When I was living in LA, I took a French class at UCLA--Ricky Nelson happened to be in the class. The teacher was Belgian, and if you can believe it, he would always ask the women in the class if he had their permission to remove his sport jacket. We’ve come a long way in the etiquette department.
I continued with Alliance Française In Napa, so by the time I flew to France in May of 1988, my French was in very good shape.
My wine country journey began in the Loire, staying in the delightful and unpretentious town of Saumur. Off to Bordeaux with wonderful visits to Leoville-Las Cases—tasting Mount Veeder Cabernet side by side with theirs. Pontet-Canet where I was invited to lunch along with members of La Comédie Française. Lynch-Bages.
I visited the cooperages where our barrels were produced. Stayed in Cahors home to Malbec. Burgundy—Domaine Guy Roulot and Jadot among others. Tears in my eyes as I looked at some of the legendary vineyards.
But there is one visit in particular that perhaps stands out as the most memorable. I had an appointment at Moët & Chandon, but wasn’t sure who was going to be my tour guide. It turned out to be the legendary Edmond Maudiere, director of winemaking. He spent several hours with me and the final icing on the cake was sitting in a small parlor with him sipping vintage champagne. It was nearly 10 years to the day that I decided to do the wine thing. It was indeed a special moment.
Curious to hear about any of your memorable wine moments.
Talking Heads—“Well, how did I get here?”
Turning points—there have been many but 1978 was a big one. I was living in Santa Monica CA and there were two choices happening. A masters program in American Culture at the University of Michigan or Enology and Viticulture at Cal State University Fresno. So in late summer I packed things up and headed to Fresno in the heart of California’s Central Valley.
I know, say Fresno, and lot of people will roll their eyeballs. But I was ecstatic. Unlike LA, I was able to effortlessly find a brand-new apartment with gym and sauna and it was a quick walk to the campus. I was on a mission with a real purpose and I really felt I was in the right place finally doing what I should be doing.
I got to farm a small parcel of old Carignane that I would ultimately make into wine. In addition to winemaking and grape growing I took a cheese class and a philosophy course or two. For Christmas 1978 I was giving gifts of cheese and peach wine that I had made!
I had pretty much intended to do at least two academic years, but that was not to be. In late 1979 I was in contact with Chappellet Winery about a possible opportunity that didn’t materialize. Tony Soter was the winemaker at the time and he relayed my name to Bill Hill (of William Hill Winery.) Bill called me for an interview late that year. He was farming vineyards for Donald Hess on Mount Veeder as well as his own parcel on Mount Veeder called Veeder Peak. That eventually became the highly acclaimed vineyard of Lokoya.
In December I once again was packing up. I was moving to work in the vineyards on Mount Veeder in Napa Valley.
Next: One of my most memorable wine moments.
I love making wine, or as my wife says, I have never met a grape I didn’t like! Well, there may be a few out there I don’t care for but my passion for winemaking compels me to produce wines from many different varieties.
I started with Zinfandel in 1987, and that’s probably what I’m best known for. Cabernet Sauvignon followed on its heels in 1992, and Sauvignon Blanc in 1996. The “red only” wine drinkers out there have repeatedly told us that it is the first white wine they have liked. Nice!
Now, I produce around a dozen unique wines and blends. Trying to keep life interesting! Albarino, the wonderfully intriguing aromatic white wine from Spain. Chenin Blanc—the noble white famous in the Loire in France and in South Africa. Exotic Mourvedre, grown extensively in Spain and the Rhone Valley in France.
Life gets boring eating the same food and drinking the same wine every day. There’s a whole other world of wine out there—and my mission is to do my best to bring some of those varieties to the attention of my wine drinking friends and fans.