“It’s time for me to take over,” decided Mike Kohne when his wife’s maternity leave from the drew to an end. Kohne, 34, stepped down from his marketing job at Rosenblum Cellars to be a winemaking, stay-at-home dad.
In 2008, Kohne and his business partner, Mark Dirickson, launched Mercy Vineyards. Drawing on their combined 45 years of experience in the wine industry, Kohne and Dirickson began bottling chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and syrah.
“While I was waiting for the wines to mature," said Kohne, “I stayed home with the kids and had a good time.”
How did you get interested in winemaking? During my last quarter at UC Santa Barbara, I got a job in a tasting room. That’s how it started. In the evening after work, I’d find myself reading about a wine, learning everything I could.
What did you do after college? I started with Beringer Wine Estates before they were bought by Foster’s. Then I worked for a couple of small boutique places before moving up to Alameda in 2006 to become the marketing director for .
When did you start Mercy Vineyards and why? In 2008, Rosenblum was sold to Diageo. Mark Dirickson, my business partner, and I wanted to do something for ourselves and this became a passion for us.
Is there a story behind the company name? Mercy for us is a tribute to Mother Nature — the vine is always at the mercy of Mother Nature. In the wine industry, we’re in tune to all things geographical and weather-related.
What differentiates Mercy wines from two-buck Chuck? It’s an artisan product. Everything’s done by hand. The wines are sourced from great vineyards. A lot of attention to detail goes into making them. We process them very gently with hands-on, traditional techniques.
I could go on a long time about what makes two-buck Chuck two-buck Chuck, but I don’t think anyone wants to know that. It’s nothing bad, but it’s a different style of making wine. For example, using oak chips instead of oak barrels.
How have Mercy wines been received? They’re very well received and have been awarded medals. A couple of the pinots received 94 points out of a hundred. Our chardonnays have been rated 90 points and above by Wine Enthusiast. Our sauvignon blanc was recommended in Bon Appetit.
Where do the grapes come from? We source all of our grapes from an area in Monterey County called Arroyo Seco. We work with our winemaker, Alan Phillips, to make the wines at a winery in Santa Barbara. Then we store the wine at and at another location in the central coast.
Where can people find Mercy wines? The best place to learn about us is through our website. We’re at every week. We offer tastings Thursday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. When I was at Rosenblum, I met, the owner of Angela’s, who used to do catering for us, and that’s how we developed a relationship. He’s been a very big supporter of our wines.
What are the keys to success in the wine business? The most critical thing is to have a great product. Beyond that, there’s so much competition, you have to have a story to tell. For those that look at the sea of wine that’s out there, you have to have packaging that evokes what’s going to be in the bottle.
What do you like to do in Alameda? Alameda’s a great family town. It’s been fun with two kids. You’ll find us generally in the park. is a favorite. We live in central Alameda so we’ll take the stroller and walk to to get some produce and stop at for a cup of coffee.