This Rising Star Sonoma Winemaker Is Bringing the Natural Wine Community Together

Jack Sporer manages a custom crush operation that has become an incubator for up-and-coming natural winemakers and a hub for low-intervention seasoned traditionalists.

Winemaker Jack Sporer of Magnolia Wine Services and Fres.Co wines, with his pup, Canela. (James Joiner/For Sonoma Magazine)

Walking through a row of organically farmed Sauvignon Blanc grapes on Denmark Street just outside the town of Sonoma, winemaker Jack Sporer pauses to study the barren earth beneath the vines.

“You can see how three to four years out, the Roundup strip still exists,” he says, kneeling down to get a closer look, as if eyeing an old scar. Between rows, a lush cover crop thrives, but little sprouts beneath the dormant vines. “You can see how long the impact of herbicide lasts.”

No matter where Sporer’s mind goes, jumping between conversations about macrobiotics, tiny bits floating around in bottles, and all things low-intervention winemaking, things usually circle back to regenerative farming in Sonoma Valley. It’s the reason Sporer, who makes the well-regarded Fres.Co lineup of natural wines, spotlights the winegrower’s name on the back of every bottle.

“The idea is to take the focus off of me and put the focus on the people who are impacting the wine the most, which is the grower,” he says. “It’s the most cliché thing, but the most true thing—wine is made in the vineyard, especially natural wine.”

Jack Sporer with French winemaker Isabel Gassier at Magnolia Wine Services in Sonoma. (James Joiner/For Sonoma Magazine)
Jack Sporer with French winemaker Isabel Gassier at Magnolia Wine Services in Sonoma. (James Joiner/For Sonoma Magazine)

An incubator for up-and-coming winemakers

The custom crush operation Sporer manages, Magnolia Wine Services on Eighth Street East in Sonoma, has become an incubator for up-and-coming natural winemakers and a hub for low-intervention seasoned traditionalists.

It’s “a mixing ground and a proving ground—all in one,” Sporer explains. His clients include several big names in biodynamic and regenerative farming in the valley, including Phil Coturri. On this morning, David Rothschild, who sells Chardonnay grapes to Sporer and makes his own wine under the Las Vivas label, is loading up tanks of olive oil. A little later, clients Lauren Cadwallader and Crista Coccia of Dos Piedras make a pit stop to see how their Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel rosé are coming along in barrel.

With his three-legged rescue dog, Canela, in tow, Sporer moves from barrel to barrel, thieving tastes of a fresh ’23 Merlot and a ’22 Merlot from Bedrock Vineyard that he picked right before the big heatwave that September, before sampling the juice of a 2023 Loureiro from Lost Slough Vineyard near Lodi. It’s a varietal typically used to make Vinho Verde, but he’ll conjure an orange wine out of it, to be distributed in kegs and sold by the glass.

A board on the wall nearby is marked with tallies or “beer fines” for those who screw up on the job (i.e. accidentally opening a valve or dropping a glass). It’s all in jest, but fines must be paid, for the fridge must always be stocked with beer. On Fridays, Sporer often throws communal lunches, sometimes with blind tastings. Right now, the biggest issue is a shortage of space for barrels. With 24 clients, Magnolia was scheduled to bring in 200 tons last year—but after an unexpectedly large harvest, the team ended up working with more than 250 tons.

Sporer's custom crush is home base for many of the area's top natural winemakers. (James Joiner/For Sonoma Magazine)
Sporer’s custom crush is home base for many of the area’s top natural winemakers. (James Joiner/For Sonoma Magazine)

A growing natural wine brand

Every time Sporer walks into the barrel room, he passes under an abandoned farmstand sign mounted on the wall that reads “Strawberries Picked Fresh” in large, hand-stenciled letters. It’s the inspiration for his growing brand, Fres.Co (originally christened “Fresh Wine Company” before being abbreviated) and for the design of several of his wine labels.

If Magnolia is Sporer’s bread and butter, Fres.Co is his passion. “The original idea was ‘fresh wine’—to take wine and think about it the way you think about food or veggies or produce,” he says. “I’m not going to make a claim that natural wine is healthier for anyone, but I do think that having macrobiotic life still existing in the bottle and not snuffing that out—to me, it’s more interesting and more dynamic,” he says, drawing parallels to raw cheese, kombucha, and probiotic foods.

When he talks about natural wine, he often follows it up with “whatever that means,” making it clear he’s not “a zero-zero zealot.” He’s not averse to adding small amounts of sulfur, for example, to avoid vinegary flavors brought on by high volatile acidity.

“I’m not super-fussed with labels,” he says. “The wines are all unfiltered, with low sulfur, organic yeast, and organic grapes. It’s that simple.”

Tasting blends with colleagues in Sonoma. (James Joiner/For Sonoma Magazine)
Tasting blends with colleagues in Sonoma. (James Joiner/For Sonoma Magazine)

Deep Sonoma roots

Sporer grew up mainly in San Francisco’s Sunset District, where he learned Mandarin and Cantonese at a Chinese immersion school, but he always knew he had farming in his blood. His grandmother, Anne Teller, put Sonoma Valley produce on the map in the 1970s at Glen Ellen’s Oak Hill Farm. His mother is still a part owner of Oak Hill, which is now run by Jack’s cousins. And his uncle, winemaker Will Bucklin, dry-farms sought-after field blends at neighboring Bucklin Old Hill Ranch.

At the age of 12, after a long day helping bottle his uncle’s wines, Sporer swore he would never go into the wine business. Instead, he fled to the East Coast, majoring in biology at Providence College in Rhode Island. But after spending a summer tagging rodents as part of a field study in Montana, he found himself back in Sonoma Valley for the 2012 harvest.

Connecting with the blend of manual labor and scientific method, he set out to work harvests around the world—in Australia, New Zealand, France, and Chile, before returning home to jobs at Chappellet and Williams Selyem.

But what really shaped his philosophy on regenerative agriculture was the viticulture program at Santa Rosa Junior College, where he loved getting his hands dirty at Shone Farm. That’s where he dove deeper into biodynamics, and also where he met fiancée Saskia Tingey, a viticulturist at Hamel Family Wines. Their upcoming April wedding at Oak Hill Farm will be officiated by the teacher of their SRJC organic viticulture class.

“I’m lucky to have someone to talk about all these ideas with,” he says.

 Fire Fuego, a Sauvignon Blanc with a name inspired by a sign on his family's Sonoma Valley farm, is Sporer's signature offering. (James Joiner/For Sonoma Magazine)
Fire Fuego, a Sauvignon Blanc with a name inspired by a sign on his family’s Sonoma Valley farm, is Sporer’s signature offering. (James Joiner/For Sonoma Magazine)

Staying calm during the crush

Beyond his passion for making natty wines and his dream of converting every farm in Sonoma Valley to organic, Sporer’s greatest attribute might be staying calm during the madness that comes with crush every year.

“If I had to deal with the (stuff) he has to deal with during harvest, I’d blow every gasket,” says Rothschild. “But he’s always so level-headed during harvest, which I’m always amazed at when you consider he’s dealing with, like, 15 feral children all at once.”

The key for Sporer is to be “relaxed but dialed-in at the same time,” he says, which can be hard when a Chardonnay gets stuck in fermentation or it feels like every client’s fruit is ready to come off the vine at the same time.

“If you’re doing it right, the most important decisions have already been made long before harvest,” he says. “It all comes back to the grapes. The grapes have to be perfect.”

Fres.Co wines and Magnolia Wine Services, 21481 Eighth St. E., Sonoma.

Winemaker Jack Sporer. (James Joiner/For Sonoma Magazine)
Winemaker Jack Sporer. (James Joiner/For Sonoma Magazine)

Jack Sporer’s Sonoma

Best Hike: “The Bartholomew Park loop—it’s privately owned property with public access, with a beautiful redwoods section and a place with exposed rocks where you can see the rocks that form the soil. It’s the perfect 45-minute hike you can do at the end of a workday with your dog.” 1695 Castle Rd, Sonoma.

Favorite Restaurant: “It’s gotta be Valley Bar + Bottle. They were the first place I ever sold wine to. The XO eggs are always worth getting, and the crispy rice scallions. The roasted chicken is amazing. They have a nice mix of local and foreign wines. It’s very unpretentious. It feels like you’re having dinner in your living room with friends.” 487 First St. W., Sonoma.

Outstanding Farmstand: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Red Barn Store at Oak Hill Farm. It’s run by my cousins Jimi Good and Melissa Bucklin. In the spring, they’ll have tons of veggies—they grow an amazing Romanesco broccoli, which is my favorite vegetable. And they have really great potatoes.” 15101 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen.

Favorite Tasting Room: “The Winery Sixteen 600 tasting house is a lot of fun. And it literally was once a house, so it’s like you’re tasting in your living room. And they have cool vinyl. Those guys put on a really good party.” 589 First St. W., Sonoma.

Top Bakery: “Baker & Cook has really elevated food, and the owners Jen and Nick are old-school Sonomans. Their savory gallettes—little hand pies—are amazing. I’m a chocolate croissant guy, and they have the best. You gotta go there.” 18812 Hwy. 12, Sonoma.