Nathan grew up in rural Minnesota in a family with a rich history of farming and craftsmanship, but wine was not a part of daily experience. Concerned about the impact agricultural practices could have upon wetlands and wildlife habitat, he pursued studies in Marine Biology. It was while at college that Carlson began to work in restaurants and developed an intense interest in learning about the wines of the world.
After college, Nathan moved to Santa Barbara where he worked in several wine-focused restaurants. A chance meeting led to a part-time position at Richard Sanford’s eponymous winery, a pioneer of Pinot Noir in what would soon become the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The camaraderie of the local wine industry, deep agricultural traditions, and sense of possibility convinced Nathan to leave restaurants to pursue wine as a career.
“Winemaking combines elements of agriculture, economics, culture, history and business in a way that few disciplines do. Science has an important place, but there is ample room for craft. I thrive on the sense of accomplishment at the end of every day of hard work, and on the cycle of the season,” he explains.
COE Founder and owner Bill Swanson explains that “the person you hire for the Winemaker position should be someone you want to share a glass of wine with yourself. My wife Cheryl and I trust and value Nathan so much that he has total artistic and skilled control over the vines and the wine making process. We know that his stewardship ensures that the wine he produces always meets the Center of Effort standards.”
Carlson’s career has led him to make wine throughout the Central Coast, Sonoma and Napa Valley. After several years of apprenticeship, developing practical skills in the cellar and vineyard, Nathan completed coursework for working winemakers through UC Davis. After a brief stint in Oregon, he was drawn back to the Edna Valley, where prior to his role at COE, he worked as winemaker for a number of well-respected brands. Having perfected his craft and gained great respect in the industry, Carlson has maintained involvement in production-scale research, led winemaking panels, participated in industry technical groups, and developed friendships with like-minded winemakers worldwide.
Nathan came to Center of Effort just as the new vision of the Swansons was getting underway. He first purchased Chardonnay from the vineyard as a client and was eventually invited to join as Winemaker and General Manager two years later, in 2010. Understanding the intricate complexity of the business, he has spent the past ten years learning the vineyards intimately, identifying techniques specific to the site and assembling the right farming, equipment and people to execute the work that needs to be accomplished on a daily basis. It is important to Nathan that sustainable agriculture has been part of COE from the start, which goes back to his early life and concern about the effect that farming has on the environment.
“At Center of Effort, we make authentic wines that tell a story of our place and our people. I’m proud that we share that story and our wines with genuine hospitality and connection,” says Carlson.
Nathan and his partner Kristin live about 20 miles from the winery in Atascadero, and love to travel as much as possible. They enjoy time at home with their pets, as well as hobbies that include baking sourdough bread, cooking, canning, cycling, and gardening.