General Manager and Winemaker
As General Manager and Director of Winemaking at Ram’s Gate Winery, Joe Nielsen approaches winemaking with an unrivaled attention to detail and precision. Not only creative and compelling, he crafts wines that embody balance, verve and effortless elegance. Joe thrives on digging into a vineyard and finding out what makes it special.
Joe got his start in winemaking in an unexpected place: the backyard of his parents’ home in Lansing, Michigan. In 2003, Joe enrolled at Michigan State University with the intention of studying pre-med but soon after he was introduced to an exploratory winemaking program. In 2007, he graduated from the program with a B.S. in Horticulture and accepted a position as winemaking assistant at Black Star Farms in Northern Michigan.
In 2008, Joe relocated to California for an internship at Merryvale Vineyards in Napa Valley where he spent a year learning every aspect of the winemaking business. In 2009, at just 23 years old, he became cellar master at Donelan Family Wines in Santa Rosa. Impressing their team with his passion and thirst for knowledge he was quickly promoted to assistant winemaker before becoming head winemaker in 2013 where he expanded the winery’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay programs.
In 2018, Joe became director of winemaking at Ram’s Gate and spent his first year focused on digging into what makes the Ram’s Gate estate special. He doubled down on holistic farming, diagrammed vineyard soils and used pressure bombs to study its water needs, subsequently reducing water use by nearly 33%. Joe believes that being thoughtful with land management will lead to not only better wines, but an even better place for guests to visit and enjoy the fruits of his labor.
In 2021 he was promoted to General Manager and Winemaker. In this new leadership role and with an energetic and qualified team, Nielsen plans to work across the winery’s hospitality, marketing and sales programs to continue to solidify Ram’s Gate’s status as a premiere Sonoma estate.
Joe’s inherent desire for hands-on learning keeps him involved in local wine tasting groups and keeps his passport full of stamps from some of the world’s best wine regions. He lives in Santa Rosa with his wife and two children and spends his free time enjoying Sonoma County’s great outdoors and pursuing his passion for gardening.