Steve Edmunds The Unsung Hero Of California Wine

Photo Courtesy Of Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Winemaker Steve Edmunds at his home in Berkeley.

“I’ve been hearing voices, somebody breaking out inside of me, can you tell me who it is?”

—“Rocks and Gravel,” from the album

“Singing to the Ghosts” by Steve Edmund

If you know about Edmunds St. John, you know. Most people don’t.

Beyond industry insiders and fans, few drinkers are aware that a Berkeley winemaker named Steve Edmunds has produced some of California’s most soul stirring wines for the last 33 years under his Edmunds St. John label.

At least for California, he is the ultimate winemaker’s winemaker.

Unmoored from the structures that tend to prop up California wine businesses — vineyards, wineries, regional organizations — Edmunds is something of an island.

With no winery of his own, the Edmunds St. John brand has drifted between various production facilities over the years.

Edmunds has no employees: no assistant winemaker, no marketing manager, no salesperson.

He has no land, either, and has had to fight to get some of his most beloved varieties — a bit unpopular, commercially cryptic grapes like Mourvedre, Gamay and Vermentino — put in the ground.

In his light-filled, cozily cluttered Berkeley home, it’s easy to see Edmunds, sporting narrow rimmed glasses and trim white goatee, as an embodiment of his work.

Both are characterized by understatement and a quiet precision.

Edmunds’ facial expressions are compact, his smile emoting within a limited range of motion.

His speech is unhurried and deliberate, conspicuously free of glottal stops.

Edmunds pours himself a glass of his slight, pale 2012 rosé, from El Dorado County Gamay. “I’m 70 now, so I’m not going to be venturing into the wilderness much anymore,” he says. He means that he’s stopped trekking around California to search for vineyards that fit his specifications. Edmunds produces about 2,000 cases of wine per year now, half what he once did. He’s slowing down.