It all started with three friends and coworkers who really know what it means to have each other's back. Valley State Prison and the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla are unlikely places for training future winemakers. But lieutenants Greg Bergersen, Rick Quesada, and Bryon Rogers -- all veteran correctional officers -- say that's where their dream: Solitary Cellars was born.
"We've been in the fire together and when it's good, it's good, and when it's bad, it's bad, so we have a trust." said Greg Bergersen, Solitary Cellars.
Inspired by their love of wine, and the Valley's fertile farming region, the partners set out to learn the art of wine making from some of the best. Scouring the state for the finest fruit -- including Frank Savier's Syrah Vineyard in the old gravel pit on the San Joaquin River.
Among Solitary Cellars' first productions: a 2011 Zinfandel made with the help of a local winery and sold at APCAL.
The label is a cell and their logo is a key. Customers, or the chain gang as they're known, also get a kick out of their "mug shots" posted on their Facebook page. And the guys are always imagining blends with fitting names like Ball and Chain, Shackles, and Warden's Reserve -- wines they hope to eventually make themselves, once they get their license and become a bonded winery.
In the meantime, they're using the label to raise money for Madera County Victims Services -- part of their mission statement.
"We see all the bad guys, the guys who created victims, so it's important to all three of us to give back using the solitary cellars theme," said Bergersen.
When Lieutenant Bergersen was asked which was more stressful, wine making or corrections, he said wine making! Because in wine making he only gets one chance a year to get it right -- and with corrections, it's mostly mundane, day to day operations to keep everyone safe.
Lieutenant Bergersen says he's retiring next year and that will allow him to pursue his wine making dream full time.