and restaurants in Colorado and Wyoming, spending nights serving and pulling corks so his days were free to snowboard and fly fish. Sarah was working in advertising in New York and San Francisco, and was visiting Jackson Hole (where she previously lived) when our paths crossed at a party. A long-distance friendship was born, surviving Chris’ switch from the dining room to the winery, and his moves from Jackson to Napa to Australia to Healdsburg to New Zealand and back again. We kept in touch while he spent time working at wineries like Robert Biale, Torbreck, Williams Selyem, Marcassin. We now live with our two children (Jane and John Henry) and dog (Bear) in Healdsburg, CA, where Chris is also the winemaker at Limerick Lane.
An Update from Chris & Sarah
It’s sort of astonishing to look back to before the pandemic struck. We were planning upcoming events in Placerville and Jackson Hole, scheduling tastings at the winery, planning market visits all over the country, and making plans for our spring pick up party. Holy smokes, life has changed FAST!
Like most of you, it feels like someone has picked us up by the ankles and turned us upside down. We are beyond grateful for our health, and hope you and yours are healthy too. There have been so many changes we never could have dreamed of. School at home. No playdates for kids (or adults). No sports or hugs or events. Of course, our business has also been upended. Our restaurant partners account for a huge part of our sales, and our passion. We’re doing everything we can to support them, while trying to keep our wits about us as we look for different channels to sell our wine. We’ve tried to get creative and introduce as many ideas as possible to make it easier to get our wines to the people who appreciate them. We’ve added free shipping on 6 or more bottles, all the time. We’ve opened up allocations of wine that usually goes to restaurants. We’ve done more email marketing, added home deliveries, and developed partnerships with restaurants who are still open and offering take out.
And to an extent… it’s working. Our online sales have seen an increase as people order more wine while they shelter in place. We’ve started conversations with more retail accounts and new international markets. We’re a long way from replacing our domestic restaurant business, but… all this is helping. To each and every one of you who has ordered wine from us – THANK YOU. We feel very lucky to have a loving community of customers who not only has incredible taste (ahem), but who knows the importance of supporting businesses you like and want to see survive. You guys are awesome.
Take care of yourselves, mentally and physically. Drink some good wine, take some long walks, eat some good food, and know that whenever it becomes possible, we can’t wait to raise a glass with you.
Chris and Sarah
We Moved! A letter to our friends:
In July 2018, we moved our family from Placerville (El Dorado County) back to our old stomping grounds in Healdsburg (Sonoma County). Chris is delighted to be the new winemaker at Limerick Lane, working with Jake Bilbro and Limerick’s historic zinfandel vineyards.
Esther Mobley of The San Francisco Chronicle writes:
“Recently Jake Bilbro, owner of the venerable Limerick Lane Wines in Healdsburg, called me to let me know that he was bringing on a new winemaker: Chris Pittenger, a onetime Chronicle Winemaker to Watch who’s been making great Rhone-style wines at Skinner in the Sierra Foothills for the last decade… I’m excited to see what Pittenger does with a vineyard as special as Limerick Lane, which produces some of the freshest, most lively Zinfandels out there.”
How did this come about? It all started last spring, when 3 close friends independently called Chris saying, “I know you’re not looking to make a move, but, you need to talk to Jake…” So, Jake and Chris started talking, our wheels started spinning, and before we knew it, our kids were playing with their kids in the vineyard, and tentative plans were being made.
Working with a historic vineyard like Limerick is an amazing opportunity, and getting to know the Bilbro family over the last few months has been wonderful. Their warmth towards us and support for Gros Ventre has been over the top. We’re feeling very lucky to be welcomed into their world.
We’ll be crushing some of Gros Ventre’s production at the Limerick winery, and some at Grand Cru Custom Crush in Windsor. Limerick Lane is four miles from our new house, and Sarah and the kids are looking forward to being able to see Chris more during harvest. Robert Morris, who runs Grand Cru, formerly managed production at Punchdown, where Chris made our first vintage of Gros Ventre. It’ll be a pleasure to work with him again at Grand Cru’s beautiful new facility.
Hospitality has been something we’ve been wanting to do for years, but we were never able to make it happen in the foothills. With this move, we’ll be able to start doing tastings by appointment, throw pick up parties, host winemaker dinners… you catch our drift! Once we get settled, we’ll let you know of upcoming events and how to schedule tastings. We’re excited to be able to spend more time with you all.
Going back to Healdsburg is a bit like returning home – it’s where we first started dating, and ultimately got married. We have a wonderful community of friends who feel like family. It puts us more squarely in the middle of our main growing regions – the West Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley to the west, and our El Dorado vineyards in the east. Since we made the decision to move, we’ve been overwhelmed by the warm welcome the Healdsburg community has shown us. We’ve received so much help, goodwill, friendship… it has truly warmed our hearts. We are incredibly grateful and will do everything we can to pay it forward.
Of course, this move means we’re leaving the Sierra Foothills. From a winemaking perspective, it’s been an incredible journey. In 2007, Chris took a chance signing on to help start a new brand (Skinner Vineyards) in a relatively unproven region. To see Skinner succeed in such a big way has been hugely rewarding, and it’s been a privilege for Chris to be part of its success. We are grateful to the Skinner family and wish them the best.
Our eight years in Placerville has brought us a lot of happiness. We enjoyed everything the Sierra offers, fallen in love with the historic towns, made great friends, and watched our children grow from babies to the big 6 and 8-year-olds they are today. It’s hard to say good-bye.
But it’s not really good-bye… In 2016, we introduced our first El Dorado wines, and have built up quite a following. We absolutely love playing with these fun varietals. Relocating our home base will in no way diminish our enthusiasm for the region – in fact, those of you in El Dorado will certainly see our faces a lot over the coming years as we continue to make wines from the region and support it in every way we can. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support, friendship and collaboration over the years – you inspire us!
We look forward to many good times in Healdsburg in the years to come – please give us a shout if you’re in the area. Thank you, as always, for your support and friendship.
Sarah and Chris
When it was time to come up with a name for our brand, Sarah was hugely pregnant with John Henry. We were considering the name Gros Ventre, because we met in the region, when we learned that “gros ventre” is french for “big belly.” Pregnant belly, place we met… we couldn’t escape the double meaning, and so our brand was born.
Our Pledge to Give
As a family and as a business, we’re on a long path towards being the best citizens we can be, with a focus on giving more and taking less.
Our community is critical to us, for well-being, happiness, and mutual support. We support local schools and other type of charities through monetary and wine donations and participate in charity events whenever we can.
One of our ongoing missions is to put a significant part of our resources towards conservation and environmental efforts. In 2015, we raised funds at our Friends in High Places Event in Jackson Hole, where 100% of the proceeds went to for The Trust for Public Land. In 2016, we donated 20% of the proceeds from our magnum release to the Environmental Defense Fund. In 2017, we sold library wine 2- and 3-packs with 100% of the profits going towards environmental and disaster relief efforts. In 2019, we supported the Jackson Hole Land Trust’s efforts to Save the Block through a monetary gift, wine donations, and event participation. We’ll continue to come up with new ways to support causes that matter to us, and we’ll let you know how our mission evolves. We thank each and every one of you who has already supported our efforts – it truly warms our hearts. Although we’re tiny, together we are mighty.