Monday, 20 May 2024

Six Sigma Winery welcomes Hughes as first full-time winemaker

Matt Hughes is joining Six Sigma Winery as its first full-time winemaker. Courtesy photo.


LOWER LAKE – A Lower Lake winery has added its first full-time winemaker as it begins expanding its vision of quality wines and sustainable farm practices.

On Friday, Matt Hughes, Six Sigma Winery's new winemaker, was busy watching over the bottling of the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.

Six Sigma is still a small wine producer, putting out about 6,000 cases annually, said Hughes.

The 4,300-acre ranch doesn't have its own bottling facility, but they're still able to bottle on site, thanks to Onsite Mobile Wine Bottlers of Lower Lake, owned by Sam Schneider.

Schneider brought his 43-foot-long bottling trailer and spent the morning and the early afternoon bottling part of the 1,000 cases of Sauvignon Blanc, the winery's largest vintage.

Hughes said the rest of that vintage, plus Six Sigma's 2007 reds, will be bottled on May 26 and 27.

He said the Sauvignon Blanc will sit about six months before being shipped out to distribution.

Hughes is inheriting the vintages that have been aging in steel tanks nearby. “I'm like the godfather of the 2008 wines,” he joked.

Then, this fall, he'll have the chance to take part in his first harvest and beginning putting his stamp on the vintages to come.

This is the first time Six Sigma has had a full-time winemaker. Kaj Ahlmann, who owns Six Sigma along with wife Else, said for the past four years he's worked with wine consultants Denis and May-Britt Malbec, who acted as winemakers.

Hughes topped more than 60 candidates for the job, with applications coming from as far away as Australia and New Zealand, and Europe. Industry consultant and winemaking veteran Wayne Donaldson assisted with the search and transition to the new winemaker.

“In the end, it was Matt’s unique combination of technical expertise, vision for our wines, creativity, and passion for Lake County that made us realize he was the perfect fit for Six Sigma Winery,” said Christian Ahlmann, vice president of Six Sigma Winery.

Hughes, a Lakeport resident, is part-owner and winemaker for Zoom Wines of Kelseyville. Zoom Wines works out of Mt. Konocti Growers.

Nine years ago Hughes arrived in Lake County. He worked at a Kelseyville winery before moving to a laboratory position with Kendall-Jackson, where he learned the technical aspects of winemaking.

From there, Hughes joined the team at Verité Winery, in Sonoma County, where he worked on crafting critically acclaimed, classically styled wines under Bordelaise winemaker Pierre Sellan.

Eventually, he and his wife, Nancy, and some business partners began making wines under the Zoom label, which focuses on Lake County’s high elevation vineyards. Hughes also was the first president of the new Lake County Winery Association.

He's found a unique spot at Six Sigma, which has only about 1 percent of its land planted in winegrapes. Much of the rest of the picturesque ranch, located off Spruce Grove Road, is in conservation easements.

It has rich and varied volcanic soils. In one 12-acre vineyard, there are 10 different soils, said Hughes. That will require a lot of monitoring and soil management to bring out the best in the grapes.

“We're really focused on the quality not quantity here,” said Hughes. “It's kind of a winemaker's paradise.”

The Ahlmanns said Six Sigma Ranch is the life-long dream for them.

And there are still big parts of the dream to be realized, with the Ahlmanns opening the ranch up not just to children's camps but to wine lovers who want to come and taste their seven wines and enjoy the ranch.

The meandering driveway leads through the ranch and takes visitors to the tasting room, which sits on the site of the original old stage stop. On the way to the tasting room, you'll pass the building pad for the planned three-story hospitality center, which will include conference rooms and bed-and-breakfast suites.

Kaj Ahlmann is a respected expert in Six Sigma, an internationally recognized management process focused on producing high quality products or services to meet the customer's need that's based in mathematical models and developed by engineers.

He said Six Sigma – which focuses on doing business in a way that minimizes errors, ensures consistency and enhances customer satisfaction – applies to all businesses, and that's why he's running his ranch and winery based on those principles.

Ahlmann said he also looks forward to hosting visitors to the ranch and showing him how Six Sigma works from the vineyard to the bottle.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



Onsite Mobile Wine Bottlers owner Sam Schneider (left) with one of his staff bottling Six Sigma's 2008 Sauvignon Blanc on Friday, May 8, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




The 2008 Six Sigma Sauvignon Blanc heads down the bottling line on Friday, May 8, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

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