There is a sign on the side of the road as you begin to drive down Highway 121 that not only welcomes you to Sonoma County but makes a point to let you know that you are in the “real wine country.” I chuckle at the snobbery and continue enjoying the sights while passing one of my favorite wineries, Gloria Ferrer. I am headed to an early wine tasting and interview with Lloyd Davis, owner of Corner 103, the city and county’s only black-owned winery out of more than 400.
Upon arrival, I am welcomed by Davis and immediately notice a restaurant-style tasting room sans a tasting bar. I later found out why.
A native New Yorker, Davis’ background is in the business of making broken companies whole as a hedge fund partner. However, his introduction to the wine business came in 2005 after his partner invested in the winery Viansa, also in Sonoma Country.
“Part of my responsibility was to fix broken things. So, I came out to fix Viansa and in doing that, fell love with it and decided to buy it,” says Davis. After three years of coastal commuting, he finally made California his home in 2008 and slowly began making the transition out of the only life he had known for more than 30 years. “Coming out here, I had no expectations to stay here. My goal was to rehabilitate Viansa and sell it so we could return the capital back to our investors. But coming out here, I started to fell in love with the wine country and I started to fall in love with the wine business.”
Throughout his career, he provided capital to clients to buy and build companies and hired consultants to get up to speed; working with as many as 65 at one time, each having a different specialty. He applied the same strategy to Viansa. It was a challenge but one that he welcomed saying he was “looking for something.” That something was a change in life.
He eventually sold Viansa in 2013 and launched an entirely different concept with Corner 103 in 2015. “The rationale for Corner is that people are afraid of wine and people feel they have to be an expert and they defer to other people to tell them what they should drink and what they should like. In a traditional tasting room, it makes it even worse,” Davis says. And for that very reason, Davis intentionally built Corner 103 without a long tasting bar where everyone gathers. Instead, he has a different kind of experience in mind.
Tasting experiences at Corner 103 take place by appointments only and can be one on one or up to four people with Davis or a team member. Be sure to allow enough time as you tap into your senses of taste, smell and even sight while enjoying their seven wines.
It is evident that Davis’ 13 years in the industry have taught him not only what it takes to run a wine business successfully but how to make everyone who steps into Corner 103 feel like a wine expert when they leave. He walks you through a food and wine pairing in a way that you’ll never forget. I learned that you know when you have the ultimate food and wine pairing when both are in your mouth at the same time and the harmony they create together cause your taste buds to sing. That happened several times as we enjoyed the wines paired with local cheeses, herbs, and jellies.
To create the portfolio of Corner 103 wines that includes red, white and sparkling, Davis works with two winemakers who he says knows what he likes and what will be a hit among their club members and customers. “They understand that to work with me you can’t agree with me all time. They know how to push to get me out of my comfort zone, but at the end of the day, the decision to release the wines is mine.”
Corner 103 award-winning wines have been sipped by customers from around the world with wine club shipments going out as far in the U.S. as Florida and Maine. Club members can also enjoy the wines in the lounge area reserved just for them.
Having a fair amount of wine tasting experiences under my belt, what I enjoyed most about my time with Davis was the ability to say what I was tasting without fear that I was way off base. Also, I enjoyed my time to understand the notes of each wine and why I preferred one over another. Lastly, glass size and design do matter and he even goes into detail as to why. A lesson you have to experience for yourself.
Located about an hour away from San Francisco, Corner 103 offers a refreshing change from crowded tasting rooms. Whether you are new to wine or have been partaking for some time, I guarantee you’ll walk out knowing something new.
To schedule your experience with Davis and his team, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 707- 931-6141. Corner 103 is located at 103 Napa Street in Sonoma, CA.