New Classic Winemakers of California

New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff

FOREWORD BY H. WILLIAM HARLAN
JOHN ALBAN
MARK AUBERT
HEIDI PETERSON BARRETT
ANDY BECKSTOFFER
GREG BREWER
MERRY EDWARDS
ELIAS FERNANDEZ
GINA GALLO
ROLANDO HERRERA
GENEVIEVE JANSSENS
KATHY JOSEPH
GREG LA FOLLETTE
ADAM LEE
DIANNA LEE
DAN MORGAN LEE
BOB LEVY
RICK LONGORIA
JAVIER TAPIA MEZA
GARY PISONI
JEFF PISONI
MARK PISONI
KENT ROSENBLUM
TED SEGHESIO
DOUG SHAFER
JUSTIN SMITH
TONY SOTER
BRIAN TALLEY
MICHAEL TERRIEN
RANDY ULLOM
MARGO VAN STAAVEREN
BILL WATHAN
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 292
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw1zp
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  • Book Info
    New Classic Winemakers of California
    Book Description:

    Wine critic and writer Steve Heimoff, inspired by Robert Benson'sGreat Winemakers of California(1977), traversed the state of California to record lively and informative conversations with more than two dozen winemakers and grape growers who represent today's leaders and visionaries. While Benson's book captured a wine industry on the brink of exponential growth and recognition, Heimoff surveys a multibillion-dollar business with a global reputation and new issues to face. Heimoff has followed this industry for more than twenty-five years, visiting all parts of the state and monitoring changing styles and trends, and his interviews provide an oral history of contemporary California winemaking. He reveals the personalities, intellects, philosophies, and passions of the individual winemakers, as well as their opinions on recent high-alcohol vintages, globalization, and the "cult" wine phenomenon. Through this intimate and engaging book, wine lovers can sit in on the back and forth as Heimoff and his vintner subjects talk informally about their favorite subject: wine.THE INTERVIEWEES: John Alban, Mark Aubert, Heidi Peterson Barrett, Andy Beckstoffer, Greg Brewer, Merry Edwards, Elias Fernandez, Gina Gallo, Rolando Herrera, Genevieve Janssens, Kathy Joseph, Greg La Follette, Adam and Dianna Lee, Dan Morgan Lee, Bob Levy, Rick Longoria, Javier Tapia Meza, Gary, Jeff, and Mark Pisoni, Kent Rosenblum, Ted Seghesio, Doug Shafer, Justin Smith, Tony Soter, Brian Talley, Michael Terrien, Randy Ullom, Margo van Staaveren, Bill Wathan

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93268-5
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. [Map]
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. FOREWORD:
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    H. WILLIAM HARLAN

    Much of American effort involves the quest for new frontiers. Each generation discovers for itself the character of place in the context of time. Each individual does the same. That process is inexorable—and inseparable from the land, for gravity grounds us all.

    So do roots, and memories, and the need for congress with nature, whether immediate or at a refined remove. However advanced America becomes technologically, it remains at its heart a nation of farmers. In California, this is especially true: from one valley to the next, from one region to the next, life exists at both the speed...

  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book owes inspiration to an earlier book.Great Winemakers of California: Conversations with Robert Bensonwas published in 1977 by Capra Press. Sometime in the mid 1980s, I bought a used copy at a San Francisco bookstore. It instantly became one of my favorite wine books, and, when I became a working wine writer, it was a trusted source for historical information.

    Benson’s book consisted of a series of conversations—twenty-eight in all—between him and California winemakers (only one of whom was a woman; we’ve come a long way since then). Each conversation was published in question-and-answer form....

  7. 1970s
    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 7-9)

      It was a great time to be alive and making wine in California, maybe to be doing anything in California. The scent of the 1960s still hung in the air of a state not yet thronged with newcomers and paved over by subdivisions and freeways. Winemaking no doubt seemed a fairly exotic career for a young man or (far less likely) a young woman. But for those who for whatever reason were attracted to it, the allure was immense. Imagine living on the land, out in the country, in a place of idyllic beauty, doing honest work with one’s hands,...

    • BILL WATHEN, FOXEN WINERY & VINEYARD
      (pp. 11-17)

      Foxen is one of those wineries that makes great wine year after year, but is probably better known to sommeliers than to the general public. Located in Santa Barbara County’s hilly, picturesque Foxen Canyon region, it has been the province of winemaker Bill Wathen and his partner, Dick Doré, who does the marketing, since 1985. Wathen is a simple, natural kind of guy who’s happiest cheering on his kids’ ball teams or making wine. We chatted outdoors on a cold day in February 2006, since there was no space inside the ramshackle winery building except the tasting room, which was...

    • DAN MORGAN LEE, MORGAN WINERY
      (pp. 19-27)

      Dan Morgan Lee has made wine in a warehouse, in a gritty industrial district of Salinas, since launching his brand back in 1984. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing facility, but that hasn’t stopped Morgan’s wines from soaring to the top as his Monterey-grown Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and Syrahs have garnered awards. Morgan is another of those winemakers who started with little in the way of resources, then used sheer tenacity to achieve his vision. A few years before this conversation, which took place in August 2005, he’d been jazzed about the new winery he was finally building,...

    • GENEVIEVE JANSSENS, ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY
      (pp. 29-37)

      She says it was destiny that brought her to Robert Mondavi Winery nearly thirty years ago, and Genevieve Janssens’s story surely contains elements of the improbable. The longtime winemaker at Napa’s, and California’s, most famous estate recounted, in the French–North African accent that stays with her, her career from the winery’s glory days to its unhappy collapse and eventual 2005 sale. We chatted in the summer of 2006; the winery grounds were mobbed with tourists and the only quiet place to talk was in the barrel room.

      You were born where?

      In Morocco. My parents had wineries and vineyards...

    • RICK LONGORIA, RICHARD LONGORIA WINES
      (pp. 39-45)

      Rick Longoria is a wine industry veteran who came up the old-fashioned way, through the ranks. He worked as an employed winemaker for years before going out on his own. By then, there was little about wine he didn’t understand. Although Longoria produces a range of wines, his Pinot Noirs have been the most compelling, at least for me, especially the single-vineyard bottlings from the Santa Rita Hills. We met at his little house in the ersatz-Danish town of Solvang, on a hot May day in 2005 that also saw Southern California’s first wildfire of the season. Longoria reflected, in...

    • MERRY EDWARDS, MERRY EDWARDS WINES
      (pp. 47-55)

      Outspoken, with strong views, and enjoying the fruits of her labors over a long and checkered career, Merry Edwards is comfortable in her skin. Her winery has become a staple of upscale restaurant wine lists; her Pinot Noirs, particularly the vineyard designates, are eagerly sought by collectors. We chatted in 2005 at the rented facility, in the little town of Windsor in the Russian River Valley, where she currently makes her wines. She’s finally building her own winery after making wine for more than thirty years.

      When did you start in the business?

      Seventy-four. But the Merry Edwards brand, in...

    • TONY SOTER, ETUDE WINES
      (pp. 57-65)

      Concerning Tony Soter, the following adjectives come to mind:gentlemanly, scholarly, precise, diplomatic, self-effacing, soft-spoken. He has been a wildly successful consulting winemaker, assisting some of Napa Valley’s most prestigious Cabernet Sauvignon houses and mentor to a generation of winemakers. These days, however, he has ceased consulting to focus on his two brands, Etude in California and Soter Vineyards, which is mostly Oregon. Ironically, he now specializes in Pinot Noir. We chatted one Indian summer November day in 2005 at Etude, on the Napa side of Los Carneros.

      Did you study winemaking?

      No. I have a degree in philosophy. I...

    • ANDY BECKSTOFFER, BECKSTOFFER VINEYARDS
      (pp. 67-73)

      William Andrew (Andy) Beckstoffer is not a winemaker, but since there are so many issues concerning grape growing in these interviews, I thought it appropriate for one interview to be with “the grand old man of Napa Valley grapegrowers” (inForbesmagazine’s words). Beckstoffer is, simply, the largest private vineyard owner in the North Coast, and owner of a good chunk of the famed To Kalon vineyard. We met in his office at Beckstoffer Vineyards, in Rutherford, on a cool June morning. After commenting on the 2006 vintage (“Looks good so far”), he answered my questions, looking ultracool in cowboy...

    • TED SEGHESIO, SEGHESIO FAMILY VINEYARDS
      (pp. 75-81)

      Seghesio is on everyone’s short list for some of the best Zinfandels and Sangioveses in California, but it wasn’t always so. Beginning in 1902, four generations of Seghesios churned out oceans of bulk wine until, by fits and starts, they belatedly figured out how to play the boutique game. Nowadays, Pete Jr. does the business side, while cousin Ted makes the wines. Ted is an engaging, high-energy guy whose tales evoke visions of the old-time Italian American immigrants who founded California’s wine industry—little wonder, since his great-grandfather Edoardo was winemaker at Italian Swiss Colony in the 1890s.

      How did...

    • KENT ROSENBLUM, ROSENBLUM CELLARS
      (pp. 83-89)

      The island city of Alameda—blue-collar, hard by Oakland—isn’t exactly wine country, but it’s where Kent Rosenblum (at left with his wife, Kathy) makes wine, in an old shipyard building across a weed-choked parking lot from an abandoned naval base. In May 2006 we sat outside on the wooden deck he’d built, with flowers in planter boxes, and chatted. Rosenblum explained the winemaking style he’s famed for: big, dark, rich, fruity red wines, high in alcohol, yet more often than not balanced. Rosenblum makes an astounding fifty-odd wines each year, probably more vineyard designates than anyone else in California,...

    • MARGO VAN STAAVEREN, CHATEAU ST. JEAN
      (pp. 91-100)

      Compared to many of the winemakers in this book, Margo van Staaveren, winemaker and director of winemaking operations, has had the most stable of careers, having worked at Chateau St. Jean for twenty-eight years as I write these words. Through ups and downs in the wine industry, through multiple changes in ownership, St. Jean has remained remarkably consistent, and much of the credit for that must go to van Staaveren. We met up in her office at the Sonoma Valley winery in June 2005.

      Did you go to UC Davis?

      Yes. I’d wanted to be a special ed teacher. But...

  8. 1980s
    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 101-103)

      The California wine industry was undergoing something similar to a bull market by the time the twentieth century’s penultimate decade began, and certainly by the time it ended. The Paris tasting, already enshrined in myth, had seemingly proved that at least some California wines could be as great as nearly any in the world. Wine critics, who were beginning to have real influence in America, praised the Cabernets of Napa, the Chardonnays of Sonoma, and the odd wine from almost anyplace else. Consumers began to take note. Dry wines had finally overtaken sweet wines in sales, and the various food...

    • BOB LEVY, HARLAN ESTATE
      (pp. 105-113)

      In an industry known for the fickleness of its consumers, Harlan Estate has accomplished the ultimate: staying power. Almost from the moment of its first release, in 1991, the Napa Valley Bordeaux-style wine has been a legend, a status accompanied by legendary prices. At the 2000 Napa Valley Wine Auction, ten magnums went for seven hundred thousand dollars.

      Harlan Estate’s founder, Bill Harlan, a Southern California real estate developer, has shown an unerring eye for developing upscale niches in which to produce and sell Cabernet Sauvignon–based wine. It was his selection of a relatively unknown winemaker, Bob Levy, that...

    • BRIAN TALLEY, TALLEY VINEYARDS
      (pp. 115-123)

      Born into a farming family in California’s Central Coast, Brian Talley might have spent his life growing row crops had his father not decided twenty-five years ago to make use of a hillside that was unsuitable for vegetables by planting wine grapes. Today Talley Vineyards produces some of California’s most sophisticated Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, and as general manager, Brian Talley is involved in every step of the process. We talked at the winery in San Luis Obispo County, one sunny day in late August 2005, as the early-ripening grapes were nearing harvest.

      Locate us geographically.

      We’re in the Arroyo...

    • HEIDI PETERSON BARRETT, LA SIRENA, SHOWKET, PARADIGM, OTHER WINERIES
      (pp. 125-133)

      If there were a court of Napa Valley royalty, its reigning queen would be Heidi Peterson Barrett. Her dad is Richard Peterson, Beaulieu Vineyards’ former winemaster. Her husband is James P. “Bo” Barrett, winemaker at Chateau Montelena Winery. Her sister, Holly, was married to Tim Mondavi. And Peterson Barrett is a superstar in her own right, the “wine diva of Napa” inTimemagazine’s words. After leaving Buehler Vineyards as winemaker in 1988, she surprised even herself by becoming a celebrity, famous as the maker of Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle’s Maya, Showket, and others. Peterson Barrett’s name behind a bottle...

    • GREG LA FOLLETTE, DE LOACH VINEYARDS, TANDEM WINERY
      (pp. 135-143)

      It has been said of Greg La Follette that he could bring a church to tears about Pinot Noir. A winemaker’s winemaker, La Follette worked for others for years (and still does) before garnering the resources to establish his own Tandem Winery along with his longtime friend, viticulturalist Greg Bjornstad. (The two split up late in 2005.) Tandem produces single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that carry exploration of Sonoma County’s variedterroirsto a fascinated extreme. La Follette, a youthful-looking forty-seven, and I chatted in 2005 in his office at De Loach Vineyards, his “day job” since 2004, when he...

    • RANDY ULLOM, KENDALL-JACKSON
      (pp. 145-151)

      Randy Ullom doesn’t preside over California’s largest wine company—that would be Gallo. But Kendall-Jackson’s five-million-case annual production is entirely under his supervision. It’s a job that might be daunting to most winemakers, but Ullom thrives in the controlled chaos of Jess Jackson’s empire. A few weeks before this interview, Ullom had tasted me through his new line of limited-production Highland Estates wines, of which he was very proud. We talked at K-J’s baroque-style visitors center, outside Santa Rosa, on a raw, cold December morning in 2005.

      How did you get into winemaking?

      The seed was planted in high school....

    • DOUG SHAFER AND ELIAS FERNANDEZ, SHAFER VINEYARDS
      (pp. 153-161)

      Shafer Vineyards is one of those can’t-do-anything-wrong wineries, and one of the few in this book with a double interview—because winery president Doug Shafer (at right in the photo opposite) and winemaker Elias Fernandez are joined at the hip. The interplay between the two reminded me of an old married couple. They complete each other’s sentences, they laugh at the same shared memories, and even though Shafer is Fernandez’s boss, their connection is of the best-friend type. As we sat in a little room at the winery, nestled below the rocky Stags Leap palisades, in July 2005, they reviewed...

    • KATHY JOSEPH, FIDDLEHEAD CELLARS
      (pp. 163-169)

      Kathy Joseph is a self-made woman. The odds were never much in her favor, but through sheer tenacity and smarts she mastered not only the winemaking skills, but the business savvy to succeed in a field that requires an enormous amount of cash—money she didn’t have when she started. Today she’s one of the most respected vintners in Santa Barbara County, and Oregon too, for her Fiddlehead Cellars crafts wines from both regions. We met up in 2006 on a windy late spring day in San Francisco, where she was visiting her parents.

      How did you get into the...

    • MARK AUBERT, COLGIN CELLARS, AUBERT WINES, OTHER WINERIES
      (pp. 171-180)

      He speaks of “the myth of Aubert” unpretentiously. Indeed, it would be pretentious if he pretended such a myth did not exist. With a list of consulting winery clients, current and past, as prestigious as that of any winemaker in California (as well as his own eponymous brand), Mark Aubert is like some wine god perched on a vinous Olympus, acutely aware of, guardian over, and surprisingly forthright about his image. We met up in August 2006 at Laird Family Estate, in Napa, where he makes his Aubert Chardonnay; he crafts his Pinot Noir at Colgin, where he is winemaker....

  9. 1990s
    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 181-183)

      They were, in a certain sense, lucky. By the time the ’90s arrived, California wine was a relatively mature industry. For a young man or woman, it offered a real career path as a winemaker, maybe even a lucrative one, not to mention a lifestyle that couldn’t be bought. Pioneers no longer were needed to hack a path through the jungle, but instead specialists to develop the industry’s burgeoning infrastructure. There are parallels with the simultaneous rise of the Internet. A winemaker could choose, with some precision, what to specialize in. Pinot Noir? All right, but from where? Santa Barbara...

    • ADAM AND DIANNA LEE, SIDURI WINERY
      (pp. 185-191)

      Siduri took the wine world by storm in the late 1990s after Robert M. Parker Jr. discovered its wines. The husband-and-wife team of Adam and Dianna Lee owns no vineyards; instead, the pair established a formula, now copied by other Pinot Noiristes, of buying grapes from well-known vineyards and then striving forterroirtypicity. Siduri’s wines (as well as Lees’ Novy Family Wines brand), made in a rented facility in a Santa Rosa industrial park, are complex but easy to enjoy, much like the Lees themselves. Unpretentious and friendly, with two young children and a new baby in tow, they...

    • GREG BREWER, BREWER-CLIFTON, MELVILLE VINEYARDS AND WINERY
      (pp. 193-201)

      Brewer-Clifton’s rented production facility is in an industrial park in Lompoc, a drab agricultural town beyond the western edge of the Santa Rita Hills appellation. On the early February morning in 2006 when we met, a cold wind from the Pacific, only a few miles away, was sweeping in—the same winds that cool the Santa Rita Hills during summer. Greg Brewer is an intellectual, assertive, ambitious, articulate, and sometimes pugnacious young guy. His own winery is Brewer-Clifton, which he runs with his partner, Steve Clifton. Brewer’s day job, however, is as the winemaker at Melville. Both wineries have come...

    • JUSTIN SMITH, SAXUM VINEYARDS
      (pp. 203-211)

      Summer had finally arrived along the Central Coast in May 2005 after a wet spring when I sat down with Justin Smith on a terrace overlooking the steep, bowl-shaped James Berry vineyard. Part of a cadre of Rhônistes on the west side of Paso Robles, Smith crafts complex and appealing red Rhône-style wines that have achieved cult status, and are priced accordingly. Saxum seems destined to be one of those coveted brands that will never be produced in quantities great enough to satisfy demand. We talked about all this as his blond Lab, Annabella, nuzzled his knee.

      When did you...

    • MICHAEL TERRIEN, HANZELL VINEYARDS
      (pp. 213-221)

      Michael Terrien had been at the helm of Hanzell less than a year when we spoke in November 2005, and I sensed a tentativeness in him, as though this dream job—winemaker at one of California’s most venerable small wineries—might disappear as unexpectedly as it had come. It had been daunting. At Hanzell, tradition reigns supreme; things are done very differently than at Acacia Winery, where Terrien had worked for nine years. We talked at the Hanzell château, high on an outcrop of the Mayacamas Range. On this clear November morning, the view of the Sonoma Valley was surreal...

    • GARY, MARK, AND JEFF PISONI, PISONI VINEYARDS & WINERY
      (pp. 223-231)

      I had to reinterview the Pisonis in 2006 because the first time around, son Jeff (far left in photo) had been away and Gary (middle) had lost his voice; he’d been up all night partying. This is not an unusual thing for Gary Pisoni,père,to do. He is a larger-than-life figure, most of whose statements seem to end in exclamation points, and it is not for nothing that his sons happily describe Pisoni wines (and wines others make from Pisoni grapes) as Garyesque. We met at son Mark’s farmhouse, on a dirt road in a Salinas Valley lettuce field,...

    • ROLANDO HERRERA, MI SUEÑO WINERY, BALDACCI FAMILY VINEYARDS, OTHER WINERIES
      (pp. 233-239)

      He was one of the only winemakers I interviewed for this book whom I didn’t know beforehand. But Rolando Herrera forced himself, or at any rate his talent, on me with a bottle of wine (Baldacci 2003 Brenda’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District) that blew me away. That made me want to know more about him. We met up on a paradisaical June morning in 2006 at his own winery, Mi Sueño (“My Dream”), located—like so many others in these pages—in an industrial park, this one in the southern suburbs of Napa. There, Rolando recounted his remarkable...

    • JOHN ALBAN, ALBAN VINEYARDS
      (pp. 241-247)

      John Alban is one of those grower-vintners who is not well known to the public, and his wines, produced in quantities usually below six thousand cases, are mostly sold out in advance. But among his winemaker peers, both in California and abroad, Alban is regarded as a minor deity. His name crops up time and again in conversations with vintners for whom he has been both role model and inspiration, particularly for the Rhône-style varieties he pioneered in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo County. We covered a wide range of topics during several visits I made there during...

    • JAVIER TAPIA MEZA, CEÀGO VINEGARDEN
      (pp. 249-255)

      In August 2006 we sat and talked on the beach at Ceàgo Vinegarden, the winery on Clear Lake that Jim Fetzer had begun five years earlier. I had known Jim when he ran Fetzer Vineyards, before the family sold it, and I knew of his interest in organic and biodynamic grape growing. Thus, when I wanted to include a biodynamic winemaker in this book, I thought of Jim. I did not at that time know Javier Tapia Meza, Ceàgo’s Chilean-born director of viticulture and winemaking, so I traveled up to Lake County to meet him. Javier had approached biodynamics skeptically,...

    • GINA GALLO, GALLO FAMILY VINEYARDS
      (pp. 257-264)

      After a series of postponements—she’s a busy woman—we finally met in spring 2006, not in a vineyard or winery, but in the modern offices of the Wine Institute in downtown San Francisco, which Gallo was passing through on her way to Burgundy. Tall, slender, and fashionable, with an engaging frankness, Gallo—granddaughter of Julio, grand-niece of Ernest—talked about her role in the family business and what it’s like to have what is arguably the most famous last name in American wine.

      Are you a hands-on, get-wet-in-the-cellar winemaker?

      Definitely. That’s where my passion is. But I also enjoy...

  10. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 265-272)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 273-285)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 286-286)