Local builds a legacy in Napa Valley
Dakota Shy wine started as a dream of two friends with a shared passion for wine and hard work. Todd Newman started this dream when he poured his life savings into barrels of grapes, literally. Though reaching the culmination of the dream was difficult at times, Newman appreciates the story behind his wine.
Growing up, Newman worked stretching barbed wire in Des-Lacs at his family friend’s ranch and spent his summers working at Cashman Nursery in Minot.
“I was up in the shop one day just talking to customers and happened to sell them some trees; at that point, I went from working outside landscaping to working in the shop,” said Newman. A big part of Dakota Shy wine is sharing memories, sharing moments, and engaging in real conversation with real people, like he did back at Cashman.
From Minot, Newman decided to try his hand at North Dakota State University. But in 2001, he decided to make a dramatic change.
“I left college to go to Oregon with 1,400 dollars in my pocket, a gray backpack and a little black suitcase. Some people are programmed for school and some aren’t, and that’s OK,” said Newman. With what he had, Newman started a new life in Eugene, Oregon in hopes of growing his knowledge to open his own restaurant one day. He got his start at a microbrewery, brewing small batches of craft beer, and stayed in Oregon perfecting this craft for two years.
“I thought maybe I could start something from this concept – a little gastropub that served sliders and had its own craft beer made in-house in Minneapolis,” reminisced Newman. A gastropub, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is a pub, bar, or tavern that offers meals of high quality. Businesses such as these have grown widely popular across the U.S. in recent years, driven by “foodie” sensibilities.
Instead of chasing his dreams to Minneapolis, a friend had told him about the “amazing opportunities” down in Napa Valley and invited him to come check it out. This friend and now master sommelier, Dennis Kelly, arranged for Newman to get a job at the famed Michelin-starred Martini House restaurant in St. Helena, California.
“I went to work, worked hard and saved money – the true Midwestern way,” said Newman. At the Martini House, Newman said he would sometimes walk away with 300 dollars a night just in tips. He served many different kinds of people, including wine connoisseurs and winemakers.
“There was a Tuesday night and this couple was enjoying a bottle of wine and a beautiful meal and they had been talking about having to go out and farm the next day,” Newman recalled, “I thought ‘Man, if these guys can ‘farm’ and live like this, then I know I can do the same.'” Being in the Napa Valley environment for Newman made a light come on in his head – that wine was right where he needed to be.
Seeing this couple living the high life inspired Newman to get a job at a vineyard. Tom Garrett, a close friend, took a chance on Newman and hired him to work in the cellar at the Revana Family Vineyards in 2005. There, he worked under the direction of the world-famous winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett.
“I was what they call a ‘cellar rat’ in Napa, assisting with the winemaking process. From then on, I would work from seven to three in the cellar logging as much knowledge and information as I could, then from four to midnight, I would put on my penguin suit and work at the Martini House making the money I needed to start the brand,” said Newman. He spent years working at Revana to perfect his craft of winemaking. Along the way in 2008, Newman decided it was time to put his savings into grapes, a couple tons of them in fact.
Newman worked like this for several years while climbing through the ranks with Revana, learning wine from the cellar up. At 25, Newman was running and branding wineries for Revana, all the while working and building a strong relationship with Garrett. He then went on to work for Hourglass Estate developing a direct to consumer program. He used these skills he acquired and the friends he’d made to brand his own Dakota Shy.
“It’s really an underdog upstart competing with the best in the wine business out in Napa,” said Newman about the developing of Dakota Shy. In the wine business, you typically don’t see a brand started from nothing.
While others had different avenues in which they achieved the winemaking dream, Newman credits his to an unwavering work ethic. What they do in eight hours, find a way to master in six, then be willing to go work twelve. Newman and his team put hours and hours of work into their wine, making sure that it would “speak for itself.”
“We’re all about the quiet grind from humble beginnings. There’s no need to talk about how hard you work when everyone works hard,” Newman said about the name ‘Dakota Shy.’ Shy isn’t literal, it’s the “humbleness and kindness” of their brand. Shy to him is being humble enough to the point they don’t need to talk about what they are doing.
“We want to have conversations, make connections, and then also happen to sell some wine,” said Newman. Dakota Shy is more about the story. They want people to buy the wine not only because of the quality, but because of the story the wine represents.
“What you do today, you can’t sell for three years,” said Newman. “So once you’re in, there’s no going back.” He went all in on a dream with some close friends and colleagues and has really made the dream happen. To date, Newman has been in Napa Valley for 14 years working toward a dream of creating something from nothing.
“My dad showed me how to work while my mom taught me how to dream,” Newman said. He credits his family and his upbringing in North Dakota to the success he’s had with Dakota Shy.
In 2013, Garrett, Dakota Shy winemaker, found a property for sale “in the heart of Napa.” There, they took productions of their wine in-house, now offering wine tastings and a tour around their historic land and facilities. The property was part of the original Rancho Caymus land grant dating back to 1849 and has the original stagecoach road running through the property, with one of the stops on site. As of Sept. 19, Dakota Shy is by appointment only.
Currently, Dakota Shy wine is only available from their estate or at the Michelin-starred French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley. They do sell direct-to-consumer from their website, dakotashywine.com, though their wines are produced in limited quantities making them rare delicacies.