Businessman takes love of agriculture and transforms the winery he and his wife bought in 2005

Published in the July 23 – August 5, 2014 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Robert Airoldi

Photo by Robert Airoldi  Candace Ledesma, assistant tasting room manager, and Sycamore Creek Vineyards owner Bill Holt in the production area of the winery.

Photo by Robert Airoldi
Candace Ledesma, assistant tasting room manager, and Sycamore Creek Vineyards owner Bill Holt in the production area of the winery.

Bill Holt is a man of many passions. A businessman, family man, farmer, angler, cigar aficionado are just a few. But perhaps his greatest passion now at 71 is growing grapes and making wine at Sycamore Creek Vineyard and Winery.

“This doesn’t feel like a business to me,” he said. “It’s a passion.”

That passion began years ago when he farmed 1,000 acres of alfalfa hay in Siskiyou County and macadamia nuts in Hawaii.
Then in 2005 he and his wife Carolyn purchased the old winery and began the process of renovating not just the property and facilities, but the grapes as well.

“I’m always tweaking with the vines, because there’s always something you can do to improve the fruit,” he said. “If you don’t have quality fruit, you won’t get quality wine.”

He said one reason the region is gaining a reputation as a producer of high quality wines is that more and more serious people are getting involved. He’s a self-taught vintner, but has contacts in chemistry labs if he has questions.

“I’m meticulous about fruit growing,” he said. “I’m very conscious about the fact that if the chemistry isn’t there, the wine will suffer.”

None of the 1,600 to 1,700 cases the winery produces are sold at restaurants or stores, making it easier to focus on quality instead of quantity, he added.

Obviously, there are different ways to go about running a winery, “but my thoughts are to keep the facility the way it is and create premium wines.”

He enjoys the idea of a small boutique winery because he cover all the bases, know what’s going on in all aspects of the business and it’s more personal with face-to-face contact with the customers.

Nestled in the heart of Uvas Valley, the property is 16 acres total with about 8-1/2 acres of vines. Sycamore Creek produces limited amounts of unique hand-crafted wine, primarily Bordeaux, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Bordeaux.

“My passion has always been the nice big Bordeaux,” Holt said.

Originally from Oklahoma, he spent his career in metallurgy, primarily thermal processing (heat treating steel). His company Pacific Heat Treating in Sunnyvale, a small research and development firm which he still owns, worked on the lunar landing, NASA’s space shuttle and the first desk top computer.

He tried to retire at 40, laid on beaches, fished, but after three years he felt like a caged tiger, so he returned to work.
He and his wife will be married 55 years in December. Yes, he was married at 16. He had two full-time jobs and was involved in different businesses, including the one he started as a young man and still owns.

“I did anything it took to get ahead and improve our positions in life,” he said.

“When we first got married, I couldn’t afford dirt under my fingernails,” he said. The wedding ring he bought his wife cost $21 and he had to pay it off in installments.

When he was 69, he had blood clots removed from his lungs and was told to cut back on his work. He has, somewhat.

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“I just stopped leaving a vapor trail wherever I went,” he said with a slight chuckle.

“This doesn’t feel like a business to me,” he said. “It’s a passion.”

He starts his day with a cup of coffee and a cigar and watches the sun rise. At the end of the day, he has a glass of wine or mug of beer and a cigar.

“That’s the way I like to start and finish my day,” he said.

SYCAMORE CREEK WINERY

Location: 12775 Uvas Road
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Contact: (408) 779-4738, or visit www.sycamorecreekvineyards.com.

Marty Cheek

Marty Cheek

Publisher at Morgan Hill Life
Marty Cheek is the publisher of Morgan Hill Life and Gilroy Life. He is also the co-author with Congressman Jerry McNerney of the book Clean Energy Nation: Freeing America From the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels.
Email: marty@morganhilllife.com
Phone: (408) 782-7575
Marty Cheek