Violet Grgich

Full Transcript

Doug Shafer:
00:00:00
Hey, everybody, Doug Shafer. Welcome back to The Taste. Today's guest's from a well-known, longtime, top quality Napa winery. I'd like to welcome a fellow vintner, who's followed a very similar path as mine, working side by side with her father to produce great wines, Violet Grgich of Grgich Hills. Welcome.

Violet Grgich:
00:00:20
Thank you so much, Doug. It's a pleasure to be here.

Doug Shafer:
00:00:23
Yeah. I appreciate you taking the time. We're still finishing up harvest. So, um, thanks so much and really been looking forward to this to talking to you, a lot to cover. Grgich Hills has been around for 45 years if my, did my math, right. And so a lot of stories both you, your dad, and a lot of family history, mostly around wine, so I think we should start way, way back and with your dad and his family.

Violet Grgich:
00:00:48
For those who, who may not know, Mike Grgich, Violet's dad, was one of the founders of Grgich Hills winery, ah, but a long time before that, he was born in the '20s in Croatia and his father was a winemaker. Is that right? Did I get that right, Violet?

Violet Grgich:
00:01:02
You sure did.

Doug Shafer:
00:01:03
So, talk to me, how far back does winemaking go with you guys?

Violet Grgich:
00:01:08
Winemaking is sort of part of Croatian peasant blood. My father grew up in a very small, very poor village in Dalmatia, which is the coastal region of Croatia, and especially well-known for its wines, but pretty much everybody there made everything that they produced.

Violet Grgich:
00:01:25
One of the most important things was wine. You drink wine every day, um, not just because you liked it, but because it, there was actually a practical reason, the water was often known to make you sick. So, if you mix it up with wine, you not only would not get sick, but it'd be a lot easier working in the fields. So, wine was something that was, you know, they didn't have a winery, you know, the kids, you know, all stomped grapes. My dad talks about how he went from stomping grapes and, and actually enjoying it, but he also went, I guess, from going from breast milk to wine. So, that's how he started.

Doug Shafer:
00:01:59
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:01:59
And I guess he thought that this was very exciting and very passionate. His dad was known as the best winemaker in the village.

Doug Shafer:
00:02:06
I think that's really cool. Everybody's making wine. Now...

Violet Grgich:
00:02:11
Absolutely.

Doug Shafer:
00:02:12
So, he was making, so, he was part of making wine from as far as he can remember, that's what you're telling me.

Violet Grgich:
00:02:33
Literally, and I think before he can remember. So, you know, the parents would throw, especially the young kids and the grape vats and they were self-contained and they didn't need to worry about running after while they were off harvesting. So, you know, childcare and work at the same time.

Doug Shafer:
00:02:49
I love it. I love it. I love that whole idea about you gotta drink wine every day at every meal just to, you know, for your health reasons. So, I'm gonna try that. I'm going to run that up the flag at home and see if it works. 

Violet Grgich:
00:02:58
He’s 99. So, he definitely, it definitely works, so …

Doug Shafer:
00:03:02
I won't, yeah, I won't get much work done, but, you know, if you cut it 50/50 with water, that's not bad. That works. That makes sense.

Violet Grgich:
00:03:08
Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:03:09
Yeah. Okay. All right. I'll try that one. So, as he grew up, he had a tough go, he and his family. They were living a challenging place to live with World War Two in the communist takeover. Can you tell me some of the things he and his family went through?

Violet Grgich:
00:03:25
He actually went through quite a bit. Originally, starting with his father and going to World War One. The average number of kids in the village was 16 and his father was away for five years. And therefore, they only had 11 children, but his mom single handedly, you know, did all the work and you know for the family and the village and then once the Italians came over and took over Dalmatia, he had a number of experiences where he was absolutely certain he was going to get killed. He was, you know, held at gunpoint. He was arrested. He was interrogated. He was mistaken for a communist guerrilla by the same name of Milenko Grgich, but he ended up surviving.

Violet Grgich:
00:04:08
Finally, I think when the Germans came, they burned his village down and to this day, you can still see the ruins of the house he was born in. It's mostly, mostly stone but one of these days, if I have a chance, I'd love to rebuild that and bring it back into use again.

Doug Shafer:
00:04:24
Wow. Wow. What a, what a, what a childhood. How tough.

Violet Grgich:
00:04:28
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:04:30
And then, but, but he, he survived, as you said, he moved on and he ended up at the studying wine into university. Is that correct?

Violet Grgich:
00:04:40
That's correct. He actually started studying business and because he heard they needed bookkeepers. And after he worked for a year for the town of Metkovic, which was close to where the town he grew up, he realized that all he had for his troubles was a cabinet full of papers and decided he didn't want to end his life with 70 cabinets full of papers and went back to wine because he actually had a passion for wine. He had a ha -- And it's, you know, wine is something that brings you close to nature between grape growing and winemaking. And so he ended up studying Viticulture and Enology at the University of Zagreb, which is the capital of Croatia.

Doug Shafer:
00:05:18
Wow. And then, okay, so Croatia-California, how does that happen?

Violet Grgich:
00:05:24
Mm-hmm.

Violet Grgich:
Doug Shafer:                 00:05:24
I mean, come on. I mean, I mean, there's Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and that's really create wine regions close by. I mean, what do you doing?

Violet Grgich:
00:05:33
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:05:34
Especially back then, because this was when he got out of school, what time period are we talking about?

Violet Grgich:
00:05:42
So, we're talking about the late '40s, early '50s.

Doug Shafer:
00:05:46
Right. So, California.

Violet Grgich:
00:05:47
And-

Doug Shafer:
00:05:47
Yeah, it wasn't on the map. So, how did...

Violet Grgich:
00:05:50
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:05:50
... how do you, how do you get to California and why California? I'm just fascinated by that one.

Violet Grgich:
00:05:55
Well, it actually was Napa Valley specifically. And that's a pretty amazing story. His favorite professor actually ended up taking a year of sabbatical to UC Berkeley, of all places. And now, of course, the communists are completely in control at this point and they are always and that said horrible things about the United States and what it was like and how terrible it was. And so when his professor finally came back, he wanted to know, well, what exactly is the United States like.

Violet Grgich:
00:06:26
And his professor was very reluctant to speak to him because, again, communist spies. They could get in pretty big trouble. Turned out, he actually did get into big trouble, but he told my dad that America was a place where you could actually achieve your dreams and he told him that Napa Valley was paradise. He'd been there. He was impressed. He recognized that the terrain, the geography, the climate, and that literally inspired my dad.

Violet Grgich:
00:06:56
So, when his professor finally got into trouble and was retired early, and he, my dad also heard the secret police were after him, he ended up escaping to Germany. He had, actually, the very first year that they issued United Nations visas for students to go and study and then come back after the summer.

Doug Shafer:
00:07:18
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:07:18
And he already had this visa, but he ended up leaving earlier than he was expected to. He didn't quite finish his master's degree and he fled. And he'd been collecting American dollars, because he knew he wanted to go to Napa Valley, but he actually had somebody sew those into the soul of a shoe. So he escaped. He was actually in Germany for over four years. He worked with a family called the Franks. They had a large farm. They actually developed seeds.

Violet Grgich:
00:07:49
So he worked on the farm, always trying to figure out how was he going to get to Napa Valley. And it turns out that, well, it's, it's, it's a long story, and actually a lot of details in his book, which is called A Glass Full of Miracles, but he ended up accepting a visa to Canada. Couldn't get the American one, but he figured Canada was next door and apparently they had a need of lumberjacks in the Yukon.

Violet Grgich:
00:08:13
So he actually, he actually got a visa to become a lumberjack. And for those of you guys who...

Doug Shafer:
00:08:18
Yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:08:18
... know my dad...

Doug Shafer:
00:08:19
Yeah, no.

Violet Grgich:
00:08:20
... he was pretty short.

Doug Shafer:
00:08:21
He, he's-

Violet Grgich:
00:08:21
You can't really imagine him being a lumberjack. It's pretty funny. (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
00:08:23
No. I, no, that's of that, I can't get, I can't get there, but no, Violet, this is crazy. I, I, got to roll, roll the tape back, that he heard the secret police were after him. What were they after him for?

Violet Grgich:
00:08:33
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:08:33
What were they, what was going on?

Violet Grgich:
00:08:35
Because his professor had spoken to him.

Doug Shafer:
00:08:41
Ah. I see.

Violet Grgich:
Violet Grgich:                00:08:41
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:08:41
So-

Violet Grgich:
00:08:41
And it's, it was, you know, growing up, my dad was concerned about communist spies in America. He was concerned about ensuring that he would remain free. And in fact, he never dared to go back to Croatia because he'd heard what had happened to some people that he knew, some Croatians he knew through the communist government and he didn't go back until Croatia had actually declared independence from the state of Yugoslavia.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:04
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:09:04
And that was in 1991.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:07
Wow. And so he-

Violet Grgich:
00:09:08
Yeah. And he hadn't-

Doug Shafer:
00:09:09
So he fled. I'm interrupting. I apologize, but geez...

Violet Grgich:
00:09:12
It's okay.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:12
I mean, I mean, you know, he left his parents, his mom, his brothers and sisters. He just, he took off. I mean...

Violet Grgich:
00:09:19
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:19
... that's, that's tough. That's really tough.

Violet Grgich:
00:09:21
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:22
Yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:09:22
And not knowing if you'd ever see them again.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:26
And then Germany for four years, working on a farm...

Violet Grgich:
00:09:30
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:30
... but he still had Napa Valley. And, you know, I didn't know all this.

Violet Grgich:
00:09:31
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:31
This is fascinating. Okay, so he's in Canada, and then somehow...

Violet Grgich:
00:09:35
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:35
... he gets, somehow he gets across the border.

Violet Grgich:
00:09:38
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:39
How do you do that?

Violet Grgich:
00:09:40
So, he placed an ad in the Wine Institute, and ah, he said, he was, he would work for $100 a month. I know it's hard to imagine, but so he ended up being hired by Lee Stewart at Souverain Cellars. I don't know if any of your listeners know of Lee Stewart. For my dad's book, it was almost impossible to find a photograph because he was such a humble man, but Warren Winiarski of Stag's Leap also worked with Lee Stewart as part of his education, learning how to make wine. So...

Doug Shafer:
00:10:09
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:10:09
... that's how he made it to Napa Valley. And what was amazing was that his very first morning, he shows up at Souverain Cellars and he's in shock because he sees a vineyard and it looks exactly like his native grape Plavac mali that grows in Croatia.

Doug Shafer:
00:10:27
Okay.

Violet Grgich:
00:10:27
So he thought, "What is this? I've arrived in Napa. I don't know anybody yet and yet I have a friend in these vines." Later on, it was found out through his efforts that Zinfandel actually originated in Croatia, and was the parents of that Plavac mali grape.

Doug Shafer:
00:10:43
That's right. And then, do you guys still make Zinfandel, Grgich?

Violet Grgich:
00:10:46
We, we absolutely do.

Doug Shafer:
00:10:48
There you go.

Violet Grgich:
00:10:49
It's not, it's not the kind of Zinfandel that most people think of California Zinfandel is. Ours is lighter. It's got amazing balance and in fact, one time it won a pinot noir competition.

Doug Shafer:
00:10:58
(laughs) There you go, I love that.

Violet Grgich:
00:11:00
So, not your, not your typical Zinfandel.

Doug Shafer:
00:11:01
I love it. So, he shows up in California, I think it's around late '50s, right? '58, something like that? Is that about the right time?

Violet Grgich:
00:11:09
'58. It's-

Doug Shafer:
00:11:10
Yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:11:11
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:11:11
So, I mean, he gets in, um, he, boy, and, and, how is, did he speak English?

Violet Grgich:
00:11:19
He did.

Doug Shafer:
00:11:20
Okay.

Violet Grgich:
00:11:20
He did. He actually had a great education. He spoke English, of course, with an accent. And that remains to this day. So, some, sometimes he puts on a little heavier accent just for fun, you know, but ah-

Doug Shafer:
00:11:32
That's, yeah, that's when he has the twinkle in his eye. I've seen that.

Violet Grgich:
00:11:35
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:11:35
I've seen that play.

Violet Grgich:
00:11:36
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:11:38
But no, no career as a lumberjack. You skipped over that, which was good. That makes sense.

Violet Grgich:
00:11:42
No. No. Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:11:43
But you mentioned this, so he, I didn't realize he had a book out. Um, can you tell me the title again, so people can look for it? That's-

Violet Grgich:
00:11:49
Absolutely. It's called A Glass Full of Miracles.

Doug Shafer:
00:11:54
Okay, good.

Violet Grgich:
00:11:55
And it's both here at the winery and also on Amazon.

Doug Shafer:
00:11:58
All right. Good.

Violet Grgich:
00:11:58
But, yeah, I'm, I'm, going to send you a book or maybe drop it off in person because I haven't seen you in ages.

Doug Shafer:
00:12:05
You know, I, I'd-

Violet Grgich:
00:12:05
And I think you'll enjoy it.

Doug Shafer:
00:12:06
I'd love to read it. Thank you. I appreciate that.

Violet Grgich:
00:12:08
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:12:09
So, he's at Souverain. And then, now, that was Souverain here in Napa, because there I know there was one in Sonoma, I think, but this, it was...

Violet Grgich:
Violet Grgich:                00:12:16
Correct.

Violet Grgich:
Doug Shafer:                 00:12:18
... it's Souverain, that's where Rutherford Hill is now, correct? Is that right?

Violet Grgich:
00:12:20
It's actually Burgess.

Doug Shafer:
00:12:22
Okay, okay.

Violet Grgich:
00:12:22
So, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:12:22
It's Burgess.

Violet Grgich:
00:12:24
Tom Burgess ended up buying the winery, changing the name to Burgess. And my understanding is how Lee got the name was, I guess he picked it out. He had ah, a few names and ah he gave it to his daughter to, to take to her class and have them all pick out of a hat. And so that's the one that they picked, which coincidentally is how I got my name. So, I guess my dad thought that was a rather charming American thing to do.

Doug Shafer:
00:12:50
That's a good one. So he's, he's here early on. He's here way before, you know the '70s and all that. So who, who were some of the folks that he worked with in making wine? And, and...

Violet Grgich:
00:13:01
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:13:02
... um, I know, because I know he worked with a bunch of folks. Can you help us out with that one?

Violet Grgich:
00:13:06
Absolutely. So, first was Lee Stewart. He essentially worked harvest and then after harvest wasn't needed, so, he then went to work for Christian Brothers. And that was a family connection. He actually ended up coming to America and actually getting a job in Canada. When the lumberjack thing didn't work out, um, his nephew, who was a priest in Washington, connected him with ah, Vancouver University, and he became a dishwasher. So that's how he got out of being a lumberjack, but...

Doug Shafer:
00:13:37
(laughing).

Violet Grgich:
00:13:37
... he also made a connection with him with Christian brothers. And so we worked with Brother Timothy for a year.

Violet Grgich:
00:13:43
I think most people have heard about Brother Timothy. And after that, he had the opportunity to work with Andre Tchelistcheff. And he'd actually heard of Andre. He had heard that he was the only vintner who actually had studied at the Pasteur Institute in France, that ah, the Marquis de Pins had brought him over to help improve the quality of Beaulieu Vineyard's wines and he definitely was one who literally brought both science and art to winemaking.

Violet Grgich:
00:14:12
Especially because, you know, after Prohibition, things never really came back to the way they used to be prior and Andre was a huge force in ensuring that that happened. Um, he was known as the Dean of California winemakers. He had so many students, it's impossible to count them and he was teaching even, you know, until his death but that's from what I have heard. So he was very inspirational for my father, and he really wanted to meet him.

Violet Grgich:
00:14:38
And after a few months, when Andre finally granted him an audience, um, he was shocked because he spoke to him in Croatian. My dad was, "How, how was that you speak Croatian?"

Doug Shafer:
00:14:49
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:14:49
He said, "Well, you know, after our family fled, they were on the wrong side of the war in Russia." And I guess he worked as a traveling musician and singer and dancer in circuses throughout Croatia, throughout Yugoslavia. So, the language-

Doug Shafer:
00:15:04
Wait, wait, wait, Andre Tchelistcheff did?

Violet Grgich:
00:15:07
Yes. Yes. So ah that-

Doug Shafer:
00:15:09
Okay. That's a new one. I haven't heard that one.

Violet Grgich:
00:15:12
That's a new one.

Doug Shafer:
00:15:13
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:15:13
So, yeah. So he, my dad, worked for him for nine years. And he really, really loved it. He learned so much from him. He always says every single person that he worked for and worked with, he learned from. Everybody's, you know, something a little bit different. And with Andre, Andre was so passionate about wine, in terms of just quality, but also in terms of the science, in terms of the research as well. So, he and Andre, while he was there, actually developed the process of utilizing Millipore filtration for fil-, filtering devices...

Violet Grgich:
00:15:50
... that they'd heard about it. Nobody had been able to do it successfully. They were the first ones who did it successfully. Ah, they also worked on developing yeast. So, he and Andre, I think, worked on, I, I think, it was the, the, what do you call it, the, the French, the French white...

Doug Shafer:
00:16:04
Mm-hmm. Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:16:04
... that's became a standard that was used in winemaking.

Doug Shafer:
00:16:08
For a long time, yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:16:08
We developed that. Exactly, also conducted the first industrially induced malolactic fermentation, which was also pretty much. So, it was, there was always innovation there, but also a lot of passion and that's something that my dad had naturally, I think, as a Croatian person, but also being a scientist, when you're able to combine those things, you created some greater, you know, greater than the sum of its parts.

Doug Shafer:
00:16:35
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:16:35
So.

Doug Shafer:
00:16:36
I can picture those two working together. I can...

Violet Grgich:
00:16:38
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:16:38
I can see it and that was...

Violet Grgich:
00:16:40
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:16:40
... that was before anything really hit and that, you know, that filtration thing is big because, you know, the, it didn't really happen, I don't think in this state until people figured out the filtering thing, because you had wines that would go, you know, go weird and go off in the bottle, and it wouldn't be that good.

Violet Grgich:
00:16:57
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:16:57
So getting, getting clean, sound wines was a big step to, you know, getting better and better quality just so people could know...

Violet Grgich:
00:17:04
Right.

Doug Shafer:
00:17:04
... that know that it was going to be solid. I mean, um.

Violet Grgich:
00:17:07
Right, and, and actually talking about clean, that was another thing that he learned from Lee Stewart. Lee Stewart was extraordinarily precise. He had learned from Andre Tchelistcheff. He'd written everything down in a notebook, and he religiously followed every single little thing. He also was completely um, um, phobic about microbes, and everything was always cleaned, was always sterilized. And my dad realized, especially coming to BV, that one of the reasons that wines were inconsistent in terms of quality was lack of that sterility...

Doug Shafer:
00:17:42
Mm-hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:17:43
... not just sterility, but also you want to top your tanks up, you want to top your barrels up. You don't want to leave that air that can expose, um, again, additional microbial growth that can spoil the wines.

Doug Shafer:
00:17:54
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:17:55
So, it was, there was a lot of stuff that he learned and it was very exciting. And I realize he didn't end with, with Andre Tchelistcheff, but it's funny because he said, "Well, you know, Andre had a son and his son was, I'm sure, gonna take over, so I needed to go somewhere else." So where does he go, but Robert Mondavi who has two sons and a daughter...

Doug Shafer:
00:18:16
(laughing).

Violet Grgich:
00:18:17
... um, but um, Robert really, really wanted my dad to come work for him. He was impressed with what he had done at, at Beaulieu Vineyards. He knew that, ah, Andre was especially known for his red wines. His private reserved, De Latour Cabernet, Georges de Latour Cabernet, Robert had more experience with white wines. And so, when my dad came to Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi, he brought that knowledge with him. And in fact, he was the one that made the wine that put Robert Mondavi on the map, and that was the 1969 Cabernet.

Doug Shafer:
00:18:51
Got it.

Violet Grgich:
00:18:51
So, yeah, that was a...

Doug Shafer:
00:18:53
Yeah. That was a lot.

Violet Grgich:
00:18:53
... a lot of people's have forgotten that, you know.

Doug Shafer:
00:18:55
Yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:18:55
My, my dad's not just a, you know, one song wonder, as they call it, or one hit wonder. So he started with the Cabernet there. He also made Robert Mondavi's very first Fume Blanc.

Doug Shafer:
00:19:05
Okay.

Violet Grgich:
00:19:05
Robert, most people don't know, most people think of Robert Mondavi as a winemaker and as a force of nature and it's absolutely true that he's a force of nature, but he really was a marketer.

Violet Grgich:
00:19:18
And so, not only, you know, he, he was more instrumental in making Napa Valley famous probably even than the Paris tasting, even though that, that, that literally put it on the map, but just that alone wouldn't have done it without Robert's belief that Napa could someday produce wines that could be as good as the French.

Doug Shafer:
00:19:35
Oh, yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:19:35
And so, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:19:36
That was...

Violet Grgich:
00:19:37
So that-

Violet Grgich:
Doug Shafer:                 00:19:38
That was the speech, you know. He gave it forever and it just...

Violet Grgich:
00:19:40
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:19:41
... you know, it worked and would, was just he believed it and, and he shared as you know, you know, they've, Mondavi always shared their ideas with everybody. You know, I'm, if he helped me out, I remember going over there and talking to a guy one time.

Violet Grgich:
00:19:53
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:19:54
So big leader, but don't wanna get too far ahead. I want to back up a sec. So tell me about your mom. What's her story?

Violet Grgich:
00:20:08
Well, my mom actually, they met in Croatia and it's a very interesting story. My mom's younger sister, and my dad's niece happened to be best friends.

Doug Shafer:
00:20:17
Okay.

Violet Grgich:
00:20:18
And when his niece was going to school in ah, in Split, which is where they lived at the time, and also at that time, the war was going on. And so they had, she lived with the family. And apparently, at one point, as a young teenager, she went to visit her friend in her home, hometown, which is the little village where my dad was born and apparently, she was traveling first by boat, and then by train, and there happened to be a gentleman who was sitting next to her and asked her, "So, where are you going?" and "Oh," you know.

Violet Grgich:
00:20:55
So he was asking a lot of questions and she was a little scared, but it turns out that once they got there, her, he, he said, so, so, you know, "Where are you going?" And she says, "Well, I'm, I send it. You know, I'm going to see my friend." "Oh, where is she?" "Oh, she's in Desna." "Oh, and how do you know she's going to be there?" "Well, I sent a telegram." She didn't get. "When did you send it?"

Violet Grgich:
00:21:16
So, interestingly enough, because, you know, he knew that the telegram wouldn't get there for four days and turn, turns out that when she's there, turns out that this gentleman happens to be my dad.

Doug Shafer:
00:21:27
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:21:27
And so he ended up introducing her to and bringing her over to his, her, his niece. And so that's, that's sort of how the families met. And, in fact, her friend, whose name is Yelets Jeramaz, her son is my cousin, Ivo Jeramaz, who is our vice president and winemaker and responsible for our vineyards.

Doug Shafer:
00:21:51
Right. And Ivo has been there...

Violet Grgich:
00:21:51
So-

Doug Shafer:
00:21:51
... for a long time. Totally. Yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:21:52
For a long time, since 1986.

Doug Shafer:
00:21:53
Yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:21:54
Yes. Yup. Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:21:56
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:21:56
So it's a family connection and he came, of course, first, and then in 1962, she came about a month before they were married. And then, I came along in 1965 and had a really wonderful upbringing, you know. I spent so much time with both of my parents. My dad used to take me with him everywhere in the vineyards and the winery. Um, I remember when he was at Mondavi, he used to have his office and the lab up in the tower. And it was so much fun, because there were these rickety wooden stairs that lead up, you know, circular stair up to the tower and I always felt like Rapunzel...

Doug Shafer:
00:22:33
(laughing).

Violet Grgich:
00:22:33
... and, you know, it was out of a fairy tale because it was so, so fun. And, yeah, I remember Tim Mondavi making me paper airplanes, and it was, it was really fun and I especially enjoyed Chateau Montelena growing up because they had a beautiful lake ... with these fabulous islands and these amazing pagodas. The wreck of a junk on the edge and this castle that, you know, in the, in the mountain and it was just, it was a kid's paradise.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:02
Well, and young adults, we used to, we used to have these toga parties after harvest. So that was a whole different experience, but it was up there on the lake.

Violet Grgich:
00:23:09
Oh, wow.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:11
Oh, yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:23:12
I never, I never got to go to those.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:13
Well, you were too young, my friend. Come on. You know.

Violet Grgich:
00:23:15
I guess, I guess. Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:18
Yeah. It was, yeah. And, and then we got too old to do it, but they were, they were pretty wild. Anyway, so, so your dad, so you're growing up, you're just, you're living it. He's a, he's at Mondavi. So he was at BV for you, I think you said nine years or not that long?

Violet Grgich:
00:23:30
Nine years.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:32
Nine years.

Violet Grgich:
00:23:33
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:33
And then went to Mondavi and put them on the map with the Fume Blanc and that nine, 69 cap. So how long was he at Mondavi? I think, four or five years?

Violet Grgich:
00:23:41
My gosh. Yeah, a little, a little more than that. I have to...

Doug Shafer:
00:23:44
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:23:45
... divide my easy math here, but his first vintage at Chateau Montelena was a '72.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:50
Right. So-

Violet Grgich:
00:23:51
So, yeah.

Violet Grgich:
Doug Shafer:                 00:23:51
Yeah. How do you, how'd that switch happen from Mondavi, which was, you know, the place at that time to Montelena, which is just starting, I think, at that point in time.

Violet Grgich:
00:24:00
Right, right. And it actually hadn't started yet.

Doug Shafer:
00:24:03
Okay.

Violet Grgich:
00:24:03
So my dad had, they did some custom crushing. And at this point, Robert Mondavi had started out pretty small...

Doug Shafer:
00:24:10
Mm-hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:24:10
... but they've been growing really, really quickly. And, um, I remember my dad hiring Zelma Long as, um, as his assistant, and at some point, she would say, "How come, why is it here that every time I drive by your, you know, I see your car parked at the winery, you're there, you're always there. You're working too much. You needed," you know.

Doug Shafer:
00:24:28
(laughing).

Violet Grgich:
00:24:29
So, I guess, I guess at some point Lee Paschich, she was one of the owners of, of Chateau Montelena also owned a vineyard and he would bring his Chardonnay to Mondavi to have it custom crushed. So, he knew that my dad made that '69 Cabernet and he, as well as the other partners who were Ernie Hahn, and Jim Barrett, they were mostly fond of red bo, red Bordeaux, and that's, they wanted to make Cabernet.

Violet Grgich:
00:24:56
And because my dad had made that '69 Cabernet for Mondavi, they wanted to snag him. So he, ah, he interviewed with them and thought it might be interesting and then he went back to Robert Mondavi and said, "Well, Robert, what do you think? You know, these guys are offering me an opportunity to become a limited partner. You know, I really enjoyed here, but this is a great opportunity. How do you feel about it?" And he said, "Mike, you need to do what your, where your heart leads you. They sound like a good group of guys. If it works out, fabulous. If not, please come back because you'll always have a home here."

Doug Shafer:
00:25:29
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:25:29
And, ah, so yeah, very...

Doug Shafer:
00:25:31
That's... I've never heard that.

Violet Grgich:
00:25:32
... very -

Doug Shafer:
00:25:33
That's really cool. That's so nice.

Violet Grgich:
00:25:35
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:25:36
That's good.

Violet Grgich:
Violet Grgich:                00:25:36
Mm-hmm. Yeah. He was well known for his, his generosity...

Doug Shafer:
00:25:40
Mm-hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:25:41
... and his, you know, working with other, with other vintners and sharing everything, you know. I mean, what other person would, you know, give a group of vintners and say, "Here's my wine. Tell me, what do you think I could improve and how could I do that?" You know, vintners don't usually do that. At least, not for a long time.

Doug Shafer:
00:25:56
No. No.

Violet Grgich:
00:25:57
I feel, I feel, things have definitely changed. So-

Doug Shafer:
00:25:59
Yeah, I mean, well, '73, that's when we, we moved out here from Chicago.

Violet Grgich:
00:26:05
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:26:06
I think there were only 20 wineries in the Valley...

Violet Grgich:
00:26:08
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:26:08
... at that time. So it was pretty small, small community.

Violet Grgich:
00:26:13
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:26:13
So, okay, so he makes the move to Montelena, which is exciting. He makes this '73 Chardonnay, which is kind of famous, and there's a story behind it. And so for those of you who haven't heard about the Paris tasting, Violet, if you don't mind, can you fill us in?

Violet Grgich:
00:26:30
So, the Paris tasting or otherwise known as the Judgment of Paris happened in 1976 and it was organized by an Englishman who owned a wine shop and wine school, and his, his partner. So that was Steven Spurrier and Patricia Gallagher and they were mostly selling to expatriates. I mean, what Frenchman in their right mind would actually buy French wine from an Englishman. I mean, crazy, nuts.

Violet Grgich:
00:26:58
So he wanted to drum up a little bit of publicity. And he and Patricia had been going to California and had been really impressed with some of the wines that they were trying. So they thought it would be really fun, since it also happened to be the American Bicentennial, to introduce the French to what was going on in California, and also to, you know, drum up some publicity for their wine shop and wine school.

Violet Grgich:
00:27:24
So they decided to make it more interesting and really stack the, stack the deck by introducing literally the best French white burgundies and red Bordeaux. So he literally rigged the tasting so that the French would win, and then send out invitations to all the press and the press sort of looked at this and went, "Well, this isn't an event. The French are going to win.

Doug Shafer:
00:27:50
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:27:50
Why should we bother and waste our time?" And so, the one, ah, press person who did attend happen to be a rookie journalist from Time magazine, and being a rookie, he's like, "Well, it doesn't make sense, but you know, if I don't have anything better to do, I'll show up." And he had nothing better to do and turns out he was the only journalist at the tasting...

Doug Shafer:
00:28:11
(laughing).

Violet Grgich:
00:28:11
... and because he was the only one, he got the list of the wines.

Doug Shafer:
00:28:15
Oh, wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:28:16
And at first, he also thought, "Yeah, this is going to be boring for us. The French are gonna win." So he not only Steven, Patricia not only stacked with the best French wines, but they also got the most talented French vintners, chefs, professionals, professionals, and they did a blind tasting so they didn't know what they were drinking. And for a while, you know, what's his name, George Taber.

Doug Shafer:
00:28:44
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:28:44
You know, just sort of stood by and listened. And then all of a sudden, he started hearing something interesting. "Ah, this wine has no nose. It must be Californian."

Doug Shafer:
00:28:53
(laughing).

Violet Grgich:
00:28:53
And he looked down and he's like, "Oh my gosh, that's one of the top French wines."

Doug Shafer:
00:28:59
Oh, 'coz he had the, he had the list. Yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:29:01
He had the list.

Doug Shafer:
00:29:02
Yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:29:03
And then, "Ah, finally, back to, back to France." And like, "Uh-oh, that's Napa."

Doug Shafer:
00:29:08
Right. (laughing).

Violet Grgich:
00:29:08
So like, "This is getting interesting." So, it turns out that first they tasted the whites and then the reds. My dad's '73 Montelena came in as the top scoring wine in the entire competition. And Warren Winiarski's Stag's Leap Cabernet won the red portion. And George wrote an article, a small article in Time Magazine, which I guess they ended up calling it the shot that was heard around the world...

Doug Shafer:
00:29:33
Right. Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:29:35
... and horrified, French were horrified. Several of the tasters ended up forcefully trying to get their ballots back. Steven was like, literally, physically kicked out of places in France because the French just could not believe that he had done something to them. You know, it was awful.

Doug Shafer:
00:29:53
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:29:53
And whereas, you know, Americans were not really known for being wine drinkers. You know, as my dad says, "Well, they drink milk. How can you, how can you drink milk?"

Doug Shafer:
00:30:01
(laughs).

Violet Grgich:
00:30:01
Milk's a food, you know. And so, uh, it, it literally created a wave that sort of kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And on the East Coast, people were more familiar with wines and enjoying wine every day. I drank wine every day. I grew up on it. That's, that's what I drank, along with my parents. For some reason, kids at school, were wondering why it was, you know, “Gosh, your mom cooks?" Like, well, how do you eat otherwise? Um, I guess they grew up on TV dinners.

Violet Grgich:
00:30:28
So, it was a very different, you know, scene on the West Coast. And, you know, it was only special occasions that people drank wine. And that definitely started to change. People became more interested in it, not just as a special beverage, but as something that, you know, eventually, and it took a while, you might be able to enjoy every day as something that's really healthy and enjoyable. And that hey, by the way. It can also be an incredible work of art.

Doug Shafer:
00:30:53
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:30:53
So.

Doug Shafer:
00:30:54
No, it's just, you know, thanks for telling us that story. Because it did really... you know, if the timing was perfect, because grapes for getting replanted after Prohibition, and new wineries are on the scene and new technology led by Mondavi and others, and Andre and your dad. And just the quality was improving. And we got some great, you know, PR from that. And so, people start paying attention.

Violet Grgich:
00:31:19
Um, so, I mean, that's a feather in his cap, and that bottle of 73 'chard. Is it true that... I think it's on display. There's a bottle of it, uh, on display at the Smithsonian Museum.

Violet Grgich:
00:31:30
It is. There is. It was really -

Doug Shafer:
00:31:33
That's, that's pretty cool. I mean...

Violet Grgich:
00:31:35
It is.

Doug Shafer:
00:31:36
Yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:31:36
Well, it's not just the bottle that's there. They also have his suitcase that he-

Doug Shafer:
00:31:41
Oh.

Violet Grgich:
00:31:41
... took to America. His suitcase was full of, actually, textbooks as well as his ebulliometer. He wanted to make sure that when he finally got a job as a winemaker that he kept up with the study. So, you know, while he was working at all these other different jobs in, in Vancouver, um, other guys would take breaks and play bocce ball. And he would be standing by the side and reading his textbooks, just to make sure that he retained all of that knowledge, that his education didn't go to waste.

Violet Grgich:
00:32:11
So the suitcase is there. It's great. I've got... it's, it's wonderful. I have to say having, you know, gone there for the opening of that display, it's an, it's an, it's part of the display as part that includes Julia Child's kitchen. And not only is the bottle there in a suitcase, but his famous beret is there also.

Doug Shafer:
00:32:29
(laughs).

Violet Grgich:
00:32:30
Oh, it's, it's, it's very amazing. And my dad, still to this day, is, is in sort of shock and disbelief that, you know... he's like, "I'm the only other Croatian there, other than Nikola Tesla."

Doug Shafer:
00:32:41
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:32:42
Uh, another thing happened a few... a number of years later, they, um, wrote a book out of all the millions of artifacts that are owned. The Smithsonian put together a book called 101 Objects That Made American history. And that bottle of wine is included in that book.

Doug Shafer:
00:33:00
Yeah, yeah, it's, it's...

Violet Grgich:
00:33:00
So, very, very excited to have that, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:33:04
It, it's he, he got a lot of mileage out of that baby. It's well-deserved. That's cool.

Violet Grgich:
00:33:09
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:33:10
Um, so that was '73. And then, and then '77, um, big change. He, uh, branches out from Montelena. And he gets into his... gets his own winery, um...

Violet Grgich:
00:33:22
Right.

Doug Shafer:
00:33:23
And you were a part of that. You were there. But tell me that story. How did his whole... the whole Grgich Hills Winery come to be?

Violet Grgich:
00:33:31
He had... after the Paris tasting, he had people literally standing in line outside of his door-

Doug Shafer:
00:33:36
Mm-hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:33:36
... saying, "I, I need you. I want you to come be my winemaker."

Doug Shafer:
00:33:39
(laughs).

Violet Grgich:
00:33:39
And, uh, his goal, you know, he was a limited partner at Chateau Montelena with only about 5%. By the time that he left, his contract had expired. Um, and he felt it was about time to start something on his own. And of all the people that, uh, came and, uh, you know, begged him to come on, he thought that Austin Hills from the Hills Brothers Coffee Family was absolutely the best. He had a background in business. They have their own family winery, the Hills Brothers Coffee, uh, Company.

Doug Shafer:
00:34:10
Mm-hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:34:11
And, uh, he also had vineyards. And he was having somebody else make wine for him already. So, it seemed, uh, a match made in heaven. And so, Austin, as well as his sister, Mary Lee Strobel, uh, we became partners and founded... actually, broke the grounds on July 4th of 1977.

Violet Grgich:
00:34:31
And that, that was very symbolic for my father because he truly felt that he had completely achieved. There was nothing greater he could achieve in America than starting his own company and to have it be on Independence Day when having, you know, grown up under the thumb of communism and war, to be able to find this freedom in America was just so incredibly inspirational for him. Uh, I guess he was telling that to a friend, and his friend said, "Well, Mike, you know, don't, don't be so hasty." And like, "Well, why not?" He's "Well, you know, you've, you've got the, the county of Napa. You've got the state of California. You've got the federal government. Don't worry, they are all there in partnership with you."

Doug Shafer:
00:35:16
(laughs) Yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:35:17
So, uh, he still felt it was... he still felt it was well worth it. And, actually, to this day, uh, the thing that he says he's the most proud of is to provide employment for almost 50 people.

Doug Shafer:
00:35:29
Mm-hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:35:30
And with everything that he's achieved, the fact that that's what, you know, he is most proud of is, is very dear to my heart.

Doug Shafer:
00:35:37
Oh, that's, that's so sweet. That's so sweet and so true, you know, um.

Violet Grgich:
00:35:37
It is.

Doug Shafer:
00:35:37
Yeah, I had that opportunity here with folks who have been here a long, long time. And, you know, I've seen their kids grow up.

Violet Grgich:
00:35:47
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:35:47
And, heck, the local sheriff, um, Oscar Ortiz, you know, was the son of our first vineyard foreman, you know. He was, he was eight years old when we moved out here. My dad used to help him with his homework.

Violet Grgich:
00:36:01
Wow.

Doug Shafer:
00:36:01
So, it's great. It's pretty cool to see that. It's, it's nice. So good. Well, I'm with your... I'm with your dad on that one all day long. And, hey. And prepping for this podcast, I came across something I never knew about. And this is this great Chicago showdown of 1980. You obviously know about this.

Violet Grgich:
00:36:18
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:36:18
But, yeah, tell me. It was like, I'd never heard of this thing. That is...

Violet Grgich:
00:36:21
Oh, my gosh. It was, um...

Doug Shafer:
00:36:24
Well, what happened?

Violet Grgich:
00:36:24
So, it was a tasting compiled by... and I'm trying to remember the organization, but they had numerous tasters. They tasted over a period of weeks. And they were, they were all wine professionals. They tasted in many categories, of course, varietals. Uh, it was all, it was all... Sorry, it was all Chardonnay. Uh, they tasted in price categories. They tasted by region. They had, you know, all the semi-finals. And essentially, out of 221 of the best Chardonnays in the world, my dad's came number one.

Doug Shafer:
00:36:54
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:36:54
It was our '77 Chardonnay. So, on the heels of that '76 Paris tasting to then have the '77 win such an award, it was pretty amazing. And, uh, after that, he pretty much became known as the king of Chardonnay.

Violet Grgich:
Doug Shafer:                 00:37:10
Well, he, yeah, he's always the king of Chardonnay. He was you know... he's, you know, he's not a lumberjack. He's a rockstar, trust me.

Violet Grgich:
00:37:17
That's true. That's true.

Doug Shafer:
00:37:18
You know what I mean. Because I was, um... That was right while I was '83. Well, I was late '70s into the '80s. But yeah, Mike Grgich was the guy, Grgich Hill Chardonnay, that was the go-to.

Violet Grgich:
00:37:28
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:37:29
So, for all of us. Um, so thanks for all that about your dad is fascinating. But let's talk about the you. So, you were growing up at the winery. Um, you were doing every- what, what was that like? Were you doing everything? Did he ever have you working in the field, hauling rocks out, would have... what was that like?

Violet Grgich:
00:37:47
Well, it wa- it was pretty much everything. I mean, I did literally grow up in the vineyard and in the winery. So, it wasn't just a Grgich Hills. He would take, when he went to work on the weekends, because I was out of school, I would tag along, uh, to pretty much to, uh, to Mondavi. I don't remember BV. But I do remember Mondavi. I remember Chateau Montelena, especially. And I was really disappointed when we had-

Doug Shafer:
00:38:12
(laughs).

Violet Grgich:
00:38:12
... you know, this, this flat ground. It's by the road. There's no lake. There's no cave.

Doug Shafer:
00:38:17
(laughs).

Violet Grgich:
00:38:18
There's no gazebos. Uh, like, what is this? This is not as fun as the other. But, uh, I did end up starting to work there, um, probably on the bottling line. And I did that for many years. Then I started working. I, I worked, um, harvests. I worked in the laboratory. And I was very much happy there because I didn't have to talk to people. I was not only not social, but I was painfully, painfully, painfully shy. And, uh, as a musician, that was not a very good thing because I had horrible performance anxiety.

Doug Shafer:
00:38:51
Hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:38:51
So, the lab was absolutely great. I could commune with... I can do my titrations and do my SO2s and alcohols. And it was wonderful. And then, then my dad started dragging me out and bringing me to various events now. You know, as a kid, I'd grown up, literally, you know, from the time I was very young, going to vintner dinners, going to wine tastings. You know, my mom and dad would always be there. My mom would always be, you know, absolutely vivacious and stylish and-

Doug Shafer:
00:39:20
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:39:21
... just so incredibly generous. And my dad, when he would open his mouth and speak, everyone's jaws dropped open because he was such an amazing public speaker. And so, I grew up sort of seeing all this from afar, never thinking I would ever be in a position that I had to do it myself. And so, when my dad started trying to get me to do that stuff, it was, it was terrible. It was ... uh, I remember the first time he made me speak in public. And it was ... I remember very well, I was driving him to the Wente Brother's restaurant. And there were two nights of vintner dinners because everything was sold out. So, the second night, I drove him there. And as I'm getting out of the car, he says, "Oh, by the way, tonight, you're going to talk about the Fumé Blanc."

Violet Grgich:
Doug Shafer:                 00:40:04
(laughs).

Violet Grgich:
00:40:06
And immediately, I thought my stomach hit the floor. I'm happy it hit the floor and didn't hit the ceiling. Um, there were 100 people there. They had a podium with a microphone. And, you know, I couldn't eat a thing. I was shaking, a terrible trembling. I got to the podium, and I opened my mouth. And nothing came out.

Doug Shafer:
00:40:25
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:40:26
For the first time in my life, there was literally not a single word in my brain. I searched. I couldn't... nothing finally came out, until I think I said, "Fumé Blanc … nice … questions?"

Doug Shafer:
00:40:42
(laughs).

Violet Grgich:
00:40:43
And so, it was, it was... I, I cannot tell you how horrible I felt. And somebody decided to ask me a very, um, very complex question. And I'm like, "Oh, I can answer that," you know. So, I... and, and it was so easy once they asked me the questions.

Violet Grgich:
Doug Shafer:                 00:40:57
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:40:57
But my dad kept making me do this and making me do this. And I, I cannot remember how many years. If I knew that I had an event six months out, I'd already start getting terrified for it.

Doug Shafer:
00:41:07
Oh.

Violet Grgich:
00:41:08
Oh, my God. I have to speak in front of people, you know. And at some point, I went to New York, and I went to do a seminar with sommeliers. And I was already terrified.

Doug Shafer:
00:41:20
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:41:20
And I, I walked up in the host, asked the hostess where to go. And she sort of looked me up and down very slowly and said, "Well, you know, they ask very difficult questions."

Doug Shafer:
00:41:31
Nice, nice, that's really sweet (laughs).

Violet Grgich:
00:41:33
Oh, really, really nice. So, here I am trembling and getting in there. And, of course, I happen to be wearing pale colors. And I stand up and I swirl a glass of Zinfandel. And it starts at my head and sort of-

Doug Shafer:
00:41:43
Oh.

Violet Grgich:
00:41:44
... goes all the way down... all the way down to my toes. And I'm like-

Doug Shafer:
00:41:47
Oh.

Violet Grgich:
00:41:47
... that's it. Gonna die, that's it. No more for me. And, and for some strange reason, I'm like, nothing worse could have happened. And they didn't throw rotten vegetables at me. And I opened my mouth, and I made a joke. And I, I never make jokes.

Doug Shafer:
00:42:01
(laughs).

Violet Grgich:
00:42:01
And since then, it's been a lot easier. And now, apparently, nobody knows that I'm painfully shy.

Doug Shafer:
00:42:08
There you go.

Violet Grgich:
00:42:08
So, that's, that's a great thing. And, you know, I was, I was mad at my dad about that for a long time. But I have to say it was the best thing he ever did, so-

Doug Shafer:
00:42:17
Well, yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:42:17
... I'm truly grateful.

Doug Shafer:
00:42:20
Yeah, he threw you into it, um.

Violet Grgich:
00:42:21
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:42:21
But you mentioned a little while ago about being a musician. Tell me about that. Was that, was that the major passion or just... or the same as the wine?

Violet Grgich:
00:42:30
Well, for me, I, I had a number of passions. Music was a huge one. Literature, arts, uh, uh, sewing and design, uh, astronomy. I, I had way too many passions, but music was always the one that stood out. And so, when I declared my intent for studying music, um, I, I was told that was not a possibility, because I was going to become a winemaker.

Doug Shafer:
00:42:53
Oh, really?

Violet Grgich:
00:42:54
And, uh, yes.

Doug Shafer:
00:42:56
I was gonna ask you about that. So they, so they laid it on. He laid it on thick, okay. That was good.

Violet Grgich:
00:42:59
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:42:59
All right, all right.

Violet Grgich:
00:43:01
Very, very thick, very thick.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:02
Okay.

Violet Grgich:
00:43:02
How are you going to make a living? Well, like-

Doug Shafer:
00:43:04
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:43:04
... well, most people don't go into winemaking to make a living. So, you know, but... so, it was a long story. But being stubborn Croatians, um, he ended up, uh, the only application that he signed was for UC Davis. So, I went to UC Davis and studied music.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:18
He wouldn't sign up? Oh, that's terrible, I’ll have to talk to him about that.

Violet Grgich:
00:43:22
It's, it's, it's really okay. I actually had a great education at Davis. And the music program was great.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:27
Mm-hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:43:27
When I applied for Indiana University and went through all their entrance exams, I found that I had a better undergraduate education than most people that gone to famous music schools, so-

Doug Shafer:
00:43:37
Hmm, oh, great.

Violet Grgich:
00:43:38
... it all worked out well.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:39
Oh, yeah.

Violet Grgich:
00:43:40
It all worked out well.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:41
Yeah, I was a Davis. I loved it. I got a great education, and not just grapes and wine. It was wonderful. Um, all right. So, UC Davis music and some wine classes, and then Indiana for a master's in music. And then what, did you go out and work somewhere? Or do... is that when you came back to the winery?

Violet Grgich:
00:44:01
Well, I'd actually been away for a while. So, I, I took my time and I went back to... I wasn't sure what I wanted to do exactly when I graduated from Davis. So, of course, came back to the winery. And, and before I knew that, I turned 30. And I was in shock because I assumed that, by 30, I would already have had my doctorate. But I just gotten so busy that, um, I didn't really think about it. So, I, I ended up going back to Indiana University. Uh, my dad's lawyer called me up and said, "Violet, I have to tell you, you are making a big mistake."

Doug Shafer:
00:44:34
Oh, no.

Violet Grgich:
00:44:34
"This is a very bad thing that you're about to do. And now that I've told you what my dad... your dad told me to tell you, I'm gonna say, go girl, have fun. Learn lots."

Doug Shafer:
00:44:43
(laughs) Oh, that's really great.

Violet Grgich:
00:44:44
So, uh...

Doug Shafer:
00:44:45
That's good. That's good.

Violet Grgich:
00:44:46
So, it's really fun. And I, you know, I kept doing... I, I kept, you know, working for the winery. I, I had a whole bunch of report. I kept doing a whole bunch of things administratively. And I would do wine, you know, tastings and vineyard dinners as well. And then by the time I get back, you know, I'd sort of like, hmm, this is actually, I'm really enjoying this. And my dad was like, "Oh, I'm, I'm really proud that my daughter has a master's in music."

Doug Shafer:
00:45:11
Hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:45:12
And so, it sort of all fell into place, you know, a little later than, than either of us thought it would. But, um, I've really been, you know, in love with what I do for the longest time. I, you know, I came back and, you know, did more sales and marketing, more tasting room. I worked in accounting. Uh, so, I pretty much did everything and found that I really enjoyed that ability to do everything, and not just be stuck in one particular area where I only had this very specialized field.

Violet Grgich:
00:45:43
But, uh, you know, and I also had a very different view of business. You know, growing up, I thought that business was dull. It was, uh, not evil necessary, but just it was all about money. And, you know, and then the more I experienced it, the more I realized that it's, it's about people and people working together to create something bigger than themselves and to create something that benefits all of their families.

Violet Grgich:
00:46:09
And that it takes a team to be able to do that. And my dad had always been very much a team player. He's totally a rockstar. But he always talked about hiring people who were smarter than he was.

Doug Shafer:
00:46:21
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:46:21
Always surrounding yourself with the best. He always had a winemaking team. And we continue with this day, you know, he was our winemaker. But we also has... continued to have that winemaking team. And he's always been very much for education for everybody. So, many people hire cellar workers. They don't educate them. They do things. They don't know why they do those things.

Violet Grgich:
00:46:42
They stay at the same pay scale for their entire lives. But here, there's always been... you know, my dad always talked about education. Why it is that you're doing that?

Doug Shafer:
00:46:51
Mm-hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:46:52
Why are you sterilizing that tank? Why is it that it takes you this much time to do that? And then you do that, but you don't do this? I mean, it was... it's always been something that's been very important. And I think that's helped create an atmosphere, kind of different culture here.

Violet Grgich:
00:47:06
You know, it is very family. It's family-owned and family-operated. And we're very, very proud of that. And, uh...

Doug Shafer:
00:47:12
Well, that's and, and that, the whole family aspect, you know, has sometimes has a lot of different... It's a lot of different, just a different attitude, I think, overall.

Violet Grgich:
00:47:21
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:47:21
And that gets shared with the people that work with you. And, uh, it's, um, it's neat to be a part of it, for sure.

Violet Grgich:
00:47:27
Right.

Doug Shafer:
00:47:28
So, you're doing everything. You're there. You're full time. And then I'm doing my research in the mid-90s. Because I do remember reading about this. Um, you guys started, whether it was you or your dad or both of you, start a new winery in Croatia.

Violet Grgich:
00:47:41
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:47:42
Tell me about that one, that whole experience.

Violet Grgich:
00:47:44
So, that actually was my dad.

Doug Shafer:
00:47:46
Okay.

Violet Grgich:
00:47:46
Um, and he, he did bring, bring me and my cousin along. But he went to Croatia, I'd mentioned. He hadn't been until, uh, since, um, 1954.

Violet Grgich:
00:47:56
Just when he left, uh, Yugoslavia. And when he came back in 1991, or '92 I believe it was, many, many prominent Croatians who, you know, made their name, made a fortune, um, outside, uh, of, uh, Yugoslavia, uh, came back and, you know, talked with the government, talked with the president, how can we be of help? How can we help assist you? And, uh, president, uh, talking to my dad said, "Well, you know, you're famous as a winemaker. You should make... have a winery here in Croatia." And my father's idea for founding this, this winery, this small winery, which is going to be a tiny little hobby, and it still is.

Doug Shafer:
00:48:36
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:48:36
Only a few thousand cases. Uh, but his idea was to create an educational winery. Because, after, um, gosh... Croatia used to be known as the premier wine growing region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And then once communism took over, everything just sort of fell apart. And that idea of really producing quality wines, uh, people got out of the habit. They forgot how to do it. And he really wanted to bring that back to Croatia.

Doug Shafer:
00:49:03
Hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:49:03
So, his idea was to create a winery in which people could come and be educated. They can, they can come and work and learn. Learn the techniques. Learn everything that he learned throughout his journey after he left Croatia. And, uh, that was rather interesting, because I think that the, the very first thing that vintners there said to him was, "Why are you putting your wine in, in barik? You may as well be throwing it into the Adriatic. You're spoiling it, you know (laughing)." So, uh, it didn't quite turn out to be the educational experience. But his first wines immediately became known as the Vrhunska Vina, the top wines of Croatia.

Doug Shafer:
00:49:41
Oh, cool.

Violet Grgich:
00:49:41
And he made two wines, one Plavac Mali, which is the grape that he thought he saw outside of Souverain Cellars when you first arrived in Napa, but was actually Zinfandel.

Doug Shafer:
00:49:50
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:49:51
And the other white wine called Pošip.

Doug Shafer:
00:49:53
Okay.

Violet Grgich:
00:49:53
And the winery is called Grgić Vina. We pronounce it Grgich Vina? Uh, it, the only difference in spelling is that there's no "H," but there's an accent over the "C."

Doug Shafer:
00:50:02
Mm-hmm.

Violet Grgich:
00:50:02
That gives it that CH sound. Vina means wines in Croatia. And so, the idea was always to have that connection with our homeland.

Violet Grgich:
00:50:12
Um, the winery is beautiful. We had a major, um, forest fire essentially in 2015. The winery was mostly intact but it ruined our temporary warehouse. And we've lost all of our wines except that which was in barrel and tank. Um, but we rebuilt. We have a beautiful new underground cellar now, a beautiful new tasting room. And I'm working on turning the second floor into a small boutique hotel.

Doug Shafer:
00:50:39
Oh, cool.

Violet Grgich:
00:50:40
It is literally right on the Adriatic. It is such a spectacular location. And due to COVID unfortunately, it's been sort of on, uh, not on backorder but not quite on standstill but still waiting on a lot of things.

Doug Shafer:
00:50:54
Sure, sure.

Violet Grgich:
00:50:54
So, I'm hoping in the next two years to be able to finish that. But the winery is up and running. And it's a gorgeous place to visit. Um, it was my father's project for very many years. And then Ivo is more involved than I am with that. But it's a place that I love to go to and I'm looking forward to finalizing, you know, the hotel and apartments for to be ... Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:51:18
Yeah. Well, let me, let me know when that hotel is open so I can go visit. Now, I'm, I'm really curious about the wines. Are ... Do any of the wines make it over here to the States? Or are they all sold locally?

Violet Grgich:
00:51:29
They actually do make it over the States.

Doug Shafer:
00:51:30
Oh, okay.

Violet Grgich:
00:51:31
So, not only do we bring those wines there but we send Grgich Hills wines over to Croatia.

Doug Shafer:
00:51:36
Oh, cool.

Violet Grgich:
00:51:36
So yes, we have them available. We have both the Posip and the Plavac Mali available here at the winery.

Doug Shafer:
00:51:41
Good, good, good.

Violet Grgich:
00:51:42
And due to some compliance, we're not able to ship them to a lot of the states. But definitely, there's some that we can but always feel free to come to the winery and visit, so.

Doug Shafer:
00:51:56
And, and the winery’s on a great location. It's ... I know it's flat, but it's right, right on the road, right? So, you can't, you can't miss it.

Violet Grgich:
00:52:06
It's very easy. You can't miss it.

Doug Shafer:
00:52:06
You can't, can't miss it.

Violet Grgich:
00:52:06
Can't miss it.

Doug Shafer:
00:52:06
That is so cool. And, um, another thing your dad got involved with was the whole Roots for Peace back in the late '90s. Um, what was that all about?

Violet Grgich:
00:52:16
So, I remember very much my dad went to, um, an event. I ... It was ... I can't quite remember what the event was. But he came back and he said, "I have met a woman. She is a force of nature. And she is working on removing landmines." And my father had always been concerned about the landmines that were, you know, left in Croatia. And so, he became one of her first supporters. Uh, and the very first vineyard that they de-mined, her, her, her line is essentially mines to vines. So, it's essentially taking ... removing mines from agricultural land and turning it into productive land.

Violet Grgich:
00:53:00
Um, and she over the course of these many years developed so that she has quite, um, a body of people who work literally very directly, who teach people how it's not just about removing the land and then giving it back to them but it's teaching them, setting up systems so that they can be productive, efficient, training them. Uh, started in Croatia, has moved on to Vietnam and Afghanistan. Um, has gotten support from the United Nations and from the federal government.

Violet Grgich:
00:53:28
That's ... It's, it's an amazing, really amazing. She was ... Heidi Kuhn is the founder. And she was inspired by the words of Princess Diana. They just celebrated their 25th anniversary this year.

Doug Shafer:
00:53:40
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:53:41
And we've been very, very proud to support them, uh, for all of these many years and we'll continue to do so into the future. And we hope that at some point that there are no more landmines so that her organization might actually become defunct. That would be the best reason for that to happen.

Doug Shafer:
00:53:58
Yeah, that's a good goal. I like that.

Violet Grgich:
00:54:01
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:54:02
Um, and then somewhere along the line, you, you married some guy named Colin. Tell me about that. I don't know this guy. Tell me about your husband.

Violet Grgich:
00:54:09
Well, of course not. He's from Manhattan Beach. I mean, he's a surfer and a skateboarder. Um, so he ... No, I met-

Doug Shafer:
00:54:18
I, I love it.

Violet Grgich:
Violet Grgich:                00:54:19
He really truly. Um, so, he and I met at Indiana University. I was playing harpsichord and he was playing viola da gamba. And he started out actually as a, as a punk rocker and discovered the viola da gamba through a movie called All the Mornings of the World in that it actually introduces Gerard Depardieu to the American audience.

Violet Grgich:
00:54:40
Um, and he played about this composer, a very super frilly fancy French music. So, he's literally gone from one extreme musically to the other. Um, he ended up moving to San Francisco. And, uh, we just started hanging out in 2000 and literally made beautiful music together. So, we got married in 2003, had a son in 2005. And it's been going strong ever since.

Doug Shafer:
00:55:08
That's great.

Violet Grgich:
00:55:08
And we still play music together, so well.

Doug Shafer:
00:55:10
Well, that's good. That's good. I'm glad you're doing that. And the son, the son is, uh, he's ... I think he's my daughter's age, 17, 18.

Violet Grgich:
00:55:16
Yeah.

Violet Grgich:
Doug Shafer:                 00:55:16
So, are we looking at the next, next generation? Are you gonna ... His granddad sat him down and said, um, "This is what you're gonna do?" Or is he able to avoid that?

Violet Grgich:
00:55:27
No. Actually, granddad sat him down and said, "You are very smart and very talented. And do whatever you can. You know, every day, do your best, learn something new and make a friend, follow your passions and you will be able to do whatever you want to in this world." So, I guess it's different when you're a grandparent and when they you're a parent. I, I, I under-, I understand. I'm feeling a bit of that myself, you know.

Violet Grgich:
00:55:54
But I always want to make sure that my son is also surrounded with the best of opportunities and is making the most of them and what- whatever they choose to do in this life and they have many different interests, very, very many for that range of ... wide, wide range of interests and talents. So, all of those at some point can be put to use-

Doug Shafer:
00:56:21
Of course.

Violet Grgich:
00:56:21
... in the future in the wine business, so.

Doug Shafer:
00:56:24
Of course, so. And, you know, following one's passion is, is the secret to, um, you know, happiness.

Violet Grgich:
00:56:30
Right.

Doug Shafer:
00:56:30
Happiness in the, in the work and what you do, so.

Violet Grgich:
00:56:32
Absolutely.

Doug Shafer:
00:56:33
Good. Good, good, good. And 2017, you took over as president, finally, which is great. And so the big question is how is that work with, with, you know, Dad. I know he's probably backed off a little bit lately but, um, is that a pretty smooth transition?

Violet Grgich:
00:56:49
Well, it was actually very interesting. I mean, I'd sort of been doing the work for a long time. Um, you know, always in conjunction with my dad and my cousin Ivo. Ivo had been the winemaker for a long time and he'd been doing the job for a long time as well. And I had always expected him literally on his deathbed to say, you know, "Okay, yeah, time, time for you to take over."

Violet Grgich:
00:57:13
And was frankly in shock when he, when he didn't suggest it. He just announced it at our board meeting. And I imagine it had to do because, you know, we had some fires in 2017. It was a difficult vintage for, for many, many reasons. Um, you know, my dad was evacuated for over a month.

Doug Shafer:
00:57:35
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:57:36
It's surprising his house didn't burn down. He was literally in the middle of the Tubb's Fire. And, you know, as you recall, we were surrounded by fire, by smoke.

Doug Shafer:
00:57:46
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:57:46
We had no smoke taint on our grapes. We have had our ... all of our wines analyzed from 2016 on through 2021. As you know, 2020 was another very difficult smoky vintage.

Doug Shafer:
00:57:59
Right.

Violet Grgich:
00:57:59
With no smoke taint whatsoever which we definitely, um, attribute to our regenerative farming practices. We're also certified organic but it's the regenerative agriculture that really makes all the difference. So, in 2017 also, you know, so many things were happening. And, um, I guess I managed to get us through it. And my dad said, "Well, not bad. You're doing okay. Yeah, yeah," you know (laughs).

Violet Grgich:
00:58:29
So, so, so yeah, it was ... It did still feel very much like a big transition to me because even though I'd already been doing the work, that feeling of, you know, he's the, he's the person who is quite literally the rock star. And, you know, he is a rock star who makes every person that he meets feel like they're the most important person in the world.

Violet Grgich:
00:58:50
Um, when new people come to the tasting room and see him walk in and see the reaction, they're like, "Who is this guy? He's amazing." And, you know, I've personally witnessed so many people telling me about how he's influenced their lives. And my favorite one being, a young gal who told me that, you know, she came to the winery with her parents and she said that no grownup had ever spoken to her like my dad spoke to her. He talked to her like she was a grownup. And he told her that if she work hard and if she work smart, she could someday do anything in this world that she wanted, even become president of the United States.

Doug Shafer:
00:59:30
Wow.

Violet Grgich:
00:59:30
And she said that no pers-, no grownup ever influenced her as much as he did. She came to me I think in her 30s along with her mom who was crying while telling me this story. And I, you know, to me, that that really, you know, he's made such a difference in so many people's lives that people don't realize. And it's, yeah, it's tru- truly remarkable.

Doug Shafer:
00:59:51
No, it's-

Violet Grgich:
00:59:52
I, I can't tell you how many people I've seen cry because they've met him. They've told him a story of ... It's just yeah, it's amazing.

Doug Shafer:
00:59:59
No, I've ... You know, whenever I'd run into him, there was always a story. And it's his eyes ... the, the twinkle in his eye. He's just always, you know-

Violet Grgich:
01:00:05
Right.

Doug Shafer:
01:00:06
He's got something coming. And, and he's got ... He has a big birthday coming up, right? Is that pretty soon?

Violet Grgich:
01:00:11
Yes, he does.

Doug Shafer:
01:00:12
I mean, we're talking a hundred? Is that the right number? So-

Violet Grgich:
01:00:15
A hundred. A hundred in about six months.

Doug Shafer:
01:00:17
Wow. Any, any plans? Are we gonna, are we gonna have a, have a parade or something? What are we gonna do?

Violet Grgich:
01:00:25
Actually, parade is a great idea. But we're definitely having a big party.

Doug Shafer:
01:00:30
Great.

Violet Grgich:
01:00:30
Um, and it's going to be at the winery. And we have a lot of, um, very, very excited people to work with us. Um, Chef ... Iron Chef Morimoto will be participating. He is somebody that's been our friend and colleague for many years. They're both immigrants who, you know, learned. They've worked hard. They've been successful but they've never taken their success for granted. They are humble, um, and their passion for what they do and their passion for the people around them is unparalleled. So, he's excited to be participating.

Violet Grgich:
01:01:03
And, um, yeah, lots, lots more to come on that. But we are super excited as, as he. He, he always set the goal of, of at least reaching a hundred. And even at 99, he has lived longer than any of his ancestors or siblings ... which is still a great accomplishment. And of course, you know, when you ask him why he has lived so long, he says, "Wine and woman (laughs)." Not women, woman.

Doug Shafer:
01:01:30
Well, good recipe. I'll have to keep that one in mind. So, bring me up to speed on what you guys are making and selling these days. What, what varietals and how can people find them? What do you guys ... What's the lineup?

Violet Grgich:
01:01:44
Well, we haven't changed too much but we became 100% estate grown in 2003. And as a result added a few new varietals that are available pretty much only through the wineries such as our Petite Sirah. Um, but we're still most famous for our Chardonnay and for our Cabernet.

Violet Grgich:
01:02:01
Um, over the years, we've added special selections, different tiers of wines that are available through a wine club, um, and to visitors who visit the winery. But I love, I love talking or hearing people's stories about our wines because the, the compliment I hear the most is, "I hate Chardonnay but I love yours." And they say the same with our reds. They say the same of our Zinfandel. It's because our style, we've managed to keep our style. Our style is very subtle, very elegant, very food-friendly, very balanced. It is not a wine that tastes like anyone else's. That's why it's different.

Violet Grgich:
01:02:42
You know, wine styles have become much more homogenized. People are all shooting for that 100-point score. We are shooting to make wines that make you want more.

Doug Shafer:
01:02:52
Right.

Violet Grgich:
01:02:53
And that make you want more not just after two or three sips but at the very last end of the bottle or glass.

Doug Shafer:
01:03:00
Exactly. Well, you're-

Violet Grgich:
01:03:01
And that's not easy.

Doug Shafer:
01:03:03
Well, your dad and your team, they've always made, you know, if I had to use one word for, for the Grgich Hills wines, I would use the term elegant. The wines are just elegant, elegant and flavorful. I mean ... And you can count on that. And that's, that's big. That's big for all of us.

Doug Shafer:
01:03:18
So, Violet, this has been fantastic.

Violet Grgich:
01:03:22
It is.

Doug Shafer:
01:03:22
Great, great, great stories, things, some things I've never heard before. So, thank you for sharing everything today. Really appreciate your time.

Violet Grgich:
01:03:31
Oh, you're most welcome. I appreciate your time as well. And it's always fun to talk about my dad and our family story.

Doug Shafer:
01:03:37
You take care and we'll see you out there and happy, happy end of harvest. See you around.

Violet Grgich:
01:03:43
Sounds great. Thanks, Doug.

Doug Shafer:
01:03:44
Thanks, Violet. Bye-bye.

Full Transcript

Doug Shafer:
00:00:00
Hey everybody, welcome back. It's Doug Shafer for another episode of The Taste. Uh, today wel- welcoming a fellow Napa Valley vintner with a very similar story to mine. Uh, he worked with his parents who founded a family winery and he took over the reins. Um, the CEO and president of the famous Schrams- Schramsberg Winery, Hugh Davies. Welcome, Hugh.

Hugh Davies:
00:00:23
Doug, great to be with you today, um, and, uh, here in Napa Valley on a, on a, you know, kind of a pleasant July day.

Doug Shafer:
00:00:30
It's beautiful out there, and I was thinking about you last night, um, trying to think about first time we met. And I think, correct me if I'm wrong, I think the first time we met was probably playing city league basketball at that high school on a Sunday night, th- way back when. Is that, is that probably-

Hugh Davies:
00:00:47
Didn't you, you had like the contraption on your knee-

Doug Shafer:
00:00:49
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:00:49
... That, well, you know, if you ran into the guy, you might actually bang your own knee, 'cause it had, you know, some knobby parts on it or something?

Doug Shafer:
00:00:57
Yeah, that, uh, that was, you know, I, I pretended I had knee injuries, but I just wore that on purpose 'cause guys like you were a lot-

Hugh Davies:
00:01:00
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
00:01:01
(laughs) You were a lot faster than me, so when drove by me-

Hugh Davies:
00:01:03
Well you can, you can, you can-

Doug Shafer:
00:01:03
... I just kinda give you a little knock.

Hugh Davies:
00:01:04
You'd just give him a little knee and it might actually slow the guy down.

Doug Shafer:
00:01:07
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:01:09
Like, "Hey, I don't wanna hit that thing again."

Doug Shafer:
00:01:10
I remember that, I, uh ...

Hugh Davies:
00:01:11
Um ...

Doug Shafer:
00:01:12
That actually is funny you brought that up. I remember I had a, at first I had knee problems in high school basketball and I had these old, horrible braces back then. And they were, yeah, there was metal sticking out, and I remember the ref stopped the game one time, he said, "You can't wear that. You're gonna, you know, make people bleed." So the had to tape it all up, all, all the metal. There's a-

Hugh Davies:
00:01:30
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
00:01:30
... A side n- there's a side note I haven't thought about in about 40 years. Anyway, um, glad you are back on the podcast. Uh, you, Schramsberg, incredible story that goes back over 150 years. I think one of the oldest wineries in the valley, you know, and your family has built that legacy into something that's really amazing. Uh, a lot to cover. There's you, your folks, and all those stories, but I think we have to go back to the 1860s, back when some guy named Jacob Schram, who lived in St Helena, got the idea to plant some vines and, um, go from there. So, give us some of that history.

Hugh Davies:
00:02:06
Um, the, the Davies part of the story began in 1965, but as, as you indicate, the, the Schramsberg story goes back to 1862. Uh, one of the first wineries in Napa. Uh, Jacob and Ana Schram, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:02:32
Oh.

Hugh Davies:
00:02:33
... Founded Schramsberg in 1862. Said to be the second bonded winery in Napa Valley. Uh, we know that Schram, uh, or Schram, we've, I, I grew up saying Schram, but he-

Doug Shafer:
00:02:45
Mm-hmm.

Hugh Davies:
00:02:46
... Ah, would've worked with, um, Charles Krug, ah, at Charles Krug, which started the year before. And, as m- our understanding is that the two of them actually worked with Agoston Haraszthy, who's the Hungarian, uh, winemaker over Buena Vista in Sonoma, said to be the first bonded winery, 1857. And so a couple of German immigrants, you know, connected with a Hungarian. They, they started m- making a little bit of wine in Sonoma that, that, that moved to, to Napa. Uh, and then, in Schram's case, up here onto what we think of today as the d- into the Diamond Mountain district of Napa between St Helena and Calistoga, up in the hills, uh, on the west side of the valley. Um, we know that at a peak, Schram was producing, you know, what we would think of today in terms of nine liters cases, but maybe 10,000 nine liter cases, 100,000 bottles, that type of thing.
00:03:55
Um, it would've all been, we believe, made from fruit grown here on the e- on the estate, if you will. The, uh, the family had a good run and, uh, unfortunately it did come to an end for them and for the second generation of that family. In the, the teens, Prohibition was, was looming and then there was this root louse, phylloxera, that kinda ended the party in that, that earlier era, which, which must've been pretty, uh, pretty devastating for, for people in, in Napa, Sonoma.

Doug Shafer:
00:04:50
Yeah, 'cause it, it, it, uh, it definitely put a damper on the whole industry, without a doubt. And, uh, I remember b- being up there years ago, and, you know you guys have s- you guys have those great caves, and those date right back that, those date, date back to the original owners, right, the Schram family?

Hugh Davies:
00:05:06
Yeah, so the caves here, they are, they are definitely a unique feature of this property and, and I, you know, as far as caves go, you know, th- there are, there are definitely caves around, you know, wine country here in the north Bay, but these are, are some of the more interesting caves. The, the first, uh, we believe, 12,000 square feet of underground caves were, were dug with picks and shovels back in the 1800s.

Doug Shafer:
00:05:32
Wow.

Hugh Davies:
00:05:32
Which is amazing, uh, that they did that work. The soil here is not soft. (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
00:05:38
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:05:38
It is hard, volcanic, uh, ash and, um, you know, honestly, the look and feel of the caves hasn't even changed that much over the subsequent 100, 150 years. Uh, you still see the marks of the picks and the, you know, the, the axes that would've been used to, you know, peck away at the, at the walls.

Doug Shafer:
00:06:01
Wow.

Hugh Davies:
00:06:02
And it's, you know, just like one little chink at a time, ah, they would've, of gotten it done. Um, so we've added on to those caves. If you were to visit Schramsberg today, y- you'd see more. But, uh, it is, it is pretty unique that, that aspect of it. I remember as a kid, just the, the three, the three caves, you know, there with two portals, and then there was one side cave off to the side.

Doug Shafer:
00:06:25
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:06:25
Um, and they were mostly empty. (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
00:06:28
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:06:29
They're not empty anymore, right. Uh, and we've had to, we had to dig more caves to put more bottles. But, uh, once upon a time, you know, there was plenty of room for the, uh, the bikes and the skateboards.

Doug Shafer:
00:06:40
Yeah, I was gonna say, I bet you guys were running around, riding bikes and skateboards. Yeah. That makes sense. Perfect.

Hugh Davies:
00:06:45
There's still a little bit of that, but it's harder. There, there's, uh, yeah, there's just a little more activity, probably, than there once was, um ... as we've gradually grown and as the world has gotten bigger too, right.

Doug Shafer:
00:06:59
Right, right. And back in that day, they had a celebrity guest. A, a famous author, Robert Louis Stevenson, and so you guys, you got some Schramsberg got some, or Sch- the Schram gang got some early, early PR in his book.

Hugh Davies:
00:07:15
So that's im- that is impressive. Um, you know, for the, the RLS fans, but honestly, you know, y- you think all these years later, that woulda helped them, uh, build their brand. You know, to, to, uh ... You know, it's well and good to make a fine wine, but (laughs) selling it, as you well know-

Doug Shafer:
00:07:33
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:07:34
... That's not necessarily, ah, easier than, ah, than making it. And so, at that time, it must've been really difficult, like no visitors would come, uh, there, you know. The, the, the market for these fine California wines, um, well it didn't exist in, until people started to make it, and, and then, uh, would've, uh, had to work pretty hard to, to get some attention around, around the country, around the world. Ah, but when then a very famous author, Robert Louis Stevenson, writes the Silverado Squatters, uh, ultimately he became such a popular writer, that that would've helped. I think it helped more like 10 years later, 'cause it was actually 1880 that, uh, he wrote Silverado Squatters and, and spent his time here in, in Calistoga and Napa and l- with, that whole with the Schrams. And then, uh, Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, those books came a little later, more like I think '83, 4, 5, something like that, 1883, '84, '85.

Doug Shafer:
00:08:41
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:08:41
And then, I think it was around 1890 ish-

Doug Shafer:
00:08:46
Mm-hmm.

Hugh Davies:
00:08:46
... That Stevenson actually dies, and so, um, in those 1890s is my understanding, is when, when that, that, that business kinda, for, for those that were doing it, you know, the Beringers, the Krugs, the, the Schrams, et cetera, uh, it went pretty well.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:02
Well, yeah, that was, I've had some other folks on talking about that time period. Um, it's true, the late 18, yeah, 1890s, that's when kinda, it was, uh, it was a pretty good w- wine boom here. And this is, you know, prior-

Hugh Davies:
00:09:09
Pretty good wine boom.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:13
Yeah, prior to Prohibition, it was really going.

Hugh Davies:
00:10:17
But thankfully, we, we're, we're still here, we're still making wine and, and, uh, uh, it doesn't feel like we've missed too many beats.

Doug Shafer:
00:10:24
No, you haven't. And, uh, since people are probably not gonna run out and read that book, The Silverado Squatters by Stevenson, but he does, he does have a great description of, uh, Napa, Napa's wines in that book, and it's just two words, and it's called, "Bottled poetry." And, I mean-

Hugh Davies:
00:10:48
"And, and the wine was bottled poetry."

Doug Shafer:
00:10:50
Yeah. "The wine was bottled poetry."

Hugh Davies:
00:10:51
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
00:10:51
I mean, that was what he wrote back in the 1800s and one could argue, you know, you could use that as a tagline for your own business today. I mean, it speaks volumes. It's pretty cool.

Hugh Davies:
00:11:14
Uh, it is approximately 100 pages, so it's a pretty quick read. It's interesting to, to get a, a feel for what life might've been like at this stage, what, 140 years ago-

Doug Shafer:
00:12:38
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:12:38
... Here in, uh, here in our backyard.

Doug Shafer:
00:12:40
No, that's a good tip and it's such a quick read. People should, if you're really into Napa Valley history, sh- guys should check that out. It's, um, you're right, we can have it delivered by drone. And, um-

Hugh Davies:
00:12:49
There you go.

Doug Shafer:
00:13:53
So, it's rolling, Prohibition hits, winery shuts down, and then we jumped forward in time to your mom and dad, Jack and Jamie Davies. Where did they come from? What's their story? How the heck did they get to Napa Valley?

Hugh Davies:
00:14:17
Yeah, so, um, and I, if I remember correctly, didn't your dad, was he raised in the Midwest?

Doug Shafer:
00:14:24
Yeah, Chicago.

Hugh Davies:
00:14:25
Chicago. So my dad was born in Cincinnati, but really was only in Cincinnati for two years, the f- the, so before he was aware of anything, his, his parents had moved to, uh, Chicago. And so my dad was in Chicago up until about '37, uh, 1937, I'll say. Uh, he was born in '23, and so, you know, kind of, you know, early high school, mid high school, his age, his family, like some other families in the Midwest, uh, pick up and drive to California-

Doug Shafer:
00:15:00
Wow.

Hugh Davies:
00:15:00
... Uh, drive to southern California. Uh, it's crazy to think you could go to, uh, at, at this point, Beverly Hills, California (laughs) and-

Doug Shafer:
00:15:09
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:15:09
... You could like buy a house, you know.

Doug Shafer:
00:15:11
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:15:11
It was, it seemed like a, you know, better opportunity than, uh, what they might've had in, in, uh, in Chicago. And, and, you know, we, we could just pick up stakes and move out there and, and start over and a- and afford to be able to do that. Granted, different time.

Doug Shafer:
00:15:25
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:15:26
Um, so, so he would grow up in, uh, what was Beverly Hills then, a little different than would be the Beverly Hills today.

Doug Shafer:
00:15:34
Mm-hmm.

Hugh Davies:
00:15:35
Uh, and then was a World War II vet. Uh, then, through the GI Bill, went to Stanford. It's crazy, my dad went to Stanford and had a Harvard MBA. Um, I'm sure there are few, few people out there with those stripes, but, uh, yeah, w- well educated guy.

Doug Shafer:
00:15:50
Mm-hmm.

Hugh Davies:
00:15:50
And then ended up in San Francisco. He was working for, um, a business consulting firm, uh, McKinsey, which is pretty well known and regarded, still existing, you know, with, with kind of international, uh, offices, but including San Francisco as a base. And so that's what he was up to. Um, my mom, meanwhile, was born and raised in Pasadena. So, as a kid, both, both sets of my grandparents, you know, down in southern California. And so my mom, she goes to UC Berkeley, uh, and then in, uh, in late 50s, '59, at this point, she is, um, up and running with a gallery she and a friend s- out of, out of Berkeley, started selling paintings of, uh, you know, young, uh, you know, California painters. So she's on Broadway with her gallery, kind of more, you know, towards the, you know, North Beach. Uh, you know, a little bit in the late 50s beatnik era, and my dad, meanwhile, is on Montgomery Street, um, you know, as the business consultant. And their paths crossed, they married six months after they met, they just hit it off.
00:17:14
And then in their young married life, started a family and, and came up with this idea that, that, uh, they wanted to do their own business. And th- that they friends that were s- dabbling a little bit with wine, a little bit with restaurant activity, uh, that, that piqued their interest. They invested in a, a winery called Martin Ray Vineyards. 
00:17:39
Uh, and then, a couple years into that, by '65, they had, uh, they had crafted their own, you know, their own plan, and that was to make a sparkling wine, traditional method. You gonna use Chardonnay, we're gonna Pinot Noir, we're gonna do it like they do in the Champagne district of France. Um, they had scoped out, you know, places in Napa, Sonoma, et cetera. And, and there were numbers, you know, these older winery properties, that, that it were just kinda hanging around, that hadn't been active for a good long time.

Doug Shafer:
00:18:16
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:18:17
You know, 50, 50 years had passed between the Schram period and then, we'll say, the Davies period. But anyhow, they were led to this property, Schramsberg, by a realtor, uh, Ned Smith, uh, the caves, "Hey I got a place for you."

Doug Shafer:
00:18:31
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:18:31
We, there's a place up, uh, towards Calistoga, it's got these old caves and, and-

Doug Shafer:
00:18:36
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:18:36
... That'd be great. Like 'cause you wanna do the bottle fermented sparkling wine, you could stick the bot- ... It's like in Champagne, right, but here in, in California.

Doug Shafer:
00:18:43
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:18:43
And they saw this place and, and that, that was it. You know, the h- the hook was set. Uh, and here we are, 57 years later, still, still going.

Doug Shafer:
00:18:53
I gotta ask you, any idea, I'm sure you've p- probably shared a few at some point, why he went sparkling. Because, you know, at that time, you know, table wine was just starting to kinda get going, you know, in the 60s and 70s, again. And so, you know, even taking it further out there with sparkling wine to your typical, you know, American consumer, who was probably not really even sure what wine is. Sparkling, did he have a, a, a wild idea? Was it to be different, um, was there just a love of Champagne from France? Any idea?

Hugh Davies:
00:19:30
Yeah, no, the, uh, great question. And, and, and, you know, the answer is, uh, is, is a bit multifaceted, but, first and foremost, they liked sparkling wine. I think, they, they, they enjoyed the, you know, kinda the fine Champagne that they had had a chance to taste and be exposed to. Again, living in San Francisco, you know, a little, little bit of exposure, at least in their circles, to the, you know, the fine wine and cuisine, and so they, they, they were bitten by the bug. So they, they liked the style, but they also liked the idea of doing something that nobody else was yet doing, uh ...

Doug Shafer:
00:20:04
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:20:04
You know, I can hear my dad talking about n- the niche. You know, and again, he was, he was a marketing consultant, and, and so in his mind, you know, if, if they could carve out a unique niche, um, you know, th- they could live in that niche. Like, future generations could live in that niche. You know, if we were the first to do something that, that, that might ultimately resonate. But to your point th- while there wasn't much of a market for, for wine in general. Uh, y- most American households just, just didn't, didn't do wine, right? It, it wasn't-

Doug Shafer:
00:20:36
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:20:36
... It wasn't something that, that happened. My parents, uh, didn't come from families where people drank wine around the dinner table. That, that didn't happen. Um, but they, they got the bug, and then they, they thought, "Well, we could, we could go for it. We could be the first people to really do the, the bottle fermented sparkling wine." And then once they saw this place and, you know, I j- I just think the pieces just really came together around that idea for them. They were encouraged by people they met. Folks like Andre Tchelistcheff would've been a- a- around. Uh, he was a, you know, kind of an early, uh, c- consultant, if you will, a little bit, on the project. His son, Dimitri, uh, you know, worked really more formally with my parents for, for a number of years in the early going. Um, the, the Mondavi brothers, you know, initially at Charles Krug, later Robert would, would move on. But that was another, uh, you know, c- connection that they made, uh, early as, as they were, you know, you know, kinda planting the seeds to get this thing going. The folks at UC Davis, my parents give them a lot of credit for helping them figure out how to, um, h- how to, how to do it. How do you make this stuff (laughs) right?

Doug Shafer:
00:21:46
Right, right, right.

Hugh Davies:
00:21:47
What, uh, what's this? Well we gotta get the yeast going and then-

Doug Shafer:
00:21:50
Yeah. (laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:21:50
... We gotta, we gotta put some sugar in the wine once we've made it, and then it's gotta go to a bottle and how do we m- how do we get it so that it actually finishes-

Doug Shafer:
00:21:57
Right. (laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:21:57
... The fermentation? And how do we get every bottle to taste, you know, pretty much the same, too. That's a, you know, that, we need to be consistent, right?

Doug Shafer:
00:22:06
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:22:06
Um, we've gotten better at this. I will say that-

Doug Shafer:
00:22:09
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:22:09
... Over 57 years. But, yeah, it would've, it would've, uh, it would've been kind of crazy, uh, to, to do.

Doug Shafer:
00:22:17
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:22:18
Uh, I really, I mean, I've got a ton of respect for, for not just what my parents would have, have done, but, you know, that, that ear- you know, the earlier era of winemaker because they, they were, um, they were starting from scratch, right.

Doug Shafer:
00:22:33
Right, right.

Hugh Davies:
00:22:33
They (laughs) really, they were starting from scratch.

Doug Shafer:
00:22:36
No, the learning curve was big. I mean, uh, I was here pretty early on with dad and, you know, he was getting good help from neighbors and stuff, but, man, you know, even the folks who were like the pros were still kinda green, um, 'cause it's just kinda-

Hugh Davies:
00:22:50
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:22:50
... How do, how do you do it? I mean, you know, I remember, ar- you know, not just me, some of my peers in s- in the early 80s, you know, we're just trying to make decent wine that it wasn't gonna blow up in the bottle. You know, and that's not even thought these days. I mean, we've g- ... Not that we have it down-

Hugh Davies:
00:23:05
No.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:05
... But, you know, we have it down compared to 30, 40 years ago. So, you know, back then it was-

Hugh Davies:
00:23:09
Absolutely.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:10
... Even the same thing. But, you know, I, I didn’t your dad well, but I, I r- I ran into him a few times, um, but he was (laughs) one sharp guy, and your mom too. Delightful. But, um, I figured he was doing that whole, uh, let's grab a niche and, and make it ours with, uh, doing the sparkling wine. So, kudos. Kudos, kudos.
00:23:31
So, they come up here, they've got two, t- you got two brothers. You were born. When were you born?

Hugh Davies:
00:23:39
I was born in '65, September of '65.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:42
Okay.

Hugh Davies:
00:23:42
Uh, so they, I was born after that first harvest, um, and they would've been up here ... Frankly, my mom was pregnant when they moved, with me, when they moved in to the house and, you know, formally started the, the, the effort. Um, and-

Doug Shafer:
00:23:57
So you're, so-

Hugh Davies:
00:23:58
... They brought in some part, but-

Doug Shafer:
00:23:59
I gotta interrupt you. So you're like, I think you're the only true Napa Valley person I've had on this show. You're the true Napa Valley native, man. We're all-

Hugh Davies:
00:24:09
Born.

Doug Shafer:
00:24:09
The rest of us are all outsiders.

Hugh Davies:
00:24:09
Born and raised.

Doug Shafer:
00:24:09
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:24:11
Born and raised. It is crazy, if you think about it, and I sometimes do, um, so mom and dad, you know, they l- they leave the hospital, uh, to take me home, and they, they bring me to the house where I still live. Crazy, right?

Doug Shafer:
00:24:49
Wow.

Hugh Davies:
00:24:50
Uh, so I'm, I'm now 56, living in the house that was, you know, really the first house that I ever knew.

Doug Shafer:
00:24:56
There you go.

Hugh Davies:
00:24:57
Um, I have moved away and done a few things. Not for, not for too long. (laughs) Yeah, but, yeah, life's good. I like it here.

Doug Shafer:
00:25:05
Now, it must've been crazy for you, for your folks. I mean, starting that out, you got three, three little kids. Um, how did they, did they ever talk much about, was it just crazy or they just did. And, uh, I'm assuming it wasn't a burden. It was more of a passion, is, is what I'm guessing. 

Hugh Davies:
00:25:22
For them?

Doug Shafer:
00:25:22
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:25:22
Yeah, they, they, I, they loved every minute of it. I would say they probably didn't love every minute of raising the three boys.

Doug Shafer:
00:25:30
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:25:30
(laughs) So th- I'll actually qualify, uh, the statement, um, and I can hear them talking about the teenage years being particularly challenging, especially when all three of us were teenagers. By the time Bill's turned 20, I think it started to get a little better. Um, but, yeah, we're four years apart, four boys, so I think, you know, the year when I'm 15, my brother John 17, and my brother Bill's 19 ...

Doug Shafer:
00:25:59
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:26:00
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
00:26:00
That's trouble.

Hugh Davies:
00:26:00
That was-

Doug Shafer:
00:26:00
That's trouble right there.

Hugh Davies:
00:26:01
Yeah, that's trouble. That was probably trouble right there, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:26:03
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:26:03
I think what they really, really loved and, and maybe they, they, they thought it was gonna happen like this, I don't know, uh, but they, they loved the camaraderie, uh, that, honestly I, I believe still exi- ... Here you and I are sitting here talking about, you know, how our parents made wine, you know, uh, once upon a time, and, and that's what we still do. Um, it's, um, they, they loved being part of this community. Uh, they loved, uh, working with other members of the community and I, I'll extend it beyond that, but, you know, they, kinda the California, you know, wine community to, to build, uh, not only their individual brands, you know, their, their, their, you know, to cr- to build followings for their, their, their individual wine portfolios, but I feel like for, for that generation, maybe more that ours, or, or maybe we're still, we're still right there, I think for, uh, th- to, to some extent we're all still right there. We need, we need our wine's to come from a region that's, that means something, right?

Doug Shafer:
00:27:10
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:27:10
Uh, in order for, for, for all of us to, to really be successful in it. And, and I, there was a quote that my dad would always use, um, that was a Robert Mondavi quote. Uh, he was, uh, he was, he needed to get Chardonnay and, my dad did, to do the Blanc de Blanc. All right, so year one, 1965, we need Chardonnay, 'cause you can't make a Blanc de Blanc without Chardonnay.

Doug Shafer:
00:27:35
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:27:35
Um, that's the way they do it in Champagne, that's the way we're gonna do it. And th- they're, at the time, they're like 200 acres of Chardonnay in the whole state, that's it. Ah-

Doug Shafer:
00:27:43
Oh.

Hugh Davies:
00:27:43
... And so, and he wanted Chardonnay. He finds some, uh, uh, some Riesling, so that, that's, he's got a buddy who's got a, a, uh, a Spring Mountain vineyard with some Riesling on it. Riesling more planted than Chardonnay, as you well know, in 1965. And so, ah, but the suggestion was, you know, talk to the Mondavis down at Charles Krug, th- they might, they might hook you up. And, and again, my dad, uh, wouldn't need a, a lot. Uh, and so he's able to arrange a deal to trade the Riesling grapes for, uh, what would be a, a small tank of Chardonnay wine. We didn't have a tank up here either, or the cooling capacity, so they did it at Charles Krug. And so that first, the '65 Blanc de Blanc was actually made in a, a, this, uh, 500 gallon tank down at Charles Krug Winery. And, uh, my dad would like tell the story of how he arranged for that deal, the trade of the Riesling grapes for the Chardonnay wine, and Robert said, "Jack, you're, you're, you're crazier than I am, you know, to want to get into-"

Doug Shafer:
00:28:44
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:28:44
"... This sparkling wine business, but I tell you what. If you succeed, we'll all succeed."

Doug Shafer:
00:28:50
There you go, yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:28:52
And, and, and he meant it, right. He meant it. And, and, and I really feel, you know, that was, when I watched my parents, you know, as the five year old kid, the 10 year old kid, the 15, 20 year old kid, whatever, um, their best friends, they were all these guys and gals that they, they worked with here in, in Napa. Those are the people that they, uh, they wanted to spend their time with. That, those were the people that they really en- enjoyed and they, and they were all part of this team working to build, uh, an, an industry where, where there kinda had been one (laughs) right, before Prohibition. But it, but it needed some work, right, in, in the, in the 60s and 70s to, to, to get going. It always needs work, but that w- that w- that was cool.

Doug Shafer:
00:29:35
It was v- it's very cool. And that's, that's how it, you know, that's how we, I think, as a industry, local, locally California and Napa and Sonoma and other great areas, have gotten on the world stage, 'cause we all helped each other out. And, um, I was thinking about it as you were talking about your, your dad doing sparkling wine, kinda, you know, the old world way, the real way. And do you think he was aware that because, you know ... So he, you guys were the first but a lot of people followed. I mean, there are a lot of sparkling wine producers in California, and don't you th- you think, do you think he kinda started it?

Hugh Davies:
00:30:12
Well definitely, I mean, there, there, Hanns Kornell was here, Korbel was here, uh, before my parents would start, but not doing the Chardonnay and the-

Doug Shafer:
00:30:20
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:30:21
... Pinot Noir like the guys in Champagne. So there, there was a little bottle fermented sparkling wine, but like o- you know, it, it, the, the varietal wasn't, um, that important yet. Uh, while there was more Riesling grown than anything else in Napa, uh, there was more Chablis made, right. (laughs) So I don't, I know that doesn't make sense to everybody, but that, that was the world that we lived in, right.

Doug Shafer:
00:30:43
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:30:43
Chablis was white wine.

Doug Shafer:
00:30:44
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:30:44
That's it.

Doug Shafer:
00:30:44
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:30:45
And Burgundy was red wine, and, and it just so happened that we just, we had a lot of Riesling planted, and so that would go into the white wine.

Doug Shafer:
00:30:51
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:30:51
And then, um, yeah, th- th- there were, there were, th- there were people that were, were starting to, to go for, for more specificity. And ultimately, then it was like, no, it's not only Cabernet, but it's Cabernet from this one vineyard-

Doug Shafer:
00:31:10
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:31:10
... And that's worth bottling. Um, and, and, and, uh, you know, obviously vintage played a role. There was a time when vintage wasn't important. Uh, but for my parents with their sparkling wines, uh, from the outset, it was vintage dated sparkling wine. They didn't wanna just make sparkling wine, uh, a, a, a more generic Brut, right, they wanted to make a vintage dated sparkling wine. And so, uh, while not everybody jumped onto that bandwagon, it wasn't that far into the future from their, their launch, '65, uh, that they would get the knock on the door from the, the folks at, uh, uh, Moet Hennesey, right, or, I guess it w- probably was more formally at that moment, uh Moet et Chandon.

Doug Shafer:
00:31:53
Mm-hmm.

Hugh Davies:
00:31:53
And they, um, they were interested in, you know, kinda bailing my parents out (laughs) and buying the winery-

Doug Shafer:
00:31:59
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:32:00
... And, uh, let's go. Um, Nixon has gone to China, right, and there was the, the historic Toast to Peace in '72, and, and Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc had been served and there was, there was a moment and, and, um, so I j- I just remember my parents, I mean, b- it's an early memory for me, I wasn't even six at the time, but, th- you know, wow, these guys from like Moet, they, they're, they were, they were here, they wanted to buy the place. Well they should come, they should come here-

Doug Shafer:
00:32:26
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:32:27
... To Napa and they should make sparkling wine too, right.

Doug Shafer:
00:32:30
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:32:31
And they did. I mean, '73, boom, very next year. Chandon, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:32:34
Chandon. Domaine Chandon.

Hugh Davies:
00:32:36
... Starts, and-

Doug Shafer:
00:32:37
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:32:37
Domaine Chandon starts. And then beyond that you have the, you know, other French would come, Roerderer, and Mumm, and, Tattinger, et cetera, uh, still here. So we have, uh, we have a, a pretty significant, uh, group of French Champagne producers making traditional method bottle fermented sparkling wine, you know, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, et cetera, here in, uh, in California as well. And then there are others beyond that, that, that, uh, there are some, uh, French, or Spanish producers. Freixenet would come, starting Gloria Ferrer.

Hugh Davies:
00:33:07
It hasn't always been easy, I'll tell you. You know, it really hasn't. It, it does feel like the last, uh, 10 ish years have been the best, uh, more, more demand, more demand for, for what it is that I think collectively we're doing in the sparkling category. But I know that like none of this, any success that we might be having today, ah, you know, it, it wouldn't have been possible had not the, you know, and obviously in my case, my parents-

Doug Shafer:
00:33:55
They.

Hugh Davies:
00:33:55
... Uh, jumped into this saying-

Doug Shafer:
00:33:57
They, they did it.

Hugh Davies:
00:33:59
... Saying, "Yeah. We, we're-"

Doug Shafer:
00:34:00
They starting the ball rolling.

Hugh Davies:
00:34:00
"... Gonna make it."

Doug Shafer:
00:34:00
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:34:00
(laughs) We're gonna make it. We're gonna make it. Uh, the 90s were pretty tough. I think that was a, a moment when, and both my parents were alive at the time, you know, th- the, uh, a number of the French producers had come to California. Um, you know, we're, we're trying to push the, the, the price up and make it more premium and vintage date, and like l- let's, let's compete directly with French Champagne. And there, there was a moment when the demand was picking up through the mid 80s and then, and then it softened for the category. And unfortunately, it softened for the category at the time that more, more product was being produced. Um, not everybody was doing it, you know, but, but enough o- of us were that, uh, it w- it was, it was tough-

Doug Shafer:
00:34:51
It was tough.

Hugh Davies:
00:34:51
... Through the 90s.

Doug Shafer:
00:34:51
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:34:53
W- we were saved, uh, momentarily by the, the whole millennium, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:34:58
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:34:58
... Moment.

Doug Shafer:
00:34:59
Yeah, there was lots-

Hugh Davies:
00:35:00
Seriously. I w- I ...

Doug Shafer:
00:35:02
... Lots, a lotta Champagne and sparkling wine sold at that, that year too.

Hugh Davies:
00:35:05
Up to that point, that was by far the best year that we ever had.

Doug Shafer:
00:35:08
(laughs) Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:35:09
And it was a good year. Like we had a good year, (laughs) we actually made a little bit of money. We had, we had never, uh, we had never even touched it before that. N- nothing like that. And, um, I will tell you that it was two years after my dad had passed away, and, you know, some people around, uh, were not as confident, I will say, as, as my mom, um, in the abilities of the next generation. And they probably had good reason, (laughs) I'll say there, they probably had good reason to maybe be a little suspicious. Um, and so, you know, our dad passed in '98 and, and things had, you know, we'd kinda j- just had a relatively tough stretch in there. That, that didn't help.

Doug Shafer:
00:35:51
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:35:51
And, um, the next thing you know, we have our best year ever.

Doug Shafer:
00:35:53
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:35:54
So, I think the, uh, the planets were lining up to give us, uh, the m- the millennium year, because it became a really good year to sell sparkling wine.

Doug Shafer:
00:36:03
Good, good. Well, you know, jumping back to the, your first few years here, your dad got involved in something here locally in Napa Valley, which we really haven't talked much about on, on the podcast. It comes up once in a while.

Hugh Davies:
00:36:15
Mm.

Doug Shafer:
00:36:16
And that's, that's what we call locally here, we call the Ag Preserve. And this was-

Hugh Davies:
00:36:20
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:36:21
... This was a really big deal, and this was in the late 60s, you were probably a two or three year old little boy so you don't remember any of this, and it was before I got out here. But your dad was a, a big proponent of it, and one of the major driving forces. And the result of the Ag Preserve, which I'd like you to explain to us, which if you don't mind, is it-

Hugh Davies:
00:36:42
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:36:42
... Really helped keep this valley green and in vines, especially the time when the wine business wasn't necessarily that successful to keep it that way. And, uh, so a few folks like your dad made this thing happen, and it's helped keep Napa Valley what it is today, as far as the beauty and the focus on agriculture. But can you give us a quickie on the Ag Preserve? I think folks would like to hear that.

Hugh Davies:
00:37:09
Yeah, no, thanks, uh, for asking. I, and I think it's just one of those key building blocks in the, in the, the, you know, the story of, of Napa that, that is, uh, not particularly understood or, you know, it, it's, you know, we, we just kinda take it for granted, right, that the, that the land is still here. But as a backdrop for my parents, uh, you know, growing up in, in Los Angeles County, they saw a tremendous change. (laughs) Right, I mean, the LA County, in the year that my dad was born, um, number one ag county in the state of California. Uh, you don't think of Los Angeles County for its agriculture, a- and nor have, you know, generations, right. It, it, it changed that fast. But for a moment, that's what you had there. Uh, Orange County, nicknamed after an orange. I mean, it, the, it, it is-

Doug Shafer:
00:38:00
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:38:00
... It is what it is. Uh, my dad would go to college in the, the, the late 40s at Stanford, right. So he's down there near, near Santa Clara Valley, and at that time, the Santa Clara Valley was, uh, was the number one, you know, agricultural, you know, county in, in the, you know, in the Bay Area. Um, and very productive, successful. Obviously things have changed there as well, and would change pretty quickly through the, the 50s and 60s. Um, and so as my parents would come to Napa with this idea of the, hey we're gonna do this bottle fermented sparkling wine and it's gonna be awesome, um, how could they be sure that there would still be vineyards here in 20, 30, 40 years without something to protect them? Because clearly what was happening in some of these other areas was that those, those, those lands were, were, were just, uh, they were getting paved over. And so, uh, there were others in this community that were similarly concerned. Not everybody agreed, uh, but this concept of a agricultural preserve was established.
00:39:18
And so this a zoning that is attached to much of the land today between the city of Napa and the city of Calistoga. Where you see the, you know, the vineyards, you know, between Napa and Yountville, or, and, and then the vineyards between Yountville and St Helena. Similarly, the vineyards, uh, between, uh, St Helena and Calistoga and just north of Calistoga, those lands are all in this agricultural preserve zone. Uh, minimum parcel size today, 40 acres. You can't subdivide, unless it was subdivided beforehand, into less than 40 acre parcels. That's a pretty good size parcel. You can have only one home per 40 acres. You can't do, uh, commercial or industrial activity on those lands. And so on one hand, uh, it has given us this opportunity to preserve the land for, for the purpose of al- agriculture. It, it calls the, the, the highest and best use of the land to be for agriculture. And, and then on the other hand, that, that did limit the opportunity for people to develop the land however they might want have to done that.

Hugh Davies:
00:40:35
So it's, uh, limited the private property rights of all these individuals that, that have land in this agricultural zone, uh, but our community has embraced it. You know, I think it's a testament to the camaraderie and, and collective spirit that exists here to grow grapes and, and make wine. And it, and it takes that. If you go to Burgundy, if you go to Bordeaux, you know, if you go to Rioja, we'll say, you know, if, if you go to Tuscany, you're going to, you're going to see a, a, a similar, uh, you know, kind of collective spirit to work towards, uh, creating a wine growing region. And so we're, we're lucky that, that, that our predecessors, uh, planted those seeds for, for the industry, that, that obviously have, allow us continue to be here today.

Doug Shafer:
00:41:31
Exactly.

Hugh Davies:
00:41:32
Um, beyond the Ag Preserve, there's the ag watershed zoning, which is, you know, it's a much larger area. The, the preserve itself I think is 33,000, you know, I'm rounding up a little bit-

Doug Shafer:
00:41:42
Mm-hmm.

Hugh Davies:
00:41:42
... Acres, uh, but you include the, all the again watershed lands, uh, that go into the hills, and it's 160 acre minimum parcel sizes, and, and that's, that's a lot of, of, of Napa County.

Doug Shafer:
00:41:55
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:41:55
And so we've, we've got what we got and, and I, I for one am, am really thankful for it and, and, you know, kind of proud of that, that, uh, that legacy, if you will.

Doug Shafer:
00:42:06
Well you should be. He was, he was a, a, a great proponent of it, and we all, I think, most of us here appreciate it and, and realize how great it's been to have that. But at the time, it was incredibly controversial, um, because you're, some people, you know, you're giving up some of your property rights to develop your own land, and, um, it was, it was a, a heated debate, and, um, but your, your dad was one of the guys making sure, you know, it went the right way. So, so thank goodness for him. So that was right when he got here and he's starting a winery, and then you're growing up. I'm assuming you went to my alma mater, St Helena High School?

Hugh Davies:
00:42:49
I went to, uh, schools, I went to the public school system through eighth grade.

Doug Shafer:
00:42:54
Okay.

Hugh Davies:
00:42:54
And then I went away to a private high school actually.

Doug Shafer:
00:42:56
Got it.

Hugh Davies:
00:42:56
I think my parents (laughs) thought it-

Doug Shafer:
00:42:57
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:42:59
... Then again, maybe it was part of that teenage boy thing-

Doug Shafer:
00:43:01
Ah yeah, I, I ...

Hugh Davies:
00:43:01
... But both my brothers ended up as St Helena High School, but I, uh, I went to a boarding school in Carpinteria, California.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:09
Okay.

Hugh Davies:
00:43:09
So I had this, this fairly early, uh, unique experience that was in Santa Barbara County.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:18
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:43:19
Uh, you know, closer to the ocean and, and, um, it was good. I, I really, I went there all four years. Uh, sometimes I'm surprised I, I, I was able to, to (laughs) make it all the way to the finish line, but, hey-

Doug Shafer:
00:43:31
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:43:31
... Got there.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:31
You got there.

Hugh Davies:
00:43:31
Got there, got a badge, right, got my diploma.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:37
You got it.

Hugh Davies:
00:43:37
Went on to college and, and, you know, life, life continued. But it was, uh, it was a good experience for me.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:41
Good.

Hugh Davies:
00:43:41
I've remained throughout that time, uh, close to, you know, all the, the kids that I grew up with here and, and retained a lot of the ties that I started with, uh, going back to before I ran into you playing basketball, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:43:58
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:43:58
... You know, down at the high school.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:59
So tell me coll- post high school. Where'd, college?

Hugh Davies:
00:44:07
So I went to a place called Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Doug Shafer:
00:44:07
Right. I got it.

Hugh Davies:
00:44:08
Uh, and so I, you know, again, you know, did another, you know, private college, small college. Um, this was, it's about as far away from Napa as (laughs) as you can get-

Doug Shafer:
00:44:22
As you can get.

Hugh Davies:
00:44:22
... In the United States. But coastal again. I, I like the idea of being on the coast. My parents encouraged me to go to New England to go to college, so I-

Doug Shafer:
00:44:31
Huh.

Hugh Davies:
00:44:31
... We did a college tour, I saw, uh, I probably saw a dozen colleges, along with my brothers. I think I was a freshman, uh, in high school at the moment when they took us back to see some colleges. And so I liked the rural, I liked the, the Maine and, and so I did study, um, history, uh, US history. Uh, I actually, one smart thing that I did when I was there was I, I started up with Spanish language. So my minor was in Spanish.

Doug Shafer:
00:45:06
Oh great.

Hugh Davies:
00:45:06
Uh, I did economics, but the Spanish became a, a pretty key piece for me. I ended up doing a semester in Spain, uh, later in Lima, Peru. And as it turns out, that's a good language to learn if you wanna be in the wine business-

Doug Shafer:
00:45:21
Yep. Yep.

Hugh Davies:
00:45:22
... Here in, in California. That was probably (laughs) that was a good move. I did do, uh, a, uh, internship with a congressman in DC. I then worked for a land trust in San Francisco for two years, back to the land preservation idea, I thought that was pretty cool-

Doug Shafer:
00:46:13
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:46:13
... And, and so, maybe somewhat inspired. I did, uh, two years working for a, a nonprofit, uh, entity called the Trust for the Land that, that does, uh, uh, real estate transactions to protect lands. And then, that got me to my mid 20s and, and I started thinking maybe the wine thing isn't such a bad idea. And, um, so I eventually went to UC Davis, did a masters degree in winemaking. And it's probably right in there that I woulda ran into you, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:46:41
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:46:42
... Uh ...

Doug Shafer:
00:46:42
I was gonna ask you that. 'Cause you grew up, you know, in a wine family, um, so there's wine-

Hugh Davies:
00:46:46
Mm-hmm.

Doug Shafer:
00:46:46
... On the table every night, more or less, and, uh-

Hugh Davies:
00:46:49
Yep.

Doug Shafer:
00:46:49
Like s- a lotta other folks, so-

Hugh Davies:
00:46:51
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:46:51
... Was the wine bug always there or not really or did something happen, you know, in the, your college years or 20s where, the, you know, the light bulb went off. Or is it, or is it more of just an evolution?

Hugh Davies:
00:47:06
I had this idea of doing the, the conservation work, and then, the land preservation work, and then, um, honestly, early 90s it was tough to make a living doing that.

Doug Shafer:
00:47:25
Mm-hmm.

Hugh Davies:
00:47:26
Um, I, um, I started feeling a little bit uncomfortable, uh, with the idea that, uh, I might not actually be at the winery.

Doug Shafer:
00:47:40
Huh.

Hugh Davies:
00:47:40
You know, I started thinking about it, and so there was a moment I r- I honestly, I had like my mid-life crisis in my m- early, mid 20s, just com- just not sure what the hell I wanted to do, right. I mean, it's the-

Doug Shafer:
00:47:52
(laughs) That sounds pretty normal though, man. (laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:47:52
People start bugging you when you're like 13, they're like, "What are you gonna do, huh?"

Doug Shafer:
00:47:56
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:47:56
I dunno. Uh, so I'm 23 and I still don't know for sure.

Doug Shafer:
00:48:00
Hm.

Hugh Davies:
00:48:00
Uh, 24, and then, uh, l- long conversations with dad a- and, and mom, but they're so patient, right, they just said, you know, in, well into my 20s, you know, I'm, I'm still sitting there at the, uh, at the dinner table, trying to figure it out. And, um, so we came up with this idea that maybe I could be the wildlife biologist or research, uh, you know, uh, uh, scientist, you know, on, on, you know, the preservation side of things, or maybe, just maybe, I might get into winemaking. Okay, okay.

Doug Shafer:
00:48:30
(laughs) Uh, yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:48:31
And so, we don't have to decide yet, but we do need to start doing biology and chemistry and physics either way we're going, right.

Doug Shafer:
00:48:38
Right. (laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:48:39
And so it was, it was kinda like, okay, okay. So I, honestly, at that point, I came home, I went to, uh, Santa Rosa JC. Uh, this is, you know, here's a guy who's already got his bachelors degree and, you know, from a fine college and, and seemingly everything, uh, going for him, but, hey, you know, it's, uh, I swallow my pride, I'm gonna go to the JC, and I'm gonna take, um, biology and, and chemistry and physics. And so I do like a year of these classes, and it goes great.

Doug Shafer:
00:49:04
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:49:04
Goes great. I'm, you know, right up there, top of the class, and, uh, it was in that time, granted I was home too, um, you know, I had, I- I- I'm gonna go to, I'm gonna be a winemaker. You know, I th- I think my friends helped convince me too. They were like, "You, dude, you got, you got a great opportunity."

Doug Shafer:
00:49:23
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:49:24
So, I applied at Davis, and, uh, I ended up working at Mumm Napa. I did a, a stint at, uh, Remy Martin in Cognac. That was pretty cool. Uh, Moet et Chandon, back to Moet, in, in Champagne. That was pretty cool.

Doug Shafer:
00:49:38
How fun.

Hugh Davies:
00:49:39
A place called Petaluma in Australia. So I did like some winemakers might do, you know, the, the, the stage you know, uh, uh, internship type experiences. Um, so I did about four of those. And after that, I was done. I had my master degree, I'd done my experiences and, uh, I was 30. I was 30 when I came back to Schramsberg in 1996.

Doug Shafer:
00:50:02
All right. And, and, uh, so how did that go with your folks? I'm s- I'm assuming they were excited and happy and-

Hugh Davies:
00:50:09
Absolutely.

Doug Shafer:
00:50:10
... Over the top.

Hugh Davies:
00:50:11
(laughs) absolutely.

Doug Shafer:
00:50:11
Good.

Hugh Davies:
00:50:12
They loved it. They were, I mean, I think that they were my biggest cheerleaders.

Doug Shafer:
00:50:16
That's great.

Hugh Davies:
00:50:17
I s- I, uh, they're not here. I still feel like they're cheering, uh, really. My wife, she's pretty good too.

Doug Shafer:
00:50:23
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:50:23
And my kids.

Doug Shafer:
00:50:24
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:50:24
Yeah, they, they were so excited for ... In the end I was the one, I've got two brothers, and I was the one who said, "All right, man. I'll do it. I'll do it."

Doug Shafer:
00:50:36
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:50:36
And, and, and not a minute too soon, because, as I said earlier, my dad would pass away in '98. That wasn't part of the plan.

Doug Shafer:
00:50:43
Oh, that's, that was quick.

Hugh Davies:
00:50:45
That was not part of the plan, right. It never is. And then, um, and I was 32. So, oh, you know ... A little bit of a-

Doug Shafer:
00:50:53
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:50:54
Yep.

Doug Shafer:
00:50:54
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:50:56
And then, and then, um, with mom, we, we would move on and, uh, uh, the business, and, and, uh, you know, that f- that one millennium year was good. The, the, the next couple years actually was, were, were not. (laughs) The, the 9/11 thing was every bit as bad-

Doug Shafer:
00:51:11
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:51:11
... For business for us as the millennium thing was good. And, uh, but we stood our ground and, and the from there, it just, the thing seems to have rolled in, in a lot of positive ways and, you know, build on it, you know, the, the earlier, uh, efforts and, uh, yeah, we're, I'm thankful.

Doug Shafer:
00:51:30
No, that's great. And, and right about that time, early 2000s, I think I remember, I remember this was, it was big news to me. It was like Schramsberg's planting Cabernet. They're gonna make a Cab. I s- and I was like, "What? Come one, no. They're sparkling. I don't want any more competition. (laughs) Hey, what're you doing?" So what was, uh, what was the thinking behind Cabernet? 

Hugh Davies:
00:51:50
The Cabernet, um, you know, the, the genesis of that, frankly, you know, the first discussions probably go back to the late 80s, um, and I really credit our Schramsberg wine making team at the time, uh, there was a guy named Allen Tensure, Dan Goldfield, I don't know if you've crossed their paths.

Doug Shafer:
00:52:10
Mm-hmm.

Hugh Davies:
00:52:10
But, they were, we had started to do some Carneros fruit, right, in the-

Doug Shafer:
00:52:16
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:52:17
... In the mid 80s. All right, and the, so we're a little further south in the valley, close to the Bay. Ah, well it's a little later the, uh, harvest season down here. This, this fruit actually, uh, has slightly riper flavor, even at the same sugar level. The acidity's notably higher. That's nice. We don't have to add acid to this stuff.

Doug Shafer:
00:52:36
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:52:37
Huh. Um, and so as we kept pressing forward, uh, we, we were, we were starting to realize, you know, '92, we were up in the Anderson Valley trying a little bit of the fruit up there for the sparkling. We weren't the first, right, I did-

Doug Shafer:
00:52:50
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:52:50
... Pretty good-

Doug Shafer:
00:52:51
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:52:51
So we, really I think the winemakers were the first ones to say, "We should do something else with the, the, the vineyard th- property that we have here on Diamond Mountain." And, and it wasn't my parents initial vision, for sure, uh, but I think they, they eventually would come around to realize that, yeah ... Uh, the market might not get it, but we're, we're seeing the results here inside the winery that our, that our, our better Chardonnay and Pinot results are, are not the ones coming off of the home property.

Hugh Davies:
00:53:25
And so we would then, uh, start to explore. Dad said, "Well, we're not just gonna, uh, you know, r- roll over here. You guys have gotta do some experimentation." So we have, we've had as many as, I think, 11 different red table wine varieties planted on this property. Um, for me, fun in '96, we started to make the, the Cabernet Franc and the Merlot and the, uh, the Malbec. Obviously, there's Pinot Noir, there's Pinot Meunier. We had, uh, Zinfandel, we had Syrah, we had Cabernet Sauvignon. We were looking at these, these different varietals and, and making very small batches of them to try to figure out, you know, which was gonna emerge as the leader. And, and obviously not surprisingly, by that time, we, we pushed a little further, uh, Cabernet seemed to, to emerge as like the best choice. And so, maybe counterintuitive to what other people would be thinking, 'cause we were the sparkling wine guys, uh, it made, you know, all too much sense to, to, to plant Cabernet here.

Hugh Davies:
00:54:23
And so we would produce our first Estate Cabernet, uh, Estate Diamond Mountain Cabernet, in 2001. With my mom, we launched the, the, the brand, would sell that wine in 2004. Uh, we called it J Davies Cabernet, named after my dad, Jack. So we have the J Schram named after Jacob Schram, here the J Davies named after Jack Davies. And, uh, away we've gone.

Doug Shafer:
00:54:47
Yeah, that's great.

Hugh Davies:
00:54:47
We've, we've got a winery in St Helena, we've, we do Pinot Noir as well, we do a little range of Cabernets, a little range of Pinot Noirs, and, and it's, uh, it's been exciting. You know, it's a 20 ... It's crazy, that first replanting was 28 years ago.

Doug Shafer:
00:55:00
Wow. Well, you, what you guys did was parallel to a lot of us around here. W- as we got into it, we realized, you know, um, certain grapes do better in certain s- areas of the valley, and not as well as other places. So it's b- it comes right down to, you know, plant the right grape in the right place. And, uh, you know, I remember, we used to, we had originally had 10 acres of Chardonnay here on our home ranch, here at, at the, at the, where the winery is in Stag's Leap. And it was okay, but it's a lot better Cabernet land, than Chardonnay land, so, um, and that's just been evolution for all of us. Plant the right grape in the right place. So, that's nice.
00:55:37
And you mentioned 2004. Um, I think that's when you guys got, Monique got married? Is that right? 

Hugh Davies:
00:55:47
2004, we, we got married, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:55:48
How'd you guys-

Hugh Davies:
00:55:49
... 2004. It ended up being also the year that our family hosted the, we were like the host family of the Auction Napa Valley-

Doug Shafer:
00:55:56
Oh that's right, that's right.

Hugh Davies:
00:55:57
... Or Napa Valley Wine Auction.

Doug Shafer:
00:55:58
How'd you guys meet?

Hugh Davies:
00:56:00
Uh, so that-

Doug Shafer:
00:56:00
Monique and you?

Hugh Davies:
00:56:00
... That also happened.

Doug Shafer:
00:56:00
What's, what's her story?

Hugh Davies:
00:56:02
So Monique, uh, she's great. Uh, she, she also grew up in Napa Valley, uh, a few years younger than me. Uh, sh- I grew up in St Helena, in your, you know, and, and she was more Napa. Um, the, uh, so we didn't cross paths until, uh, the, the 90s. And then we were, yeah, we both just kinda, uh, uh, looking (laughs) looking for love. I don't know. Looking for somebody-

Doug Shafer:
00:56:31
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:56:31
... At about the same time in 2002. And we met, we, uh, kind of, um, connected, I guess, if you will, a little bit w- on a, on a Napa Valley vintner tour, uh, which I'm sure you've done a few of those.

Doug Shafer:
00:56:50
Mm-hmm.

Hugh Davies:
00:56:50
I've probably done one or two of them with you.

Doug Shafer:
00:56:52
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
00:56:52
But you, where you travel around. And, and, uh, this one was, uh, Oklahoma and, and Texas, and, um, you know, great, great, you know, fun, you know, as you get, get the, you know, the gang from around the valley together to go out and promote what we do. And so she was, she had worked at Joseph Phelps for quite a few years, 13 years in total. And then it was during that time that, uh, you know, we, we started to, uh, date one another and, uh, a couple years, uh, we got married and started a family, and, and our first son was born in 2005.

Doug Shafer:
00:57:24
So you guys, you got four boys, I think that's right. And, you know, the two of you are doing kinda what your parents did. You're balancing family, work at the winery, traveling. What's it, what's it like? Is it a flash to your, what your folks did? Um, what are the joys, what are the challenges? How do you guys, how do you do it?

Hugh Davies:
00:57:46
Um, put one foot in front of the other. (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
00:57:49
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:57:52
That's a corny one, and it probably came from my dad, I would imagine.

Doug Shafer:
00:57:55
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:57:56
You know, like "How do you do it, dad?" Uh, "Yeah, you just put one foot in front of the other and-"

Doug Shafer:
00:58:01
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
00:58:01
"... And keep, keep going forward." Um, but I think you have to have plans. You know, you have to have a, some kind of a vision for where you're wanting to go. I think some of level of flexibility is also important, you know, where y- where you might realize, oh, that wasn't such a good idea. Okay, you know, we, that's okay. We can, we, we can allow ourselves to, to, to make some mistakes and then, and then fix them, right. (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
00:58:42
Right.

Hugh Davies:
00:58:42
And honestly, sometimes the, the, you know, the, the fix might, might lead to another opportunity that would be a positive, we tried to, uh, enjoy life, uh, despite the fact that, you know, we're on all the time. Um, we live right here at the winery. The, the winery lives right here with us. It's 24/7. Uh, there's not a whole lot of time where you're not, you're not thinking about the business and, and the, and the future and, and the past, or what have you. 
00:59:30
I just feel lucky. I mean, I, how many of us get to work so hard at something just means so much to us, right? Uh, uh, you know, the product that we make is something that we really can enjoy, that other people can really, really enjoy. It, it means something to people, you know, that, they, they, they've, they've celebrated, you know, uh, great moments of their life with this, this darn product that, you know, you, we, we pour our hearts into making. It's good, like that, that's, that, that, that'll lift you for a long time. Um, the, um ... So you just try not to let, uh, the fact that you seem to be so focused and energized, uh, all the time, kinda overwhelm. And it, it is hard to step away, because you're here all the time.

Doug Shafer:
01:00:23
Right.

Hugh Davies:
01:00:23
But where are we? Ah, we happen to be living up on this hill.

Doug Shafer:
01:00:28
(laughs)

Hugh Davies:
01:00:32
And at night, you know, you hear coyotes and, you know, you might see the odd deer run around, uh, or little rabbits or foxes. You know, we've got bird feeders and, you know, all kinds of, you know, wild birds come, uh, buzzing around the house. Uh, we've got a pond the kids can, you know, fly off the rope swing. And, um, you know, we, we, we, we live well. I, I, I've, I mean, of a- I, of all the places that I, I could possibly live, I'd say this has got to be pretty, pretty good. So I, I think on, I realized all those ... For me, like back to the mid-20s, early 20, that, that moment where I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Um, I kinda crossed that, a lot of bridges, all at once. (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
01:01:11
Mm, yeah. You did.

Hugh Davies:
01:01:14
And figured, this as good as it, this is good as it's gonna get. And I, and now I've just been trying to live every minute and, and hopefully, um, you know, it lasts for a good, long time.

Doug Shafer:
01:01:42
We, s- sometimes we forget about it, you're so wrapped up in something and, you know, in the office, but, you know, just like you, I can walk, there's a door 10 feet away, I walk out and go another 20 feet and I'm in the middle of a Cabernet, hillside Cabernet vineyard. Take a nice little walk.

Hugh Davies:
01:02:02
Yep.

Doug Shafer:
01:02:02
(laughs) And it's like, if that doesn't calm you down, nothing else will, so we'll-

Hugh Davies:
01:02:06
And pretty soon you'll be able to go out there and taste those grapes, right?

Doug Shafer:
01:02:09
Yeah, yeah. They're getting ... Yeah. I'm looking for some color.

Hugh Davies:
01:02:10
They're not, not right now.

Doug Shafer:
01:02:10
Not yet, little, little tart. Little tart.

Hugh Davies:
01:02:15
Actually I don't want them to, to, to change color quite yet. I'm happy for that, for that-

Doug Shafer:
01:02:22
I know, 'cause it always seems like, oh it's two weeks away. No, you got to, you got some time.

Hugh Davies:
01:02:25
Eh ...

Doug Shafer:
01:02:26
Um ...

Hugh Davies:
01:02:26
We got some time.

Doug Shafer:
01:02:28
Well thanks, man. Tell me about your current lineup, Schramsberg and J Davies. So what are, what are you guys offering now? Uh, what, what different flavors?

Hugh Davies:
01:02:37
Yeah, so, I, I know that we've, um, you know, we've kind of crossed the line. I can hear dad saying that, you know, you don't wanna get distracted and do too many different offerings, right. It's, uh- (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
01:02:48
That sounds like something my, that sounds like my dad. These, those two guys were a lot alike, I think.

Hugh Davies:
01:02:53
We have, yeah about 30. Um, and, and why would we ever have so many? Part of what we've and I feel that, that's been successful for our particular winery is we've developed, uh, uh, in developing a great consumer fan base, um, we have, we've been able to, to kind of help build that by, by virtue of having a wine club. So a wine club where, where people take their quarterly shipments. And, and so, you know, years in advance, as you well understand, you know, making wine, making premium sparkling wine, I, we, we sell some of these wines that they're 10 years old. We're releasing, later this year, a 2004.

Doug Shafer:
01:03:37
Oh wow.

Hugh Davies:
01:03:37
That'd be 8, 18 year old sparkling wine. Let's go, right.

Doug Shafer:
01:03:40
That's great.

Hugh Davies:
01:03:41
And, and some of our fans, they can't get enough. They love ... I can't get enough. So, you know, I l- I love it too. But we, as we've developed that fan base and as we want to keep that club audience, uh, engaged and excited, we have to continue to present them with, you know, kind of cool, new iterations of-

Doug Shafer:
01:04:01
Okay.

Hugh Davies:
01:04:01
... Of, of these, of this range of Brut styles that we make. And so we have, uh, we have uh, uh, about 15 different sparkling wines th- that we produce. You have to have 10 to do a, a wine club.

Doug Shafer:
01:04:16
Okay. Okay.

Hugh Davies:
01:04:20
'Cause you need- (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
01:04:20
I get it.

Hugh Davies:
01:04:20
To cover, to cover all the shipments for the year, you need 10.

Doug Shafer:
01:04:20
I got it.

Hugh Davies:
01:04:20
Uh, I, I can't just give Blanc de Blanc, you know, 10 bottles at a time and, and call it good. Well, I didn't think good. So we, we make this cool range, Roses, Blanc de Blanc, Blanc Noirs, you know, those are kind of the three iterations of, of sparkling that we do. But inside of that, there are late disgorged versions, extra Brut versions on those themes, specific vineyard versions, pretty cool.

Doug Shafer:
01:04:39
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
01:04:40
Uh, but meanwhile, on the Cabernet and Pinot Noir side, the Davies side, that's where we get up to 30. We've got another 15 or so, uh, specific vineyard Pinots, specific vineyard Cabernets, and, and some iterations along those themes that we're also, uh, producing, and, and, uh, that we've developed. We talked about, the, the first one in that set was our J Davies Estate Diamond Mountain Cabernet, so that was a 2001 vintage. So here we are, uh, uh stepping up to vintage number 22-

Doug Shafer:
01:05:08
Yeah.

Hugh Davies:
01:05:09
... Of, of commercial red wine production. And, um, uh, so those are not as widely available in terms of, you know, c- uh, c- commercial availability through the stores and restaurants. The Schramsberg portfolio or some, some, some of the items in that portfolio really have great distribution. We really appreciate the, the wholesale partners. There's a company called Wilson Daniels who we've worked with for a lot of years to, to, to build a national network. And so you, we, we've kind of done it on th- th- those two sides. With the reds, a little more DTC, but we're working on the, the wholesale side as well, and it's exciting. I, I feel there's a really bright future. I, I've, I've always, always felt that. I guess I'll always feel that way.

Doug Shafer:
01:05:48
Oh, I th- I think that, I think you're right. I, I f- I see it too. So, that's fanta- ... What a great lineup. Um, so if folks wanna get ahold of them, y- what's your, what's the best way? And I'm assuming you guy have a good website.

Hugh Davies:
01:05:58
Well, simply you could go to the Schramsberg.com-

Doug Shafer:
01:06:03
Okay.

Hugh Davies:
01:06:03
... You know, website, right. So S-C-H-R-A-M-S-B-E-R-G, uh, that's the name of the, you know, the, the, there's a, there's a Davies site as well, D-A-V-I-E-S. Um, uh, a, a portion of the range is, is available throughout the, you know, the, the restaurants in the country, throughout, you know, many restaurants in the country, and, uh, and stores as well. Um, we hit 50 states, you know, not too much in some of the smaller ones, uh, and we hit probably about 30 countries. But again, uh, with more limited, you know, on a much more limited basis overseas. But, uh, yeah. We're, we're excited to keep trying to, to build it and to e- extend it.

Doug Shafer:
01:06:49
Good. Good news, good news. Great story, great family story, a real key part of the, kinda the re ener- energiz- energization, is that a word, uh, of the Napa Valley-

Hugh Davies:
01:07:44
(laughs) True.

Doug Shafer:
01:07:44
In this m- in this modern era, which is now 40 or 50 years old. But, um, s- thanks so much for your time. You, you take care. Say hi to everybody.

Hugh Davies:
01:07:52
Hey, will do. Best to you, Doug, and your family. Bye bye.

Doug Shafer:
01:07:55
All right, man. Take care. Bye bye.

Full Transcript

Doug Shafer:
00:00:00
Hey everybody. Welcome back. It's Doug Shafer with another episode of the taste. Today, we've got, uh, John and Rory Williams, father/son team running a well known, very successful long-term family winery here in the Napa Valley, Frog's Leap. Welcome guys.

John Williams:
00:00:17
Hey, Doug (laughs).

Rory Williams:
00:00:19
Hey, Doug. Thanks for having us on.

Doug Shafer:
00:00:20
You bet. Rory, I think I first met or saw you as a little kid at some soccer game or elementary school with my kids, or probably riding shotgun in your dad's pickup truck a million years ago. Well, not that long ago.

Rory Williams:
00:00:35
I think I was probably driving him home from a restaurant, you know, at five years old.

Doug Shafer:
00:00:38
There you go. There you go. And, John, you know, I can't... I, I was racking my brain last night, I don't remember when we met. I just, I know you were pals with my dad. You guys were both Cornell alums and, you know, Rory too. But our paths have crossed for all these years, but I really, you know, remember spending more time with you back in the late '80s when you introduced me to Amigo Bob, uh, which we'll talk more about that later. But, hey, can you remember when we met? Any ideas?

John Williams:
00:01:08
You know, I was thinking about it as well, Doug, and I, I really don't. Obviously it, it kind of folded in with your, your dad and I were such buds and was on Vintner trips together and hanging out with, uh, some of the other characters of that era. And, uh, yeah, but then our, um, you know, our kids were, uh, were growing up at the same time. So it's all kind of, uh, tumbled up in there. Um, you know, I, I, I remember as you started getting involved, uh, with the winery that, uh, there was certainly a little more interaction at that point. But, uh, I, I think it just unfolded over time, basically.

Doug Shafer:
00:01:48
Yeah, it's just we've, we've grown up together. I'm not gonna say we've grown old together, but we're just (laughing), we're still, we're still growing together. But, you guys, thanks both of you for doing this. Uh, I've been looking forward to doing this for a while. Um, a lot to cover, John. There's your story, the story of Frog's Leap. Rory, I know there's a lot to your story. We'll get to that in a bit, so it's gonna be fun. But before we start with John, we, we had a, uh, something happen here. Uh, Rory, you're nice to be wide awake. I don't know if you're wide awake 'cause I heard you didn't get much sleep last night. What, what happened last night?

Rory Williams:
00:02:23
Kind of a late frost, it was pretty crazy. Um, it got cold here in Rutherford. Um, we were up at 2:00 in the morning and frost fans were on. We turned water on, it was a, it was a busy night for sure. Nothing extremely dangerous here in the Valley, but I know that in some of the outer valleys, Chiles Valley, Pope Valley, it was, it was cold.

Doug Shafer:
00:02:45
Yeah.

Rory Williams:
00:02:45
Um, and these are kind of, these are kind of the days of killer frost. You get one now, there's not much, not much you can do to come back from it, so.

Doug Shafer:
00:02:52
Yeah, I'm with you. We, we haven't talked about frost on this thing, which is, uh, you know, I think we try to get too techie, but normal frost is-

Rory Williams:
00:02:59
That's generally a good thing if you're not talking about frost (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
00:03:01
Yeah, exactly.

Rory Williams:
00:03:02
No news is good n-, good news.

Doug Shafer:
00:03:04
But normally by early May, which is, is right now, you know, frost season has passed the danger. But we had a cold one last night and, uh, some people, fortunately not John or me anymore, but (laughs) the younger generation has to get up at... So, Rory, you were up at what? 1:00 or 2:00?

Rory Williams:
00:03:20
2:00 in the morning. Um, everything was, uh, starting to get cold. So I dragged myself outta bed and start to check machines, turn on machines, make sure everything's working. Uh, you know, normal frost night stuff and, uh, look forward to the nap in the, in the morning (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
00:03:37
Got it. Do you, do you actually go home and nap or some... I know some guys just sleep in their trucks (laughing).

Rory Williams:
00:03:43
Right now I, I, I get better than a nap. I get to go home and, uh, make my two-year-old breakfast. Uh, and so it's (laughing), which is a way of waking up, I suppose.

Doug Shafer:
00:03:53
Oh, man. That brings back memories. Oh, man. All right, well, listen, I'm gonna, you know, hit your dad early here. So take a, take a little snooze here for a minute if you want. Um-

Rory Williams:
00:04:02
Sounds good. I'll catch you guys before you know.

Doug Shafer:
00:04:04
(laughing) Because you, you de-, you deserve it. Um, all right John, you, we start with you. Now, I know you're from New York and if I've done my research right, I think you grew up on a dairy farm in New York, right?

John Williams:
00:04:17
Well, that's a little bit of a controversy. I, I, I got farmed (laughing) out from my family, uh, uh, regularly every summer, uh, down to my grandfather's dairy farm.

Doug Shafer:
00:04:25
Okay.

John Williams:
00:04:25
My, uh, dad was smart enough to get outta dairy at some point and got into other things that didn't make any money. Uh, but, uh, yeah, I spent a lot of time on my grandfather's dairy farm. So that's where, that's where that story comes from. And, uh, uh, you know, it, it certainly instructed me, uh, and I grow, grew up in agriculture, that's for sure.

Doug Shafer:
00:04:44
Yeah. And, uh, family, you got brothers, sisters? We've never had this chat.

John Williams:
00:04:49
(laughing) Yep, brother and two sisters to, you know, Ralph and Alice, uh, mom and dad. Uh, very typical, rural, um, family, background for sure. Uh, church and, uh, and community and school and, uh, and that's about it.

Doug Shafer:
00:05:05
What part, what part of New York? What town?

John Williams:
00:05:09
Chautauqua County's the little corner of New York over, uh, by Lake Erie. In fact, Erie, Pennsylvania is the closest city to where we grew up. But there's a little ski resort there and our farm was right above and right below the ski resort, and it's all dairy country. And, uh, now a lot of Amish, uh, it's a very depressed, uh, area, but most of my family still lives in that, in that area of the country.

Doug Shafer:
00:05:29
Okay, all right. How about wine? Was that part of the, the household beverage at that time?

John Williams:
00:05:33
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
00:05:34
Why are you laughing? Come on. That's a good, it's an honest question (laughs).

John Williams:
00:05:37
Yeah. Yeah. Um, we were, uh, my family didn't drink and, uh, considered, uh, sin against God to drink as a matter of fact. So I did not grow up with much of a wine background. But, you know, it is a grape country, and so, uh, my first job actually was with Welch's grape juice. And, in fact, a communion and the church was not wine, but, uh, grape juice. It was a, uh, it was a sad state of affairs as I later came to realize (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
00:06:14
And, uh, so high school was back there. What were, what was, what were you doing in high school? What were you into?

John Williams:
00:06:20
Well, you know, it was a small school. I think there were 54 kids in my class, and so you were everything. And so, you know, you- you're in the band, you're in the chorus, you're in the student council, you're in the, uh, debate society. You're in, you play every one of the sports just 'cause they wouldn't have enough kids on the team, otherwise (laughing). Uh, you know, it was just, uh (laughs), it was a, a, you know, Ozzie and Harriet, basically. It was a, it was an old school.

Doug Shafer:
00:06:45
Neat, neat. And, uh, ended up right to Cornell after high school. Is that how it went?

John Williams:
00:06:51
Yeah, I was really fortunate. I was a good enough student, I guess, but not a brilliant academic. But I, uh, uh, had a guidance counselor who believed in me and, um, and uh, decided I was gonna go to Cornell almost. I mean, my family didn't really have those kind of aspirations, but I got a scholarship to go to Cornell University and, uh, never really been out, out of the area. Certainly was a revelation because when I enrolled at, uh, Cornell, it was the time of the whole, uh, civil rights movement. It was the time of the Vietnam War protests. It was a lot of experimentation with things that I (laughs) would've not considered otherwise in Clymer (laughing).

00:07:29
And so it was a, it was a, uh, it was a real eye-opening experience for me and brought me into a, a whole different world. And then, of course I, I ran outta money after my first year and had to get a, uh, a job. And, uh, that's when I got the work study program with the Taylor Wine Company, which was my first introduction to wine. So all this happened in a very short period of time and was the fundamental, uh, change in my, uh, my, uh, life decisions, I guess you would say.

Doug Shafer:
00:07:54
So you're working at Taylor, what were you doing at the Taylor Wine Company?

John Williams:
00:07:59
They had a program with the university, uh, where you could, um, I was essentially an intern, but I worked in every department in the... This, uh, Taylor at that point, was a family owned winery making, uh, god awful wines from Concord and Catawba and Niagara, the Labrusca varieties, which they were very proud of. But, uh, they're only made palatable by bringing in large tankfuls of wine from California out of the Central Valley to blend with these Labrusca varieties to make them somewhat, uh, palatable, very sweet.

00:08:26
And, and this was my introduction to wine so, uh, (laughs), you know, it was right up there with Boone's Farm and Ripple, I'm afraid, um, some of these wines. But, uh, I had no idea at that point. I discovered fairly shortly afterwards that there were better wines made in the world and it didn't take me long to incorporate those into my, uh, into my life.

Doug Shafer:
00:08:44
Hey man, don’t knock Boone's Farm, that was, that was my first wine (laughing). That was on back, back in the summers on the beach in Michigan.

John Williams:
00:08:50
Oh, there you go bragging again, Shafer (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
00:08:52
Yeah. Oh no, man. We, people have heard this story. Boone's Farm was the go-to. Well, lock, along with a lot of beer. This is summers in Michigan, but if you wanna impress somebody like a, a, a girl, um, you got a bottle of Mateus 'cause they had that really cool bottle. That was the, that was, that was, that was-

John Williams:
00:09:10
Oh, yeah, yeah, no, I kept one in my room and it had the little dust on it claiming it was one of the last smuggled out. It never worked, but I always thought of it (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
00:09:18
I'm surprised we haven't had the same, this conversation before we got similar paths (laughing). So, so Taylor Wine Company, so is that when the wine bug kicked in? Is that what happened?

John Williams:
00:09:30
Well, I dunno if you've ever been to the Finger Lakes there, but the, you know, the, the vineyards cascade right down to these beautiful lakes and the little communities. And then the going to this big winery with big tanks of booze and pretty girls giving tours and not a cow in sight. And it didn't take me long to raise my hands saying, "I think I can do this." So it was a fundamental, uh, life changing path. It was really that moment, you know, your aha moment.

Doug Shafer:
00:09:53
Uh-huh, so you, did you... 'cause I think the next thing I have is, you know, somehow you made your way out to Napa. Was that after Cornell or you just, you just got in a, you know, you just, you know, tell me about getting to Napa? What was that all about?

John Williams:
00:10:03
Well, I worked every other semester of, at the winery and so I worked everything from growers, uh, support to the vineyards, to the labs, to, you know, um, uh, marketing and purchasing. As it was a really arou-, a very interesting experience at a bigger winery. But Cornell didn't have a wine making department at that point. They, they have an excellent one now-

Doug Shafer:
00:10:28
Mm-hmm.

John Williams:
00:10:28
... and Rory can talk about that. But, at that point, the only thing that was close by was actually, uh, a ch-, a dairy fermentation. So I got my degree in cheese making at Cornell (laughing), and don't, uh, don't, don't tell anyone. Um, and, but they didn't have a wine making program. But I, I knew I was gonna get into wine, and of course everything was just starting to happen. Remember that we're talking '72, '73 so Robert Mondavi Winery was just, you know, six or seven years old. All these wineries, uh, were starting up. There was a lot of excitement about the Napa Valley, which I was hearing about.

00:11:00
And so literally in the, uh, in the spring break of, um, the 1975, I got the $69 AmeriPass on the Greyhound bus and, uh, set off for California. And five days later, I found myself in California, um, with, uh, 40 bucks in my pocket. I didn't know anyone, didn't have a job and, uh, I never used the return ticket and-

Doug Shafer:
00:11:22
Wow.

John Williams:
00:11:22
... said, I'm just gonna stay in Napa Valley and make it happen.

Doug Shafer:
00:11:25
Wow.

John Williams:
00:11:26
I'm now $22 million in debt. It's going real good.

Doug Shafer: 00:11:30
(laughing) Oh, man, come on. Stop, stop, you've been super successful and you know it. Um, so you show up, you don't know anybody, had no money. Were you thinking U.C. Davis, um, there's the famous story about, you know, you illegally camping on somebody's property we need to hear about. What, what happened?

John Williams:
00:11:49
Well, I had a, a young woman in my tasting group, uh, Helen Turley, uh, at Cornell and she thought her brother had a place out here. And she didn't have a phone number, but she had an address. So I hitchhiked up from Vallejo on a Sunday evening. And, uh, there was no one at the house, it was abandoned (laughing), uh, and, and, and should be. It didn't, and no one could live there except for me that night. And, uh, but Larry, uh, showed up on his motorcycle the next morning at, uh, I dunno, 6:00 in the morning.

00:12:16
And, uh, fortunately, I had a bottle of, um, of wine in my tent with me and we got into that and drank a couple other bottles and that's when we decided to start a winery together. So that's how I met the, the famous char-, uh, character, Larry Turley, who eventually became my partner in starting Frog's Leap in 1981.

Doug Shafer:
00:12:32
So Helen, so that's where Helen came from. Cor-, she, you met her at Cornell. I never knew that. I never knew she was there. How cool, 'cause she and Larry were brother and sister, so. Okay, so that's how that happened. So you and Larry now, was Larry a doctor at the time or studying to be one? 'Cause I know he was an ER doc for a long time.

John Williams:
00:12:53
Yeah, he was a, he was actually coming off from shift when we met, uh, the next morning. And so, uh, yeah, he was an emergency room physician over in Santa Rosa.

Doug Shafer:
00:13:01
Wow. Okay, so that was the start of your guys' partnership, which we'll get to in a minute. But, you know, what was, what was Napa like back then? And, uh, it was '70 when? 75, you said?

John Williams:
00:13:13
'75 and it was, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:13:14
Yeah.

John Williams:
00:13:15
... well, you, you know, uh, you, you were, you were around, it was pretty rural (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
00:13:20
Yeah.

John Williams:
00:13:21
There was not much happening here. And St. Helena was unrecognizable to, to in places like Yountville that were just backwaters. And Napa itself, of course, was, uh, not much going on. So it was, uh, it was a distinctly different place. I think '75 was the last year, there were more prunes planted in the Napa Valley than grapes.

Doug Shafer:
00:13:41
Right, right, I do remember that. Um, and so, so you jump in and, uh, it's jumbled for me 'cause I think there's UC Davis stuff, there's working at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. What, what, how'd you get going those first couple years?

John Williams:
00:13:57
Yeah. Well, I, I managed to talk my way into UC Davis, um, but I didn't have any money so I had to work too. And Larry had some friends who were bottling their first wine, so I get to a job as the first employee of, uh, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. And uh, so I started at Stag's Leap in ‘75. So I was, uh, working summers and, um, evening shift, uh, during harvest at Stag's Leap, taking classes at UC Davis and sleeping at the Frog Farm. So I had a little Honda 350 motorcycle that got me between all three of these places. And, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:14:27
(laughs).

John Williams:
00:14:28
... uh, that's how I made my way for about a year until I could get some more permanent housing (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
00:14:34
Wow, wow. That's crazy. So at Davis, were you going, were you just taking classes or were you going for, going actually for a degree?

John Williams:
00:14:42
Yeah, I got my master's degree in '77-

Doug Shafer:
00:14:44
Okay.

John Williams:
00:14:44
... so I was, uh, I was in gra-... I think I, I was probably in graduate school at the same time you were an undergrad, if I, if I remember my timing on this right.

Doug Shafer:
00:14:52
That's about right. Yeah, I was still undergrad and I was there at between '74 and '78, right. But see, by '77 I had decided I wanted to teach school. So instead of taking a lot of upper division enology, I started taking ed psych and all that stuff. So I missed out on some of those. I probably didn't... I don't think our paths crossed then, but I was hanging with some other folks. Who were, who were some of your peers there at the ti- time?

John Williams:
00:15:17
Well, I think you've talked to a few of 'em, uh, John- Johnny Kongsgaard and, um, Mike Martini, and Dick Ward, Dave Graves. Uh, Dan Lee was my roommate, my, uh, my last year there from Oregon Winery.

Doug Shafer:
00:15:28
Right.

John Williams:
00:15:29
Um, you know, the whole, there was a whole group of us, uh, Lee Hudson. Uh, you know, there was a, there was a whole group that have gone on to, uh, uh, to be... And, you know, Cathy Corison was in the lab with me, Tom Peterson. Uh, just a number of that, that, that whole class is really remarkable class of, uh, uh, young people. I, I didn't get to hang out with him as much as I would've liked and that I was, um, you know, I was working, uh, by night and I was doing my, uh, thesis work at Robert Mondavi and I, you know, did it on clarification methods and was using their centrifuge.

00:16:00
So I'd go work in harvest, uh, from harvest we'd clean up 11:00 at night, and so at, um, at Stag's Leap. And then I'd go over to Mondavi and do my thesis work, uh, until about, you know, 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. And then I'd ride over and, and, uh, you know, uh, do class and then I'd be back over to Stag's Leap. So (laughs) the only time I actually slept was while I was in class, I think (laughing), so I didn't get to hang out as much as I would've liked. Yeah. 

Doug Shafer:
00:16:28
You were busy.

John Williams:
00:16:28
That was a crazy time.

Doug Shafer:
00:16:30
It was crazy.

John Williams:
00:16:30
Yeah, crazy time.

Doug Shafer:
00:16:30
Yeah, but, but I, am I wrong? Was it just great? Did you just love it?

John Williams:
00:16:37
Oh my god, I, I mean, uh, you know, it was so thrilling and, uh, you know, we, we had a sense of the kind of wines that we could make, uh, in Napa. And, and this whole crew of, of, uh, uh, people like your dad and Da- Dan Duckhorn and, uh, Koerner Rombauer. And, I mean, there was just a whole bunch of us who were, uh, um, you know, excited. Jack and, uh, Jamie Davies were good friends. So it was that whole, uh, movement of time that I kind of got sucked into as well. And I spent as much time with that group as I did with my Davis - but between the, between them all, it really was a remarkable, just unbelievable experience.

Doug Shafer:
00:17:17
It was a, it was a neat time. And really, um, and none of us kind of... I don't think we really realized it, you know, how neat it was. But, um, it was, it was a changer for this valley, for sure. So you're, you're getting outta Davis and then... so I'm thinking you're gonna start Frog's Leap, but I'm doing some research on you. You went back and got a job in New York making wine. right, is that what happened?

John Williams:
00:17:40
Yeah, when I graduated in '77, there were lots of assistant winemaker jobs available here. But I got an offer to, uh, go back and be a startup winemaker, including designing the winery and equipping it and so on. And I thought that that would be great experience. I felt, I guess I had a little bit of debt, uh, back in New York State, uh, my original, uh, time there. And, uh, and I had some good friends like, uh, Herman Beemer who, uh, of course, has gone on to make these fantastic Rieslings. Uh, so I, I knew I could sense the potential. I'd hung out enough with Dr. Konstantin Frank and was inspired by him. And I knew there was potential for great wine there.

00:18:19
Um, and so, uh, had I not met a California girl while I was in New York, I probably, uh, would still be there. Uh, but, uh, when I met Julie, we, uh, decided to, uh, (laughs) our condition of the, of the, uh, agreement was to, uh, move back to California. So back I came in, uh, 1980 to take the head winemaking job at Spring Mountain Vineyards. And that's when Larry and I reconnected and said, "Let's, instead of making illegal amounts of homemade wine, why don't we make the, a, a little wine on our own?" And that's when we started Frog's Leap in 1981.

Doug Shafer:
00:18:50
Okay, so it was '81. So, seriously, um, Frog's Leap, you know, it's, it's is still a kind of off the wall name, so what's the...

John Williams:
00:18:57
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
00:18:58
People, people need to know the story. How did, you know, what did you guys do? Like focus groups and talk to consumers? How'd you do it (laughing)?

John Williams:
00:19:08
Yeah, well, uh, it kind of happened to us. Uh, uh, you know, people say, "How'd you get the name Frog's Leap?" And I had to admit that we'd been drinking. Um, you know, we, we may know we were making-

Doug Shafer:
00:19:18
No, really? I can't believe that (laughing). You two guys, no way.

John Williams:
00:19:21
(laughs) We were making wine. Our first little batch of wine were some grapes. We, uh, at first, well, you need to know that Larry's place, we started fixing it up and, uh, discovered in the process that it had been a, um, commercial frog raising farm. So it, we called it the Frog Farm.

Doug Shafer:
00:19:38
Okay.

John Williams:
00:19:38
And then, uh, you know, we, we got our first, a little batch of grapes. There were six, uh, Chardonnay vines had been misbudded in the, uh, CASK 23, or would've went on to be the, uh, the S.L.V. Vineyard. Uh, that, uh, Warren, I think gave me the fruit and we made a little five gallon jug of wine. And, uh, it was still fermenting one night, but we ran out of other stuff to drink (laughing), so I think we drank something like four of the five gallons.

Doug Shafer:
00:19:59
Oh.

John Williams:
00:19:59
And in an honor of Stag's Leap, where we'd procured the grapes and, uh, the Frog Farm, where we made the wine, someone came up with this Frog's Leap. And we just thought it was hilarious, and, uh (laughing) so we started calling our homemade wine Frog's Leap. And, uh, and then we started selling it. And before we knew it, it was in the New York Times and getting distributors and, and, and we're just like, "Well, wh- wh- what are we gonna do now? We can't call a winery Frog's Leap, but, um, and we're kind of stuck with it 42 years later, I guess.

Doug Shafer:
00:20:30
No, it's been, it's been a great run (laughs). Um, so, so you've mentioned Spring Mountain. So Spring Mountain, that was Mike Robin's own Spring Mountain Winery just, just right, right next to St. Helena. So you got the head winemaking job. You're starting to do Frog's Leap with Larry on the side. Um, Spring Mountain was... Today's listeners will have to go back to YouTube to look it up, but it was the, uh, place where they filmed a TV show called Falcon Crest. Um-

John Williams:
00:21:01
(laughs) Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:21:01
So were you there, were you, were you there for all that filming (laughs)?

John Williams:
00:21:04
Yeah, I, I was and, uh, it's, uh, de- definitely part of why I left (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
00:21:10
Oh, no. Yeah, because it was quite the hot show at the time. Wasn't it?

John Williams:
00:21:15
God knows why, but yes, indeed. And, um, it was, um, I, you, you know, as well as I do that, um, and I'll tell one story, is it, uh, when you're bottling, you're nervous as a winemaker. It's only bad things can happen when you bottle wine.

Doug Shafer:
00:21:28
Mm-hmm.

John Williams:
00:21:28
And, uh, we were bottling and, uh, this guy comes in because they had the trailers there. They were filming the pilot for Falcon Crest, and he says, uh, "All this machinery's making too much noise. We're gonna ask you to, um, uh, shut down for wh-, a while, while Ms. Wyman gets her nap in her trailer." And I told her-

Doug Shafer:
00:21:45
Oh, man.

John Williams:
00:21:46
... I said, "Gee, you could tell Ms. Wyman that we're not shutting down the equipment (laughs). Uh, and we- we're bottling wine, and now we're not gonna be shutting down any equipment." In about, uh, uh, 15 minutes later, Mike walks in and says, "Why don't we all take a break for the rest of the day (laughs)?" And, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:21:59
Oh no.

John Williams:
00:21:59
... that's when I knew I was gonna have to leave Spring Mountain because, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:22:03
Oh man.

John Williams:
00:22:03
... filming this TV show became, had become more important to the owner than, uh, than making wine.

Doug Shafer:
00:22:09
Got it. And then, uh, we'll get Rory, we'll see if Rory's... We, we gotta wake Rory up here.

John Williams:
00:22:14
I'll wake him up here (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
00:22:15
We'll wake him up. Um, so right now we're, I'm looking at Rory, I think 1984, you burst on the scene. Is that the right year?

Rory Williams:
00:22:23
Yeah, that's what they tell me. Yeah (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
00:22:25
Okay, so first born of John and Julie's, and I think '84, was that the first leap year party also?

Rory Williams:
00:22:32
I think that was the first leap year party, uh, Mustards. Correct, if, if I'm right, dad?

John Williams:
00:22:37
Correct.

Doug Shafer:
00:22:38
Well, I'm sure Rory probably wasn't there, but I think I'm sure John was, I'm sure I was too. But, obviously, can't remember that one. Um, if people don't realize every four years on, uh, February 29th, is that correct? On Leap Year, there's an annual Frog's Leap party, which is, uh, oh my gosh, it's it's, um, renowned, it's, um, there's too many stories to go into. We won't do that here, but it's suffice to say it's an experience. Um, so Rory's born, John you're, when did, so when did you make the move from Spring Mountain? Was that '84, '85?

John Williams:
00:23:12
Yeah, about that time.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:14
Okay.

John Williams:
00:23:15
Uh, uh, you know, we, I had, we had to mix it in with, uh, some consulting jobs to make ends meet. But, um, we, we pretty much decided, uh, about '85, '86 that, uh, we were going to be able to make a go of it at, um, uh, and turn this into a real winery. And, uh, and so we, we kind of jumped in with both feet and, uh, started to make it happen at that point.

Doug Shafer:
00:23:35
So that's, and that's making it right at the original, uh, the Frog Farm, Larry's property, that's where you guys started?

John Williams:
00:23:42
Well, it was a mixture that was a pretty small place with, uh, limited facilities, but we started to redo it. But, uh, yeah, we, we were doing some custom crushing. We were, had a barrel storage unit. You know, you know how, when you bootleg these projects without a lot of money, it, uh, you do just whatever you have to do to, to get it going. We didn't have any vineyards at that point either, so we were buying fruit and, uh, um, it was definitely boot strapping.

Doug Shafer:
00:24:05
Mm-hmm, definitely. And that's, um, that's about the time period in the late '80s, I, I remember, it's 1988, '89, you called me up and said, "Shafer, you gotta meet this guy." I said, "Who's that?" You go, you said, "It's Amigo Bob." I said, "(laughs) You're kidding, right?" He goes, "No, he's –“ And you were like really serious and said, "Shafer, you gotta meet this guy." And we met over at Sinskey, and you and Amigo Bob and I went over and met in at, at Rob Sinskey's place.

00:24:31
And, uh, I walk in and this guy is, big, burly, handsome guy, long hair, shorts. It was January's cold, you know, Birkenstock sandals, has got tight eye t-shirt, he's a Deadhead. And, uh, one of the most (laughs) brilliant guys I've ever met in my life. But talk about Amigo Bob a little bit, John, 'cause you had such great times with him and he taught us all so much.

John Williams:
00:24:58
I mean, um, um, organic farming is, uh, and we've been certified organic now for 35 years at Frog's Leap. So we were early advocates and, um, and learners about organic farming and my mentor and my, uh, teacher was this guy, Amigo Bob. Who really didn't have a lot of experience in vineyards, but he didn't (laughs), uh, he was about the only one. We're talking, yeah as you mentioned, um, late, um, late '80s, um, not many people had knowledge about how to farm anything organically, um, much less grapes. And uh, uh, but we, uh, we brought him and we invited him over to meet a few growers and, uh, we committed to farming our own, uh, vineyards, which we were just starting to acquire at that point.

00:25:39
And, um, and decided that organic farming was gonna be part of our future. And we, you, you know, farming organically by be- being the only one doesn't work in organic farming, you need to inspire others. And, uh, and so we started, uh, uh, the first organic wine school in 1989 and really started to, uh, uh, teach others and, and get others involved, including, uh, thankfully you guys and, uh, and, uh, Rob and a number of other people. And, uh, and, uh, well, I'm proud to say that there are now more c- certified organic vineyards in Napa County than any other county in, uh, in California. And that's because of all the work that, uh, that you guys did, that we did. Uh, and certainly, Amigo Bob who at one point had something like, uh, 30 or 40 clients here in Napa.

Doug Shafer:
00:26:26
No, I’m with you, he was great, he taught us so much and, you know, listen, you need to give yourself credit. You were the major force in this valley, getting people away from the traditional, um, farming and, and chemical use in the vineyards. And, you know, I remember when we started with them and it, it wasn't, you know, instant success. It was you, you learned. I mean, this cover crop thing, you know, was a... which is great now, 'cause we all know how to do it. But, at first, it's like, "Oh, I didn't mow it in time, or two, I mowed it too soon." Or, you know, my, my vineyard guys would come to me on the we-, on Monday mornings and said, "Hey, I was at a barbecue yesterday? and all my friends are giving me a hard time 'cause our vineyard looked so trashy (laughs)."

00:27:04
I said, "Be- because it wasn't buffed out and nuked, you know, all the weeds and all that stuff." So there was a whole learning curve here just to say, "Hey, this is okay, this is how it works, and there's it's long-term benefits." And, and there are long-term benefits that need to take time. They gotta be patient, but it's, uh, it was, uh, I was very aware of just the whole mindset change from just that. And Amigo really helped me with that and he said, "You know, guys in the Central Valley have been, you know, growing carrots forever and they just keep using chemicals and they have the same problems. There's gotta be another way to solve this."

00:27:35
So it was, uh, it was kind of a sea change around here, which was great. And it spread, you know, throughout agriculture, you know, nationwide, which is really, really nice. Um, moving on, um, you and Larry, early '90s, I think you guys went your separate ways and so you had to find a new home for Frog's Leap. Um, I think down by it's called the Red Barn. Tell us about that whole era for Frog's?

John Williams:
00:28:02
Yeah. Uh, well, I, I mean, it was, it was really exciting to see, uh, Larry who always had an interest in wine, but he was a medical doctor. He was supposed to be the money in the partnership (laughs), but he had a little trouble holding on the wives, so that, that wasn't, uh, really the role he ended up playing. He was, uh, but he was, uh, always excited about that and really wanted to get in the wine business himself. And, um, and so we decided, at one point, well, well we needed to start a second winery. So we started Turley, uh, so Larry and I could split and each have our own winery.

00:28:31
So he started a new winery, Turley at the old location, the old Frog Farm, which of course was his home. And, um, and we took, uh, Frog's Leap, uh, the old winery to a new location. Um, and that's, uh, you know, I was on the board of the Wine Service Co-op with, uh, Chuck Carpy who, uh, he and his partners owned this old Red Barn, uh, down in Rutherford. We all knew about it, uh, but uh, had 40 acres of dead vineyard and, uh, the barn was falling over-

Doug Shafer:
00:28:59
(laughs).

John Williams:
00:28:59
... and it was, uh, no, it was, it was a, uh, basically, a toxic waste dump around here (laughs). And, uh, I said, "That looks perfect, Chuck. Any chance you'd (laughing), uh, at lease me that?" And, uh, and he eventually sold that property to us. And, uh, we moved down here and straightened up the barn and replanted the vineyard and planted a few posies and this is home now, uh, after, uh, what's that, to almost 25 years or more. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:29:21
Oh, it's a beautiful property. And, Chuck Carpy, many folks don't know that name. He was, uh, one of the original partners in Freemark Abbey, as I recall, and also Rutherford Hill. This is back in the kind of heyday of Freemark back in the '70s and Rutherford Hill is being developed. But, um, long time Napa Valley resident and just did wonderful things for this whole valley. And just, um, one of, you know, one of the founding fa- fathers that no one knows about, but great family, so glad you-

John Williams:
00:29:52
Yeah, a gen-, a gentle giant, and a great, uh, a great hero of mine.

Doug Shafer:
00:29:55
Mm-hmm. So you're, you got the Red Barn, you guys have moved in you've, uh... Oh, you started buying... Talk to me about the Rossi Vineyard 'cause I remember you, you told me about this for years. It's 'cause you g-, you get the fruit and I think you're living there now, right?

John Williams:
00:30:13
Yeah. Well, you, you know, um, a winery is only complete when it grows its own grapes and, um, that's why I'm so, you know, excited that when Rory came back on, he, he really wanted to get involved in the vineyards. We'll, we'll get to that in a second. But, uh, uh, acquiring vineyards in Napa, particularly, if you're bootstrapping is, is, uh, a laborious way. Uh, (laughs) you know, takes time and, uh, so we had, uh, we had bought 30 acres over on the west side of Rutherford, uh, uh, in, uh, '87. And then we, uh, brought the Red Barn here in '94, we added 40, uh, acres of vineyard.

00:30:45
And then, um, we bought a vineyard down at the end of Galleron, well, a piece of ground down at the end of Galleron Lane in, um, '98 from Alice Galleron and that's where we grow our Sauvignon Blanc. And then we, uh, started buying some grapes from, uh, Louise and Ray Rossi at the, the famous Rossi Ranch, uh, which had been in their family since, uh, 1908. And, uh, and then as they got older into their '80s and '90s, we, uh, started, uh, helping them with their vineyard work. And, um, and the long and the short of it, when, um, uh, Louise passed in 2007, she was the last of the family members. Uh, she had, um, given us an opportunity to, to buy the vineyard, um, a- as long as we put it into the land trust and preserved it as it was.

00:31:32
And, uh, that's what we committed to doing. So we bought that property in '07 and that's another 50 acres and that's really kind of a closed the loop for us. That's why we're now essentially a estate grown on most of our wines with the exception of, um, the Chardonnay, which we still buy from Tony Truchard. So that completed the circle for us, uh, and turned us into the estate winery we are today and, uh, given Rory, uh, 200 acres to farm with his mentor, uh, Frank Leeds and I was glad to turn that responsibility over to him, uh, as times come along. So he can be up at 2:00 in the morning, uh, (laughing) fighting for us instead of me (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
00:32:08
All right, uh, we're gonna get to Rory in a second, but before we do give, give me the, give the lineup? What's, what's the lineup of Frog's Leap wines these days? What, what are you guys making?

John Williams:
00:32:18
Well, we're fairly unique in that half of our production is white wine and we've been with Sauvignon Blanc really from the very beginning. It's a variety I loved. That one of my first trip to Europe was to Sancerre, and I fell in love with this idea that our wine, uh, spoke to the, uh, area. That the food, that the culture, everything, uh, um, e- evolved around this beautiful grape Sauvignon Blanc. So it was not a popular variety when we, uh, pine, you know, worked with it. Um, Mondavi was making a Fume Blanc, but, uh, uh, '81, we were really kind of champions of Sauvignon Blanc.

00:32:48
Uh, um, we added a Chardonnay because that, uh, my friend, Tony Truchard, offered us the grapes in '85. He'd planted them in '79, so we'd been working the same vineyard for, um, all these years. And, um, and then, of course, um, as we added vineyards, we've always loved Zinfandel, which is a major part of our production. A little bit of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. And, um, uh, you know, we now, uh, have an estate grown Rutherford Bench Cabernet Sauvignon that is just, just unbelievable. Um, and, uh, we love it as well. And, uh, so that fills out the lineup, but, uh, you know, uh, we, we all, we have a bunch of other things that Rory can talk about that are interesting.

00:33:28
Uh, everything from Charbono to Mourvèdre that we, uh, Patisserie, that we're having lots of fun with making different wines. So there's always something going on here that's outside of our core, uh, five wines, uh, that we're always experimenting and having fun with. And, um, you know, uh, it- it's kind of a, kind of interesting. Um, uh, you know, when I came to Napa in '75, I mean, Cabernet Sauvignon, I mean, there were more, there was more, uh, Sauvignon Vert than there was Cabernet Sauvignon (laugh) I think.

Doug Shafer:
00:33:56
Right, right. I know that.

John Williams:
00:33:57
Uh, some of these old varieties have a nostalgia and maybe have, uh, a greater role as we move forward with climate change and the... And so it's nice to stay in touch with these older varieties as well.

Doug Shafer:
00:34:09
Well, I'm with you. We've all, we've all tried things through the years and some things work out and some things don't. You know, we made a Sangiovese Cabernet for 10 years, Firebreak, which was a lot of fun at the time. But, you know, that- that's gone by the wayside. But I gotta ask you one last question because it was the late '90s. Leapfrogmilch, help me about, help, tell me this story? You actually had a Lederhosen, Lederho- (laughs), Lederhosen party in Mount View Hotel in Calistoga? Come on, one last story then we (laughing) get to Rory. Leapfrogmilch what were the heck was that, John?

John Williams:
00:34:43
Well, well, when we started buying, uh, grapes from the Rossi's, they, um, you know, they had a little Cabernet Sauvignon, a little Sauvignon Blanc, which we were desperate to get and glad to get it. But they said, uh, "Well, you know, we have this Riesling as well (laughing). Well, what the hell was I gonna do with Riesling, you know (laughing)? And so we brought it back to the winery and what are we gonna do with this? Because no one was, I mean, Riesling was not exactly thought to be a, uh, major variety in the Napa Valley at this point. But we had to buy the grapes to get the other grapes.

00:35:09
And, uh, and so we, uh, tried to come up with original ideas to, to get rid of, uh, of these Riesling grapes. So we, uh, we made a sweet wine the first year that was tremendous that we called Frogenbeerenauslese, but they were all plays on names of, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:35:22
Right.

John Williams:
00:35:23
... of, uh, of German Riesling names. And, uh, and then, um, uh, and then he, we had to get rid of some more of it (laughs). And, uh, so we made this beautiful little delicate, um, white wine from Riesling, uh, uh, and we, we knew we couldn't sell those Rieslings so I thought, you know, when, when I grew up, uh, you know, if you really wanted to get after the Mateus and the Lancers, uh, Liebfra-, uh, Liebfraumilch was the German wine that you could afford to buy. And so (laughing), uh, I thought Leapfrogmilch would be a perfect way to, uh, market Riesling. And that turned out not to be the case as it (laughs), but we still have a few bottles of it. It's absolutely delicious (laughing) and, uh, so there, there may be a, a resurgence of Leapfrogmilch soon. Stay tuned.

Doug Shafer:
00:36:06
All right. All right, I will, I will. Well, thanks, man. Um, okay, Rory, getting back to you. Um, I've talked with people on this, this show with who've grown up at wineries, but, uh, I think you're the only one that grew up at two wineries. You got your dad's Frog's Leap and your mom's Tres Sabores, right? And were you working at both places? What was that all about?

Rory Williams:
00:36:28
Working at both places, uh, growing up around it. I mean, my earliest memories really are, are of my mom and dad out on the, being road warriors and, oh, you know, "Okay kids, we're going on vacation." And vacation turned out to be, uh, six winemaker dinners and a bunch of trade visits (laughing). And, uh, um, you know, but, you know, it's our, our way of going on family vacation was going out to, to sell wine. And, uh, being there when, uh, my mom, uh, took Tres Sabores on her own. And, yeah, it's been, uh, uh, a journey back to come to, to join the family and, um, really get, get involved with both wineries. And still doing that, I was up the other night spraying at Tres Sabores and, uh, uh, trying to fix the tractor so it went forward and not backwards.

00:37:14
And, uh, just, uh, staying involved on, on, um, on, on every level there. So it makes, uh, Christmas pretty, uh, pretty interesting. So we, we lined everybody's wines up between, uh, uh, the Frog's Leap wines and the Tres Sabores wines. And, of course, my stepdad, Jon, Jon Engelskirger's got all of his wines. And so I've got my own wines. My brother's making hard cider and, uh, so we got, you know, 25 bottles on the counter by the time we're, uh, uh, it's all said and done.

Doug Shafer:
00:37:42
Well, um, who's the de- (laughs), who's the designated driver at those things, anyway?

Rory Williams:
00:37:47
Uh, uh, my, my two-year-old, you know, carrying on in the family tradition.

Doug Shafer:
00:37:50
There you go. Oh, that sounds great. So right now your role at Frog's is what? Are you running the vineyards?

Rory Williams:
00:37:57
Mostly on the vineyard side, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
00:37:59
Okay.

Rory Williams:
00:37:59
So, um, you know, keeping up with the day to day, writing the work orders, um, really working with, uh, my mentor in the vineyards, Frank Leeds, uh, who, you know, really brought, uh, a, a lot the kind of complete farming picture to us in the vineyards. Um, I met his daughter, Lauren, in preschool, and so, uh, that was another piece of the, the Frog's Leap puzzle and, uh, another long time relationship with the family here. Um, and that was kind of my entry point coming outta school, coming back into, uh, the family business was, um, speaking Spanish, which was a big part of that.

Doug Shafer:
00:38:35
Mm-hmm.

Rory Williams:
00:38:35
And, uh, coming back into the fold. Um, you know, not really coming directly back into the winery, but instead just getting out there. Was on the vineyard crew for, for five years, um, pruning, suckering, leafing, um, doing everything but, but picking. 'Cause by the time I got to picking, I started cutting my hands too many times, um-

Doug Shafer:
00:38:55
Yeah, I know that one, yeah.

Rory Williams:
00:38:57
... and, uh, and helping my dad out in the vine-, in the, in the winery. And so that's, uh, that was kind of my journey back into it, and that's taken that on full time now.

Doug Shafer:
00:39:05
That's great. So be- before we get back to that, let's, let's bounce back to childhood. So I don't know if you remember this, but boy, I do, and I'm sure John does. I, every once in a while it would get super cold and that pond back at, uh, your mom's place would freeze over. And I remember-

Rory Williams:
00:39:23
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
00:39:23
... going out there a couple times and we used to play broomball. It would be brooms and played like hockey with the soccer ball. You remember that?

Rory Williams:
00:39:29
I do, I do.

Doug Shafer:
00:39:30
Oh (laughs).

Rory Williams:
00:39:31
It was the winter of, uh... the one I remember the best is the, it was when it snowed on the valley floor. So this is '90 or '91, I think. Uh, one of, one of the, you know, as I was just six years old, but, uh, yeah, the pond froze over and, uh, all you yayhoos got together to, to play, uh, to get drunk and play ice hockey on a pond. Which was about, as I remember, uh, about three quarters frozen or, uh, three quarters of-

Doug Shafer:
00:39:54
Yeah.

Rory Williams:
00:39:54
... it was playable.

Doug Shafer:
00:39:55
Yeah (laughs).

Rory Williams:
00:39:55
But when the puck would go down to the other end, it was kind of you had to draw straws as to who was gonna go get it.

Doug Shafer:
00:40:00
No, I-

Rory Williams:
00:40:00
But eventually somebody did fall through the ice (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
00:40:04
(laughing) Yeah, I do, good, good, it was the same. I was thinking about that this morning going, "God, did that really happen?" 'Cause I remember that somehow the word got out 'cause everybody's like, "Bring your kids." 'Cause, you know, my three kids were, you know, same age as you and your brother and sister. So, you know, you guys were all whatever, six, seven, eight, nine, but it was a, it was a scream. Um, but, yeah, then it got kind of weird 'cause the ice started cracking (laughing), and yeah, someone went in. A little scary, but it was fun.

Rory Williams:
00:40:28
(laughs) All, all of a sudden it's like, "Wait a second, we could die out here."

Doug Shafer:
00:40:30
Yeah, yeah, it was probably your father's idea. Thanks, John. Anyway, um-

John Williams:
00:40:35
(laughs) Everyone had plenty of antifreeze (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
00:40:38
So high school was, uh, where was high school?

Rory Williams:
00:40:42
St. Helena Public High School. Um, all public schools here in St. Helena and, uh, yeah, grew up a, a valley kid. Um-

Doug Shafer:
00:40:51
Yeah.

Rory Williams:
00:40:51
Went to school, uh, with your, uh, with your kids. Uh, I think both of 'em a little bit younger than me, but, um, not too far off. And so I remember going over, uh, to your guys' house, uh, growing up and hanging out by the pool.

Doug Shafer:
00:41:05
Yeah.

Rory Williams:
00:41:05
Um, on, on the hot days.

Doug Shafer:
00:41:07
Oh, yeah, pool basketball. You guys, were you in (laughing)? Do you remember that one? I know John did.

Rory Williams:
00:41:11
I do.

Doug Shafer:
00:41:12
Is it one day?

Rory Williams:
00:41:12
I, I do, yeah (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
00:41:14
Those games got a little, little physical. I remember that. Okay (laughing). All right, so you're growing up. So as you're getting outta high school, what are you thinking? Are you thinking the wine business or it's like, "Man, I've been doing this. I need to get away from this." Where, where was your head at on this, this whole thing?

Rory Williams:
00:41:29
Well, well, as you, as you probably know and, and it's, it's complicated. I always loved the wine business. I always loved being around the vineyards, um, and really I think more than, more than anything I knew above, uh, beyond that I knew it was a- an extremely special place here. Uh, I was always an outdoors kid. I was lucky to have my parents be very out-, very outgoing, very adventurous. And so we were always hiking, always going places. Uh, my, my mom can probably run up a mountain, um, with, with the energy she has. And so Na- Napa's a pretty, uh, Napa's a pretty boring place if you're not into the outdoors.

00:42:09
Um, when you're a, when you're a teenager, it's not yet, uh, time to go to tasting rooms and ta-, and taste wine. And if you're into malls and movie theaters, it's, it's a, it's kind of a slow place. Um, but I loved it. And still love the valley, uh, a lot. With that said, I didn't want to, uh, just kind of immediately go right into the, uh, wine business. I had other interests, um, loved reading, loved, uh, kind of some other academic pursuits and knew I wanted to do something different before I came back into the wine business, if I were, were to come back into the wine business.

Doug Shafer:
00:42:48
Oh, good, good.

Rory Williams:
00:42:48
And, uh, and, and knew my dad's story of having, uh, you know, bootstrap for, for lack of a better term. It didn't seem right to just sort of, uh, jump right into it, uh, uh, right after high school or even right after, uh, right after college.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:01
Good. So, uh, so where was college?

Rory Williams:
00:43:05
College was at St. John's College in, uh, in Annapolis, Maryland. Um, I remember (laughs), uh, signing up for school and, uh, having to describe to my brother where Maryland was. Um, (laughing) and, uh, you know, he's kind of looking at me like, "Wow, you chose about as far away from, from home as you could get."

Doug Shafer:
00:43:24
It is, it is, it is, actually, isn't it? It is, it is the farthest away.

Rory Williams:
00:43:28
You, you know (laughs), it, it, it felt pretty far away. And, uh, you know, we'd been back to the East Coast many times. As kids we always went back there for Thanksgiving, um, which is always a little funny, bringing out, uh, Little Johnny's wine that he'd been making for, for 30 years for, uh, to Thanksgiving where nobody would dare drink it.

Doug Shafer:
00:43:46
Right.

Rory Williams:
00:43:46
Um, but it was, uh, you know, be- been back to the East Coast, but it had never had that fu- full experience of being away. And that's what I wanted. I, I wanted... I knew I needed to create distance and create a longing for Napa if I were gonna come back and, and, um, be able to do my own thing.

Doug Shafer:
00:44:06
And your dad mentioned you went to Cornell also. Wa- was that after St. John's?

Rory Williams:
00:44:13
Yeah, so St. John's wa-, it wasn't a direct path exactly. Um, so I, um, did my first couple years at St. John's, which, uh, for those of you that don't know, it's, it's a, it's, it has nothing to do with wine, whatsoever. Uh, it doesn't have a whole lot to do with anything, uh, uh, real concrete, you might say. It's a great book school, so you, uh, kind of sit around reading books, works of philosophy and poetry in, in the, in the original Greek. And, uh, it's this, the whole idea is that you're trying to generate ideas, stimulate ideas, learn how to think. Um, and I took about two years of that and I liked it, but figured I would get my hands dirty. So I did take a, a year off from school and worked harvest.

Doug Shafer:
00:44:57
Okay.

Rory WIlliams 00:44:58
And that ended up being pretty critical. I had, um, fallen in love with the idea of Barolo and Barbaresco, just reading the, the World Atlas of Wine as a kid. And so went and traveled there, did stage in Barolo. And, uh, then flipped harvest and did stage down in, uh, Argentina in Mendoza after that. And that was really where the whole coming into, back into the fold, uh, of the, of the wine business really started to take some shape. Um, I didn't know Italian when I went to Italy to, to work, uh, the harvest there. And, basically, back, got to the end of that and, uh, realized that if I enjoyed doing this, uh, while getting yelled at in a language I barely understood, um, then maybe this was something I could end up doing. And it, it was where in Italy is where I really had my first aha moment with wine.

Doug Shafer:
00:45:48
Okay.

Rory Williams:
00:45:49
Uh, where I had been, um, working, worked there for about, uh, four months. And, uh, you know, started in the summer and, uh, worked all the way through harvest. So we get to the end of, uh, the harvest there and, uh, we have the big blowout dinner with all the, uh, all the vineyard workers, all the cellar workers. And, uh, had been drinking basically nothing but Arneis, Nebbiolo, um, Barbera, and Dolcetto for, for four months. But I'd brought one bottle of Cabernet from, uh, uh, from Frog's Leap with me just to share. And it was that experience of having been 6,000 miles removed for so long, and then opening up this bottle of Napa Cabernet and it was like being transported 6,000 miles back home, uh, just instantly.

Doug Shafer:
00:46:37
Uh-huh.

Rory Williams:
00:46:38
And it was I'd never had that. I'd grown up around, uh, Napa wine, obviously. It had plenty of Cabernet in my life, but I'd never had that experience before. Never been transported in that way and it required that kind of distance to really have that revelation. And I thought, at that moment, A, it was a beautiful thing to experience. And I thought that, that, that right there is something worth doing. Um, it's this isn't just booze, it's not just a glass of wine. This is something, uh, pretty special that to be able to transport. And so that sat in my mind as I finished my coup-, uh, the last couple years at St. John's.

00:47:15
Uh, did a, uh, another stage right after St. John's before going to, uh, to Cornell. And, uh, they still didn't have a graduate program in wine, uh, in winemaking. So I was part of the flavor chemistry, uh, department, uh, actually working mostly out of Geneva.

Doug Shafer:
00:47:34
Okay.

Rory Williams:
00:47:34
Uh, but that was how I kind of, that was my way of getting, being a TA and, uh, being a research assistant and getting essentially paid to, to learn chemistry, uh, at Cornell.

Doug Shafer:
00:47:45
Man, that's a great story. So that's when it, that's when it clicked after that? Ain't that amazing. We, everybody's got a, a moment where it kind of clicks, you, you know, whether, whether it's wine or anything you do. So you finished up at Cornell and then, uh, so at this point you're probably be- beating a path back to Napa 'cause is that the, is that what happened?

Rory Williams:
00:48:13
Yeah, you know, it was, uh, I, at that point, I had been about 10 years on the East Coast. And, uh, between, uh, travel and school and, uh, um, met my future wife back there. And, uh, I was, uh, I was getting cold. You know, I was, I was still a (laughing) California kid, but it, it was, it was the experience. I remember, uh, being at St. John's my freshman year and it, it snowed on April 1st. It was a big blizzard year in, in-

Doug Shafer:
00:48:40
(laughs).

Rory Williams:
00:48:41
... Annapolis and I just, I just started crying. I, I couldn't handle it (laughing). I, I was just, I was so, I was so soft. Um, I eventually got used to it and be- became accustomed, but Ithaca was a whole nother, uh, dimension of cold. And, uh, you know, eventually just kind of had to, I had to get outta the Northeast and had to come back home. Um, my, uh, dad had offered a- an internship, a harvest internship at Frog's Leap in 2010. And so I came back in, uh, late summer of 2010 to, uh, to work that harvest for Frog's Leap. Um, and then it went from there.

Doug Shafer:
00:49:14
Yeah, I was, I was, I was gonna ask you about that. So, um, 'cause, you know, I'm, I'm a veteran of a father/son working relationship. So, yeah, so did you have to apply? Did you have to interview? I mean, you know, was he, was he tough to work for? You know, first job, what was, what was it like in the beginning (laughs) with you two guys?

Rory Williams:
00:49:31
Well, you know, when, when my, my dad drives off every other intern, uh, you know, he had to, had to have somebody come in and, uh, and stomp the grapes. No, it was, um, you know, it's, as, as you know, it's this tension between wanting to, wanting the family to join the fold and not wanting to push or pull too hard. And, uh, wanting to make sure that there's a, that there's something there. Um, so coming back and having done the stages before, um, having worked, um, elsewhere, I had never actually done any, uh, formal harvest work at, at Frog's Leap.

00:50:09
I kind of had grown up in the summers tying vines out, uh, for Frank out in the vineyard or, uh, working for our resident engineer, Brad Lusk, uh, repairing the Red Barn in the winters and summers. But had never, uh, held down a, a formal internship here at the winery. And, uh, you know, I'll, I'll give credit to my dad, it was I didn't really work for him. Um, I worked for Pablo-

Doug Shafer:
00:50:32
Right.

Rory Williams:
00:50:32
... um, our, our cellar, our longtime cellar master and now winemaker. Uh, I worked for him, I worked for the guys on the crew. And that was the way that really worked out very well in, in 2010. And it set the kind of a template for coming back to Frog's Leap, um, in 2012 for a full-time position. Well, part, started as part-time, but it, it became important to not work for my dad, but to work for everybody else who makes things click at Frog's Leap. We talk about being a family winery, but it's, it's not so much about ownership as, as having these kinds of generations of people who, uh, tie into the story of Frog's Leap. And that's been extremely important to us for a long time. So I, I still feel like I, I work for them, um, and not, I don't work for my dad. That kind of thing.

Doug Shafer:
00:51:26
Yeah, I'm with you. That's, uh, that's smart. John, you're a smart father. Good job. Don't have him work for you directly. All indirect.

John Williams:
00:51:34
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
00:51:35
All indirect. Trust, but trust me, Rory, he was, he was going behind your back talking to Pablo and those other guy saying, "Okay, how's he doing? How's he doing (laughing)?" Well, yeah, da- dads do that stuff, you know, that's the way it goes. So you're, you're 20-, 2012, you're a full time at Frog's Leap, and I think you start your own winery. You got your own brand, right?

Rory Williams:
00:51:56
Yeah, started the, the year before actually I came to, uh, to, to Frog's Leap. I, uh, after 2010, I had a little, I had to take some time off from, uh, for an injury, um, and kind of got bored at, kind of got restless at that point and said, "Wow, I'm go-, I'm gonna start my own winery." I had fallen in love with this grape Charbono and thought that, that was something pretty fun. Um, and so wa- was looking for a way to l- learn all, all of the, the bones of the business, you might say. 

00:52:57
Didn't really wanna start my own Cabernet project or, and certainly wouldn't call it a project kind of thing. Uh, and, and wanted to figure out how I could make my own thing and make my own mistakes on my own dime. And, uh, and use that to, to move forward in the, in the wine industry. That was pretty important to me to, uh, to make some mistakes and learn all these different things, um, that my dad had learned at the Taylor Wine Company that he had le- learned kind of over the years. Um, and I knew I had to learn it fairly quickly. So starting Calder Wine Company was my way of doing that while exploring some other fun grapes that didn't necessarily fit into the fold with Tres Sabores or, or Frog's Leap right away. Um, but that I knew I wanted to have my hands in.

Doug Shafer:
00:53:47
You're wise beyond your years, my friend. Um, 'cause in this business, um, as your father knows and as you now know, it's all about the details and it's, it's not glamorous. It's n- nitty gritty and it's, and you gotta get the details covered and you gotta get 'em done on time with the right government agency or this or that. And, um, you know, the glory of harvest and making wine in a fermenting tank, which is just glorious, God love it, we all do. But, um, the devil is truly in the details. So it's good for you for, uh, taking that on and learn it.

00:54:23
Because without that background, um, you can't really truly enjoy the glamorous side of it, which is the, um, yeah, it's harvest and fermentations. I mean, there's nothing better. Uh, what, what flavors are you making with, with Calder? You've got the, you said Charbono, right?

Rory Williams:
00:54:40
Charbono, using some of that, uh, Riesling, uh, that, that was, uh (laughing), we kept in the ground at all -

Doug Shafer:
00:54:45
(laughs) There it is, the Riesling.

Rory Williams:
00:54:48
You know, all of a sudden, the Ri- Riesling pops up again.

Doug Shafer:
00:54:50
The Riesling's back.

Rory Williams:
00:54:50
It's funny, you know, the, the Liebfraumilch has a, has a weird tie in with Charbono, um, just 'cause, dad, when you, uh, after you started making Leapfrogmilch, uh, Leapfrogmilch, word got out that there was somebody in the valley buying Riesling. Um, and so all of a sudden you started getting calls left and right from, uh, people who had Riesling. And I remember you had a, there was a, a guy on Manly Lane who had four acres of (laughing), uh, uh, of Riesling and say, "Well, you know, I heard you're buying Riesling. Can you, would you take some of this?" And, uh, I remember you, you bought that Riesling and then e- eventually helped, uh, him find a, find a buyer. Um, remind me of the guy's name, dad?

John Williams:
00:55:30
Ken, Ken and Ellen McGill, yeah (laughing).

Rory Williams:
00:55:33
Ken and Ellen McGill (laughing). Um, you know, an old grower, it's no longer Riesling, um, but, you know, that story played out in a funny way. Where years after you stopped buying, uh, Riesling from, uh, from Ken McGill, you got a call from Ken McGill saying, "Hey, John, you know, I've got all this, uh, got all this old wine that I've got stored downstairs. And, uh, I don't want my kids to have it. And I don't, you know, the wife and I don't drink very much, very much anymore. So, uh, would you mind coming down and see if you wanna buy it?" And ended up being about 10 cases of Inglenook and Charles Krug from the '50s and '60s-

Doug Shafer:
00:56:10
Oh my gosh.

Rory Williams:
00:56:10
... just completely, completely priceless wines really, um, certainly nowadays. And in that stash was a bunch of old Inglenook Charbono from the '60s. A grape that when we popped open that bottle, we had never heard of the grape before. Um, it was totally unknown to us and we thought, "Well, how bad could it be?" And it was if I had to point out a second aha moment, uh, that, that would be it. That was, uh, uh, a totally ethereal magical bottle of '61 Inglenook Charbono that, uh, kind of inspired Calder to come to be.

00:56:45
Um, Pablo had some contacts, uh, with Ignacio, the winemaker at the, uh, now-gone Summers Estate up in Calistoga that had some Charbono. Um, and it caused us to put, put the breaks on about an acre of Cabernet and it became an acre of Charbono instead at Rossi.

Doug Shafer:
00:57:02
Wow.

Rory Williams:
00:57:03
So there's some, there's some Charbono planted at Rossi now (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
00:57:07
That's cool. So I've got a question for each of you guys. So you guys have been working together over 10 years. You know, you know, probably longer than that. Obviously, it's going really well. Two things for each of you guys, what are the cha-, what, what have been the challenges in working together and what have been the joys? Rory, you go first, challenges and joys.

Rory Williams:
00:57:36
My dad and I are pretty, pretty simpatico, so, so we're not, um, butting heads all the time. And I guess that's a, maybe a pre- prerequisite, for working so closely together. The, the challenges of the, the fact that (laughs) there, there's kind of no way of not taking e- everything personally (laughing). If, if, uh, if you have a disagreement, but really it- it's more about, um, trying to keep the winery going. And, and, uh, that challenge is sort of when we face together, keeping business strong, keeping people happy, um, and realizing that, uh, the wine business is, is all consuming.

00:58:25
It's, uh, there's no, there- there's never any moment where you say, "Okay, well, I'm done for the day." There is no clock out time. You're, you know, quite apart from literally waking up at 2:00 AM for frost. There's the, uh, the knowledge that I have of, of my parents constantly working, constantly striving to, to make the winery work and make it work for everybody here. And, uh, I've now joined in that with, with my dad. It's, uh-

Doug Shafer:
00:58:56
Mm-hmm.

Rory Williams:
00:58:57
... it's lovely. It's, that's challenging and, um, means that you have to really find your (laughs), find your, and plan your escapes, uh, just for a, for a moment's rest. But it's, it's an incredible privilege on my part to do that. And I know that at, at the same time. And so that's kind of the, the main joy of it is, is realizing-

Doug Shafer:
00:59:15
Right.

Rory Williams:
00:59:15
... that it is, it is something special. That challenge is not something that, um, you should or can take for granted. Um, to have this opportunity to, having worked in the vineyards. I knew that, that was a special opportunity in itself. Um, and being able to, to be a part of that release you feel around harvest of all the tension, of the growing season and, uh, the bottling and supplies and taxes and all these things that wrap up into the year. And then that first load of grapes comes in on, on the crush pad, the first Sauvignon Blanc of the season. And, uh, your family's there. Um, that's a pretty sweet feeling. Uh, that's, that's hard to beat.

Doug Shafer: 01:00:03
Right. Thank you. That was beautiful. Kind of (laughs) brings back memories of working with my dad. Oh, all right, so Papa John, how about you, challenges and joys?

John Williams:
01:00:10
(laughs) Well, I think probably you can appreciate more than anyone, uh, Doug, or as much as anyone that there's no, uh, manual for how this all plays out, uh, how you keep a family winery family. And that, that's, uh, every story's a little bit unique. And, uh, um, you know, it is a, a, uh... Rory's got a brother and a sister and, uh, you know, I enjoyed being married so much, I got married a second time. And, uh, you know (laughs), uh, that- that's part of our family as well. And so, um, being cognizant of, of all that, how that all comes together, there are, uh, um, the...

01:00:48
It's a constant challenge to think about how to move that forward and make it all work and, and, uh, make sure everyone has a, feels like they're part of the, part of the process. So that is an ongoing, uh, challenge here. So the mechanics of that, of course, the estate planning and all that, that has to be thoughtful, uh, thoughtfully building a team, uh, at the winery that supports us. Uh, so it's a, it's a constant battle and certainly one that's hardly ever done. But with that comes so many joys, uh, as Rory, uh, talked about. Uh, I think for me the big part of this is, you know, it's, it's hard for an old farmer and an old winemaker to, um, give up any control at all.

01:01:30
You, you fought your whole life to get that control of your own vineyards and your own wine making and your own equipment. And, all of a sudden, to, uh, invite someone else, uh, to even a family member to come in, you know, every farmer wants his, uh, a son to take over the farm, but none of 'em want to give up any control of the farm (laughing). And so that's a, that's a story-

Doug Shafer:
01:01:50
That's true.

01:01:50
... as old as farming itself. And so, but I think, uh, the, the key to that is, is built on respect. And so Rory's put in the hard work to, uh, gain my respect. And not only in the, in the vineyards, but in the winemaking. Um, and, uh, that certainly helps, uh, tremendously. We're not a hobby winery. We, and we have, um, we have employees and (laughs) we have vineyards to tend. We have businesses to, uh, run and, uh, it, uh, it's, it's a lot. And, um, uh, we just, uh... Uh, well, you know, their old, old story about the farmer who won the lottery and they kept what, you know, what are you gonna do with all the money? And I think his answer was, "We'll just keep on farming till it's all gone (laughing)." I think that's kind of how we feel about the - (laughing).

Doug Shafer: 01:02:42
Oh, oh, I like that one. Oh, thanks, man. Um, so tell us where folks can find both Frog's Leap and Calder Wines? Is there a website? What's, what can folks, how can people find your guys' wines?

Rory Williams:
01:02:56
Well, we, we did decide it would be smart to invest in a website at, at, at one point so-

John Williams:
01:03:01
Or someone did, I'm not sure (laughing).

Rory Williams:
01:03:02
Oh, it's this new thing, the whole new-fangled internet thing. Um, yeah, so frogsleap.com and calderwine.com. Um, I'd be reminiscent not mentioning mom's place, tressabores.com. But it's, uh, um, yeah, that's, that's where you find us.

Doug Shafer:
01:03:18
Great, great news. All right, you guys. Hey, again, thank you both for taking the time. Rory, especially you, you need to go take a nap. You, you just sneak out back and sleep in your truck. It's the best, best place to take a nap (laughing). And, uh, so good to talk to both of you guys, hear your stories. Thanks for sharing, um, special time. So be good, and I'll see you out there, okay?

John Williams:
01:03:41
Thanks Doug, this has been a blast.

Doug Shafer:
01:03:43
All right guys.

Rory Williams:
01:03:43
Thanks, Doug.

Doug Shafer:
01:03:43
All right, have a good day. See you.

Rory Williams:
01:03:46
All right, bye.

Full Transcript

Doug Shafer:
Everybody, welcome back. It's Doug Shafer, another episode of The Taste. Uh, today we welcome a long-time friend, family friend, who I do not get to see often enough. Native of Napa, he's being making great wines for a long time, many years. Longer than me, which is saying something. And, uh, but we'd like to welcome John Kongsgaard of Kongsgaard Wines. John, how are you doing?

John Kongsgaard:
Very well, thank you. Nice to talk to you.

Doug Shafer:
Good to have you on. I was thinking of last night about the first time we met, and you know, you might have to help me out with this. I think it was at a, a holiday/Christmas/Thanksgiving family dinner. Your family and my family. Was that when it was?

John Kongsgaard:
That could well be, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course I knew your, I knew your dad before I knew you.

Doug Shafer:
Right. And I think there was a time when...

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Uh, it was some holiday where your folks brought all you guys over to our house and all the kids, you know, had dinner together with those guys. So, I think that was when it was, so...

John Kongsgaard:
There you go.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, probably was late seventies, something like that. Something, yeah. Anyway, a lot to cover with you. Um, there's your story, the winery. But, uh, I think we've gotta start with your mom and dad, big part of this. Um, I think, I, as I've read, if I've read correctly, you're a fifth generation Napan, is that correct?

John Kongsgaard:
That's correct, on my mother's side. Yep.

Doug Shafer:
All right. Well let's start with mom. Tell, what's her story?

John Kongsgaard:
Okay, well Lorraine was quite a character. We should actually go back a couple generations 'cause this is the...

Doug Shafer:
Good.

John Kongsgaard:
This is the, the funniest part is that her, I guess, my great great grandfather was called Governor Lilburn Boggs.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
And he had the distinction of being the governor of Missouri when the Mormons tried to settle there. And he ran them out on a rail.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs).

John Kongsgaard:
And the last, last Mormon to leave shot him standing on the state house, uh, porch. He was then, I think impeached or least left in disgrace and came on a wagon train with of all people the Donner Party group.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, no.

John Kongsgaard:
Saw, yeah. Saw through them and went up to Oregon and came back down to California when it was still part of Mexico and worked for General Vallejo.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, wow.

John Kongsgaard:
So, we've been in charge here for a long time.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs).

John Kongsgaard:
Okay, so that's my mother's descendant who got us here. Oh, and add color to that, Governor Boggs was married to Panthea Boone who was said to be Daniel Boone's ugliest granddaughter.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
So there you go. Anyway, there's a little-

Doug Shafer:
Kongsgaard you can't, you, you can't make this stuff up.

John Kongsgaard:
No.

Doug Shafer:
This is too good.

John Kongsgaard:
No, no.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, my.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, it's funny.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
Uh, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. (laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
That's, that's how we got here. Anyway, my mother was quite a different story. Lorraine Streblo was her maiden name.

Doug Shafer:
Your mother.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
My memory, I'm just interrupting, she was a wonderful woman.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
I adored her. But go ahead, keep going?

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, she was a dear soul, a great mother. And a pioneer in her day, she was the, one of the first, uh, women to graduate from Stanford Law School. So, uh, very independent minded, uh, kind of a rascal. So didn't suffer fools well, uh, but was nonetheless sweet to the people that she loved, including me.

Doug Shafer:        Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, so she was, she was, uh, obviously grew up in Napa and met my dad when they were both at Stanford Law School.

Doug Shafer:
Got it, so all right, well that's your mom Lorraine. So how about your dad, the judge? What's his story?

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, the, the... The judge was born, uh, to Norwegian immigrants, his grandparents came from Norway and as teenagers independent from one another, met in Alaska and settled in Everett, Washington, North of Seattle. And he was blown up in the war, in the second world war on a, on a minesweeper in the Pacific. And ended up, uh, in a naval hospital in California, in Oakland. Uh, and that's what got him to California through, and, and, and eventually met my mom. So he was a judge, um, he was a terrible lawyer apparently 'cause he could-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
... always see, see the other guys' point of view so clearly. So it's good that he got out of that and became a judge. So he, he was like the judge in Napa for a long distinguished career. Not, not a hanging judge, they all said. But a very, uh, even-keel wonderful guy. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Oh he was a great guy. I did know him pretty well and, and we glossed over. He was in, in serious injury. He lost, he lost part of most of his, his leg. Right? Didn't-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, he lost, he lost his left leg in the Pacific. Yep.

Doug Shafer:
Right. And then I remember-

John Kongsgaard:
Did, did slow him down.

Doug Shafer:
It did, I, well, yeah, 'cause I remember I'd see him out in the golf course and he, he was avid golfer, hit the heck outta the ball.

John Kongsgaard:
Absolutely.

Doug Shafer:
And I don't know if you know this story. I met him socially a couple times, but the time I really got to know was, uh, when I had to testify at a, believe it or not, a murder trial in Napa and he was the judge and I had-

John Kongsgaard:
Oh boy.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. And this was something that happened when I was in high school and I saw this car that was, and a year later I'm home for vacation, you know, Christmas for college. And I'm reading about in the local paper about this trial and this, this particular car, it was an old Cadillac ambulance. And I said to my mom, I said, "I, I remember that night. I remember seeing that car when I was dropping off this gal after a basketball game." And she said you're kidding. And so she was on, she and dad were on their way to a dinner party. They ran into your folks. She makes this comment to your dad, (laughs) the judge.

John Kongsgaard:
Oh no.

Doug Shafer:
The next day the DA is knocking on our front door saying we need to speak to your son (laughs). So...

John Kongsgaard:
Wow.

Doug Shafer:        I ended up testifying at this murder trial and I, I didn't, you know, all I could say was I saw this car, I couldn't identify anything. But-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... at one point the def- defense lawyer was starting to get, get after me pretty aggressively. And your dad was great. He kind of came in and shut him down. So at that point-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Good.

Doug Shafer:
... he was my favorite for sure. (laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. There you go. Great.

Doug Shafer:
All right. So he was a judge, here for a long time, famous in Napa. And you, so you were, when were you born?

John Kongsgaard:
Uh, '51. 

Doug Shafer:
Got it. And, uh, two sisters, Mary and Martha, as I recall.

John Kongsgaard:
Yep. One older, one younger.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. So growing up in Napa, what was that like?

John Kongsgaard:
Uh, it was a little, it was kind of a cow town, as we used to say. I mean, there, nobody lived here. There was no restaurant in Napa that you could go to on like on mom's birthday. We would all get dressed up and we had to go either to Sonoma or San Francisco. I mean, it was a real backwater.

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

John Kongsgaard:
And so we're saying there wasn't much of a wine industry then either. Um, for example, when I graduated from high school in 1969, I think there were about 18 wineries in Napa County.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

John Kongsgaard:
So yeah, those are the old days.

Doug Shafer:
Compared to 600 now, something like that.

John Kongsgaard:
Yep. Yep. So, but growing up were your folks into wine? Was there wine in the house?

Doug Shafer:
Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah. My dad was a good friend of Louis Martini among other people and Andre Tchelistcheff, uh, lived just down the street from my us and became a great friend of mine, uh, in the end. Uh, so yeah, there was always wine. He was sort of the, uh, wine ambassador when his law school buddies would come around, he would show them the difference between a Claret bottle and a burgundy bottle and...

John Kongsgaard:
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
I mean the real basics, but yeah, he was a, he was a friend of all of those people. Um, the Mondavis and the Mondavis and yeah, we had, oh, it was Christmas. We had Charles Krug special select Cabernet with a little red stripe on the corner and-

John Kongsgaard:
Oh, I remember that.

Doug Shafer:
... Old BVs and yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Oh, that's great.

Doug Shafer:
I still have some Louis Martini wine that was in my dad's collection when he died, uh, from back to the fifties.

John Kongsgaard:
Oh, wow.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, he was an avid, avid wine nut.

John Kongsgaard:
Good, good.

Doug Shafer:
And uh, my, uh, crack research team, we found out the high school for you was down in Monterey. Is that correct?

John Kongsgaard:
Yep. Yep. I got shipped out. I was a fiercely dyslexic, uh, terrible student. And so I was not sent to reform school quite, but I was sent to a high disciplined college preparatory school for boys.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
Robert Louis Stevenson. Turned out to be a great thing for me. Not least because I got to, uh, leave town as a teenager in the town where my dad was the judge.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
So was that, not a bad thing.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. That's not good 'cause...

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) You don't want the share of calling your dad at night? (laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
No, no, that's right.

Doug Shafer:
And high school interest, sports, I'm, I'm, I'm thinking music was a big interest probably then. 

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, that's, uh, no, it was in high school that I-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
... became a cla- classic music, classical music devotee. Not, not much sports. Sports was mostly cross country. So we could run down to the beach, dig up the football and the Cabernet bottle that were all buried, like, uh, treasure on Pebble Beach.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So after, so 1969. So I gotta ask because, uh, you're little ahead of my time. So, and you know, I'm in high school watching the news, so you're going to college and I'm watching the, the protests and all the hippies-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... and the all.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So were you like a long hair hippie guy? Is that, was that your look?

John Kongsgaard:
A medium.

Doug Shafer:
Medium.

John Kongsgaard:
Medium hair-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
... hippie guy. Uh, and I, my father who was a war hero and a public figure. Even, even on the draft board for example, um, he and I just truly defined the generation gap. Te was the war hero and I was the Vietnam protestor, you know, snot nose intellectual telling my dad that, uh, all wars were evil and I'm sorry about your leg, but uh, I'm not going to Vietnam. So I actually worked my way, uh, toward becoming a conscientious objector to his incredible chagrin and even shame.

                                                            In the end we all patched it up and I, I got out of the, the CO, um, track because I was, I'm from the era of the, of the draft lottery. And I was lucky to draw a very high number so I could spare my father's honor. I dropped the conscientious objector application and just-

Doug Shafer:
And just-

John Kongsgaard:
... got out of the war that way. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. Oh man. You know, I never even thought about that. That must have been really, that must have been tough, 'cause you...

John Kongsgaard:
It was a rough time.

Doug Shafer:
It was.

John Kongsgaard:
I mean, there was a kid in my dorm in Colorado who we were all getting drunk, watching the bingo game of our lives as they pulled your-

Doug Shafer:
Pulled your.

John Kongsgaard:
... number out of the, yeah. And anyway, one of our buddies was number six and he was gone before you knew it and came back in a body bag.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

John Kongsgaard:
Just like that. Just like that. Yeah. Roughest, terrible period of American history. No doubt about it.

Doug Shafer:
It, it really is. I was on the tail end. I, I was, they were still pulling numbers for me. So I remember that turned I 18, I went down to the Napa post office, downtown, Napa, you know, and registered and the whole thing. And unfortunately, fortunately I got a, a high number at that point that war was winding down, but uh...

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Well I'm glad you guys patched it up. That's good.

John Kongsgaard:
We did.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. That's good.

John Kongsgaard:
We'll get into this at some point, but um, we need to talk about my, our, our most noted wine is, is called The Judge. And um, I can tell you that now or later, but it's, uh, has to do with this period and yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Well, tell me, tell me, tell us the story now.

John Kongsgaard:
Okay.

Doug Shafer:
It's appropriate.

John Kongsgaard:
So, so I started growing Chardonnay, uh, at the family place on Stone Crest Drive just east of the town of Napa, right on the city limits actually. Um, with the good fortune of our neighbor was Andre Tchelistcheff. And he, I, just getting excited about planting a little couple acres there, uh, when my interest in wine was getting the best of me, and Andre said we should grow Chardonnay, I thought, "Really?"

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
There was no Chardonnay in Napa. Anyway, he turned out to be right. And that vineyard is now, uh, our flagship. But, uh, in my dad died in, uh, 2001. And in the subsequent vintage, we were, um, well, I'll back up and say that when, when we were having our arguments about the Vietnam war and war in general and all that, uh, we managed to keep our friendship going by him helping me while I was working on the weekends, getting this land cleared and planted, uh, to grapes. And it was perfect 'cause I could send him off to the far corner of the field to do a burn or something and we didn't have to talk at all except at lunch and then we'd have a beer at the end and that was it.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
Anyway, so we kind of kept it all going that way. And we, by the end of his life, we had certainly patched it up. He saw the folly of this, of the Vietnam war and-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Kongsgaard:
... we agreed on a lot of things that we did, that we disagreed on early on. Anyway, when he died, uh, in '01 I was out there for the vintage, um, picking, getting ready to pick the grapes and I had a sentimental moment thinking about him and I sent the crew home and just kept a couple of people and we picked, uh, what would became a barrel worth of grapes from the favorite part of the vineyard and made that as a one-off wine, which I called The Judge. And the idea was just to make a barrel in his memory and give it to the law school friends and was gonna be it.

                                                            And then the wine was eventually discovered by various critics and um, while it was still sitting in the barrel and uh, a big deal was made of it. And so eventually it became a commercial wine and now it's, and now it's our, our biggest deal. But it was all in honor of my dad and because we kept our friendship going while working in that vineyard.

Doug Shafer:
Oh John.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Great story. Thanks for sharing that.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
That's, oh, all right. I'm driving, I'm driving up the hill to see you 'cause I wanna share a bottle of that with you. (laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
We'll do that. We'll do that. We'll tell dad stories, that's for sure.

John Kongsgaard:
I, I'd love it.

Doug Shafer:        That'd be great. Ah, thanks for that. So going back to hippie land. So after high school-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... college was Colorado, right?

John Kongsgaard:
College was yeah, I went to Colorado. I was, I was, um, just backing up. Uh, I graduated from high school in '69 and I was interested in agriculture. My mother's father Streblow was a cattle rancher. They had a big, beautiful ranch that's now under water at Lake Berryessa.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
And there were a lot of cattle and horses around our place where we had all grew up in Napa. Um, so I thought I, I really wanted to be in agriculture somehow, but my grandfather said you're never gonna make it in the cattle business. This is a big business for me, but it's basically a hobby supported by his quarry business. So I, I don't know how to do this. Maybe I'll go into forestry and be a forest ranger. I wanted to be out with plants and nature.

Doug Shafer:
Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Kongsgaard:
Anyway, there was kind of no possibility, um, at that point other than maybe the forestry route. So I went to Colorado State University where I could be at the same time, a, uh, science, like a plant science person, and also study literature which was my main passion. And I thought, if I can't figure out the ag side, I'll become a literature professor. So I was really on the track for that. And by the time I graduated, uh, in 73, the wine business had absolutely exploded.

Doug Shafer:
Right. Right.

John Kongsgaard:
That's when it went from a dozen wineries to 100 wineries in that four year period. The world was crying for enologists, um, because all these people like your father, um, had moved out here and had a big intention, but didn't really know how to make wine and they needed, there was suddenly a, a need for the technical class. So ... I, I spent a year thinking about it. Um, I got a job at Christian Brothers, and which was then the biggest winery in Napa as a, you know, a union, union racker and blender (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
And that was the, that's where CIA Greystone is, correct? Was that or is that one of it?

John Kongsgaard:
That, that was them also, but this was the kind of factory that now belongs to Sutter home that north of Louis Martini.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, it looks like an oil refinery.

Doug Shafer:
Uh, (laughs).

John Kongsgaard:
Anyway, I worked there just 'cause I had to get a job, and I made enough money to go knock around Europe, uh, on a Eurail pass, uh, for a year listening to mostly listening to classical music. And in that year was my debate. Am I gonna be a winemaker and go back to college and learn all this stuff? Or am I gonna stay in the ivory tower and become an academic? And by the time the year was over, I had figured out that I would go back. And so I went, uh, a year and a half to Monterey Peninsula College to study, uh, the prereqs.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
And then I had six months at Napa College. And so with two years of, of going back to junior college basically to get the science I got to Davis as a graduate student.

Doug Shafer:
So what year was that?

John Kongsgaard:
I guess I got into Davis in, uh, '75.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. So that, so you're-

John Kongsgaard:
76. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. So I was there, I started '75 as a freshman. So our paths never crossed. Um...

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. You were a little kid.

Doug Shafer:
I was little kid and, uh, the only time I crossed paths with a bunch of folks in your generation of winemakers was uh, Dr. Cook's vit 110 class, I think it was.

John Kongsgaard:
Oh yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah. 

Doug Shafer:
You know, I took, I think I took that as a junior. I don't think you were in it. Tony Sodor was in it, Dick Ward and-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Jeff Corison.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Almost.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
They were, yeah. They were sitting in front. I was sitting back messing around. But-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... he was a, he was a character (laughs).

John Kongsgaard:
Yes he was.

Doug Shafer:
Anyway. Okay. Well good. So you were, so you got out at grad school, and then what about your folks? Were they into, what were they, what'd they think about you getting into wine?

John Kongsgaard:
Uh, I think they were just barely open-minded let's say. It was, it was okay with them, but they thought I should have gone to law school I think, but-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
... Martha, my little sister did that. We tricked her and made her do it.

Doug Shafer:
I remember that she did. Yeah. She did go to law school. I remember that.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. You tricked her, God it’s terrible, siblings.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
All right. So you... All right. So you, you get outta Davis, um...

John Kongsgaard:
Yep.

Doug Shafer:
And uh, but wait a minute, I think. Did you meet Maggie at Davis?

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Well actually we met just before Davis.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
But we, we, we met when we were at Napa Community College, and it's a very sweet story. Uh, I'm still quite ferociously dyslexic. So I was, I was in the organic chem lab trying to put together a cash still or something, some apparatus with a drawing in front of me and all these glass parts. And I, I just couldn't do it. I was all coming out backwards. And Maggie, Maggie came like an angel. Uh, I didn't know her at all. It just came like a benign force across the lab and, you know-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
... took the thing out of my hands and put it all together. (laughs) And, and I mean that was it. That was the moment. Uh, it was amazing.

Doug Shafer:
Oh wow. That's great.

John Kongsgaard:
So we had a, our romance started at the, it's funny because we were... the community college is a wonderful force in the community and I'm a big supporter of it, but it was always the threat. Like if you really screwed up in high school, like you're just gonna go to the junior college son.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
So there I was already a successful academic, but back at the junior college (laughs)-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
... and there was Maggie who was reinventing herself also, she'd been a fine art undergrad and she wanted to go to Davis for horticulture. Um, so we were both doing our prereqs together and then went to Davis together and by the end of my grad school we were, uh, we were a couple.

Doug Shafer:
... and carried on and got married and the rest is history.

John Kongsgaard:
Yep.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

John Kongsgaard:
That's it. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So meanwhile though, you're, um, you mentioned Andre Tchelistcheff who lived down the street.

John Kongsgaard:
Yep.

Doug Shafer:
So you guys got to be good friends, which was how, how neat (laughs) how neat for you.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:        And I-

John Kongsgaard:
Fortuitous.

Doug Shafer:
And I know there's another guy who had a big impact 'cause it also plays into my dad's story a little bit. But tell me about Nathan Faye, your relationship with him.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah. So Nathan was a, was a family friend. Uh, obviously, uh, your neighbor there. Uh, he, I think was the first, maybe the first grower that maybe the first Cabernet grower in the whole Stags Leap area. So Nathan was a family friend. His British wife was, uh, the, kind of the founder of the Napa Symphony-

                                                            ... and she had a soft spot for me 'cause I was a music person and anyway, so I got to know them pretty well through my family, even before I was interested in wine. And then in '75, I guess I was still at the community college the year before I went to Davis, uh, Nathan, uh, helped me make my first ever barrel of wine.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

John Kongsgaard:
And that was interestingly enough it was Atlas Peak grapes where I am now. It was from the Mead ranch and Nathan was a fantastic home brewer. I mean the legendary home winemaker. And he, um, invited me to join him to buy and, and go in on a ton of Zinfandel from, from the Meade ranch. So 75 Meade Zin was my first ever barrel of wine.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

John Kongsgaard:
And, and then while I was at graduate-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
... school in '76, 7 and 8, uh, Nathan, uh, sold me at the kind of family discount, uh, half a ton of Cabernet every year. So the first, the first great wine I ever made was ‘76 Fay Cabernet.

Doug Shafer:
Oh wow.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And was that, and the stories I've heard and you've got, I think you were part of this. There were a bunch of you guys that came over from Davis.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And Nathan, you, Nathan.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
I don't know how, how it started, but there was like this, you guys would come over and pick grapes, he'd let you take, make wine then you'd spend the weekend and basically-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... you know, have, he was drinking.

John Kongsgaard:
He was drink a lot of -

Doug Shafer:
... good wines. He was your guy. Right?

John Kongsgaard:
Yes. He was our, he was our mentor. So that was in, in '70... in '77 I think it was, uh, while I was at Davis, Nathan, um, allowed me to get a whole, any, any number of my friends could come in on this deal. And we each got a half a ton of grapes and we went back to our graduate school garages. Like in my case I had a little home brew winery barn at my parents' place. So it was Jack Stewart and uh, me and, uh, Dan Lee and Tom Peterson. Mike Fisher, who became an accountant.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
Wine accountant. Uh, that was more or less the group. Oh, and Dick Ward.

Doug Shafer:
And Dick ward. Yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. So we all, we all made our wine that year and, uh, it was a, it was, it was '77. It was the second of the drought vintages. And Nathan said, (laughs) "Hope you guys are getting smart in school 'cause I wouldn't know how to make wine out of a stupid year like this."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
But we in fact all made wonderful wine and we, we uh, whoever's left of us, we still have the odd bottle and get together and drink them and it was a great experience. And I think the first wine, most of the, my colleagues ever made was that home brew from Fay.

Doug Shafer:
Wow. That's good.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. And Nathan was our, he was our mentor and our drinking buddy and famous story where we were all, um, getting into his German wine.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
Getting into his German wine cellar and, uh, I think most of us were asleep in the garden. Uh, in other words passed out in the garden-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
... when, when uh, Nellie, Mrs. Fay, came home and she read Nathan the right act. He 'cause of the last man standing, but he was not in great shape either. (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
And, and I kind of woke up with one eye and looked at Nathan and he said, "Oh, never mind Nellie. She's just mad she missed all the fun."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Oh...

John Kongsgaard:
Which was not true.

Doug Shafer:
So I've, I've-

Doug Shafer:
Anyway. Yeah. I've heard of this story from different, from some of the, those rag tag group you guys have, but, uh, so jealous, but, um-

John Kongsgaard:
That was fun.

Doug Shafer:
But, but fortunate because I got to know him too. And, um ... I'll tell you, I wanna tell you about him and dad in a minute, but-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
But, uh, I do remember Nellie quite well 'cause Liz was a part of the Symphony board. So we-

John Kongsgaard:
Oh yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... I'd end up going to these Symphony fundraiser dinners and-

John Kongsgaard:
Right.

Doug Shafer:
You know, it was Liz's thing. I was, I went along for the ride, but, um, I'd always end up seeing Nathan there.

John Kongsgaard:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug Shafer:
And it would be at the end of the dinner and people were milling about, and I'd run over and say, "Hey Nathan, how you doing?" And John without fail, every time he'd look at me and say, "How's it looking this year? How's the crop looking?"

John Kongsgaard:
Uh-huh. Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
I mean, it was just like, um, how's it looking? How's it looking? You know, is it, um, yeah. Cause he was retired, but he always wanted know about the harvest. So it would be great-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... 'cause we'd talk grapes. And then later after Nellie died, you know, he remarried, uh, Mary Jane, Mary Jane Turnbull.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... and I ended up buying Merlot from her, from them.

John Kongsgaard:
Right.

Doug Shafer:
And then he died. I bought her grapes for gosh, 20 years. So I got to know Mary-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... Jane really well. And she was this-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, wonderful.

Doug Shafer:
... sweetheart. So it was really fun. And the dad-Nathan's story. I remember coming home from Davis, this is '77, '78. And dad was thinking about doing a winery and I think he was, he might have even approached you. I think you were in one of those meetings once, but he was trying to get Nathan to be his partner. And I, um...

John Kongsgaard:
Oh, uh-huh.

Doug Shafer:
And I was, we were cleaning out his, some of his files after he died. I found some notes, 'cause he kept everything.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And like, I saw this, you know, uh, he used to take copious notes and pro-con comparisons, do this, do that. But one was specifically about Nathan or having a partner and his, his note to himself was Nathan knows how to make wine. I don't, I don't know (laughs) anything about it.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
You know, he could be. And I think he really courted Nathan and Nathan finally said, you know, "I just I'm happy growing grapes. I really don't wanna get in the wine business." So...

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, that's it.

Doug Shafer:
But, um, I remember that pretty clearly, so-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... good stuff. But meanwhile, you start making wine. What was, when you got out of the garage making it, where'd you, what was your, what's your life history there?

John Kongsgaard:
My first ever job was, uh, 19, vintage '79. Maggie and I were just married and my pal from, one of my pals from Davis, Doug Noll who's a Zinfandel maker now.

Doug Shafer:
Right, right.

John Kongsgaard:
Doug and I, uh, convinced some, uh, investment group in, uh, Healdsburg to hire us to build them and then, uh, make, build a winery and make the wine for them. So it was a place called Balverne. And it was a short-lived thing. It was a bunch of good enthusiastic guys who maybe their business sense wasn't what we thought it might be. But it was a great opportunity for these two... You know, we was really the one-eyed leading the blind. We ... we were, (laughs) we, we, we were pretty green.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

John Kongsgaard:
But you know, there was a big need for winemakers. So we cut our teeth, Doug and I did there and that, that was just lasted for a couple years and then the winery, I think they decided it was a bad idea and sold the vineyard and the winery to somebody else.

                                                            And right when it was starting to crash, that seemed like this opportunity was gonna come to an end. I was just fortuitously courted by, uh, Peter and Sua Newton to come out and take over, uh, at the Newton Winery in St. Helena. This is after Peter ran Sterling, founded Sterling and ran it for all those years and then sold it. And with the cash from that decided to build himself a smaller more boutiquey place. Got it up on the, on the bottom of just part way up Spring Mountain.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
So that was my, that was my first really big deal job.

Doug Shafer:
And that was, uh, when was that? Ninety...

John Kongsgaard:
That was the first vintage was '83.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
I, I did what you're not supposed to do. I got a new job, a new house and a new kid, all in the same week actually.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

John Kongsgaard:
'Cause Maggie was, Maggie was pregnant with Alex.

Doug Shafer:        Oh.

John Kongsgaard:
And, and this thing came up and I dove on it and anyway, we all survived it. Um, yeah. So I worked there from, from seventy, no, sorry. From '83, and '83 until '95. So 13 vintages.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. You were, you were there a long time. You were the guy at Newton and help me out. Um, that's when you started doing the unfiltered Chard, am I right?

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
So, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Right. No, you succe- this was, people don't know this right now. This, everybody out there. John Kongsgaard started doing something we thought he was a crazy man. He was making Chardonnay and not filtering it. And that was, you just did not do that. Trust me. 'Cause I've had to rebottle wines. You know, you gotta filter white wine. You're outta your mind if you don't and all of a sudden this thing's, it's gorgeous wine, it's getting great reviews and Kongsgaard's up there in Newton making this thing called unfiltered Chardonnay, it's blowing up around the country. Everybody loves it. And we're all going, "How do you do that? You can't do that. You can't do that." So I, I really want to, can you tell me this story? How did this happen?

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah. Well, Peter, my good fortune. I mean, I had many great things happen while I was at Newton, but the best part of it was that, uh, Peter was a Brit. Um, and he expected me to go to Europe on his nickel every year for two weeks for like a research mission.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
So I was, at Newton we made Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Merlot, and then we made Chardonnay and a little bit of some Sauvignon Blanc, but so I would each year I would go either to Bordeaux or Burgundy. Um, this is starting in '83 or four.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Kongsgaard:
And I discovered, so, you know, I did my research. I had a big wine budget for Peter. I was obliged to spend, you know, thousands of dollars a month on European wine that were, we thought to be like the antecedence of what we were trying to do at Newton.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
So I did my white Burgundy study and then picked the places I wanted to visit. And then over the years repeatedly went to, you know, Bona de maitre and Lafon and Costa Rea and all the great places. Chobar. And in that time, um, California wine was just like a, like a joke in France.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Kongsgaard:
They just, they were so not threatened by some curious 30 something year old winemaker coming around-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
... uh, asking questions (laughs) like, you know, vin du Californie, like really? (laughs) You make wine in California? That's funny.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
So yeah. Okay. Just let me know what you're doing here. Anyway. So it was a, it were, they were very open.

Doug Shafer:
That's pretty funny. Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Very, very encouraging. And so I realized, uh, on, after several trips to, to White Burgundy, that they were doing things very differently from how we were taught at Davis.

Doug Shafer:        Right.

John Kongsgaard:
And among those things was that, um, they were not adding yeast.

Doug Shafer:        Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
They were, they were, uh, fermenting the wine in barrel. They were, um, leaving it in barrel for, the great places were leaving the wine in the barrel for two years. Like the way we made Cabernet.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
And nobody, nobody in Napa had or California had thought of that yet.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
So I came back with my research notes and we thought, "Okay, let's try it." So starting in the, in the late eighties, I think the first year we did it was ‘88.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
Um, on, on an experimental basis. And, uh, the wine was a little, so it was two years in barrel, no, no yeast, uh, spontaneous malolactic.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
Long aging in the, in the cold cave, uh, and then bottled, but you don't need to filter the wine if you have the patience to leave it in the barrel for two years.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
And it's, let's say microbiologically stable.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Kongsgaard:
It's been all the way th- all the sugars fermented and all the malic acid is turned into lactic acid.

Doug Shafer:
Yes, exactly. So it's, yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
So then the wine is, it's, it's stable. It's not gonna ferment any further.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
So, so, but the wine is just a little tiny bit hazy. And so we did a bottling, uh, of two year age wine, two-year age Chardonnay, uh, one, one little part of it filtered and the other most big part of it not filtered. And then I went around the country to all of Newton's wholesalers and did a, a, uh, did blind tastings. Or I just said here's two wines, they're pretty similar, but you tell me which one they want.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
Which one you like. And it could have been at a wholesaler with very sophisticated staff. It could have been with one of these, you know, booze-driven, uh, companies where they're ba- basically liquor salesman peddling some wine.

                                                            So I, I tasted maybe a dozen wholesalers, um, with the full staff, you know, the Friday tasting when everybody comes in and gets lectured by the winemakers and the-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
... whiskey people and so on. Anyway and I said, "Okay, you choose, which one do you like?" And just to the one, everybody liked the wine that was not filtered.

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

John Kongsgaard:
Better than the other one. I mean, not by a lot, but it was always, it was always the case. And then I said, "Okay, now really look at it. Hold it up to the light. And if it's, uh, do you see that the one you liked is just a little bit hazy." And I'd already won their hearts, they said, "Ah, never mind that."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
And so we had the, we had the courage then to do it. So 1990 was the first not-filtered. Um, I mean, unfiltered is the wrong word. What's that we said? But it was the first not-filtered two-year aged, uh, white wine bottled in the country I'm sure.

Doug Shafer:
Oh. And it, it just, and it blew up. Right? That's my recollection.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it was a, it was a huge success and then suddenly everybody wanted to learn how to do it and I had the pleasure at Newton and then, uh, later on, but especially at Newton, I had the pleasure of having a, a lot of apprentices. Um...

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Kongsgaard:
You know, some of the known characters in the business who are just a little younger than I am, uh, they all came and learned how to do it and that, that, uh, message has been passed around the country. And now it's, it's, uh, not, so it's not so unusual.

Doug Shafer:
Exactly.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Well, you're, you're a good man to share. Thank you for that. Which is-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Which is kind of Napa Valley, starting with Robert Mondavi.

John Kongsgaard:
Yep.

Doug Shafer:
Um, and were you, were you, is this when you met Michel Roland? Was he working with you up at Newton?

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah. Roland who's now of course of the most famous of consultants. Um, I was his first, uh, I, we used to say, uh, humorously. I was his first victim, uh, in the country.

Doug Shafer:
What was that like?

John Kongsgaard:
I actually, yeah, it was great.

Doug Shafer:
How'd that, how'd that happen? How'd you guys find Roland or vice versa?

John Kongsgaard:
We, we, we found him in Bordeaux, Peter and Sua Newton and I were, were looking around in Bordeaux to, to try to bring a consultant, uh, to help us with the Bordeaux side. And so we got on to Michel, he was a, had a big consulting practice, uh, in Bordeaux at that time. And when he came, he, he worked for us and for, when Harlan and Levy were Maryvale before Harlan.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
So it was, it was, um, maybe they were in the second year, but anyway, the, the first really three of us, were, was, um, Harlan, Levy, and then he did a little work for Zelma Long at, uh, Simi in those days.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
And it was a blast. He was so fun. He just blew my mind. Like all the things that I got to unlearn when Michel came. Like well, why don't we push the ripeness a little bit? How about this crop is way too heavy. Okay. Michel would say in his bad English, he'd say, "Can we do something?" I'd say like, "What do you wanna do?" We wanna put half of this crop on the ground. I said, "Oh yeah. Okay. I'm gonna tell Tony Truchard to drop half his crop."

Doug Shafer:        Yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
No, I don't think so.

Doug Shafer:
No, no. (laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
Anyway, so it evolved because of Michel. I think another, if I have two things that I did in the wine business in Napa that would, I might be remembered for one was this white wine, um, making non-technique of two year aging in no, no filtre.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Kongsgaard:
And the other thing is that, um, Peter and I basically invented the so-called acreage contract.

Doug Shafer:
Oh yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
Because Rolland said you gotta get half of these, you gotta go down to three tons of the acre from five. And, uh, then your wine will have concentration. And so we-

Doug Shafer:
So yeah. Explain how that works to people, kind of -

John Kongsgaard:
Okay. So the, the grower makes his money by selling a winery, uh, as many tons of grapes as he can. And, uh, per a ton, let's just say tons per acre. And a Napa can grow anywhere between six and all the way down to two. And even a vineyard that wants to grow four tons to the acre probably makes better wine if it's thinned. Uh, if the crop is thinned down to let's say three or two and a half.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Kongsgaard:
This was certainly our conviction in that period. So we had of course a lot of blowback from the growers 'cause we were asking them to throw their money on the ground. And so we would say to the grower, "Okay, you think this is a five ton to the acre vineyard." And let's say the Cabernet costs, you know, whatever it is, $5,000 a ton.

                                                            Okay. So here's your $25,000 an acre. Here's the check for all the grapes that you want to grow. Now you have to listen to me and I'm gonna tell you to cut off half of the crop in July. And they said, "Why not? It's better for the vine to have less fruit on it." Uh, and it meant we effectively raised the price of the grapes for ourselves, but what we gained was, um, was worth the money.

Doug Shafer:
You bet.

John Kongsgaard:
So that's, that's how we did it.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
So those are, those are what Rolland taught me those things. And it was, it was so funny because in the early days he had, I don't have any French really.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
And Michel had almost no English, but we had Spanish in common.

Doug Shafer:
Oh. (laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
So we, we did our, he would come for three or four days, uh, in the growing season and then he would come again and harvest and then maybe one more time for the tastings when we were making the blends. We did the whole thing in Spanish. Uh, and then with the, then the, uh, owners, Peter and Sua Newton would come and have the tasting with us, which we would have to do in English. And Mrs. Newton would say to the, to the, uh, to Michelle, "What do you think of this one?" He would say, "Not bad."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
"And how about this one?" "Not bad." And then the best one he would say, "Not completely bad." (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
Oh, that's great. That's so funny.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. We had it all kind of private to ourselves, but he, he definitely changed the way we thought about wine.

Doug Shafer:
No, he did, he, uh, made a great impact. And um, you know, the ripeness thing was big and that was something we kind of figured out on our own with Tony Soter, helped Elias with me.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
But you know, we started, you know, getting past 23 and the wines were just better. They're just richer-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... and dark, darker fruit and, and you know, the, the consu- consumers, marketplace recognized it and, and said, "Yeah, keep it up. We love it."

John Kongsgaard:
Yep. Yep.

Doug Shafer:
So off we went.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So good news. So you're up at Newton. Um...

John Kongsgaard:
Yep.

Doug Shafer:
Let's see. And I think in the mid-nineties you and, you started doing your own thing with Maggie, right? With Stone Crest Chardonnay, is that-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. So-

Doug Shafer:
Was that the start of Kongsgaard kind of? Is that how that worked?

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah. So in, I was finally, um, ran out of patience working with, uh, Mrs. Newton, who is a, um, controversial character. We'll just leave it at that. I mean, she's still my friend.

Doug Shafer:
Sure.

John Kongsgaard:
But we had a hard time working together.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Kongsgaard:
We, so, uh, at that point we, that is, so this is now, uh, 2000, no, this is, let's see. ‘96. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. '96.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

John Kongsgaard:
So we, so I left Newton, uh, Peter was, this is in the days before the winemaker could have his little side brand.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
That was just absolutely not happening. And I didn't even bring it up with Peter Newton. Like, "Here's what I wanna do. I wanna start my own winery. Can I use a little corner of the cave or this is-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
... that was out of, out of the question. So I resigned, and, uh, we have to give Maggie the full credit for this because I have, uh, still almost no, but I had then absolutely no business sense. No entrepreneurial zeal. I was perfectly happy to move to another job and run somebody else's winery. Maggie said, "No, no, like we can figure this out." So with her courage, uh, and with no money, uh, we started Kongsgaard in, uh, '96.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
And the, the way we managed it was, I got a job at Luna, uh, in Napa, which was just forming and they needed a, they needed a known name winemaker. Somebody who could help them finish the building. I knew about construction.

                                                            Uh, and part of my deal was that I would be able to make my wine under their roof just as part of my compensation. So that's, that's how we were going.

Doug Shafer:
That's, you know, I never knew, 'cause I remember you went to Luna. It was like, I was...

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
It was a head scratcher. Why is he doing that?

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. That's the reason.

John Kongsgaard:
Well it was, it was perfect. 'Cause there was no competition. Luna was Mike Moon and George Vare.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
And they wanted to make Italian, uh, Cal-Ital.

Doug Shafer:
That's right.

John Kongsgaard:
So I had to learn how to make Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese which was a lot of fun and a lot more trips to Europe, uh-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
... different parts of Europe. Um, so I was not really competing them, with them by making Chardonnay. And at the same time we started the brand Arietta which was sort of the Cabernet leg of my endeavor with our partner, Fritz Hatton. So Arietta and Kongsgaard were born under the roof of Luna, uh, where we didn't have to pay rent. Um, and I stayed there for five years.  Um, I also had started a consultancy at that time because I needed the Luna paycheck plus a little more money to keep the ship afloat while we rent-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
... for the first bottles to come out the other end of the winery. So, yeah, so I was at Luna for five years and it was, that was a great job. It was so fun to make, I mean, Parker said, this is the greatest Pinot Gri in the new world. Like that was pretty easy (laughs) to say 'cause there were only like three of us but...

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
... anyway, it was fun. It was a great job.

Doug Shafer:
Well it sounds like it. Cause you're-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... you got, you know, you're starting your own thing. You're starting with some, with Fritz Hatton, Arietta and you're you're playing, playing with Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gri.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
I mean-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... that would be fun.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
What a gas.

John Kongsgaard:
A good time. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. That's good to know. Well, I drive by that building all the time. So now I'll-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... I'll have a different attitude when I go by there. That's, that's good.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And then, now, jumping, jumping, uh, subjects here, but talk to me because chamber music and the classical music is so much a part of your life. Is that something that was going on the whole time or did it, did it get put on-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... hold when you had kids or this job or that job? How's that work?

John Kongsgaard:
So there was a, there's a wonderful guy, uh, who was a lawyer at, in Napa called Dick Lemon. Uh, he was at DPNF for a long time. And so Dick, uh, founded chamber music. He was the, he was the kind of acquisitions lawyer, um, helping people buy and sell wineries. And he helped Clo du Val get off the ground.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
Speaking of the Stags Leap neighborhood. And so the French owners said we'd like to do something for the community. Um, what would you advise us to do Dick Lemon, our lawyer? And he said, "Well, I've always wanted to start a chamber music concert series in Napa." And they said, that's great. That's kind of Europe. That, we'd love to get behind that. So Clo du Val was the original sponsor, and it started in 1980. And Maggie and I moved back over here to take the Newton job in '83, I started going to the concerts. We, we started going to the concerts and, uh, Dick was all very inspired but didn't actually know that much about the music he was trying to put on. And so I, over the few years went from just sort of writing the program notes to actually taking over the artistic administration.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

John Kongsgaard:
So by, by say '85 I was completely in charge of the, everything except the sales and you know, the admin. So yeah, it was great. It was great opportunity for me because not, it's one thing to love music and it's another level of thrill to put on concerts. And now the thing is in its chamber music in Napa valley is just started its 41st year. And-

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

John Kongsgaard:
... we, we bring the very, very best people in the world. Um, solo pianists and cellists and string quartets and opera singers. And that's just become the absolute center of my life. I mean, I make wine to, uh, for equal, equal pleasure in my life is running the winery, but the music thing is really an extra special part of it. And at this point it's 10 concerts a year and whoever they are, if it's a string quartet from Prague or a pianist from Moscow, uh, they come and stay with us up on the mountain and we have a nice piano in our music room. And so, uh, that's really become a big, big part of my life.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, that's great. That's wonderful.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. And fun.

Doug Shafer:
And, and, uh, do you still, I, I heard that you play classical music in your barrel rooms and caves to your wines.

John Kongsgaard:
Absolutely.

Doug Shafer:
There you go.

John Kongsgaard:
Absolutely. Yeah. Somebody asked me does the, does the music influence the wine? And I say it influences the winemaker and the winemaker makes the wine.

Doug Shafer:
There you go.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
I love it. Yeah. I'm good. So, all right. So you're cranking along the Luna days. And then at some point you move on from Luna 'cause, yeah, 'cause you guys, 'cause you built your, your current winery Konsgaard up on the hill, up on Atlas peak, is that correct?

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah. So the history, so I was at Luna for five years and it was kind of my deal when I signed up for that job that I told my, my colleagues, Mike Moon especially, um, that if Kongsgaard flies I'll be gone in five years.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
And I'll commit to you for five years and then if Kongsgaard fails I'll stay here. And anyway, fortunately for us, things went very well. And so after five years we, uh, Arietta and Kongsgaard, left Luna and we leased a winery in St. Helena. We just got an empty winery and, um, so we, we were at, that was the Boswell which burned down recently.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
We, so we were at Boswell for, uh, for five more years. So that got us to, to, well, whatever year that was, um...

Doug Shafer:
Probably mid 2000s I think, something like that.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah. That's right. Mid 2000s. So we, we, we, um, five years at Luna, five years at Boswell. And then, um, we thought at that point, you know, maybe we're, maybe somebody will loan us some money. Um...

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
(laughs) And so we thought, okay, now's the time to make the move. And we found, searched the valley for, in the hills for a property where we could dig a cave, build a house, and have a vineyard.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

John Kongsgaard:
So that ended up the, in this amazing property on the top of Atlas peak we were looking out at the bay on one side and you can see from the winery, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sierras.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

John Kongsgaard:
It's just an, it's just (laughs) an amazing mountain top here.

Doug Shafer:
Geez.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Fantastic.

John Kongsgaard:
I had made, I had made some Cabernet, uh, in the, in the Luna days. I had made some Cabernet from the adjoining property. So we knew the grapes would be good from up here.

Doug Shafer:
Great. So you guys, so that was-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, ‘90, ‘90, uh, 2004.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
2004 we, we bought this 150 acres up on Atlas Peak of just virgin land. There's nothing here. Um, and we, we dug a cave which was completed by the, in time for the ‘90 or the 2006 vintage. And then we started planting. We now have 14 acres of grapes up here and a lovely house to live in. So it's kind of all on the same property now finally.

Doug Shafer:
Nice. I got it. Um, I've got a confession to make. Um, I've never spent much time up on Atlas Peak.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Maybe, you know, I went up to Glen's, Glen, Antinori's place-

John Kongsgaard:
Glen Salva.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Glen's place for a Sangiovese thing 20 years ago. And then-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... you know, this was a, this past harvest was, you know, small crop, big, small crop. You know, we saw it in June.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Elias does his thing. He goes, we're short. I say goodbye. I don't see him for two weeks. And he goes everywhere looking, looking for grapes. And-

John Kongsgaard:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug Shafer:
... you know, because we gotta, gotta get more fruit. And he ended up in Atlas Peak, someone's told him about something and we actually, God, we bought grapes from two or three people up there. So then he, you know, it's getting close to harvest. So he drags me up one day he says, "You need to go see this pla- I gotta show you where these vineyards are." (laughs) 'Cause you gotta-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
'Cause I'm, I'm his, I'm his big sample guy. So, you know, go sample here.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
John. Absolu - I've really never been up there too much. My God, you know, you look across to Pritchard Hill, I think that's where you can see that.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
It's absolutely stunning. So-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
I was blown away. It's just beautiful.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And um...

John Kongsgaard:
It's a dead e- it's a dead end road. And so, you know, if you could drive through and come out on Pritchard Hill, which you can on a Jeep road. Uh, people would know about it, but it's, it's really a kind of one of the sacred backwaters and you get way up here and it feels like you're in cattle country in the 1920s.

Doug Shafer:
Exactly.

John Kongsgaard:
That's great.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. It's like that Montana thing. It's gorgeous.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So, um, so I, I am gonna come see you. I don't care. I'll let you know.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
I'll call, I'll call first, but I'm gonna come see you.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Great.

Doug Shafer:
And then, uh, you've had, you've got something fun going on Alex, your son joined you at some point. Tell me about that.

           Yes. Yeah. Okay. Great. My, my son Alex who's, uh, I'm 70 and he's 38. And so, uh, he, he just grew up with me in the Jeep, changing the irrigation-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
... at Newton and so on. So he, he's a farm boy and he, a kind of a green thumb and loves to make things and build things. And so he was kind of a natural to be helping. Uh, and he does a lot of things. He's a boat builder and a surfer and a, he, he has a lot of interests.

                                                            Uh, but he started helping us about 15 years ago. Kind of be around for harvest and show up for bottling and otherwise he's working in a boatyard or all kind of different things. And then, uh, we had the bad fortune of, of Maggie getting, uh, quite ill about 12 years ago. And he did the right thing as one wou- as you hope your kid would and said, "You can take care of mom and I, but I can take care of the wine."

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

John Kongsgaard:
So that, that was 2011.

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

John Kongsgaard:
Like the most challenging vintage year-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Yeah. That was, that was a memorable one.

John Kongsgaard:
... of our lives.

Doug Shafer:
Gotcha. No kidding.

John Kongsgaard:
Good luck buddy. Yeah. And he made, he made magnificent wine then. And so on and off over the next 10 years, I was more or less, uh, helping him depending on how it was going with the other, the Maggie project.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Kongsgaard:
Uh, so he really became, he really took over the production and he runs The Judge vineyard. He actually owns The Judge vineyard now, he's just inherited that from me ahead of my, ahead of me going to the grave. Um, so we're total partners now and-

Doug Shafer:        Great.

John Kongsgaard:
... I'm back working with him. And so it's a terrific setup. It's just-

Doug Shafer:
How fun.

John Kongsgaard:
It's what, it's what people dream of-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
... and it's happening to me. Yeah. It's great.

Doug Shafer:
Good for you. So tell me, what are you guys making? What, what flavors with Kongsgaard?

John Kongsgaard:
So we have the, let's say in a typical year for a round number we make 3,500 cases. Out of that 2,000 and something is the so-called Napa valley Chardonnay. And that's from grapes purchased on long term acreage contracts from primarily from Lee Hudson and Larry Hyde in Carneros.

Doug Shafer:
Two great ones. Great growers.

John Kongsgaard:
Two great ones. Yeah. The two best-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
... custom growers in, in Carneros. And my old friends Lee and I go back to Davis days together.

Doug Shafer:
Right. Right.

John Kongsgaard:
And I, I bought from Larry Hyde all the way and Lee all the way through the Newton time. So we're old, old colleagues. Um, so that's the Napa Chardonnay. And then the other Chardonnay's called The Judge. I talked about that at the-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
... top of our discussion. That's from our little, uh, our little family property, uh, east of Napa, also in the hills, very, very low production. Kind of a super austere one ton to the acre site. So that, that's The Judge. That would be three or 400 cases only.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
'Cause that's all we can get off of those five acres. Um, and then we make, uh, a few hundred cases of Syrah from Hudson. And maybe 500 cases of Cabernet from up here, grown on the ranch and uh, uh, on Atlas Peak and then from our, our kitty corner neighbor.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

John Kongsgaard:
So that's the run. And then we make a, we make a almost non-commercial amount of Albarino and Viognier. Just for our pleasure. I mean, we sell them to the mailing list, but that's tiny production, couple barrels.

Doug Shafer:
Hey, I gotta, I gotta, I gotta ask you something. Uh, Lee's Syrah down Carneros.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Um, 'cause we, we, we grow some Syrah up, you know, around, uh, Oaknoll, up just south of Stags Leap.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
It's beautiful. It's great. It's Relentless. It's all that.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Um, but we started buying some, uh, Syrah from Tony Truchard, which is kind of Carneros.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And I don't know man, John, I, it seems to me, correct me if I'm wrong, but I finally got pepper. I got pepper out of-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Tony's stuff.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So the, is that what you're getting out of Lees? You get more pepper and spice?

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah, I think it's, I think it's because Truchard and Hudson are, are similar in that they are they're in Carneros and so it's therefore it's much colder-

Doug Shafer:
Colder.

John Kongsgaard:
... than it is than Oaknoll or where-

Doug Shafer:
Right, Stags Leap.

John Kongsgaard:
... you guys are. Right. Yeah. Um, so I think you can have that attractive, uh, Rhone-ish aroma, if you grow it in a cold place, but mostly where it's cold down in Carneros the soil's not so interesting for Syrah.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, that's true.

John Kongsgaard:
And so at Truchard and at Hudson you have these little volcanic areas where it's not the normal Carneros clay or shale.

Doug Shafer:
Good point.

John Kongsgaard:
So that's to me, that's to me is the magic. If you can-

Doug Shafer:
That's a good point. Yeah. Because we're, we're toying with the idea of planting some Syrah on Red Shoulder. We got, you know, a couple blocks of-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And, um, but we're, we'll probably play with it. We know, you know, to, to get it ripe we might have to drop crop, you know, to, and really go light. But I really want that pepper, I'm just dying for it. So-

John Kongsgaard:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
All right.

John Kongsgaard:
That, that, that's the formula. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Well, thanks for the free advice. Send me a bill. (laughs)

John Kongsgaard:
Sure. Yep.

Doug Shafer:
And best place. If people wanna find your wines, how do they do it? They gotta drive up the road. How can they do it electronically?

John Kongsgaard:
No, we, we don't... We're, yeah. Electronically. We're, we are, we made a point when we got our permit, uh, that we are absolutely not allowed to have the public come here.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
So this is truly private winery. Um, we got through all the first years, um, all the wine going away without ever having to receive anybody when I was working at Luna would have been inappropriate to have Kongsgaard customers there.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
So anyway, we managed without ever, uh, having to do a tasting, um, or see anybody. I think we're unique in the wine business is that we really hardly know our customers. Um ... Anyway, that's means we can be farmers and not PR guys. Um, so the way to get the wine is to, um, join our mailing list on- online.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
So you just look at, you look at Kongsgaardwine.com. I mean just Kongsgaard. It'll come up. And we have, uh, there are a lot of wineries in Napa that are very exclusive, and I like to think of ourselves as inclusive. So whoever signs up for our mailing list can buy something at least in the, in the next year.

Doug Shafer:
Oh great.

John Kongsgaard:
And we it's a, it's an annual offering. It's not some made up endless, um, fake waiting list like a lot of our funny colleagues. It's like ... We want you to buy our wine.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

John Kongsgaard:
So, anyway, you might have to wait a couple of years before you can get your four bottles of The Judge and that sort of thing. Those, the, that's quite allocated. But anyway, that's, that's how it works. And so we're, we, we sell, you know, most of the wine to the annual offering to our so-called mailing list. It's an email thing now. Uh, and then the rest goes all over the world, um, to restaurants.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

John Kongsgaard:
So you can find us in the best places on all continents. Here, here and there.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Good to know. All right my friend, I've taken enough of your time, but thanks for taking the time with us today. That was great. Great to talk to you. Great to hear these stories. 

John Kongsgaard:
It was a pleasure.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

John Kongsgaard:
Let's get together for a drink one of these days.

Doug Shafer:
You bet man. All right.

John Kongsgaard:
Great. Okay.

Doug Shafer:
Best to you John. Thanks again.

John Kongsgaard:
Righto.

Doug Shafer:
See you.

John Kongsgaard:
Thank you.

Doug Shafer:
You bet.

John Kongsgaard:
Bye-bye.

Doug Shafer:
Bye.

Full Transcript

Doug Shafer:
Hey, everybody. Doug Shafer with another episode of The Taste. We have a fun show today where I have two guests on at the same time. And it's, it's really kinda cool because this combination is something exactly that happened in my life with my father. Uh, a vineyard winery run by a parent and child, um, which I know well, but we welcome Delia Viader and her son, Alan of Viader Winery up on Howell mountain, god's country. Hi guys. Welcome.

Delia Viader:
Thank you. Thank you for having us.

Doug Shafer:
You bet-

Alan Viader:
Hey Doug. Good morning.

Doug Shafer:
Delia, I've known you for a long time. Alan, our paths are just starting to cross here and there, which has been fun, but quite, quite-

Alan Viader:
Dude, literally I see you driving, uh, your FJ40 pretty much every day.

Doug Shafer:
Argh-

Alan Viader:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
... you know, I, I made a mistake getting that car. Everybody knows me-

Alan Viader:
[crosstalk 00:00:57]-

Doug Shafer:
... so I have, I have to really behave on the road. I can't... No, no road rage for me, but, uh, Delia, my best memories of you is whenever I'd run into you, you'd be coming back from some trip, uh, out of country overseas with your export group, and you'd grab me and say, "Oh, Doug, your dad, your dad and I, we always just dance wherever we are." So, you know, that's, that's my best memory about you and my dad dancing around the world.

Delia Viader:
And that's my best memory of your dad, his sense of humor. And yes, he's a fantastic dancer.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Yeah, I didn't get that gene, unfortunately. So, uh, I'm glad you danced with him-

Alan Viader:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
... and not me, but super to have you both on. There's so many stories wrapped up in the Viader story. The- Delia, there's yours. There's your folks. Alan, there's yours. We're gonna make our way through all of it, Alan. I'm sorry, to start off, we're gonna start with your mom. So, bear with us for a bit, all right?

Alan Viader:
(laughing) Please.

Doug Shafer:
So, Delia, um, where it all started. Where'd you come from? Where, where'd you start? Where were you born?

Delia Viader:
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but I might well have come from Mars. Um-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Delia Viader:
... I actually, I'm first generation born in Argentina because my parents both European met there and um, the rest is history. My father was a diplomat, so I learned in this country that I am literally a diplomat's brat, um, because we moved so many times and I lived and traveled to so many countries. Since I was six years old, I was taken traveling. So yes, it's true. You were always seeing me coming and going because in the first days of the winery, I was traveling every other week of the year. That's 192 days.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Delia Viader:
That's how I racked a million and a half-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Delia Viader:
... um, flying miles.

Doug Shafer:
So, as a kid, uh, I know I've got notes you were in Lebanon, Switzerland, France. Um, any, any place else growing up? Is there-

Delia Viader:
Well I went to a German boarding school and then I went to college in Paris. Um, my parents have properties a little bit everywhere. And I managed to get by with six languages all of which I speak with a, with a little bit of an accent 'cause I mix them all.

Doug Shafer:
That's amazing. Well, 'cause I know when I was talking to, about you do Elias just a minute he goes, "Oh yeah. Delia is great. Whenever I see her, all we do is start talking Spanish. It's great." So, um, he's never heard you speak English. It's pretty cute. Um-

Delia Viader:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
... so growing up, growing up in the house, um, was wine around. Um, when did that all happen-

Delia Viader:
It happened growing up because, uh, like I said, my parents were European so the way of, um, upbringing it's wine is always part of the food, uh, part of the table. So, uh, if you wanted to try it, there was never a question. Uh, you needed to be old enough to be at the table to hold conversation. Um, and after that it was simply, you wanna try this? You wanna try that. It was never a question of you need to be of age. Um, it was a big, uh, complication when I brought my kids as toddlers to the United States and I intended to, uh, raise them the same way I grew up. I had to have a little bit of a precaution. A caveat I would always tell my kids in the elementary school, whatever we do at home, don't tell anybody-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)-

Delia Viader:
... because otherwise mom is gonna be put on jai- in jail.

Doug Shafer:
So what goes on at home, stays at home. I kind- I like that.

Delia Viader:
It stays at home because I will let my kids try wines, uh, because I love, I'll always love wine, but I, I'm inquisitive about everything and anything. So, I, my inspiration was find out why, find out, find out what makes this wine taste the way it tastes. And that was not an in- invitation to drink early on. It was an invitation to be inquisitive-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Delia Viader:
... about things.

Doug Shafer:
Good point. So, before heading to The States, you were in school in Paris and you got a degree in Logic and Pure Math-

Delia Viader:
Philosophy.

Doug Shafer:
Philosophy?

Delia Viader:
Yeah. Philosophy.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. 'Cause I've got a note saying Pure mathematics. Was that something you got a degree in too?

Delia Viader:
Yes. My, what you call a concentration or a major-

Doug Shafer:
I see.

Delia Viader:
... is Logic and Pure Mathematics, but the degree is a PhD.

Doug Shafer:
Okay, fantastic. So then-

Delia Viader:
So, doctorate.

Doug Shafer:
... so then, so then you've got three kids, it's 1982-

Delia Viader:
Four.

Doug Shafer:
Four. How did, how'd you-

Delia Viader:
Yes.

Doug Shafer:
... how'd you get to the United States? How did that happen

Delia Viader:
My brother, uh, got accepted to, uh, a PhD program at MIT and at that time it was just the perfect timing for me. I was recently divorced and had the three kids in tow at that time and I asked my dad, if you give me room and board for three years, I'll get myself there. And he says, you haven't even applied to MIT. "Oh, but I'm gonna get in."

Doug Shafer:
(laughing).

Delia Viader:
Um, that has always been my philosophy in life. I visualize it and I get it done. It, and I did get in and actually I blasted my GMATs. Um, so it was interesting because without the help of my brother, helping with the kids, um, it would not have been possible, but I moved everybody to MIT, they do take blondes sometimes. And, um, I managed to get a degree in Finance this time, a real working degree.

Doug Shafer:
Right. So, when you finished up with MIT, what, what happened then?

Delia Viader:
We constantly kept coming to Napa because my brother liked, uh, the Berkeley lab more than the MIT lab. He's an engineer in electronics so he was working for IBM at the time, so that's, we kept coming to Napa and I met, uh, a lot of people in Napa wine business. And it was, um, kind of very circuitous at that time that a friend, of a friend, of a friend- ... wanted my dad to, uh, invest in a beautiful place and put all the money and they were going to create a winery and a vineyard. And I said, "Dad, if you're putting all the money, I can do it."

Doug Shafer:
(laughing) Oh, Oh boy. I wanna hear this conversation. Yeah, you can do it. And what'd he say to you? (laughs).

Delia Viader:
He said to me, after all the money I poured into your education, all you want to become is a farmer?

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Yeah. But being a farmer's tough. He didn't know that, did he?

Delia Viader:
He didn't know that until the day he died, I was always the farmer. Anyone that asked, "What is it that your daughter does in The States exactly?". "Well, she's a farmer." An overeducated farmer, but I'm, I'm still a farmer.

Doug Shafer:
There you go. So what, what year are we talking about? So, you started... So, basically he, he let you do-

Delia Viader:
'84.

Doug Shafer:
... it right? '84?

Delia Viader:
'84. Yeah. He let me do it. It took me forever to figure out, um, how the regulations work. Uh, but I put together the contract for the land, the financing with my dad as a backup, but, I took a loan, a margin loan at, I mean, I, I had fun and I put together a plan to pay off the note because that was also very important. He would not let me even start without having a plan and without having a precise date when he was coming off the note. So ... I put a 10-year plan and I paid him in seven.

Doug Shafer:
S- so you put a, you put a plan together with... You got a, you got a loan then what about actually-

Delia Viader:
Yup.

Doug Shafer:
... what about doing the work and planting it 'cause there was no vineyard, right? It was all made of-

Delia Viader:
No, there was nothing. There was rock and poison oak (laughing)-

Doug Shafer:
So, so here you are-

Delia Viader:
... which my kids discovered.

Doug Shafer:
... from MIT... Yeah. We all have, we all have learned that one, but MIT, never planned a grapevine. What'd you do? Who helped you out?

Delia Viader:
Oh, I, that was easy. I got the best and foremost consultants from all over the world that I knew of all the vineyards that I liked. I brought Danny Schuster from New Zealand who was an expert in organic vineyard. Hillside planting that helped, David Abreu. I got, uh, Michel Rolland that at that time wasn't even famous. It was just a friend of ours.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Delia Viader:
Um, I brought Jean-Claude Berrouet from Petrus to see what do I plant? How do I plant it? Um, I brought, uh, the best and foremost group of friends that were also experts in their field to diagram a vineyard estate in the same layout of a First Growth Bordeaux. But that wasn't done at that time. And so, I came to be the crazy lady in the hillside.

Doug Shafer:
No, you weren't the crazy lady on the hillside. You were-

Delia Viader:
(laughs)-

Doug Shafer:
... you're that, you're that, you're that (laughs) you're that crazy Argentinian on the hillside. That's what you were? Um, no, that was great. So, you got the vineyard planted. When was your, uh, when was your first harvest?

Delia Viader:
My first, uh, well I couldn't plant the vineyard all at once, uh, because it was so steep and I planted in phases, like everything I did, I never stopped. I divided in little pieces and every year I would do another piece.

Delia Viader:
My very first commercial wine offering was '89.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Delia Viader:
But I didn't really finish planting the vineyard until 1994. It took me almost 10 years. So, like I used to say, this is the dynamite vineyard, because a huge part of it was planted with the help of dynamite at the time that they would let you use it.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. They, I don't think they... I think it's... I don't think they let you use it anymore. Do they?

Delia Viader:
No, they-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Delia Viader:
... don't let you use it anymore so Alan has a jackhammer when we're replanting.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Oh, Alan, that's a bummer. Too bad. The Dynamite thing is kinda fun in the dangerous kind of ways but (laughing)-

Alan Viader:
It is.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Um, all right. So, your first vintage is '89, you said. And then, well, you said you studied at Davis too. You were doing that at the same time?

Delia Viader:
Oh, yeah. At the same time, because I wanted to know that my wonderful consultants were telling me, uh, the right thing, you know, how would I know? So, I would put a lot of questions and a lot of, um, a lot of friends tastings and a lot of ideas together. Um, finally I started at Rombauer because I didn't have the winery built yet, with, Jean-Claude Moueix, uh, with, um, Christian Moueix, sorry, Christian Moueix and that was the connection with Jean-Claude, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Delia Viader:
... Berrouet, his winemaker. And, and we started, uh, he was in one floor and I was on the other floor and we were the only ones that spoke French. Um, so it was interesting that, uh, Christian also wanted to attend Davis, so many times we were at the extension classes together making kind of advances into what is done. Remember when they were doing the, um, Davis extension classes with all the professor presenting everything that they were studying and putting their hands on. It was always exciting to see what was new, what was happening-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Delia Viader:
... what is the new, the new contraption that they come up with? Um, the new method of doing this or doing that? Um, remember in '86, '87, '88, we were doing, um, you know, soutirage we were doing it by the skeefs. Um, and not, it would, it was not for the faint of heart or the feeble of, of back composition. It, it was taking us forever. Um, today, Alan puts a little, a little pop and gets it done. One person does it all.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Delia Viader:
Uh, it, it was, it was completely different and it was based in 200 years of technology that the French never had at that time.

Doug Shafer:
Right. Right.

Delia Viader:
It was tradition.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. It's-

Delia Viader:
So-

Doug Shafer:
... but technology has changed, changed a lot of it. And, uh, you know, for the better, in many cases, but it's, it's definitely more efficient. Uh-

Delia Viader:
It's more efficient.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Quick question going back to planting the vineyard. What was your... because I never talked to you about this. I, I know you, I think you had Cabernet and Cabernet Franc. Was that, was that your focus? Was that your vision when you planned the vineyard? Those grapes-

Delia Viader:
I planted all of, I wanted to plant all the Bordeaux varieties, but everybody, uh, including Michel Rolland and Jean-Claude pushed me against planting Merlot in this vineyard because this, uh, Merlot is very finicky. So I have Cabernet and Cabernet Franc and, uh, Petit Verdot.

Doug Shafer:
Yes.

Delia Viader:
I have Petit Verdot in the most rocky, uh, and right in front of my house so I could always see those babies cry for everything-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Delia Viader:
... for lack of water, lack of soil, lack of nutrients. They always look terrible, but they give fantastic grapes.

Doug Shafer:
That's true. That's what usually happens. Okay. I was curious about how that started out. So, when you first start, your first releases, were they- 

Delia Viader:
My first release was only Viader. For the first 11 years, it was always a blend of Cabernet and Cabernet Franc. And I didn't know it at that time until we became best friends that I, I, the high proportion of Cabernet Franc in the blend, sometimes 50%, sometimes 45%. It was very similar to what, um, Dalla Valle Maya was made of. And it was only after, and, and just because I love that wine that I knew why.

Doug Shafer:
There you go.

Delia Viader:
I love Cabernet Franc. (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
There you go. So, before we get to Alan, I gotta ask you one thing. So, you're, you've got four kids, you're planting a vineyard, starting to make wine, selling wine, traveling, four kids up and down all day long t- back and forth to school and activities. Delia, how did you do it? What was the secret?

Delia Viader:
Yeah, I don't know. I don't know when did I manage to sleep, honestly (laughs) ... I have no idea (laughs) but I think, um, I had a lot of good help. Um, my biggest helper is now my, um, manager of shipping and quality control. He used to be my babysitter, but, um-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)-

Delia Viader:
... she's my best, I mean, she's my best success story. Uh, somebody with a lot of common sense, that it's not afraid of so without her, and her sister, her brother, her cousin, helping me with the kids, it would not have been possible because, you know, sports, driving to two different ends of the Napa Valley at the same time and traveling and being the only one putting food on the table, it, it would not have been possible.

Doug Shafer:
Right, right. That's, well, that's, that's great. That's great. You had that help, and it's great that she's, she's still with you, and that's pretty cool. All right. Well, let's jump to Alan, um, Alan, so you grew up on the vineyard on Howell mountain. What was that like?

Alan Viader:
Well, it was the, uh, the, the greatest front and backyard a little boy that loves outdoors could ask for (laughing). It's, uh, I, back up here, our property backs up to thousands of acres of, you know, just wild forest, um, beautiful land. So, I was able to get out and get, get my hands dirty.

Doug Shafer:
And then, so you... Growing up, elementary school St. Helena, St. Helena High School, is that-

Alan Viader:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Doug Shafer:
... was that your place?

Alan Viader:
That was.

Doug Shafer:
Well, it was my place too, but I won't tell you when I graduated, it was a long time ago. (laughing). But, uh, how about, uh, activities, sports as a kid? Anything, anything, uh, that's-

Alan Viader:
Uh-

Doug Shafer:
... unique?

Alan Viader:
... you know, grew up playing soccer then did wrestling in high school and I continue, uh, you know, a lot of outdoor kind of extracurricular activities. I did martial arts growing up too, and love that.

Doug Shafer:
Neat.

Alan Viader:
I love being active.

Doug Shafer:
Good, good. And did she have you working in the vineyards on the weekends, pulling rocks out and all that stuff.

Alan Viader:
All the time-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Alan Viader:
... so as, uh, as early as I could hold a shovel, I was out there. I remember our first harvest at Rombauer. I was helping, um, and I think I was being paid a quarter an hour-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)-

Alan Viader:
... and I'm, I'm glad I get paid a little bit more than that these days, but, uh, still, still moving rocks and digging holes since, yeah, in, uh, in the dirt here, so-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Yeah.

Alan Viader:
... uh, yeah, I, I, I really gravitated towards the vineyard side of it. Um, I loved, uh, mmm, seeing the tractors work. I loved just, uh, following David Abreu's guys and, and our, our crews here doing all the little work and ended up kind of working my way up and, you know, learning every aspect of it. I have a lot of respect for the farm workers and the whole thing that goes into a bottle of wine.

Doug Shafer:
Right, right. So, and I'm, I'm assuming you grew up with wine in the house. I'm sure that will-

Alan Viader:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... Delia already just mentioned that. So, um, so that, would that-

Alan Viader:
Education.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. But here it's (laughs) education and curiosity for sure.

Alan Viader:
Yup.

Doug Shafer:
Um-

Alan Viader:
And, it was great. She always, she always kind of wrapped it with a lesson, uh, terroir lessons, so, certain characteristics, she would kind of try to pull, pull out of the wine. Uh, she would ask me if I'd taste any fruit. Okay. What kind of fruit? What kind of flavors? Uh, kind of smells and then she'd go in to the back and say, okay, because of this exposure and this type of soil, or lack of soil, or, you know-

Doug Shafer:
Sure.

Alan Viader:
... climate, so-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, super. Great education. 

Delia Viader:
We did it all over the world, so, um-

Alan Viader:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Delia Viader:
... the kids had the opportunity to travel as much as I did, um, because I think that it helps you be centered and it helps you also appreciate how good you have it because you get to compare and contrast and, you come home and you appreciate what you have.

Doug Shafer:
That's true.

Delia Viader:
Instead of taking it for granted.

Doug Shafer:
So, Alan, after high school, what happened? What was your next, next thing?

Alan Viader:
Uh, so I went, uh, over to Sonoma County, did a viticulture program, um, got into some winemaking, uh, wanted to eventually kind of run vineyards, uh, do like a vineyard, you know, labor contract or something like that-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Alan Viader:
... and then, uh, my mom called me looking for some help with the vineyard here and, uh, I accepted a position as vineyard manager. So, this was, uh, about 20 years ago and I haven't found a reason to leave yet (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Wow. Wow. Good for you.

Delia Viader:
At, at that time I had a vineyard in Italy-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, really?

Delia Viader:
... that-

Doug Shafer:
Was he visi-

Delia Viader:
Right. In '99, I purchased a piece of land in Tuscany and I was developing a vineyard in Italy. My first crop was 2003. So, the idea was that I would take care of Italy and he would take care of Napa. And I was flying around in the month of September without sleep for four weeks. Harvest there and harvest here at the same time.

Doug Shafer:
I don't know. I don't know if that works. That would be probably really tough. 

Delia Viader:
Well, I managed for seven years.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Okay. Oh, Delia, Delia, but you're the only one who can do that. The rest of us don't have the same energy you do. So, I've gotta figure out what you're eating or drinking and get some of that.

Alan Viader:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
So um-

Alan Viader:
Red wine and cheese.

Doug Shafer:
Red wine and cheese. So, Alan, so you're doing the vineyards for the last 20 years. Um, and I think you, did you, uh, you worked other places too. Didn't... I think you went to Argentina. Was that for a harvest or a-

Alan Viader:
Yeah, I worked down in Argentina, fell in love with Malbec, but I was already getting involved with the blends here as a, as a bystander. Um, I was invited, um, to, you know, part of the, the tasting panel, if you will. And I just loved tasting the wines and tasting the finished product. I was very disconnected. I was just the farmer. And then once harvest was done, I was on vacation-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Alan Viader:
... you know, where I was, I was traveling and, and just presenting the wine somewhere. I didn't really have too much of a connection with the finished product. Um, and then a few years into it, just my nature. I wanted to get involved with things and, you know, I can't just sit around and be bored. Um, so I, I started asking around how can I help and, as things grew and we had more wines, I had to get involved. I started driving forklifts and I started doing pump overs and I started doing night shifts and started doing rackings. And that's when, uh, I decided to go to Argentina to kinda see just only winemaking and really get involved on that side heavy and, and just dig deep and learn a little bit more. Uh, and I came back changed. Uh-

Doug Shafer:
Huh?

Alan Viader:
... I loved, loved wines, loved the whole cycle of, you know, the growing of it, but also the making of it. And I felt like if I wasn't doing both, it was incomplete and I was kind of doing a disservice. So, um, to be a better farmer, I wanted to be winemaker. To be a better (laughs) winemaker, I needed to be ... um, starting in 2006, my mom, uh, allowed me, uh, to kinda do more of the day-to-day operations and the winemaking and been doing it ever since. Doing, uh, production, vineyard, winemaking. Um, we do the blends together and I, I do all the, the, the heavy lifting and the moving of the barrels and all that kind of fun stuff. But, um, so I get my hands dirty, but I also get to do the wines.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, that's, that's great. Um, so before you took over as winemaker, Delia, you were winemaker, correct? For the whole time?

Delia Viader:
Correct-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Delia Viader:
... but we always had, even when Alan was winemaker, I brought Michel Rolland, um, what I call the, uh, Harvard University of wine, uh, because I didn't want Alan to have a closed palette. I wanted to have a world palette. The wine that we make has to stand with the best of the world. And that was kind of, um, the three of us getting together to do the fun part, which is the blending-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Delia Viader:
... the final blending, and I've always told Michel, um, we need to keep the style. It's not a, a Rolland style. It's not a Delia style. It's not an Alan style. It is what the site will give, will dictate and it has to be consistent. It has to be able to stand with the best of the world. Now the caveat is, if something doesn't go well, you're fired. And if something goes very well, all the credit is my son's.

Doug Shafer:
There you go. (laughing) Th- that job security in the family business. It's a, it's a-

Delia Viader:
Absolutely.

Doug Shafer:
... treacherous, treacherous path, I'll tell you. So-

Alan Viader:
(laughing).

Doug Shafer:
... so Alan, Alan, you're still... So, you're doing the winemaker. Are you still overseeing all the vineyards too?

Delia Viader:
Yes.

Alan Viader:
Yep.

Doug Shafer:
Wow. So, you're busy, busy guy.

Alan Viader:
Um, I, I like it that way. (laughs.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Well, yeah. I, I think it's in your, uh, your DNA for sure. Um, how's it been? So, obviously it's b- it's been working well, do you guys have a pretty shared vision? You know, Delia, you talked about... Or, just sometimes you have disagreements or different ways to go. How's that work out?

Delia Viader:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Without, without, you know-

Delia Viader:
Uh-

Doug Shafer:
... getting too personal?

Delia Viader:
No, without getting too personal. No, we have sometimes disagreements, but there are kind of compromises. We work out a compromise. Um, there are differences in taste sometimes when we decide when a wine is ready, uh, to, uh, you know, when it's time to pick, sometimes we have some minor disagreements, but we always find a compromise. Um, I am less inclined to use as much New Oak. Uh, Alan loves his Oak.

Doug Shafer:
(laughing).

Delia Viader:
But, other than that, we always find a comfortable agreement or compromise. Um, sometimes I come up with, very last minute, with kind of this look in my eyes that he fears and it's like-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Delia Viader:
... just a half of a percent, I think just a half of a percent in the blend will really make it perfect. And he's like, "Oh, no. Mom, again?" So, he has to rack everything again, but ... those are rare instances and it's just, I'm a perfectionist by, at heart and, you know, it's never perfect until it's perfect and it will never be perfect-perfect (laughs)-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Delia Viader:
So-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, that's-

Delia Viader:
... that's my problem.

Doug Shafer:
Well, that's the fact that-

Alan Viader:
But, but you gotta understand that, uh, you know, my education in wine started very early and it started with my mom as the teacher so-

Doug Shafer:
Sure.

Alan Viader:
... she shared with me the wines that she considered, you know, the benchmarks and the epic wine, wines of, of the region. And those are what I consider, you know, the top marks as well. So, um, we have very similar palettes. I mean, there are obviously differences. Um, but they're very nuanced.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. No, I think you guys have worked it out really well. I, I had it, Al- Alan, I had it a little bit easier than you did 'cause my dad was never a true winemaker. He was a grape grower and a good one, but uh, it, boy, those, those, uh, those discussions and decisions on when to pick or not to pick like are vivid-

Alan Viader:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... in my memory, um, 'cause-

Alan Viader:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... he was a grower. He was like, "Hey man, they're, they're 23 and a half. Let's go." And Elias and I are like, "No, we can't." And-

Alan Viader:
(laughs)-

Doug Shafer:
... he says, "What's, what's... And basically, it was kinda like, what's wrong with you guys? I mean, it was, um, in various degrees of volume and uh, intensity, but, uh, we figured it out and uh, 'cause we were... Well, that was in the time we were realizing we had to push ripeness to get better flavors so it's interesting.

Alan Viader:
Well, I've had quite a few of your wines and I'd have to say you have figured it out, so-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, thank you, thank you.

Alan Viader:
You're doing something right.

Doug Shafer:
Hey, I came across something else. In addition to growing grapes and making wine, you, Alan, being busy, you're a member of the Napa County Sheriff's Volunteer Search and Rescue team, right and-

Alan Viader:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... Napa County Deer Park, Volunteer Fire Department. Tell me-

Alan Viader:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... about that experience. And also, it's inspired you to make a, a different wi- A new wine brand so tell us a- all-

Alan Viader:
(laughs)-

Doug Shafer:
... about that.

Alan Viader:
So, yeah, I mean, I get the same question all the time as my mom and how do you have the time for it? And it's just, you, you use your time wisely. I'm always productive. I'm always doing something and if I'm in the middle of a disaster, uh, I can't sit back and uh, do nothing. So, I found a way to, to get involved and uh, about five years ago joined the, uh, the Sheriff's Search and Rescue team and, you know, we, we've done fire evacuations, we've done, you know, missing persons. We've done a few other things, lost hikers. Um, yeah. And you know, tremendous amount of training, uh, involved that-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alan Viader:
... you know, you know, not only, uh, navigation and all that, but also medical training. So, it's really helped me and empowered me and given me the confidence, when things go crazy and people get injured and, you know, events happen outta your of control. You, you just go into kind of this, I don't know, mental, like calm, just, I know the steps. I'm gonna go through this, that and that, and I'm not gonna panic. And-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Alan Viader:
... um, you know, and, and then in, uh, 2020 where we had th- all these fires, um, uh, that directly hit our property. I found myself again in kind of a helpless situation and you know, not only our property, but our neighbors, our community here in Deer Park-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Alan Viader:
... uh, took a pretty big hit. So, um, first thing I did was call up, uh, the, the chief here at Station 21 and say, "How can I help? How can I get an involved?" And next thing I knew I was, uh, uh, strapped onto a treadmill and with, you know-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Alan Viader:
... a heart monitor seeing if I was gonna, you know, be athletic enough to join the, the academy. And then I was, you know, in the academy and you know, they worked around your schedule, so it was nights and weekends and, um, you know, made it happen. So-

Doug Shafer:
And that was, uh, that was to become a volunteer fire- fireman right?

Alan Viader:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
[crosstalk 00:35:10]-

Alan Viader:
So-

Doug Shafer:
... that's great. And then, and, but you're doing more, you're making some wine to raise money, is that right?

Alan Viader:
So I, I wanted to make my own wine and I wanted it to have some sort of purpose, uh, you know, there's so many just brands out there just for the purpose of making wine and, and I didn't want to just get lost in that. So, um, I really wanted to have something, some, you know, teeth to bite into and (laughs) get in the market-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Alan Viader:
... and actually do something with it. So, um, I love and very passionate about first responders and, you know, the, the role that they play in our communities and, you know, I've seen some pretty serious, uh, fire, wildfires and devastations and stuff.

Alan Viader:
Uh, I've been all over California, various missions and different things here and there. So, um, I've seen a lot of stuff that, you know, they do selflessly and, um, this, this wine I make Pinot Noir from, you know, Sonoma Coast. I make a Syrah from Coombsville. Uh, I make some rosé as well and, um, it's great wines. They're single vineyards. You know, I, I love the terroir aspect. They're terroir-driven wines, but, um, beyond that, uh, portions of, you know, the money that I make, I give back to organizations like, you know, The Salvation Army. I give them back to, uh, the Children's, uh, for First Responders Foundation that gives money to families that lose, um, you know, somebody in, uh, in the line of duty and gives them scholarships to continue, um, when their, uh, father or mother, uh, is no longer around so, um, I also donate to the local, uh, Search and Rescue and some local stations. I mean, I, I'm able to do something, um, you know, not only physically, but also financially so-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, that's great.

Delia Viader:
There is an intent, the wine is called Intentus.

Doug Shafer:
It's Intentus-

Alan Viader:
Yeah, so-

Doug Shafer:
... right? Yeah.

Alan Viader:
Yeah. In Latin, it means intention. So, it had to have, you know-

Doug Shafer:
I love it-

Alan Viader:
... an intention and-

Doug Shafer:
... and while I'm-

Alan Viader:
... a purpose behind it.

Doug Shafer:
A while we're on it, by the way, congratulations. It's, it's so neat you're doing that. Um, just-

Alan Viader:
Thanks-

Doug Shafer:
... before we, before we forget. So, if people want to get these In- Intentus wines, where do they go? Would they go to the Viader website or is there somewhere else?

Alan Viader:
No, I have a small website. It's-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Alan Viader:
... it's all separate. Um-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Alan Viader:
... wanted to keep it as-

Doug Shafer:
Sure. That makes sense.

Alan Viader:
... (laughs) as separate as possible.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. Well, good-

Alan Viader:
So-

Doug Shafer:
... well-

Alan Viader:
... It's tiny. It's like three barrels here. Three barrels here, so-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. But it, it all adds up, man. Very, very cool.

Delia Viader:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Um, hey mom, you gotta be proud of this kid. What do you think?

Delia Viader:
Totally.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Delia Viader:
I'm very proud of all my kids, but I'm, I'm really, really proud of their achievements and their, their thinking that goes, their heart, their, their, their kind of... I'm, I'm very, very proud mom.

Doug Shafer:
You've done, you've done a wonderful job, but, uh, you know, we skipped over some of the basics about Viader. Tell us a little bit about your spot up on Howell Mountain. It's gorgeous, but uh, you know, the property, the soil, you know, what the wines are like coming off that property. Can you guys, why don't both of you chime in on that one?

Delia Viader:
Well, it's, it's a hillside. Yes. Um, and even-

Alan Viader:
It's a ski slope. (laughing).

Delia Viader:
It's, it's also a ski slope. Uh, it's a double-diamond ski slope and I put the vines so you can hold on to them. (laughing) and not end up, (laughs) down at the bottom. Um, it has the same, the same grade, 32% of those slopes in San Francisco.

Alan Viader:
Yeah. It's, it's, it was planted. I mean, my mom was way ahead of her time. Very innovative. I mean, copying a lot of the things that she saw in Europe and, and applying it here, um, very steep hillsides were not very common and she also wanted to do some high density planting. So, I mean, I, I walked into this, you know, as an adult but just I can't even imagine, um, the amount of work this was to put in, um, you know, I've, I've put in a few vines here with jackhammers, but I couldn't imagine putting in all like 50,000, um-

Doug Shafer:
Well, and, and the, the rose-

Alan Viader:
... but this is super high density planting up and down. I mean-

Doug Shafer:
Y- yeah. They go straight up and down-

Alan Viader:
... the place is so steep-

Doug Shafer:
... because back then, Delia-

Delia Viader:
East-West-

Doug Shafer:
... we were plant-

Delia Viader:
... orientation.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. We were planting hillside, but you know, Dad, you know, we did the old terrace thing, terraces, terraces, terraces, and you guys did that, you know, top to bottom, which is actually, we're learning now is the way to go when you can do it. Delia, how'd you, how'd you figure that one out? 'Cause you were way ahead of you time.

Delia Viader:
Well, I figured that one out, I actually called, called USDA, a, uh, the, the, the department of, um, where your tax dollars go to come and do a, uh, a trial because everybody was saying erosion, erosion, erosion, but it, it really depends on the slope and the way you slope. Um, I planted East-West, but my slope is more South-North. So-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Delia Viader:
By putting the, the vines so close together and then having cover crop in between, I'm maintaining much more soil here at the top of the mountain that I, it would have leaving it naturally empty with nothing-

Alan Viader:
Yeah.

Delia Viader:
... to hold it.

Alan Viader:
Yeah. I'm seeing that, uh, you know, I've had so many meetings with, uh-

Delia Viader:
After this rain.

Alan Viader:
... RC- RCD and, and NRCS. I mean, I'm... We're, we're active in Napa Green and Napa Green Land and, you know, the, the storm water regulations that are coming down from the state level. Um, so we've been doing a lot of research and a lot of farm planning here. And to be honest, I mean, we have had very little, um, thing, you know, very little changes needed to our current practices. We are, uh, non-till. All of our avenues have always been, uh, you know, covered-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Alan Viader:
... in straw and we've always done seed and we've always done water bars. Uh, I'm actually, you know, very, very happy that, you know, this is something that I have always experienced and always learned. And, you know, there's nothing new that I had to, to learn that a lot of vineyards are, uh, having to adapt and change completely their mindset on how to farm, you know, with erosion in mind and I've, since day one, I've always had erosion in mind and-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Alan Viader:
... uh, and we've been very good and we've been following, you know, very closely and, you know, we've, we've done very well with, you know, this last rain event, uh, the vineyard, the original vineyard. I mean, it's perfect.

Doug Shafer:
Held out great.

Alan Viader:
That was -

Delia Viader:
Held up great because if you think we have six to eight inches of topsoil, max, I don't want it anywhere else than where it is.

Alan Viader:
Yeah.

Delia Viader:
I need it.

Doug Shafer:
(laughing). You know, we've learned, we learned that one here too early days Dad ... 'Cause back in the seventies. Yeah. So he, his brand new hillside vineyard, all the soil, most of the soil washed to the bottom. We had to, we had to dig it up and put in trucks and bring it back to the top of the hill. (laughs).

Alan Viader:
And that's just so much extra work.

Doug Shafer:
It's a lot of extra work, trust me. And I was in high school at the time, so you know what I was doing every weekend.

Alan Viader:
Oh, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Anyway. Well, good. And uh, yeah, shallow soil, so, small berries, great concentration, hillside fruit.

Alan Viader:
Yeah, and the, the vines are always manicured-

Delia Viader:
Bonsai.

Alan Viader:
... I mean, we have very small canopies. Uh, I'm, I have a bunch of, uh, sensors for water stress and, you know, irrigation practices and stuff are all precise.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alan Viader:
And, I do block by block. You know, it's a very small property and I have so many different blocks. I have like 60 blocks. Everything is double poly-ed. And, you know, we, we've worked really hard on being very efficient with our water.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. It's, um-

Alan Viader:
It's great.

Doug Shafer:
... good, good to hear. And another question I had that, hadn't heard about this Delia, uh, once in a while you guys make, uh, some wines under the DARE brand, what's that all about? Am I right on that one?

Alan Viader:
Yep.

Delia Viader:
DARE, a part of Viader.

Doug Shafer:
Oh (laughs).

Delia Viader:
I, I used to make a dance with it, um-

Doug Shafer:
I missed, I missed that one.

Delia Viader:
... and it, no, funny because, um, (laughs) a lot of people pronounce it in America, Viader and my poor kids had to deal with Star Trek all their lives in high school. Um, but it's Viader, if you dare.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. Got it.

Delia Viader:
So, our, our... It's kind of a second label where we allow ourselves fun and Alan can make anything under that label-

Doug Shafer:
How fun.

Delia Viader:
... uh-

Alan Viader:
Yeah, so that-

Delia Viader:
... and he can make and explore different varieties.

Alan Viader:
Yeah. The whole concept was to do, you know, showcase these single varieties and, and we're known more for the DARE Cabernet Franc. Um, but we've made a few different other varieties, Tempranillo, uh, we've done a Cabernet Sauvignon and we do Syrah, Malbec. So, um, it's really where we can focus 100% varietal. Um, the estate wines here from Viader are all blends and they're all unique characters. Uh, you know, the Viader is Cabernet with Cabernet Franc, the V is Petit Verdot with Cabernet. Uh, the Black Label is Cabernet with Syrah and a few other, uh, like Malbec and, uh, Cabernet Franc. But, uh, and then the Homenaje is Malbec with Cabernet, but the DARE really is where we focus and, and really highlight, you know, what the best is from that particular varietal.

Doug Shafer:
That's neat.

Delia Viader:
It's also more of a fun thing because it's, it... Our wines tend to age very well and people tend to wait till that special occasion. DARE is really, for every occasion. It's, it's set up to be a fun, very exciting, uh, wine where we highlight the specific characteristics, for example, Cabernet Franc, which is our favorite, that more of the elegance, more of the giving you subtle nuances without attacking your palette in-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Delia Viader:
... certain ways.

Doug Shafer:
Great.

Delia Viader:
And it can be a drunk with anything.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, cool, So, help me... So, and then getting back to the Viader label brand, what, what wines are you guys offering under the, the main brand these days?

Delia Viader:
Like Alan said, we have four main blends-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Delia Viader:
Uh, Viader continues to be the more of an either Bordeaux classic style of wine, Cabernets Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with a high proportion of Cabernet Franc. Um, then the V, it was something I did as a winemaker just to prove I could do it. Um, the Petit Verdot can be super bold. Uh, that's very, very well in our, with our west exposure. It needs a lot of heat and, uh, to ripen, but it has very high natural acidity, so, how you make that square peg fit a round hole it's um, it's a little bit of a challenge winemaking, but it's one of the ones they we're known for. It's, uh, Petit Verdot, big proportion. Sometimes, we've done 92%, Petit Verdot and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. And I always say we put the Cabernet Sauvignon to make it drinkable because Petit Verdot can be very, not only long aging, but very bold. Uh, but we make it bold in the sense that you would make a kind of dark chocolate bold. So, it's, it's an interesting wine, uh, to, to try. And then, um, Alan came up with his own blend, we, I call it the next-gen blend-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Delia Viader:
... um, because we always come to the compromise. He wanted to make something where he could put his mark and I said, "Well, make your own thing."

Doug Shafer:
(laughing).

Delia Viader:
And, and then his sister came up because he was blending, Cabernet and Syrah, and it was really pretty inky in color and says, "Well, call it black label." Viader Black Label. And then he added a little bit of a Malbec and a little bit of Cabernet Franc and the Kitchen Sink, but it, it's really, (laughs) it's really his creation. And it, it just flies off the tasting room because it's a very interesting, very appealing, um, new, like I call it next generation. It's, it's a very easy to like, very pleasing blend with a little teeny bit of acidity elevated, but it's, it's, it's amazing when we do the tastings, um, how much Generation X, or Generation C or Generation, whatever it, it, they're always gravitate towards that wine. And then, come the HOMENAJE that nobody can pronounce, but, except us that speak Spanish. Uh, Homenaje means tribute and it's something that he wanted to do as a tribute to his grandfather.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Delia Viader:
And he brought Malbec, uh, cuttings from Argentina when Alan, uh, spent two years, uh, in Argentina in those, uh, two different harvest. So, he came with this blend, half Malbec, half Cabernet.

Doug Shafer:
Nice. Nice. And so all these wines, if folks want to get 'em, uh, you, you guys have a, a website, they can purchase the wines on? Is that the best way to go?

Delia Viader:
Yes. Viader.com.

Doug Shafer:
Viader.com. Good, good to know. And another question I forgot to ask you guys, what about the next generation, are there... Delia, are their grandkids in the picture?

Delia Viader:
I hope so. (laughing)

Doug Shafer:
Okay. Uh-

Delia Viader:
One of the three, for now. (laughs).

Alan Viader:
Yeah. I've got, I've got three kids, two boys and a girl and-

Doug Shafer:
Ah-

Alan Viader:
... they've, since they could walk, they've been involved with harvest and the only real time they can see me during the months of September or October, November is if they come up and-

Delia Viader:
(laughs).

Alan Viader:
... uh, come see me here at the winery. So, uh, they've been actually... Now that they're old enough, I mean, my oldest son is 12. Uh, he's been, yeah, he's been helping. He knows how to roll barrels. He knows how to-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, good.

Alan Viader:
... do punch downs and, and he knows all the, you know, ins and outs of the pumps and clamps and all that stuff so-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, that's great.

Alan Viader:
... uh, a lot of fun starting them off early-

Delia Viader:
They come for bottling too. They-

Alan Viader:
Oh, yeah. They help with bottling.

Delia Viader:
... know how to stick labels.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. I used to put mine on the bottling line, putting capsules on bottles and they didn't like... They'd liked it for about 10 minutes.

Alan Viader:
Yeah. And, and we had 'em for my own... The, the Intentus wines, they do all the, the, the capsules and they do all the, the packaging and that kind of stuff. So, it's kind of a family affair. My wife does the labeling and ... you know, we, you know, we've, we've turned it into kind of an education, I guess, as well.

Doug Shafer:
Cool. Good for you.

Alan Viader:
Work ethic.

Doug Shafer:
There you go. Yeah. Start them early. Well, listen, you two. Um, this has been wonderful. Thank you for taking the time and sharing your stories with us really, really appreciate it. And good to, good to talk to you again. It's been a while.

Alan Viader:
Yeah. It's great. Thank you very much.

Doug Shafer:
All right, guys. Be good and we'll see around-

Delia Viader:
Thank you, Doug.

Doug Shafer:
... hopefully, hopefully soon. Take care.

Alan Viader:
I'll see you soon.

Doug Shafer:
All right.

Delia Viader:
Take care.

Doug Shafer:
Thanks. Bye-bye.

Full Transcript

Doug Shafer:
Hey everybody, Doug Shafer here. Welcome back for another episode of The Taste. Uh, today we've got a longtime friend and an awesome winemaker, especially with Pinot Noir and Syrah, Adam Lee. Adam, welcome.

Adam Lee:
Thanks, Doug. It's good to be here.

Doug Shafer:
It's, uh, before we get going, you, uh, I've got to tell the story. So it's the late '80s, early '90s. I'm, uh, here at Shafer, I'm out on the road selling wine which basically is I'm, in some sales reps car. Going around to accounts retail stores restaurants meeting the buyer, pouring the wine, telling the story, trying to make some sales. And I'm in Austin, Texas I met this great local, great shop called the Austin Wines, Austin Wines and Spirits I think it was called. Still there to this day, it is the place in town. I'm there in the shop waiting with my rep, waiting for the buyer who's out there in the back room with another winemaker. And, uh, so there's this guy behind the, behind the counter, working in the counter and we start chit chatting. And is this young kid and he's like, "Man, I really, man, you make wine?" I said, "Yeah, I make wine." He goes, "Man, I want to do that." I said, "Well, let's do it. Go, go do it." He goes, "How do I do it? What do I do? Do I got to go to school?" I said, "My recollection..." Adam you might disagree is, I, I t-think I just said, "Just go out and, go out to Napa, Sonoma and get a cellar job, you'd learn on the job. You can do it." And you were like, it was you. (laughs). You were like, "Okay, I'll do that." And I didn't think anything of it. And two or three or four years go by and next thing I know, I'm reading about Adam Lee and Siduri wines. And I'd like go, "I know that kid. He was in that store in Texas, in Austin years ago." That's, uh, so that's where we first met, as I recollect.

Adam Lee:
That was the day that you were allocating Merlot, I remember that. That was (laughs), the big thing. That was the, the hot Shafer wine was the Merlot.

Doug Shafer:
That what, that's true. That's the Merlot era. That's true. But, uh, is in my, is my memory right on that one? That's how it happened?

Adam Lee:
It's comp, it's completely correct. Yes. You told me to just go for it, give it a shot, and come on out. And it's kind of what I did. I didn't end up getting the cellar job. But I followed that path of, of believing that you could take that chance and move out. And, you, you know, go west young man, to quote my old history, uh, professor. And, and I came out and took the chance.

Doug Shafer:
Its, I love it. I love it, because I've had that chat with many, many people through the years. And as far as I know, you're the only one that made it happen. So congratulations, my friend.

Adam Lee:
I, I appreciate that. You know, one of the things that was... A-a-and I still think is fantastic about this business, is how encouraging people are to people who really do want to pursue that dream. I mean, I'm sure you have harvest interns there. You-you've had interns and th-these people want to come and work and be part of something that we're fortunate to be part of. And I, I, I think people are open, winemakers are open, winery owners are open to sharing information, a-and, and, uh, encouraging the new generation.

Doug Shafer:
It's fun, because, uh, anyone who wants to get into it, usually they've got a lot of passion for it and are compassionate about it. And, uh, being around people with passion, um, is, is, is, uh, is an upper. It's great. I mean, it just, it gets us, it kind of gets me recharged when, when that happens with young kids. So it's, it's always fun. But speaking to young kids, let's talk about your story. Talk to me. Where'd you grow up? Let's go all the way back.

Adam Lee:
Sure. So I grew up in Austin, Texas. I was born in 1964. I was adopted when I was seven days old by two older Southern Baptist parents who didn't drink.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs)

Adam Lee:
So consequently, I didn't drink until I got to college. Uh, I mean, I guess consequently, a lot of people drink even though their parents didn't drink. I managed not too until I went away to San Antonio, Texas to Trinity University, a small, uh, liberal arts school. I studied French history and I specialized in the comparative history of the French and American prison systems.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs)

Adam Lee:
And that did not lead to a job after college somehow.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Adam Lee:
Uh, but, yeah, I know, it was pretty esoteric... People, I, I heard of this professor, he's actually know a very good customer. He said at Pomona, he's a dean down there. But he, um, told me that if I wrote about Robespierre's role in the French Revolution, everything that could be written about it had been written about it. So find something obscure to write about and maybe I could get published and get into graduate school. And I went just about as obscure as you could go. But I didn't go to graduate school and that's all because my junior year in college, I met this young lady who was a senior and she got a job after college out in Walnut Creek, California, working for Chevron. And I spent the summer between my junior and senior years out with her going wine tasting and fell in love with, uh, with wine. And really decided that I wanted to get, uh, come back and get involved in the, uh, in the wine business once I graduated. So I got a job working at, at that wine retail store in Austin.

Doug Shafer:
So that's how it happened? I was going to ask you. Because you know when did the wine thing kick in? Um, I, I was aware that you know, your folks, you know, were Baptist. You guys didn't drink. But, uh, so the wine thing didn't really happen in college. It happened afterwards. That's what you're telling.

Adam Lee:
It, it, yeah, that junior year. I mean-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Adam Lee:
... I remember things like we would take, um, that summer, uh, uh, Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling to Stern Grove Park. I, I mean, we were looking for sweeter white wines at the time. But I discovered this one place that we used to love to picnic and it was overlooking vines and a river, and the first red wine I ever fell in love with, uh, of any sort was the '84 Rochioli Pinot Noir. And that, um, I mean, Rochioli is obviously still one of California's great Pinot Noir producers. A-and basically, I jokingly tell people, um, the love, uh, with the girl didn't last but the love with Pinot Noir did.

Doug Shafer:
Well, I was gonna say that's another question but you're way ahead of me. I was gonna ask-

Adam Lee:
Yeah. (Laughs).

Doug Shafer:
What, you know, because you've been all about Pinot Noir, I was, I was curious about where that kicked in. So it was, it was that first bottle. So if that would have been a bottle of Cabernet, you could have been Cab maybe or not?

Adam Lee:
It coulda, it could have been Cab. (laughs). As a Texan you got, you gotta be kidding me. Of course, it could have been Cabernet. I think Texans got to make up, you know, a good quarter of your mailing list or something like that.

Doug Shafer:
That's true. We sell a lot of wine, we sell a lot of Cabernet in Texas. That's a true statement. How's Pinot Noir in Texas? It's probably okay.

Adam Lee:
Um, yeah, Pinot is good. You know it, uh, I always think of Texas kind of as, as three very distinct markets. Um, you-you've got Austin who always wants to be very, very cutting edge. And so when Pinot became popular, Pinot was no longer popular in Austin, and they started looking for Gruner or something really unusual. Uh, then Houston where they're kind of right on, uh, what's, what's happening, what's, what's popular at the moment. And so you see, Pinot doing very, very well there. And then Dallas is a lot of old oil money kind of thing. Um, and, uh, they have, they, they stick with some of the truly great traditional wines of the world and they sell a lot of Cabernet in Dallas.

Doug Shafer:
All right. So you fell in love with wine, the, the, the girl thing didn't work. The wine thing did. You go back, you finished college. But, so senior year, you're like, I'm, I'm going to, I'm going to do this wine thing. Is that where your head was at, do you think? Adam Lee:7 Yeah, I talked about graduate school, I considered the possibilities. Um, I'd looked, uh, and really thought, okay, I'll just take a year off and work in this wine store. I started going to wine tastings, uh, a-at the shop. It was a gentleman named Sam Kindred, Sam owned the stores. And, uh, he would put on the tastings. And Sam was brilliant. But he was always fairly disorganized. And so he would show up late for the tastings that he was putting on. Juggling glasses and the wine samples and he would come to me and say, "Adam, I will comp you the tasting, if you'll help me get it set up in a hurry." (laughs). And as a young kid with no money, I was like, "Sure." And I did that. And he eventually said, "Adam, you know how to, you seem responsible. You show up on time. I think you can do basic, uh, bookkeeping. So I would like to hire you as an assistant manager of a wine store."

Doug Shafer:
Did Sam, uh, I know Sam, I knew Sam Kindred well. He was a wonderful guy. Did he, did he own that store, Austin Wines Spirits?

Adam Lee:
He did.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. Okay.

Adam Lee:
There were three of them. So there was, yeah, there were three of them. And one of them, um, was John, uh, is owned, was owned by, uh, managed by a guy named John Rennick, who Johnny owns Austin Wine Merchant now.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Adam Lee:
But yeah, Sam was the owner of the three stores.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. Got it. Because then Sam, I think when he got out of that, he started working for a distributor. And I, I remember riding around calling on accounts with him. That's how I met a lot of people. 

Adam Lee:
That is correct. Yeah. Doug Shafer:8 Yeah. Wonderful guy. Yeah, he was a little bit disorganized. (Laughs). I do remember that. Um, all right. So you're, you're working in a wine shop. You're there in Austin for what? A couple years? How long that, how long were you there? Adam Lee:9: Yeah, I was, you know, that was a time, uh, where the opportunities to learn about wine were, were huge. Uh, we had, we were the local Les Amis du Vin chapter. So that allowed us, we put on tastings frequently. Uh, we, uh, you know, the, the vintages with California Cab, '84, '85, '86. With Bordeaux '85 and '86. '85 Burgundy's, uh, we brought in the wines from Marco Degrassi, of the German wines from Terri Theiss. There was just, uh, a string of absolutely incredible wines that were available to taste, I, I was able to, to sample and learn about these wines. And I think, uh, it only just spurred a greater, greater love for me for wine, in general. And, um, eventually I moved up to managing one of the stores. I, I also would work interestingly enough, on Friday and Saturday nights in a restaurant on the floor, in exchange for free dinners on Sunday and Tuesday nights. And I would work selling wine. And it was a restaurant called Jambalaya owned by a guy that I know, you know, uh, Leon Cikota.

Doug Shafer:
1 Leon. That was Leon's place. Yeah. (Laughs)

Adam Lee:
1 Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
1 I didn't, I did not know this. L-Leon's a wonderful guy, is our distributor guy now. But he, he'd started out in the restaurant businesses in Austin. That's how I first met him. He was just leaving that. But I didn't know you were hooked up with Leon in those days. How funny. That's great.

Adam Lee:
1 Oh, and it was such a blast and so amazing. And, and, um, it, it was a great opportunity. Like I would have free dinners on Sunday night. And if you know you're a young single guy, and you bring a date into the restaurant. And Leon, Leon The reason he's a great distributor is because he's, well, to put it mildly, he's a kiss ass, he's good at it.

Doug Shafer:
11: Yeah.

Adam Lee:
11: I mean, that's what you need in a distributor, sometimes. It's somebody who gets out there and sell stuff. And he, um, he would say things, ‘Oh, Mr. Lee, it's so good to see you again. (Laughs) And what a wonderful young woman you have with you. What do you like your usual table in the corner?’

Doug Shafer:
11 Oh -

Adam Lee:
11 Yeah, it worked out very well. Yeah. worked out well for a single guy at the time.

Doug Shafer:
11 We, we call Leon, we, he's a sweet talking Charlie, which is a compliment. I love it. So you're there you're doing that. Um, now, A-Austin's really close to Texas Hill Country some great pla, a great area to grow grapes and make wine. Were you, were you running around out there.

Adam Lee:
11 I did, I went out. Um, I still remember that one of the greatest bottles of wine that I've had. I mean, even we can go through and we can name the most of these memorable bottles. You know, you had this old Margaux or you have this old Hillside Select or you have whatever. I mean th-these fantastic bottles. But I remember the first time I really spent any serious time with a winery owner, winemaker was out at Fall Creek winery out in the hill country. And Ed Auler was the owner of that winery, and we're walking through the vineyards and it's hot. It's Texas hot, obviously. And he has a backpack on and he pulls out from the backpack a bottle of Rosè, a white Zinfandel, probably even that he had kept chilled and he just pops the top on it and we pass it back and forth. Drinking it out of the bottle, um, walking through the vines. And (laughs) to, to this day, I, I, it's something that I've long been convinced of. And I mean that really put it in my mind, was great bottles of wine. 12 I mean, you want the wine to be of quality. You don't want it to be flawed. But it's about who you're with and the experience and, and that whole thing. And sitting there from my first time really to spend that much time with a winemaker and winery owner in the vineyards, walking the vines and having that bottle. That bottle still stands out in my mind.

Doug Shafer:
12 Uh, that's great. That's a great story. Hook, hook and hook and Rosè right out of the bottle. I like that. Um, so are, so we're kind of jump into a quick question. Did you ever think about making wine in Texas?

Adam Lee:
13: Uh, you know, I, uh, um, did not at the time. I really didn't see it at, at that moment as being something that was going to, um, to take off. Obviously, I've been wrong about that. Texas wines have done very, very well. Uh, but I, um, I really just thought California was the place. And that time where I spent that little bit of time out between my junior and senior years. I really fell in love with it out here in California.

Doug Shafer:
13 Got it. So that's what, that was the idea. So I think you, you did, you moved up to Dallas, you had a stent up there, right?

Adam Lee:
1 I did. I, I, so I briefly worked in line wholesale and did very poorly at that. Uh, that was not for me going around. There's a lot more of rejection. When you work in wine retail, the people who walked in the door all, uh, want to see you. They all want to buy wine, it's pretty easy when you are a wholesaler, uh, distributor and you're pulling a bag and you walk in. Um, a lot of times that people don't want to see you at all. They don't have the money to spend or you know you're there, you gotta collect a cheque at the time or whatever. So I, I didn't do very well at that. But then one of the places I was calling on, was Neiman Marcus department stores up in Dallas. And Neiman's had a gentleman, a wine buyer named Mike Friend, but they needed another person to be the, uh, second buyer, second person to work the wind department. So I knew they had an opening. I was not very happy working as a distributor. Um, and I decided to, um, give it a shot and to go work at Neiman's, which was a fantastic place to work. You don't really think of Neiman's these days as having wine, but they had a great clientele and an absolutely fantastic selection of wines.

Doug Shafer:
14 Oh yeah, I do remember those, the programs they had, great wines and, and great customers, you know. Happy to spend the money and, you know, learn more about wine. So-

Adam Lee:
14 I, I had a customer one time, he, he was like ‘I know Bordeaux well, but I don't really know Burgundy. And I think '88, '89 and '90 are supposed to be good years, Adam, can you put together like 40 or $50,000 worth of wine for me?’ And y-you mean that's in, those kinds of dollars back at the time. And y-you know things like that would happened. I was like, "Oh my gosh, yes, I can do that for you."

Doug Shafer:
15 (Laughs) I love it. So what, uh, what happened up in Dallas? What, and then because the next stop was California, but a few things happened, I'm sure.

Adam Lee:
15 Y-yeah, a few, a few things happened in Dallas. So I, I always had really in my mind this idea of let me move out to California. Let me get back out there and be involved in, in the wine world out here. Um, I met a young lady, Diana Novy. Diana was the, uh, one of the food buyers there in the epicure department and we started dating. And we ended up really deciding to some extent to move out to California together. I was ahead of her. And my idea at the time was, yeah, maybe make some wine but I was also thinking about being a wine writer as much as anything. And I, um, I moved out a few months before she did and then she followed suit. Um, and, uh, we came out here. I was, started writing a wine newsletter called Vintages, Vines and Wines. And, um, tasting wines, reviewing wines, but, uh, we decided that if we were going t-to pursue this wine newsletter thing, we should try making a little bit of wine. And we were working at a tasting room in Dry Creek Valley. And they, we decided let's try making a little bit of wine and Pinot was what we wanted to make.

Doug Shafer:
1 Where were you guys working?

Adam Lee:
1 Uh, Lambert Bridge.

Doug Shafer:
1 Okay, okay.

Adam Lee:
1 Small, very hands on, uh, you know how with small wineries and when wineries are really trying to build. Uh, everybody, it's a team. And you work together a-and, um, that's, that was the feeling of that place. It was, it was pretty special.

Doug Shafer:
17: Got it. So you're working there, you guys were in the cellar or in, uh, hospitality?

Adam Lee:
17: Taste, taste, hospitality, tasting room. Uh, you do a little bit of everything at a place like that. But we, uh, were mainly tasting room but, uh, we didn't really have anybody to deal with distributors. So I would entertain, uh, distributors if, if we were trying to court some people there. Uh, whatever was, was needed, you end up doing it. You clean the bathrooms, you do that. It's anything and everything you have to do, um, you, you jump in and do it. And, uh, yeah, decided, um, we pulled together our, our cash and we had $24,000 total. And, uh, thought that it might be fun trying to make a little bit of wine and we really wanted to make Pinot Noir. So we put an ad in a publication called Wine Country Classifieds looking for grapes and for, had like for, uh, for Pinot grapes and had four different people respond. And we ultimately ended up buying an acres worth of grapes up in the Anderson Valley.

Doug Shafer:
18: Okay, this is crazy. I've never heard this story this is really fun. So you got, I mean you're just scratching this out. So you, you, you buy it so an acre worth the grape is what a few tons? Worth three or four tons?

Adam Lee:
18 Uh, yeah, at that time. So the reason we wanted to buy the acre was that, we had read that Pinot Noir was, um, very susceptible to yields. If you, if you have too much crop out there that the quality is not particularly good and so we wanted to work in the vineyard ourselves. So we purchased the acre we paid a set price ahead of time for that acre, uh, if that allowed us the right to go out there and do the shoot thinning, the leaf pulling and the dropping of crop ourselves.

Doug Shafer:
1 Oh really? That's kind of cool.

Adam Lee:
18 Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
18 Okay. You're way ahead of the curve here on quality. Good for you. So you guys together, now you married at this point?

Adam Lee:
18 Uh, we got married, engaged right before the '94 harvest.

Doug Shafer:
19: Okay.

Adam Lee:
19: And that was our first harvest. So we got engaged in September and the harvest '94, was a fairly late year in Anderson Valley we didn't pick till early October.

Doug Shafer:
1 Okay. So here's t-the thing I was going crazy the other night looking at my notes with you. Where were you making the wine? Where would you start and through the years where have you made the wine?

Adam Lee:
1 Yeah. So Lambert Bridge allowed us to make the wine there that first year. I think they thought it was kind of cute and didn't really expect much to come of it. And, uh, we ended up making 107 cases, four and a half barrels, out of that one acres worth of grapes that year. Uh, the next, and at some point... Um, well basically what happened is, we ended up getting some decent press on that thought it might be a little bit of a conflict. So we moved the next three years to DeLorimier winery in, uh, over an Alexander Valley. And they, uh, under a real custom crush arrangement. I mean Lambert Bridge allowed us to do it for next to nothing at the time. Doug Shafer:0: Right. Adam Lee:0: I mean, we were working there was kind of a perk of working, uh, there. Um, so '95, '96, '97 was at DeLorimier. And then in '98, We leased a warehouse in a fairly industrial part of Santa Rosa and, um, set it up as our own facility.

Doug Shafer:
That's cool. And this was the, this was the beginning of Siduri. Your brand with, with Diana.

Adam Lee:
That is correct. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So '94 is the first vintage. So, okay, so you've got your warehouse. So how long, when did you guys, um, stop working at Lambert Bridge and go full time with Siduri.

Adam Lee:
So, basically, what ended up happening was we, um, it was maybe the spring of '95. We had the wine and barrel. We thought it was good. We had a number of friends that would taste it. Uh, and they would tell us it was good, but y-your friends are going to be nice to you. (Laughs). And, um, yeah, really in hopes of getting some free wine.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Adam Lee:
Basically, they would be nice. Yep. And, uh, uh, we heard one day, we'd been drinking with some customers. That was one of the advantages, sometimes of a small place too. You would taste with the customers and occasionally you would drink with the customers. And we were drinking with the customers that day. And a fax came in from the Wine Advocate saying that, Robert Parker was staying over at Meadow Wood. And, uh, we and was looking for samples. He was out for a ZAP event. And we went home opened another bottle of wine that led us to think that maybe Parker would like to try our wines. So we drove up to Lambert Bridge pulled a sample out of the four and a half barrels hand bottled it. Put a little Avery white label on it. Did a handwritten note about the wine and drove it over to Meadowwood left it with the concierge there and drove back over the hill. Actually, we stopped and had dinner at a restaurant called Trilogy, that used to exist in St. Helena and we drove back over the hill. 2: And, uh, the next morning had one of those kind of fuzzy, what did we do last night moments. And then we were like, "Oh crap, we left a sample for Parker." And thought we were gonna get some horrible, horrible rating on it. We actually called, uh, Meadowood went and talked to the concierge and asked about getting it back, but it was too late. And, uh, fortunately, three weeks or so after that. Um, Parker left a message on the answering machine saying, he thought the wine was terrific. But he'd lost all the notes on it. And about six weeks after that, the issue of the Wine Advocate came out and it was one of their top 10 Pinots that year. And he printed our phone number, which was our home phone number. We didn't even have a business line setup. (Laughs). And, and that's, that's kind of where Siduri became known. And, uh, where we were like, this could be a real thing. I mean, it went quickly from, this is kind of fun to, uh, wow, our door has been open for us. What do we do about this now?

Doug Shafer:
Well, that's what, that's what's fascinating. Because y-you guys are pretty unique. I mean, that was my recollection. All of a sudden, it's like, Siduri was all over the place. And I was like who is this? And then it's like, wait a minute. I know this kid, he used to sell wine in Austin, Texas. And it happened really fast. It must have been kind of crazy for you guys. Going from like nothing to 60 miles an hour really fast.

Adam Lee:
Uh, very much so. Things, uh, I mean, y-you can talk and we can talk about how it got crazy as far as is making wine and that kind of thing. But truly running a business, running a wine business. Uh, how to, how to make that work was something that neither one of us had. I mean, we had some experience having worked at Neiman's and then worked at a, a another, uh, worked at Austin Wine and Spirits. But for setting it up, setting up that process. And alcohol is regulated in ways that other things aren't. In dealing, jumping through all of those hoops. A lot of stuff here that, uh, we just didn't have any experience on it. And we had to play catch up to some extent.

Doug Shafer:
Well, of, you bet. And so that's, that you got that going on. But here's another thing I, I have got to ask you. Where'd you learn how to make wine?

Adam Lee:
Well-

Doug Shafer:
How did that happened?

Adam Lee:
Yeah, it's a, it's a, good, good question. And really, it's from a lot of people. Including people like you, Doug, who were willing to answer questions for us. Where we would go and I remember talking to Tom Rochioli and, um, tasting, um, barrel tasting with him and asking him questions. And then him telling me about these guys down the street Burt and Ed at Williams Selyem winery, and I needed to go down there. And I went down and, and, uh, talk to them. Reginald Oliver at El Molino, out there over in Napa.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Adam Lee:
People like that, we're very, very open at sharing, uh, information. And I, I think really our belief, uh, started at with that you need to get great grapes to begin with. The-the-there's no, uh, going around that to some extent. You, you had to get the best grapes. So we purchase the grapes by the acre. We read all we could and talk to people all we could about farming and, um, spending time out in the vineyards. Uh, and then to a large extent we let the wine make itself. And I, I mean that sounds very cliched, and I know people talk about that. We really had to do it because we didn't know what to do. So to a large extent, wine did make itself. I actually think making wine is fairly easy. It's stopping for, it's stopping it from becoming vinegar. (laughs). That's the hard part.

Doug Shafer:
That's true. That's a good point. Um, well, I gotta tell you, um, thanks for sharing that. Because to me, it's just fascinating, you know. You know, I mean, you guys took a path that was just so cool. Where you, did it yourselves seat of your pants. You know, you didn't do that Fresno State UC Davis thing. You didn't work in a cellar as an assistant winemaker, a cellar rack. You just did it. I mean, it's just fascinating. And it's, um, you don't hear many people getting to the quality point you guys got with Siduri wines in this manner. And I, I gotta hand it to you. I mean, my, I, just congratulations. It's really, really, it's a great story. It's really cool.

Adam Lee:
I took a one day course at Davis on doing lab work. (Laughs) Thinking maybe that could, maybe that could take, save us some money. And there's some point where you are measuring acidity, titratable acidity, and it requires looking at a color shift in red wine, and I am partially colorblind. And so in the middle of this, where the teacher is telling me can't you see this, and I can't. And I realized I just lost $350 on the UC Davis class that (laughs) I can't even benefit from. That was kind of like, "Huh, I think that's my class. I've done one. And I think I'm done."

Doug Shafer:
That's good. Well, you know, you're making wine. You're making wine with your senses. But I'm gonna roll back to something you said earlier, because I think it's really important. Um, it's so important to get the quality of fruit and the location and, you know, great grapes to be able to make great wines. And that leads to the next question I've got up with you is, you've been making wine all over the place and I, I want you to speak to this and tell the story how this happened. Because I think, I think you've made wine from Santa Barbara all the way up to Willamette Valley in Oregon. And you know, harvest is kind of the same window four or five, six weeks every year. And you're making wines, I don't know you know, the mileage down all these vineyards. I, I, I love you, man. But I've never understood how the heck do you do this? I mean, you know, you gotta be running around like an idiot. I mean, how do you... First of all, why to do it? And then how to do it? Because you did for years. So tell me all about that. Adam Lee:7 Yeah, so I would love to say that we had a great plan as to making it come true. That okay, this was an idea, uh, that it was something I came to. I-it turned out to be this way. It turned out to be something I can do. What, like maybe your stockbroker would tell you, which is your financial advisor, invest in stocks and bonds and this and that. And you know, it diversify your risk to some extent. And that worked out pretty well for us. But that wasn't a plan. We didn't plan that out at all. Honestly, what happened was the general manager at Lambert Bridge had purchased some land up in Oregon. And, uh, planted it to Pinot wasn't sure what he was going to do with it. He his in laws lived up there. And he saw the way we made Pinot that first year and asked us would you be interested in getting some fruit from Oregon? And we rather naively said, "Sure, let's let's go for it." (Laughs) Oregon, um, 1994, the year prior to us making Oregon Pinot 1994 was a fantastic, fantastic vintage in Oregon. And we naively thought every year, it's got to be that fantastic in Oregon. And then, uh, we started in '95, which was arguably the string, uh, three of the worst vintages in Oregon history, '95, '96, '97. And that was a tough beginning with, with Oregon. Uh, we had in '95. 9 Um, we reached out in David Hirsch, um, talked to us out on the Sonoma coast. And David always told us stories about how he had been getting some really great, um, press, I mean, fairly early on. But the wines have been well received from some very, very famous winemakers. But he wanted to see, was it the winemakers or was it the quality of his grapes that made the wines, uh, perform very well. And so he sold to us because he knew he didn't know what we were doing. (Laughs) And so that could, um, he could then judge whether or not, um, it was the quality of the winemaking or the quality of the grapes. And so that's how we got into the Hirsch vineyard, um, in 1997. Gary Pisoni in the Santa Lucia Highlands, he tried our wines at a place called the Cheese Shop down in Carmel. Fantastic- Doug Shafer:0: Still. Adam Lee:0: ... wine store- Doug Shafer:0: And yeah. Adam Lee:0: Oh yeah, absolutely incredible place. And he tried our wines there and thought they were fantastic. And called us up and said he would like to sell us grapes. So there wasn't a plan for this. Uh, but it turned out to be something that we loved Pinot Noir and in still to this day love Pinot and love the expressions of Pinot and all sorts of different places.

Doug Shafer:
Well, you, you did it and I, I tell me about typically how, how would you get through a harvest?

Adam Lee:
I mean, the logistics, the logistics were really, really difficult. So I would leave to go check on vineyards, I would leave at about 3:00, 30 in the morning, and drive down to Monterey to the Santa Lucia Highlands. Uh, on usually on a Saturday morning because there's less traffic. You really just have to worry about getting through the Bay Area.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Adam Lee:
Once you hit Morgan Hill, you're in pretty good shape. Um, I would then, um, check those vineyards at sunrise I would in usually be done sampling crushing them up and tasting the samples with the Franscioni's and Pisoni's by 11. I would then drive down to the Santa Rita Hills, uh, stay the night in Buellton. At the Best Western Andersen split pea soup in there and, uh, living it up. Uh, I would wake up early that morning, sample those vineyards. Uh, drive back up from there listening to Sunday morning NFL games. Get to the Oakland airport, jump on a plane fly up to Oregon. From there, look at the grapes up there. Come back on Monday evening or Tuesday morning and then deal with, um, Sonoma County.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs) And so and but I, but Diana is got to be, she's by your side.

Adam Lee:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Because I mean-

Adam Lee:
She has definitely divide and conquer, uh, was a big thing. Uh, one of the things that changed our lives, uh, tremendously was in 1999. Uh, we had our first child, son, Christian. And, uh, at that point in time, we split things up a little differently. I dealt mainly with, uh, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Oregon. And she spent more time dealing with, uh, Russian River, So, uh, Sonoma coast, Sonoma mountain fruit.

Doug Shafer:
Makes sense. Makes sense. And so, and you're both, you're both tracking fermentations, I guess. You're just trading off, who's ever around to take care of that. Watching -

Adam Lee:
Completely. And there were other things that happened like we were trying to get in Marcy Keefer for the Keefer Ranch vineyard, a great Pinot vineyard. And we weren't able to get in for a couple of years. And, uh, Marcy really wanted grandchildren. So Diana took Christian out as a young, very, very young child, and let Marcy, uh, a-as Diana is trying to convince her to sell us grapes. And let Marcy hold Christian and shamelessly we used our young son and it worked. Diana managed to get us Keefer Ranch grapes that year after, after bringing Christian out there.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs). Yeah, it's okay. I, I get that. You know, I've used my kids kind of that way. Not, you know, blatantly that just happened to be having to be there and it, it works.

Adam Lee:
Sure.

Doug Shafer:
It's, you know, it's kids, kids and dogs. Dog, good stuff. Um, all right. Well, thanks for telling me about that. Obviously, just crazy. Uh, my hat's off to you for doing that. And, and covering that much territory. But, but the bottom line is, you were seeking out the best fruit you could find. And-

Adam Lee:
Yeah, we've-

Doug Shafer:
... for Pinots.

Adam Lee:
No doubt. And, and what I've often believed and I, I still to this day, really believe that it's true, is, uh, that wine should have, uh, very unique, very individual character. And as such, some people really loved our Willamette Valley Pinot. But maybe they didn't like our, our Hatcher vineyard as much. Or they liked the Pisoni, but they didn't like the Clos Pepe as much. Uh, if they as long as they didn't tell us it was poorly made. Then if someone just said I like this one better than I like that one. That to me was never a concern. And we definitely developed followers over time for certain vineyards.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right. It's, uh, no, it's, I see that. In fact, I want to talk about that later. Because I tried a couple those wines, you brought me the other day. Um, but then in '98, you guys launched a new, a new brand called Novy. Talk to me about that.

Adam Lee:
Sure. Uh, so '98 was the first year that we moved into our own facility. And we did a little bit of custom crush for some other wineries because we needed to pay for equipment. Uh, but it was a very small crop year for Pinot that year. And we were wondering, boy, how are we going to fill this place up? How are we going to afford to pay for everything? Uh, and we had a friend who approached us about some Syrah grapes and we decided to make a little bit of Syrah that year. And, um, Novy was Diana's maiden name. It, uh, it meant new. And we thought that was a fun, you know, here's something new let's give it a shot. And, uh, made some Syrah. Got her parents and brothers came in as investors in the winery helped, um, and not large financial investors. And when we started this out in the same 100 and kinda case range, but really, uh, really just began that process of trying to make some other things. Mainly, we focused on Syrah and Zinfandel.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. Got it. That was smart and, uh, was that the, I was curious about that as far as making those varietals under a new brand name as opposed to being part of the Siduri, uh, umbrella. Was there a thought to given to that? Is there a reason.

Adam Lee:
A, a little bit. I mean, at that point in time, a few years in Siduri but, uh, seemed like it was becoming known as a, a Pinot Noir producer. And we wanted to, um, to really maintain that and keep it that way. I think once we decided to involve the family, it became pretty clear that it should be a different interest at that point in time and, and, and a different name. Uh, I think that's the, um, I guess that's one of the interesting things that I'm not sure whether or not we did something good or not. But naming a winery after yourself. Obviously, y'all have done that. But y-you know, there are positives and negatives to that. And when you sell a winery at some point in time, as we later did, um, you're selling away your name.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Adam Lee:
That, that's a little bit of a challenge.

Doug Shafer:
I understand. But the same time on the plus side Siduri, as you said, was known, is known for Pinot Noir. And so keeping that focus, I think, I think in my experience in the marketplace is really important for the consumer. I mean, they, they know what Siduri is all about. It's like, well, Siduri has a Cabernet? They'd be like, what, what's going on? That'd be confusing to the marketplace. So, um, it's like Shafer making a Pinot because every once in a while somebody will float that by me, I go, "Uh, that just doesn't make sense. I know we're Cabernet guys." So, um, you know, it's always a challenge to try to figure out what the, what the right move is. So fast forward. All of a sudden, 2015 speaking of selling, were (laughs) were there. What happened? Adam Lee:7 So, Yes. Well, we had grown the winery... I mean, starting at 107 cases, uh, we ended up being about 25,000 cases. Doug Shafer:7 Okay. Adam Lee:7 Uh, a-at that point in time, it would go up and down one year, 20,000. One year, 30,000. I mean, it seems like big swings, but based on just vintage conditions in certain areas that it could easily go up and down by that much. And, um, it was going really well. Honestly, the wines were selling well. Um, we got approached by, uh, some friends of ours, the, the Benzigers. And we were just talking, I, I knew them well. And we chatted about the possibility and I mentioned some offhand comment about, um, that I didn't know we were talking about what would ever happen. What would you, what do you want to do 20 years from now. And I mentioned something about if we were ever, um, if we ever sold I could see myself doing this or that. And, uh, they came back a few days later and said would you be interested in selling? So we kind of began the process then of pulling our financial stuff together, but not with really any real plan at that point in time of selling and quite frankly, we ultimately called it off. And said we, we brought in a, a broker guy, uh, named Mario Zepponi who sells wineries for a living. We ultimately said no, we don't want to do this. It's harvest time, let's, let's call it quits and, and not do it. And, uh, after harvest, Mario came back to us and said, "Adam, I think there'd be some real interest would you consider letting me shop this around and just see what's out there." And I'm like, "Sure." It won't hurt at all to be shopped around. And it turned out there was some real interest and we had some real, long discussions between Diana and myself as to whether or not this is something we truly wanted to do. Did we want to keep doing what we were doing or did we want to go ahead and sell it? And I, I don't know, Doug. To a, to a large extent it got to the point that, well we ran the winery, I kind of felt like the winery was running us, in some ways more than anything else.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Adam Lee:
And, uh, didn't have, um, Siduri had become known as someone who made fairly big fairly, rich Pinots wanted different styles. And I kind of felt like maybe, I wasn't sure do we want to go on a different course. And we didn't feel free to do that. So consequently made the decision to a-after we shopped around, um, to sell the winery to, uh, Jackson family. Kendall Jackson, folks.

Doug Shafer:
No, it's great. And, uh, and I think you did... What was the agreement? You stayed on and kept working with them?

Adam Lee:
Yep.

Doug Shafer:
How did that worked out?

Adam Lee:
I did. So there was, um, a three year contract and that was in, um, 2015. And I still consult for them to this day. So I've stayed around. They've been fantastic to deal with. I, they've hired a new Siduri winemaker. A very good friend of mine named Matt, Matt Revlat. He's, he's really fantastic. But, um, I continue to help them out, uh, with some different Pinot projects. Uh, doing some different things. Uh, they, they have vineyard sourcing from Santa Rita all the way up to Oregon. So kind of our, our Pinot, uh, areas dovetail with one another. And we were able to, um, to work together and again, again I continue to consult for them right now.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, that's great. That's, that's really good to hear. Um, that's, that's neat. It's neat so you can stay connected, uh, with that. But also then freedom to do some new things and that's one thing I want to talk to you about. Um, I think it's 2017 you started your Clarice project, correct?

Adam Lee:
Yeah, so, so, yeah, I did. So that, uh, I mean, I, I know that one of the things. I listened to a number of your, I've listened to a number of your, your podcasts here and, I you do a fantastic job. And I was listening to the one with Donald Patz and you were talking to him about, you know, is there any conflict there with-

Doug Shafer:
All right.

Adam Lee:
... you know, you're doing other, uh, other projects. And Jackson's been pretty cool to work with. They basically are, you know, if you don't get too big, we're, we're cool with this. You know, you just do the small stuff hands on. And I kind of wanted to get back to the days where I was the one, uh, they're doing the punch downs. I was the one really making all these, these calls. And, and at some point in Siduri, 30,000 cases you needed to, um, to have a lot of handoff a lot of things to a lot of staff, that type of thing. And I didn't want that any longer. And I kind of had a different vision at that time on the way I wanted to make the wines. The vines I was dealing with had gotten older. That's one of the things i-in the story of California Pinot so many things happened right after Sideways. 2: There were so many new plantings and you saw Pinots being made in fairly big rich, uh, in fact, very big, very rich style. Maybe a little bit too much. So I, I don't think people talk enough about the fact that Sideways came out in the end of 2004 and 2003 and 2004 with the two hottest vintages I ever dealt with for Pinot. And I don't think those wines stylistically, were always what California Pinot Noir i-is best at necessarily. But people tasted them and they were very popular. 2 Uh, I kind of wanted to do something a little different. The vines were leading me in a different way. So I looked at two vineyards, the Rosella's vineyard and the Gary's vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. I'm very, very good friends with the families that own those vineyards. The Pisoni families and the Franscioni family so good friends I performed, Jeff Pisoni's wedding. I actually got licensed (laughs) to do that. So that's very good friends at that point in time. And, um, wanted to do things differently. A lot of whole cluster, picking a little bit earlier and really not doing anything to the wines. I, I no addition of yeast, uh, uh, anything like that. Just kind of letting it make their, uh, make itself, if at all possible.

Doug Shafer:
Right. Well, you dropped off a bottle of 2019 Clarice to me and, uh, we popped it a couple days ago. I gotta tell you something. And I'm, I'm not trying to give you an advertisement here or an endorsement. But I'm just telling you, winemaker to winemaker, it was really, really pretty. It was... You know what I loved about it? There was this kind of softness, elegance about it, you know, the Pinot character, I'm starting, I'm starting to geek out here but it's just, love the nose. And this the whole balance and fragrance was just, it was very, it’s just, Adam, it was just elegant. It was just an elegant wine and, and I loved it. So my hat's off to you. It's a beautiful wine.

Adam Lee:
Well, thank you. That's, um, that means an awful, awful lot. I really wanted it to kind of have that balance and elegance. Um, honestly, Clarice was named after my grandmother. And my, uh, grandmother also didn't drink. Uh, she was, uh, a teetotaler. But she had a real spirit to her and, um, she taught me to cook. And, uh, she would cook uh, over long periods of time in crock pots. Because my grandfather was, uh, a farmer and she never really knew when he was going to be coming home at night. So she would say if you put the meat, the potatoes, the carrots, the broth, the seasoning all in at one time and let it cook slowly. They will all kind of meld together. If you add seasoning at the end it really stands out. So the whole philosophy at Clarice is to get all you can the best ingredients in the vineyard and then turn around and, um, bring them in together disparate sections in the vineyard. Kind of do a field blend but bring them in and ferment them together.

Doug Shafer:
Nice. Nice. Tell me more about your grandmother. Cause she's got a story, Clarice.

Adam Lee:
She does have a story. Um-

Doug Shafer:
I need to hear this one. This is back, this is Texas back in the early 1900s, I think. But can [-

Adam Lee:
Yeah. She was born in 1896. And she was, um, living in a small town called Giddings, Texas. And in Giddings, Texas she had been arranged to be, uh, married to the son of the pharmacist in town. Which would have been a huge financial step up, a societal step up, uh, to, to, to do that. But she had fallen in love with a guy who was a farmer. And he, they would leave notes for each other underneath a rock down by the creek there in Giddings. And eventually, two days before her birthday, she eloped with him. They ran off on a horse and buggy went all of 17 miles away to Dime Box, Texas. They were chased after by her brother and father, but it started raining that day. And they couldn't catch up, uh, to her. And so my grandparents from that point forward, were married for 67 years. And-

Doug Shafer:
I just love it. (Laughs). I just... ain't that great. That's so romantic. And so cool. And so Texas. It's great.

Adam Lee:
I-it, it, it is Texas. It's romantic. And you know, it's funny, Doug, I never really found that story out until my mom told me later about Clarice's daughter. Because my grandmother, you know, I, I obviously I met her later in her life. And she was more of a grandma. She was the person, she would let me eat the charms out of the Lucky Charms and not the cereal, you know. (laughs) She'd sit on the floor watching Scooby Doo with me, that kind of thing. But, um, she wasn't going to tell me that story. But my mom told me that story about the background, and she told me in relation to the idea of moving out to California and taking a chance on making wine. And she said you know in, when you're young in your life, and you don't really have that much to lose, that's the time to take those chances. Doug Shafer:7: Right. Right. So it's a lovely wine, it's a great story and also you're doing something, there's a whole new concept you're doing with, with sales and, and marketing. Tell us, tell us about that.

Adam Lee:
Yeah. So what I'm really trying to do there is to do, um, something very, very different which is starting a, it's a wine club per se. In some ways you could say it's traditional that, okay you, you sign up you get some wine you're, it's a subscription. But what I do after you get the, the wines, are simultaneously with it. Is you get to go to events and parties and other people's wineries. I, um, I try to involve other people. I, I'm under no illusion that, uh, Clarice is going to be the only Pinot or the only wine they're going to drink of any sort. I, I remember the days, uh, where we all were really working to support each other, certainly in the Pinot world. But in California Wine, we were underdogs. We were, uh, you know, I, I met Robert Mondavi twice in my life. And, and the what he did really as far as promoting California Wine... W-w-what a lot of people early, early on, did your, your father, um, promoting California Wine made a huge, huge difference. I, I worry a little that we have gotten, um, so big and, and so successful that we spend time trying to take shelf space from one another. 8 And what we need to do instead is to get more people drinking more good wine. So I like to do events. I've done events, uh, at wineries down in Santa Barbara. I've done, uh, events over in Napa with different wineries and, and, uh, working with people there. Where my members come and they get special tastings at certain places. Uh, at the same time, we also do, um, private Zoom tastings and Zoom events with members. I've, uh, had discussions, uh, on wine ingredient labeling. I had the head of, uh, the African American Vintners Association on talking about inclusivity in the wine business, uh, do a lot of different things to try to make it more of a community.

Doug Shafer:
Nice, nice. I like it good for you. Hey, I want to have a gig over here at Shafer with your customers because I want to take those Pinot Noir lovers. I'm going to turn them into Cabernet lovers. That's what I'm going to do. Ah, ah.

Adam Lee:
Yeah. Y-y-ou make a little more than just Cab. Maybe they could be a Chard lover too.

Doug Shafer:
Chard lover, a little Syrah, we can do, we can do a few things. So- Adam Lee:9 Yep. Doug Shafer:9 ... good. Thanks for telling us about that. It's a great project. Um, and so after that, um, I’m bouncing back to Jackson family in 2018. You're involved with something called Root and Rubble. Tell me about.

Adam Lee:
Root and, yes. So Root and Rubble was a project that an idea that I came up with after having spent some time in France in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. And seeing some of the great producers their aging, fermenting and aging their Grenache in concrete.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Adam Lee:
And I wanted to and, and over there in Chateauneuf, they call, uh, the, uh, Grenache, the Pinot Noir. You know there's, Chateauneuf are a blend of multiple red grapes. Doug Shafer:0: Right. Adam Lee:0: And they call the Grenache, the, the Pinot Noir of those grapes. And, uh, it came to me that maybe we could try making, uh, a Pinot that is all concrete. Uh, oak is, uh, a very expensive part of winemaking. And maybe there was something there about making a wine that wasn't just a light and fruity wine. But that, we could try and do some experiments, uh, and work truly with, with concrete. So we've been doing that as well and, and making an all concrete aged and fermented Pinot Noir.

Doug Shafer:
Nice. And so that's a, that's a KJ. Is that under the label, Root and Rubble, or is it -

Adam Lee:
I-it's, it's under the label Root and Rubble. Yes.

Doug Shafer:
Cool. Okay, I got a look for that one. And then you've got another project. Speaking of Chateaunuef, I think you met somebody over there. Tell me about that.

Adam Lee:
I did. I met a very, very good friend of mine, a gentleman named Philippe Cambie. Uh, Philippe is one of the leading winemakers in, in the world, certainly in the southern Rhone, and in, um, in all of France. He, uh, consults with 81 other wineries around the globe.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Adam Lee:
And Philippe's, just a, a big hearted, wonderful, wonderful, uh, gentleman. Um, he is someone that is, um, incredibly knowledgeable, obviously, as far as winemaking goes. Uh, and we were drinking at his house, um, having dinner and, uh, he mentioned that we were just talking about our, our lives in wine. And I was talking about m-my story and he just mused, kind of off the top of his head. I've always dreamed of making Pinot Noir.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs)

Adam Lee:
And I loved love that wording. I mean Philippe, uh, Philippe's three white, first wines that he ever made, uh, all got 100s from Parker. So he could have said, I think I could be successful at making Pinot. He could say, uh, I could make money doing it. I mean, there are many ways he could have worded it. But when he said I've always dreamed of making Pinot Noir, uh, that just really tugged at my heart. And I, uh, basically emailed him, uh, once I returned. Thanked him for the dinner and mentioned that to him and asked him if he would be interested in starting a Pinot project together. So we started something called, uh, Beau Marchais. Uh, Beau Marchais is really his interpretation of Pinot Noir. I'm kind of the shepherd, uh, of that. But it's made in the same style in same way that he makes Chateauneuf-de-Pape

Doug Shafer:
Ah, interesting. Because I, we, you gave, you were so generous to give us so much wine, thank you. Um, we, we popped that the other day along with the Clarice, very different expression of Pinot Noir. And really kind of cool. It was just, it was different. It was, um, I don't know it was earthier. I got, maybe I got a little, a little more oak on it. It was kind of a deeper Pinot. God, I've never talked about wines on the show at all, this is kind of fun. (Laughs) It was, uh, it was very different than the, from the Clarice in a, in a really cool way. So that was, it was, how fun for you to be making these different styles of wine. Kind of cool.

Adam Lee:
You know, it is. And for me, it's also fun. I mean, Pinot is something now that I've done, it's hard for me to believe. But you know, in the middle of the 28th harvest here in my life right now, um, and we're getting old, Doug. I hate to say it, but it's, it's true.

Doug Shafer:
No, we're not. No, we're not.

Adam Lee:
No? (Laughs).

Doug Shafer:
We're just taking our stride baby. Don't even think about that.

Adam Lee:
I got, I got plenty of time to go. But, uh, it's allowed me to look at Pinot in a different way. And that's something I never really imagined, uh, you know, 20 plus years into it. That you could meet somebody, you could make wine, really kind of following their advice in, in their direction. And that was so thrilling. Now that I'm taking something that I know extremely well like the back of my hand, and I look at it anew. And that's, that's really exciting for me.

Doug Shafer:
That’s gotta be fun. So you guys, you're together. It's a partnership. You're making the wines here and he's over in France making wine right now this time of year. So how do you do that? Just get on the phone call and say, "Hey, it's tasting like this. It's looking like this." How's that work?

Adam Lee:
Y-yeah, a lot of... I mean, things like Zoom, obviously. Um, just the, uh, being able to, to be in touch with one another, FaceTime, showing him the vineyards when I'm out there. Taking pictures, um, and talking about it. And then, um, he comes over here three times a year and we taste and we blend - that was challenged by COVID. Not so much by anything else.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, yeah.

Adam Lee:
He wasn't able to get over here last year. So we ended up shipping samples to him. And I, uh, I did that and then ended up, uh, managed somehow to get over there in June this past year and taste with him.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, good for you. Yeah, that probably was a challenge. Um, that's neat. Well, so you got a lot going on. I got to ask you what's coming up? You got anything new? You got anything cooking?

Adam Lee:
Uh, I-

Doug Shafer:
That you, that you can talk about?

Adam Lee:
Yeah, there, there are a few, uh, different things. I mean, I consult for a few other wineries. Again Jackson's all cool with that as long as there's not anything huge, big. So I, I consult with a few different people. Uh, a vendor called Bucher here in the Russian River. Um, I play with a few things. Uh, Philippe has talked to me, uh, and another producer in Gigondas about kind of doing the, the mirror reflection of, uh, of what we do with Beau Marchais. And so instead of Philippe's vision and, uh, of Pinot here in California, maybe my vision of Grenache, there in over in Gigondas in the southern Rhone. And so that is something that we've been playing around with the idea. Uh, this year in France, uh, was not the year after the frost, that they had. And with COVID it was not the year for us to take it on. But that's, uh, there's some talks going on about that. So that could be a lot of fun.

Doug Shafer:
That'd be fun. Um, you know what, I, I really wanna make Chablis. I wanna make Chablis, there's only one place to make Chablis and that's in Chablis. Because I just love those wines so much. That's one of my dream.

Adam Lee:
I, I, I agree with you, Doug. That, it is a place that is so unique. I mean, California makes some incredible, incredible Chardonnays. But I don't think there's another place like Chablis.

Doug Shafer:
Ah, those wines, just love them, just love them. Anyway, and you know, you know, 15, 20 years ago, I didn't love them. And I do now. So again, as we change and experience different wines through life and tastes change and preferences change, and it's, uh, it's fun. It's a journey. It's a journey.

Adam Lee:
It is.

Doug Shafer:
So Mr. Lee where can people find your wines? What's the best... How can they get, get a hold of Clarice if possible? Or the Beau -Marchais and Root and Rubble? What's, how, how do they do it?

Adam Lee:
So the easiest way really is just to go to claricewinecompany.com, you can sign up there for the mailing list. Um, and, uh, most of it sold through that subscription model. Occasionally, I have some extra cases here or there. Same thing and, and by doing that, I'll get you on the Beau Marchais list, as well. So just please, you know, just go to claricewinecompany.com and you can sign up there. There's a little bit that's out but it's almost all restaurants. I, I, Blackberry Farm does some, uh, in Tennessee. Uh, coupled with the Bellagio. Th-there are more places like that to get it than Clarice really doesn't appear in retail right now. Doug Shafer:7 Got it. Got it. Alright, well Adam, thank you so much for taking the time during this busy time. I really appreciate, because I, I know what's going on with you. And same things going over here but, uh, mornings are busy, afternoons, we get a little bit of a break so it's a good time.

Adam Lee:
Thank you Doug. This was fantastic. It was good to catch up. And, and when we all feel a little more safe, um, in getting together in person. Let's drink some Chablis together.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs) Sold, my friend. You take it, you take it easy, great talking to you. Thanks for sharing your story.

Adam Lee:
Take care.

Doug Shafer:
I'll see you. Bye.

Full Transcript

Doug Shafer:
Hey everybody, Doug Shafer here. Welcome back to another episode of The Taste. Uh, today we have a long time vintner friend of mine, or years. I can't k- keep count. He'll have to help me, but we normally see each other on the road. Uh, we normally have long lunches together with lots of wine, but with the pandemic, (laughs) we haven't seen each other in a long time. Donald Patz, welcome. Good to hear your voice. How are you?

Donald Patz:
I'm doing very well Doug. Thanks for including me.

Doug Shafer:
Oh man, you bet. And I was thinking about you last night. Um, I try to think about the first time we met and I'm thinking it was the tasting group with the gang at Flora Springs. Was that it or was it before that?

Donald Patz:
Probably, you know, w- um, our daughters were rough, you know, a little bit different than age, but kind of in the same school. So we probably crossed paths at, um, even elementary school in St. Alena.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
It's certainly by the time they were playing softball.

Doug Shafer:
That's right. And so that's, that's, uh, late s. So that was a while back, I think (laughing), but we won't count the years. But, um, you've been involved out here in California for a long time, over years, but, and I, I l- I wanna hear about what you're doing in the wine bus- business, but, um, the most fun part about this thing, Donald, as you know, is, is to hear people's stories and their history and where they came from. And I know you and I have something in common. We did not grow up here in the Napa Valley. We came from far away. I was Chicago, and you were from where?

Donald Patz:
Originally Minneapolis. And then I live-

Doug Shafer:
Really?

Donald Patz:
Yeah. I live ... moved, uh, from Minneapolis to Eugene, Oregon in . Um, and then moved down to California in .

Doug Shafer:
So Minneapolis, how long were you there? What age?

Donald Patz:
years. Going into ninth grade is when I left.

Doug Shafer:
Oh man. So what was, uh, what was that like, was that, uh, Minneapolis?

Donald Patz:
Cold (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Cold (laughs). Really big mosquitoes, right?

Donald Patz:
Don't you remember the mi- upper Midwest? I mean, yeah, big mosquitoes. The state bird of Minnesota-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
... actually is the loon, but it might as well be the mosquito. Um, yeah, I l-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, so-

Donald Patz:
I did, like, there were certain things ... I mean, we had, I, I think the reason that you stay in places like this is because of family, right?

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Donald Patz:
No, it was, it was great. I mean, you know, and, uh, and I know that your dad has something to do with Dick and Jane books. Am I wrong?

Doug Shafer:
No, you're right. He worked for a publishing company called Scott Foresman. Yeah.

Donald Patz:
And I s- yeah. I so remember learning to, um, read books on Dick and Jane books or to read on Dick and Jane books. And it really, it was amazing when I realized that your, that your dad had something to do with that. And, uh, I thought that was a, you know, pretty cool touch point, but, um, living in Minnesota, one of the th- the, beauties of being in a place like that, upper Midwest where, uh, education is really a high priority, I, I really, I realized it when I moved to Oregon and this is nothing against Oregonians at all. It's just that, um, the whole way that they funded schools in Oregon was quite different and you could, you could really feel it, I mean that there was a limited budget versus (laughs) Minnesota where we got new books every year.

Doug Shafer:
Right, right. Yeah. I, I do, I do remember that. I mean, so Chicago area was a fantastic public school system. That was great. Um, so Eugene, Oregon, so high school, high school in Eugene.

Donald Patz:
Yes, I did.

Doug Shafer:
What was high school like? What'd you do?

Donald Patz:
I wanted to be more of an athlete, but I just wasn't. So I just kinda kept my head down and was glad I was getting through it. I ended up getting a job at a grocery store, which is probably the beginnings of my curiosity about wine. So I was, you know, a box boy at this little, um, independent store. And, um, but one of the things you would do is, you know, you all kinds of different stocking things. And one of, one of the places I would be walking by quite a bit was the end caps of-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
... Annie Green Springs and Boone's Farm, um, and Ryan Lender and stuff like that. And you're, and you're like, what the hell is this all about?

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
And why are there so many different kinds? You know, I mean, what's that? How could there possibly be more kinds of wine than there are kinds of cereals? This is, doesn't even make sense, but, um, yeah. So high school was-

Doug Shafer:
So that's what I ... 'cause I was gonna ... Yeah. I was gonna ask you later about when the wine thing hit. So that was the, the earliest, the early part.

Donald Patz:
I think that, you know, that was sort of the first bump in the road that sort of-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
... uh, adjusted my trajectory, but, you know, high school was, it was, it was fun, but, you know, I was b- I was really busy with, uh, trying to, trying to help out the family, trying to make sure that we, you know, we had stuff.

Doug Shafer:
You were a worker. Well, good for you. Good for taking care of family, man. That's great. So, um, was there wine in the house?

Donald Patz:
No, my, my parents, uh, were teetotallers.

Doug Shafer:
Did you know that my dad's dad was a teetotaler? (laughs).

Donald Patz:
(laughs) I did not know that, but-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Which was hilarious. And then dad comes out and (laughs) starts making wine. But, but-

Donald Patz:
Yeah. Did he get like, like stern lectures whenever he would (laughs) go back home?

Doug Shafer:
Oh, no, he did. The, the famous story was, uh, dad comes back from the war after flying or , , missions, you know, in a B, ge- you know, getting shot at, in the sky. He's , comes home and walks, you know, brings a six pack of beer in the house, you know, and his dad's like, "Get that outta here right now." And dad's like, "Wow, really?" (laughs)

Donald Patz:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So it didn't matter.

Donald Patz:
Yeah, well - I started when I was already moved out. So, uh, it wasn't, there was never an issue about it at my h- at my home. I, I'm sure that my mom was a little disappointed on my career choice, but was hopeful that my experience could be transferred to something more wholesome (laughing) um, at some point, which never obviously happened, so there you go.

Doug Shafer:
No, are you kidding? You make really good wine. It's a beautiful thing.

Donald Patz:
Well, I, I feel like I, you know, I've done some interesting stuff in my life and I'm proud of what we've done. It's just that not always, you know, your family doesn't always see you the same way that the rest of the world does. And, uh, so there you go.

Doug Shafer:
Well, that's part of the definition of family, as we all know, but that's a-

Donald Patz:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
... that's a whole ... maybe we'll start a new podcast. We'll call it The Family-

Donald Patz:
Yeah, families.

Doug Shafer:
... with Donald and Doug. Yeah (laughing). That'd be, be a big hit. Um, so after high school, we're off to where to then?

Donald Patz:
My mother was actually in u- when we were living in Eugene, so my mother was actually working at a local community college. So I did two years at a community college, then transferred to the University of Oregon, um, and got a, ended up getting a degree there in biology. I was a pre-med student, if you can believe this. And during w- uh, I actually was on made honor roll one time. So I was in- incorporated into the, uh, pre-med honor society at the University of Oregon. And one of the things they do, which is really unique, and I don't know any other college where you can get this experience. There may be others, but they actually contacted a, you know, um, a number of different physicians in Eugene and asked, "Hey, would you mind if, um, if a University of Oregon student who's pre-med could, uh, shadow you for a few days, a couple of ti- you know, two or three times a week for a couple of weeks?" And they, they got agreement from that. So I ended up trailing behind these doctors and it was kind of a h- at this moment, at that moment, I was already becoming a little bit interested in wine. And so we'd have these conversations where the first thing that would happen is they'd say, "You know, how are you doing in school?" So you'd talk about school at this moment. And then the next time you saw them, it was, where did you go to college? And where did you go to med school? And then all those things. And so by the third time you saw them, you've gotten all that stuff out of the way, they'd say, "well, what else are you interested in Donald?"

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
And I'd say, "Well, I'm kind of interested in wine." And every single doctor got the sort of dreamy eyed look-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
Um like, "Oh yeah, someday, man, that would be awesome. I'd love to have my own little winery and vineyard." So, you know, when I got the second, no, thank you, um, letter from, uh, the med schools, I said, "You know, maybe I can go into the wine business without having to go to med school. You know, it seems like that's what they all want to be in." So I, I felt pretty good about that part of it, but yeah ...

Doug Shafer:
Well you saved yourself , or , , years, you know.

Donald Patz:
Yeah. And probably two or $, worth of personal debt. Right?

Doug Shafer:
You know, it's funny when you started that story, I thought you were going to say, well, I was shadowing these doctors and after a couple of times seeing these patients, it's like, no, I don't wanna do this. So that's, that's funny when it went a whole new direction on me.

Donald Patz:
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
So, all right. So, so no med school. So the wine business. So what'd you do?

Donald Patz:
I started off working for a little tiny ... uh, actually my first introduction was I, I was running a wine club for a local retail store. And so I setting up, you know, wine tastings and bringing in winemakers and setting up restaurant, uh, dinners and stuff like that. And, uh, then a wholesaler came to me and you know, this is like a year and a half later.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
Wholesaler comes to ... I'm still working at grocery stores at this point to make a living. But this wholesaler comes to me and says, "You know, uh, because of your work with this wine club, um, everybody in town knows who you are,' which I don't think was true, but, you know, I was flattered by the idea. "Um, why don't you come to work with us and, you know, make a bunch of money?" So in the next year I frittered away my entire life savings, making a bunch of money in the wine business (laughing). You know, it's, it's tough. And I started off doing sales and delivery so that I could, you know, so they could justify, um, some kind of salary part of it, but-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
Sales were, were really difficult. And, uh, you know, I, I learned a lot over a short period of time. But I realized at the same time, if I was interested in working in the wine business at this point, probably Oregon, it wasn't the best place for me because, um, most of the owners weren't making money with their wineries-

Doug Shafer:
Hm.

Donald Patz:
... and they certainly couldn't afford to hire somebody like me. Now, remember, this is like early s. Uh, and so not today, I'm sure that everybody's super successful in Oregon today, but, um, (laughs) just like us, right Doug? Uh, uh, but, (laughing) but the, uh, but it was obvious that if I was interested in doing something in the wine business, I probably should move to California. And so, um, that's what we did in .

Doug Shafer:
Interesting. Yeah, you're exactly right. 'Cause back at, in that period of time, Oregon was coming on, they were growing grapes and making wine, but they weren't, you know, well, anybody making wine wasn't making as good wine as they are now. So, but I see what your points, so yeah. Um, so go to California. So, uh, you picked up and head out. So was there a game plan? Did you know w- what part ... where are we gonna go? Are you gonna go central coast or Lodi? Or what were you gonna go?

Donald Patz:
Yeah, so we, we literally sat in, um, in the kitchen and looked at a map of Northern California and said, "Hey, check it out. Santa Rosa is about the same size as Eugene. So let's move there." (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) You did a lot of research there. Didn't you, about that guy. Yeah.

Donald Patz:
Yeah. The in depth. Oh yeah. Yeah. I knew it, I knew everything, so, (laughs) yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. So you moved to Santa Rosa, and then-

Donald Patz:
First, yes. And, and eventually, um, like, uh, t- about two years later, I got a job. I got my first real supplier side job with Flora Springs, um, in . And then, uh, in, you know, after about six months, we moved from Santa Rosa over to St. Helena, which is why we crossed paths.

Doug Shafer:
That's right. 'Cause our daughters were right about, born about that ... in '. Yeah, Katie was born in '. Um-

Donald Patz:
Yeah. Lauren is '. So there you go.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. 'Cause that's where I met you. So we had this, uh, I was lucky enough to be invited to be in, ina his tasting group with, uh, it was probably half the folks were winemakers, half the folks were sales folks, salespeople, mostly winemakers?

Donald Patz:
No, no. It was, it was really all wine makers, exc- except for me. (laughing) I'm not sure why I was in it.

Doug Shafer:
Well, 'cause you organized it. We had to have somebody put it together as, as I recall.

Donald Patz:
It's, it's spoken other guy, but, uh, but no, it was, it was a really interesting group. And in fact, I think they started in like or something like that. And, and I think there's an iteration that continues. I might be wrong in this, but I th- I think there might be a cont- a, a group that's continuing that despite the fact that members have come and gone over the years.

Doug Shafer:
Well, okay. I'm trying to remember who was there? You were in it. I was in it, uh, Kenny Deis winemaker at Flora Springs -

Donald Patz:
Joe Cafaro, um-

Doug Shafer:
Joe Cafaro, Craig Williams, Phelps.

Donald Patz:
Yeah. He was sometimes there not always.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Donald Patz:
Mike Fisher, um-

Doug Shafer:
Mike Fisher, uh, Ann Moses, and James Saaw-

Donald Patz:
And James Saaw. Both, both of them were, were in it.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
Uh, and there were other people who kinda ca- you know, would come sometimes and then other times couldn't.

Doug Shafer:
What was it sometimes? 'Cause I was ... yeah.

Donald Patz:
Uh, but, but was, was there.

Doug Shafer:
I was a sometimes 'cause he always gave me a hard time 'cause I didn't make it all the time.

Donald Patz:
We (laughs)-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, go ahead.

Donald Patz:
Well, you had said, you had such unique excuses why.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
Like, I had to tie up my tomatoes and you know, needed to fold my socks that night, so-

Doug Shafer:
I had to bathe the baby, you know, I had to, you know, the cooling was off at the winery. I had to go check it. Yeah. I d- I was pretty creative, I, I admit, but, uh, that was a fun group. And uh, I learned a lot in that group, but, uh, I also learned, I could never .., I always flunk the April fools tasting. Yeah.

Donald Patz:
Everybody flunks that that was the, it was the, it was the most difficult. And what, you know, what you're talking about was the tasting where we would as winemakers or, you know, auxiliary members, um, we would line up wines that were totally blind. And you had to, you know, guess the vintage, guess the varietal, guess the, you know-

Doug Shafer:
Country.

Donald Patz:
... the country and, um, you had the, you know, you could guess the, the place. So if you thought it was, um, you know, Nebbiolo, you had to figure out it was Barolo or Barbaresco and from Italy and, uh, yeah, most people got the majority of them wrong. Uh-

Doug Shafer:
No. Yeah. You get a, you get a point for every, you know, thing you got right.

Donald Patz:
Right.

Doug Shafer:
So the only reason I got points is if we could (laughs) ... 'cause I remember I said, "Look, can we get a point if we call it, if we know if it's red or white?" And you guys thought I was a fool, but it's the only way I got on the board. It's a red wine (laughs).

Donald Patz:
No, that's not ent- that's not entirely true, but, but it's a really instructive thing because what it does is, and you know, this is what I took away from it Doug is that, you know, that's not our job as winemakers.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
We're not really supposed to be able to, you know, tell the location of every wine that we ever taste, especially, you know, from outside of our local little area where we're working. Um, we do, we taste wines for different reasons. We taste wines, you know, to see if they're on track or if they're going haywire.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
Are there flaws or, you know, is everything cool? Um, and those are, that's a totally different way of looking at wine and thinking about it. And you really saw it in this group because my favorite tasting was one, I think we did a Chevil blanc where several of the wine makers said, you know, "Oh man, if I was making this wine, I would have added just a little bit of acid, you know, ton of brighten it up."

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
And I'm sure I didn't make any friends that night because the next thing I said was, "Yeah. How many people here ..." and remember, you know, the average Cabernet at the time that we're talking about was probably $ a bottle.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
I said, "How many people here are selling wine at a $ a bottle?"

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
Of course, nobody raised their hands. I don't think it needs acid.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) I think it's just fine.

Donald Patz:
It's selling okay at . So yeah.

Doug Shafer:
My favorite was always Ann Moses when a wine had a, a little bit of, a little bit extra oak on, she, her comment was, "A shameless amount of new Oak."

Donald Patz:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
I just loved that line, but, um, fun times, fun times.

Donald Patz:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So Flora, Flora Springs, you were there doing director sales for ... how long were you there? A couple of years. Two or three?

Donald Patz:
Six years.

Doug Shafer:
Six years.

Donald Patz:
I left at the, at the very end of, uh, of, uh, so I was there all of ... five years or whatever it is, but, um, yeah, I left at the end of and then went to work at Girard Winery, um, in February of ' and was there until - the fall of , at which point it was really obvious to me that, you know, I had to either decide to give up the little nascent project I was working on called Patz and Hall or make that my full-time job because, you know, if I can't make my own project work, who needs to hire me to make theirs work?

Doug Shafer:
Right, right. But let's talk about Patz and Hall because it, uh, it started out as a small little project, but it became a very successful winery. So tell me, tell me how that all came together.

Donald Patz:
Well, James Hall and I met when we were both working at Flora Springs and you know, we had these ongoing conversations. The truth is, we've mentioned the real w- the, the main wine maker at Flora Springs was a guy named Ken Deis. We mentioned him earlier. But Ken saw me when I first started as a short timer, because there had been somebody else in my job that only lasted about six months.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
So Ken, Ken had no time for me. (laughs) Why, why bother with a guy who's not gonna be here in six months? So the only guy I could find to ask questions about the wines that I was supposed to then be representing to the world was James. And, uh, and, you know, we struck up this conversation. We kept talking about what was going on in the cellar, but also, you know, what we personally like to do. And, um, James was hired to become the winemaker at Honig Cellars, uh, and at that point, um, in ', he was, uh, tasked with finding custom crush projects that would fit inside Honig.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, okay.

Donald Patz:
And I was already thinking, you know, I would really like to make a little bit of wine on my own because I'm kind of outside that group. Um, I'm focused on selling and, you know, maintaining distribute- distribution channels for Flora Springs, but it'd be fun to be on the creative side and, and use some of the things I've been thinking about. And James and I were at- were at lunch one day and, and I realized to myself, I didn't say it to him at the time that, you know, James actually has more technical background in the wine making and I probably could help sell it. So this might actually be a business.

Doug Shafer:
Hm.

Donald Patz:
Um, and so we got together my now ex-wife and James and Anne, um, had dinner together. And, um, I suggested, why don't we try this, uh, start a partnership to create, um, Chardonnay as i- initially, and then eventually pinot noir? Um, and we made our first, first vintage in and away, we went.

Doug Shafer:
That's, and so you had a custo- so James made it at, uh, he was at Honig and you guys-

Donald Patz:
Yes.

Doug Shafer:
So you, your project was a custom crush project for Honig.

Donald Patz:
It was. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So-

Donald Patz:
A- and it, and we were a custom crushed project there for a long time. I mean, I think it was harvests we did at Honig before we were sort of-

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Donald Patz:
We got too big and, and they wanted to get bigger. So it was time for us to find our own space.

Doug Shafer:
With you. So here's a question for you. So for James, 'cause I'm thinking of a conflict of interest. For James and working at Honig as the winemaker, but part of their gig was to do custom crush shops, so he really didn't a conflict 'cause he was doing what Honig want him to do is have some custom crush line, but you're working at Girard or Flora Springs or Girard selling wine -

Donald Patz:
Flora Springs, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Flora Springs, pardon me. Flora Springs and Girard and you've got this as doing sales, but you've got the side project going. I was always curious about that. I never talked about that.

Donald Patz:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Was that, was there any, any tension conflict on that?

Donald Patz:
Well, I think eventually it was, uh, it, it bothered the owner. I, I'm, you know, they didn't really actually say it this way, but I bel- I believe it, it contributed to some changes that, uh, Flora Springs made in terms of their, um, their marketing and sales. They eventually, uh, chose to go a different direction-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
... and that's why I ended up, um, moving on to Girard, but going into Girard, Steve Girard knew upfront what I was doing.

Doug Shafer:
Great.

Donald Patz:
So obviously if he had a problem with it, he wouldn't have hired me to begin with.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
Um, but I, you know, the thing is, is when we started, it was like cases. I mean, you know, dude, if you can't sell cases-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
... um, you might as well stop actually doing anything in the wine business and just go find something else to do. Uh, so it, uh, you know, for the first few years, anyway, it was so small that I really kind of saw it as irrelevant. It didn't ... I went out of my way not to talk about it when I was, um, doing anything for Flora Springs.

Doug Shafer:
Right. Yeah, you can't. But at the same time, you sell out a year wine in Flora Springs hasn't sold out of their wine. They were like, "Hey, what's going on?" What do you say?

Donald Patz:
Yeah. Well, if they were making cases, I could have sold out of their wine too (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Good point. All right. So you guys start off, cases. You start growing ... how long does it take to get to , cases, , cases, and eventually, how big did you get?

Donald Patz:
So I think the first year that we did , cases probably was ... I think it was probably ' or '. Um, maybe even later ' or ', somewhere in there. And then , cases was probably, you know, like five or six years later than that. _n and , just before we sold out, uh, Ste. Michelle, um, Ste. Michelle wine estates up in Washington, we were, um, at about just under , cases.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. And help me on this one. Am I, do you, did you guys own, own any vineyard land?

Donald Patz:
We didn't. Now, we were, you know, we did not. And, uh, and we, but we had some great contracts, uh, for some fabulous fruit and it, and it was really kind of a learning experience for me. You know, the assumption was, do you wanna be in the wine business first, you have to go out and buy the raw land and you've gotta develop it. And I mean, that was a m- that was the model for a long time. Um, but I think, you know, a lot of wineries, uh, whether they own land or not buy some of their grapes. Um, and so, you know, my thought was, well, if you can buy some why not just buy them all? Um, I didn't wanna get up that early in the morning to do cross protection anyway. Uh-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) All right. But, but I mean no land and you're buying all your grapes ... how many growers did you guys have? I mean, how m-

Donald Patz:
(laughs) Well, some of the g- some of the guys that were pretty big, you know, I mean, the Duttons are not a small production thing-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
... and Martinellis also own quite a bit of land over in Sonoma and, and have quite a bit of grapes. Um, it was, uh, it was probably or f- between and , depending on the year different growers.

Doug Shafer:
Because I'm, when I'd run into you locally, you were always like, "Well, I'm heading up here to go ... I got to go see a vineyard and over here, I gotta go down there. I gotta go see a vintner."

Donald Patz:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
I mean, it's, it's either you're on the road selling wine or you were, you were the grower guy, 'cause James make, is making the wine. So-

Donald Patz:
No, James was, James was the grower guy too, but you know, it was fun to ... That was my favorite part. So, you know, we sell a, we sell the company to Ste. Michelle and they go, "Donald, now, you'll only ... you, you can do all the things you love the best, travel around and sell the wine." And I, (laughing) I laugh, I go, "That wasn't my favorite part. That was the part I did because you know, it matched my skills the best probably-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
... uh, within the group." But, um, my favorite part was walking around in vineyards and kicking dirt-

Doug Shafer:
Kicking dirt.

Donald Patz:
... and talking to the guys out there and, you know, looking at the grapes and hoping that they were gonna be just as good as they look like right now.

Doug Shafer:
Uh (laughing), what's, what's cause every grower is different.

Donald Patz:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
I mean, everybody's got different goals and the winery and the winemaker has their goals. How do you keep to growers happy? What is your secret? What's the key?

Donald Patz:
You know, well, I guess we've ... we, we chose those guys because they, you know, they were in alignment with what we wanted to do for the most part and they understood why we were asking them to do stuff. And then you, you basically, you know, it's like any other relationship you treat each of them a little bit differently. You learn what it is that, that they get upset about and you, you know, a- and the things that they really like and you play to the strengths of each one of them. And it's, isn't, you know, there's no, uh, it's not like you're being insidious or like, you know, insincere, it's just, you learn to, you know, to work with these guys. Um, and if they were difficult, then eventually we rotated them out of the, of the program because who needs another headache?

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
Um, and there were, there were people who, uh, and, you know, not to point at anybody, but there were, there were people who were better at talking about what they were doing in the vineyard rather than actually doing what they were saying they were doing. And, you know, after a couple of vintages, um, you know, we'd find somebody else's grapes to buy. Uh, and, and a, a, a number of those people went on to having successful relationships with other people. So it was probably us.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
You find the people that work best with you and you, the other thing is we almost never argued about pricing. You know, it was within reason. Um, if it was another $ a ton and they, the grower was gonna be happy because we were willing to go up a $ a ton, we went up a $ a ton-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, right.

Donald Patz:
... on price or two or three or whatever the number was, as long as it was sort of tracking along basically with the way that pricing was happening in either Napa or Sonoma when we were looking for grapes in either one of those places. And as long as it wasn't like, well, the Napa average is, you know, a ton for Chardonnay. So we want , from you.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
Um, or alternatively, as long as it wasn't, um, one, a re- a requirement that we do it as a single vineyard designate and two, that they got, um, a price based on our retail price, uh, then we were in pretty good shape.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. And, but you guys did do some single vineyard stuff. Didn't you at Patz and Hall?

Donald Patz:
A bunch.

Doug Shafer:
A bunch?

Donald Patz:
Yeah, oh, we did a bunch. Yeah. And we liked it. I r- I really liked, and I'm still doing that with my new projects, but, but I, I think that, um, you know, I think that it's, it, it speaks to the place that we're in. We're in one of the most glorious places. And I'm, and when I say that I'm, I'm talking about both Napa and actually any place in Northern California, um, that I've purchased grapes from in the past, are, are just remarkable. And we're so fortunate to be able to, uh, to be able to, you know, buy these grapes or grow these grapes ourselves, whichever it is, um, and make incredible wines. I, I really believe we're living in kind of a golden age of wine, probably the likes of which humanity has never seen before.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
Um, more great wines around the world than it ever been produced. And so here we are in, um, you know, a little blessed area a- and allowed to, uh, to make these wines and to share them with friends. It's just a real privilege.

Doug Shafer:
I'm with you, I'm with you, even though, you know, even though you made pinot, but that's okay (laughs).

Donald Patz:
(laughs) Well, I realized how easy it was to make cabernet. So now I'm doing that too (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Oh, here we go. Here we go. All right. Full disclosure to our, our listeners. Um, this, this, our guest today, and I have a long, long history, and it basically is usually debating about the merits of pinot noir versus cabernet.

Donald Patz:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
And he's a pinot guy and I'm a cab guy and we've never really resolved it, but we have mutual respect for good, really good wine, so-

Donald Patz:
Of course we do. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Of course we do, but, uh-

Donald Patz:
Any- I'm sure that anybody listening to this can hear the-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
... the joy in our, in our discussion that we're, we, we really respect each other and have a lot of fun doing it, but that doesn't mean that you don't get to poke the guy once in a while.

Doug Shafer:
No, poke ... I can't believe you just said that, how easy it is to make cabernet. Oh, okay.

Donald Patz:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Well, we'll talk, we'll talk, we'll talk later. Anyway. So Patz and Hall, , you guys opened a tasting room in Napa. You got a general manager, hiring staff, uh, you’re at a warehouse in Sonoma making wine. It just, was, was this, was it crazy times 'cause you're staffing up and making more wine? What was that like?

Donald Patz:
Well, you know, it's, there comes a point in your business where you say, I'm, I'm doing a bunch of stuff, but I'm, I'm using the skills that I have to the best advantage of our company or are there other people that we can bring in to support what we're doing and be, become more effective? And, and so we went through a whole process of, uh, analyzing our business and trying to figure out how we could structure it in order for all of the partners involved to, uh, to be more efficient and effective. And so, yeah, basically the idea was, let's bring some help in to, uh, to help manage the business and also, um, a number of other elements, like the direct-to-consumer side of it and the tasting room.

Doug Shafer:
Right, right. And, uh, because it, it all changed so much in the two thousands, for sure. Um-

Donald Patz:
It really did. You know, in there were very few people that were trying to sell all of their wine direct to consumer. And by the time you get to the early two thousands, that was the new model is, why bother to sell it to restaurants or retail stores or distributors across the country when you can, you know, sell it to every ... I've got a bunch of friends, I'll put them all on a mailing list and sell all my wine.

Doug Shafer:
Right. So you're rocking along, then comes along and here's a story I don't know. You meet a gal named Michelle and, uh, your life begins to change with that. Tell me about Michelle.

Donald Patz:
Sure. You know, well, let's back up one second because, you know, I had a- it's not like we met while I was still married (laughing). We, I had, I had been divorced for a number of years already. So I it's, uh, it is kind of a crazy love story in that, um, you know, m- my son told me that I should probably get a Facebook account and th- and this had nothing to do with romance at this point. Just, he thought that I would, might enjoy that. So I got-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
... uh, set up a Facebook account. Why not? Right?

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Donald Patz:
And so then you start getting, as I'm sure anybody who's set up a Facebook account back in the day, you suddenly get a whole bunch of people who wanna be your friends, that you don't even know who they are.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
Now, why do they wanna be a friend? So I, it, it dawned on me finally that, you know, maybe at least some of these people are just curious about what a wine guy does. Right?

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
They recognize the last name. And so, um, I said, fine. We'll just sort of, you know, unless somebody looks like (laughing) a mass murderer, then (laughs), then maybe, you know, we'll just be friends on Facebook and that'll be great. And then I'll put on a little bit of stuff about my personal life and a little bit of stuff about what I'm doing in terms of the wines and stuff like that.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
Anyway, so I have a bunch of friends I don't know who they are.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
And one day I sit down, (laughing) I sit down and I look ... I, I don't know if I’ve shown you this picture or not. It's a, it's actually the opening page on my iPhone is the picture that I saw that day. I'm just fanning through the, the f- the news feed basically and I see this picture. It's this woman, um, riding in a car and has sort of a Mona Lisa kinda smile on and semi-mirrored sunglasses. And she's beautiful. And I, and below that, it's a picture that, that her son has taken and her son posts it and says, "Check out my mom. Isn't she hot?"

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
So he's, he's saying this, not just to me, he's saying this to the world. Right?

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Donald Patz:
And at that moment, as we all know, because we're all Facebook fiends, um, I had three choices. I could have A, done nothing and continued on my merry way. B, I could have written something like "Hubba, hubba, hubba. Oh yeah, she's hot."

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
Probably not appropriate, but I could have done that or C click the like button and move on. And so I did C, I did click the like button and moved on and thought nothing more about that really too much. minutes later, get an email from her son saying, "No, really. I think you should meet my mom. I think you'd really like her."

Doug Shafer:
Her s- I've never heard this. Her son did it.

Donald Patz:
Who, who are you? What? Why are you, why are you saying this? Um, and so finally I, I said, "Uh, sure." You know, I don't have no ... I don't even know where they live.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
Uh, and I said, "Yes, you know, if you're ever in California or, you know, you wanna come up to the Napa Valley, let me know. And you know, it would be, I would love to meet her. It sounds ... she's, she looks like a b- a really lovely person."

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
And so, you know, something fairly innocuous actually I thought. And another email comes in another five or minutes later saying, "Are you around this weekend?" (laughing) Wait, what? So I, my response was, "Well, I'm here Friday and Saturday, but Sunday I've got to go to Texas for a sales trip." He says, "I'm bringing my mom to meet you." Like, at this point, now I'm looking it up ... and looking him up on, um, Facebook and I-

Doug Shafer:
How old is ... how old is this kid.

Donald Patz:
I think he was like or something like that at that time.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Okay.

Donald Patz:
And, uh, I'm looking, I'm looking him up on, uh, on his page and I realized he's in Washington DC. So I'm thinking, wow, that's pretty crazy bringing your mom across the country to ... fine, sure. Why not? So of course, the day of they're flying out together, they miss their flight so they have to up, and I've got to meet her by myself at the airport. I'm standing at the airport going, wow, this could have been ... this could be the stupidest thing I've ever done my entire life.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
This could be a complete disaster and I may regret this the rest of my life. Right? But, um, it didn't turn out that way, happily. Uh, it was a lovely first meeting. We had, um, a lot of fun. We went to dinner together. It was Fleet Weeks in, in San Francisco and we were eating along the Embarcadero. You could see fireworks going off. I said, "Hey, first date, I got fireworks for you. How do you beat that?" (laughing) But I, so we had, we had fun. And, uh, and so we kept in touch and she came out to California to visit and we, uh, met again in New York. She came up from Washington DC to see me when I was working in New York and then sort of one thing led to another and next thing I know, um, she's, I'm trying to convince her to move to California.

Donald Patz:
So of course she has to have alm- of course if I'm with a woman, it's somebody with, you know, a little more than some intelligence. So she's got all these reasons she doesn't have to move to California. One of which is, "I don't really like ..." you would like her. "I don't really like pinot noir that much. Anyway, I'd rather drink Bordeaux or California cabernet."

Doug Shafer:
That's right. That's why I love this woman because she's a cabernet gal (laughs).

Donald Patz:
(laughs) So my response was, 'cause I'm a sales guy, which means, or I would cl- you know, that's kind of one of my backgrounds. Uh, I, I said, "Fine, move to California. I'll make Cabernet for you."

Doug Shafer:
Oh, oh (laughs).

Donald Patz:
And, uh, she moved to California and I didn't get a chance to do the Cabernet project until later. But, um, yeah, I did it.

Doug Shafer:
You did it. Wow. And you guys ended up getting ma- when did you guys get married?

Donald Patz:
.

Doug Shafer:
.

Donald Patz:
It was the earthquake. Literally, it was the earthquake. Um, you know, the-

Doug Shafer:
The earthquake in ... the Napa earthquake.

Donald Patz:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Donald Patz:
So we, you know, we, we, we wake up the bed is leaping around the r- (laughs) the be- the ro- the bedroom.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Donald Patz:
And uh, like the next day she's ... I've been telling her, look, anytime you want to get married, I'm happy to do it 'cause let's, you know, let's plan it and, and, and get married.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
She says, "No, I'm okay. I'm okay." Um, and then, you know, like two days later she goes, "We're getting married." I said, "Great. When do you want to?" "In, as soon as possible. We could die anytime I wanna (laughs), I wanna be married." (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Oh. Oh, that's great. That's great. Yeah. I do remember. It was like a surprise, all of a sudden, "Hey, we're, we're, we're married, we're having a party." It's like, wow, when'd that happened.

Donald Patz:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) It was quick. It was fast. All right. That's ' and s- ' was a big year.

Donald Patz:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
What happened with '? You had the big move. Yeah.

Donald Patz:
Well, it started in , -

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Donald Patz:
... when we started talking with Ste. Michelle and, um, these kinds of events,, yes, take forever I swear.

Doug Shafer:
Hm.

Donald Patz:
You know, attorneys on both sides and everybody wants to do this or that. And you know, they absolutely can't do that. Then five minutes later, it's possible. And yeah, I went around and around for a while, but eventually, um, we agreed to sell to Ste. Michelle. And, uh, and I, I think everybody had their own reason for it. Right?

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
I mean, and, you know, we've been doing this for a while. Um, and you, this is kind of what went through my mind. I don't, I can't speak for the other partners, but, um, we had, uh, a complicated partnership agreement and, um, you start to say to yourself, "Well, how much longer do I wanna keep working?

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
You know, is it, is it five years? Is it years?" And let's say it's five years. It turns out to be longer than that for me. But let's just say it was five years. In five years, will we have somebody interested in buying us or will you be looking at a market where nobody is selling and the values of every company has gone down by a quarter?

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
So you got this deal in front of you and you say, you know, maybe this is the best time, even though it doesn't feel like I wanna do, I want to quit yet, but maybe this is the best time for this project to end.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
And I suspected that there were similar thoughts on the other partners, but we never really sat down and talked about, you know, the motivations. It was more, does this deal feel like is a reasonable deal or not.

Doug Shafer:
And it was 'cause I think, you know, I remember seeing you afterward, you were, you were very content you were happy about it.

Donald Patz:
Um, well, I think we were, everyone was equally unhappy (laughs). You know, I think, I think if, if the deal is the buyer thinks they overpaid and the seller thinks that they didn't get quite enough, then that's probably the right deal for everybody. (laughs) So-

Doug Shafer:
Well, yeah. I, yeah. Everybody's, everybody's a little upset or it's e- either everybody is ... yeah.

Donald Patz:
Not, not upset, but you know, a l- if they wished they could have gotten a little bit better deal on bo- on, everybody, I think wish they had gotten a little bit better deal out of it. But, um, you know, it is what it is and it is more money than I'd ever made before. And so it was satisfying to know that what we had worked on for almost years actually had value and-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
... and other people appreciated what we'd been doing. Um, I, we all signed contracts to continue to work for a year. And at the end of that year, um, it was clear that Ste. Michelle really didn't have a clear idea of what they wanted from me going forward. So my counter proposal was, well, why don't you just, um, release me for my noncompete and, uh, and you won't have to pay me anymore? And they said, "Oh, okay. Yeah, we'll do that."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Well, good.

Donald Patz:
Yeah. So May st, , I was released from, uh, from my non-compete with, uh, Ste. Michelle and hit the ground running, started looking for grapes and had plans to do some new projects.

Doug Shafer:
And you, you f- you, you and Michelle formed, uh, what's, it's the Donald Patz Wine Group. Correct?

Donald Patz:
That Donald Patz Wine Group. Yep.

Doug Shafer:
Great name, love it.

Donald Patz:
I can't actually put that on the front label because, because I sold the name Patz-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Donald Patz:
... but, but I am allowed to use the Donald Patz Wine Group as a business name.

Doug Shafer:
Well, good.

Donald Patz:
So none of the, none of the wines are called Donald Patz, but that's okay. It was fun to, uh, to think about new stuff too.

Doug Shafer:
No. So, so tell, tell us about the, the whole new program 'cause it sounds really exciting. I've heard parts of it, but not the whole program. So what's the deal?

Donald Patz:
So I have three new projects. Like I tell people, you know, if you sell one, of course, you're going to start three. Right?

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
But I really had two in mind. Um, one was to fulfill the promise to my wife to make cabernet for her and, um, I was happy to do that. And despite the fact that we like to go back and forth over which, you know, which is the greater grape, both are lovely and a lot of fun to work with. Uh, they're quite different and you'll approach them different. But, um-

Doug Shafer:
Well and, and cabernet, and cabernet is really easy. So that's a no brainer (laughs).

Donald Patz:
Super easy. Yeah. It actually falls off the vine and rolls into the bottle all by itself.

Doug Shafer:
I know. Isn't it cool?

Donald Patz:
Awesome.

Doug Shafer:
I love it. Elias and I sit back and have a cold beer and watch that happen every year. It's so neat (laughs).

Donald Patz:
(laughs) Yeah, that's exactly right. Um, (laughs) but-

Doug Shafer:
Okay, so you're making cabernet. Where is ... is it Napa cab, Sonoma cab, where is it?

Donald Patz:
I do two.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Donald Patz:
Um, I'm doing two now. I'm doing one from a vineyard that, um, Judy Jordan owns actually called Sage Ridge, which is, um, up Sage Canyon Road on the opposite Ridge line from, um, Pritchard Hill.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Donald Patz:
So Prich- as you go up towards, um, Lake Berryessa, it, uh, Pritchard Hill would be on your right-hand side, Sage Ridge is on the left-hand side up on the ridge.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Donald Patz:
It's a spectacular sight, spectacular sight, man. It, it, it's a good thing you didn't go up there with me that day. You'd be buying grapes from them too 'cause it's just gorgeous. These little vineyard plots that sort of run across the ridge line. And, uh, so I signed up for a very small piece there, but even before that, um, I decided that you were lonely in Stags' Leap-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
... and you needed a real competitor. So, (laughs) so I'm, I'm buying grapes, I'm buying grapes from Hirondelle Vineyard, which is part of the Clos du Val group.

Doug Shafer:
Right, right. I know it.

Donald Patz:
Um, and uh, yeah, I'm getting a little bit of fruit from there, right? Basically next door to Stags' Leap Wine Cellars and uh, it's, it's really cool. I love, I've, I've always loved Stags' Leap and um, it certainly your wines are part of the reason that I like that area, but, but others as well.

Doug Shafer:
Sure. No, thank you. Oh, good. All right. So two cabs and by the way, sort of the first one Sage Ridge and Pritchard Hill, that's on the eastern side of the valley.

Donald Patz:
Yeah, it is. You know, up I the hills in the east.

Doug Shafer:
So it's [crosstalk ::] up in the hills and eastern side.

Donald Patz:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So you're at Silverado Trail. You head east up the ... what's that road? . It goes up to Lake Hennesey.

Donald Patz:
Yes.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

Donald Patz:
S- Sage, Sage Canyon road (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Okay. All right. All right.

Donald Patz:
How long have you loved here?

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. You know, I, I ride my bike on that road. I just don't know the name of it. It's that road (laughs).

Donald Patz:
That road, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
That road. All right. So you got two cabs. What else do you have?

Donald Patz:
Um, for, for that particular project, it's just cabernet sauvignon, but, but I realized in t- I had a little excess fruit and so I created a secondary label called JML. It's a, it's my wife's Korean initials-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Donald Patz:
Jung Min Lee, JML. And so we, we make a small amount of, uh, of a second label under that as well, which is really cool. It's a, it's a, um, line drawing of my wife's face, actually. It's really accurate. And, uh, you know, if you've ever met her, you immediately recognize who it is on the label.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
It's, it's a lot of fun. But then, um, you know, um-

Doug Shafer:
Hang on, I gotta stop you. Did we talk about the name of the first one? It's called Secret Door Winery.

Donald Patz:
Secret Door. Yeah. Secret Door Winery.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. That's the two ca- the two cabernets. Got it. Thanks.

Donald Patz:
Yep.

Doug Shafer:
All right.

Donald Patz:
And, uh, let's say it one more time. Secret Door, uh, (laughing). The, uh, the project that prob- that is the largest of what I'm doing is, um, is focused on Russian River, specifically Russian River Chardonnay and pinot noir, um, you know, brings together all of the stuff that I learned, um, with Patz and Hall. Uh, and I'm working with a number of the people that sold grapes to Patz and Hall. A- and when I started that in , I specifically told them, um, I'm not buying ... I'm not buying grapes from any site where Patz and Hall is currently purchasing grapes because I do not want it to look like I walked out the front door and tried to yank all the best grapes. Um, and, but I said after the first year, you know, all bets are off. And if grapes come up in a vineyard that I'm interested in, uh, even if Patz and Hall is currently pa- buying them, um, I I'd be interested in at least talking about it. So haven't really ended up with a lot of them. There's a couple of vineyards where there's some crossover, but mostly it's separate stuff.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Donald Patz:
Um, and chardonnay and pinot noir, uh, are things I really love, but you know, the cool thing about this, Doug, is that, uh, after doing Patz and Hall, you know, working with the Patz and Hall and doing the Patz and Hall stuff for years, I got a chance to start over and really wipe the slate clean and just say, okay, you know, years ago when I started this stuff, this is what I thought was super important and what I wanted to drink, but you know what? I'm a little older now and different and probably want to drink something different. So let's make the wines I wanna drink today as opposed to the ones I wanted to drink in '.

Doug Shafer:
Wow. Fun.

Donald Patz:
And, uh, it was r- really fun.

Doug Shafer:
Nice.

Donald Patz:
Really fun. Got to look at, you know, different vineyards and think about, um, how that might play into the style of winemaking that I was interested in doing. And so the essence of the differences have been, I'm picking grapes a little less high in sugar-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
... than we used to do for Patz and Hall. Um, specifically in order to get, uh, the acid pH balance where I want it to be and make chardonnay that is refreshing and bright and, um, but yet complex and, and, you know, has the, the depth to be a serious wine. That's been an, that has been really a revelation. Uh, and then with, with pinot noir, um, a similar kind of thing. Again, picking a little less high in sugar, but I'm also using a lot more whole cluster. So we're doing %, whole cluster. And, and for me, that really brings out the pinot, that, the pinot perfume - that really exotic sort of pinot-y character that's just not like any other red grape and is sort of, for me the best thing about pinot noir. So, a lot of fun.

Doug Shafer:
And that's, uh, so that's your second project. What's the name of that one?

Donald Patz:
That's called Meritana Vineyards.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

Donald Patz:
Meritana. So I-

Doug Shafer:
So the label will say Meritana? That's gonna be good.

Donald Patz:
It does, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. Got it.

Donald Patz:
And strangely enough, the Secret Door actually says Secret Door on it too (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) You know, that's what I like about you. You really know what you're doing. You're a consistent guy. That's good.

Donald Patz:
Super, super consistent.

Doug Shafer:
You, you must have, you probably got s- you probably have a sales background, don't you? I bet you do.

Donald Patz:
I might (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Yeah.

Donald Patz:
I might.

Doug Shafer:
All Right. That's two. You said you got three. What else do you have? (laughs).

Donald Patz:
Yeah, I do. And so by, you know, by the, by basically the st of June of , I had both of these sort of roughed out.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
I knew where the grapes were coming from. And, um, I knew where I was gonna make the wines and, uh, I had a plan for each of those. And so I was curious because a friend of mine was at the, um, Aspen Food and Wine. And I, I was basically asking him “How is it? Is it going well this year? Or are you, um, you know, seeing the right kind of people?” Things like that. Uh, and so we had a very short conversation about that. He, he, he kinda convinced me, I didn't need to go, but, um, but I was gonna thi- continue to think about it. And sort of at the very end, sort of a throwaway moment, he says, "Oh, and by the way, I'm sitting here at the bar in Aspen with Francoise Villard from the Northern Rhone Valley and he's talking about doing another, um, California project, would you be interested?"

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
And I said, "I just kinda came out of a partnership. So I'm not really excited about starting another partnership. But you know what, look, have him come to California, we'll go see vineyards together. And if we like each other enough, we, we can, you know, talk about it." And so, uh, sure enough, he came out in August of . We went to see some vineyards and decided we were, we were gonna make, um, a Rhone style, California wine, uh, from, um, a vineyard up in Mendocino that I bought chardonnay and pinot from for years called Alder Springs Vineyard.

Doug Shafer:
Right, right.

Donald Patz:
And, and, uh, and so for me, um, this s- this site is really good for chardonnay and pinot, but I think it's maybe even better for these, these Rhone varieties. It's an amazing site at elevation with, um, with the crazy grower who, who will pretty much do anything as necessary in order to create fantastic wines. So I thought we'd probably do Viognier and, um, and syrah probably.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
But, um, Francoise and I went up there together and he starts running up and down the rows of Marsanne and Roussanne, and I'm like, oh my God.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
is there a more difficult cluster of grapes to figure out how to sell then a combination of Marsanne and Roussanne? This is nuts. What are we doing?

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, yeah.

Donald Patz:
But it's actually turned out to go pretty well. I think I'm actually selling a little bit more white than I am syrah right now (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
That's great.

Donald Patz:
But we did a blend, we did a blend.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Donald Patz:
So we were doing Marsanne and Roussanne blend in . And then in , we added Picpoule blanc and Viognier to the, to the mix in small amounts. And, uh, the combination we call cepage d’or or grapes of gold or golden grapes, whatever you want to call it-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Donald Patz:
... however you want to translate that. But, um, yeah, fermented separately, and then the blend comes together, um, usually a few months before bottling.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Donald Patz:
Um, but I really l- I'm kind of shocked at how, how much I like drinking that white wine that a blend. Not something I originally thought I was gonna really love, but, but it's tur- I find myself sort of grabbing a bottle more frequently than I ever imagined. And then syrah, I mean, you do a syrah, petite sirah blend. Right?

Doug Shafer:
Right. Right.

Donald Patz:
Which sounds like a great idea to me too but, um, my, my French partner is all about % syrah, so we're, that's what we're doing. Uh, and again, at elevation, it's extraordinary sight. So yeah, the wines have turned out beautifully.

Doug Shafer:
Great. And the name for that one is? That third project?

Donald Patz:
So I started ... I wanted to use the word Terminus because, I had some reasons for it. It's the Roman God of borders and boundaries, but somebody else had already used that. Um, although they weren't apparently currently making any or bottling any wine under that label, I just didn't wanna get in, into, you know, trademark war. So I changed it a little bit to Terminim. Sou- still sounds sort of Lat- so not U-M at the end, it's I-M. Terminim, I guess-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
... which, um, for me says a couple of things. First of all, three projects is kind of the border. I mean, this is, as far as I'm willing to go.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Donald Patz:
I'm not gonna do four or five or projects. Three is plenty. Um, also driving to Northern Mendocino County is kind of a long way away. So I'm drawing the border of where I'm willing to go (laughs) at the edge of that vineyard.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) That's a long haul. What is it? Five-hour drive?

Donald Patz:
It's a long, long, long drive.

Doug Shafer:
It's a long drive.

Donald Patz:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Windy roads.

Donald Patz:
So, but, um, and also because the grape varieties are coming from the Rhone Valley and I had listened to a couple of podcasts on the Roman Empire and I, I didn't realize as I lo, I'm not really sure why I, I didn't. I didn't realize how important the Rhone Valley was actually to the overall Roman Empire.

Doug Shafer:
Hm.

Donald Patz:
For a lot of reasons, it was a source of not just wine, but all kinds of agricultural products and to be a- be able to run up and down that river with goods and, um, you know, uh, grain and-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
... wine and all kinds of stuff was an en- and enormous benefit. So, um, there is a long history of, uh, influence in the, in the Rhone Valley from the Roman Empire. In fact, I've heard of people like plowing their vineyards and suddenly, you know, like a statue head occurs in the middle of their vineyard just got s-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Something from the Rhone -

Donald Patz:
... spit up by the earth. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
That's wild.

Donald Patz:
I was walking down this little, um, alleyway basically with all this cobble rock wall, um, you know, sort of rounded rocks and, and right in the middle of, it was a hunk of marble. I thought, that's not a local rock.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Donald Patz:
That almost certainly was brought here by the Romans. And so the, the background of the label includes, um, a sort of, a sort of a semi marbleized character that indicate that sort of Roman presence. And it's sort of, and, you know, sort of evocative of, of, uh, a different time and place-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
... but it's California and we want these to be California wines. They're not supposed to be like wanna be Rom- uh, Rhone wines. They're, they really are California wines that we, that we really like.

Doug Shafer:
Nice, nice. So where are you gu- where are you making the wines? You're making them all in the same place?

Donald Patz:
No. You know, I really w- part of it was, I wanted to be able to separate cabernet from the chardonnay and pinot project.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
And, um, because it's a different mindset. And, you know, the guys in c- in the Napa Valley are really used to doing Napa Valley cabernet-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Donald Patz:
... where in Sonoma they're good at winemaking, but, you know, slightly different mindset. Um, and vice versa. You know, I wanted to do, um, Russian River pinot noir and chardonnay in a particular style that probably is quite different from a lot of Calif- Napa Valley people.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Donald Patz:
Um, and so I, I separated them on purpose. And so I'm making the cabernet again, custom crush, sort of the way we started Patz and Hall, um, in Calistoga had a winery there called Envy Winery and the chardonnay and pinot project now at, um, Grand Cru Custom Crush in Windsor, and they have been fantastic with chardonnay and pinot noir for me. And so I write the work orders and oversee it, but they've got the teams in place to run to, you know, to actually do the work.

Doug Shafer:
You got it going. So you got three new projects, you got a lot going on and just, I'm a little bit scared to ask you got anything else going on, anything new I should know about?

Donald Patz:
Uh, no (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs). Okay, good, good, good.

Donald Patz:
You know, just, just living the life, man. I mean, you know, like I, I'm leaving tomorrow to go down to Southern California to see my mom who is years old now. And, um, I'm glad to still have her with us. Uh, but she's had some health problems recently. So, um, you know, you worry about all kinds of s- other stuff. It's, uh, it's, as you well know, r- um, doing wine and running a wine businesses is a- is really all consuming. It's not just a, you know, roll into work at o'clock and think about leaving at :. Even if you want to, it just won't let you.

Doug Shafer:
No, yeah.

Donald Patz:
And, and you know, so I'm in that same situation, I'm super busy with all kinds of stuff, but at the same time, I think you have to, you have to have time for family stuff as well.

Doug Shafer:
Good. Well, I'm glad you're going down to see her, but, uh, so these three new projects-

Donald Patz:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
... how do people get ahold of them? How do they find these new wines? You know, they're, everybody knows about Patz and Hall-

Donald Patz:
Well, there-

Doug Shafer:
... but that's, that's that's history now. What, uh, the new stuff, how'd they find it?

Donald Patz:
Yeah. You can ... um, if you do a Google search on Donald Patz, my new stuff all pops up. So I have a, I have several websites. I've g- the, the one probably to start from is donaldpatzwinegroup.com.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Donald Patz:
Donaldpatzwinegroup.com. Um, or they can email me at, um, donald@donaldpatzwinegroup.com (laughs), um, and I'll be happy to give them additional information, but, uh, each of, each, each wine project has its own website too. So there's one for Meritana Vineyards, there's one for Secret Door Wines and there's one for Terminim Wines.

Doug Shafer:
Good. Lots of options. Lots of ways to go. And I want to try the, uh, the new white wine. So, um, can you bring a bottle of lunch sometime, you know, when we can get back to having lunch, please?

Donald Patz:
Yeah. I think so. Yeah. It's time to start that again. I'm really glad that you brought that up because, um, I think you owe me lunch this time.

Doug Shafer:
I do owe you lunch.

Donald Patz:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
And I'll, I'll bring a bottle of cabernet just to show you how you really make it. Oh God, did I really say that?

Donald Patz:
I'm sure that you will ... I'm sure you will try.

Doug Shafer:
Just to sh- just to show you how Elias makes it. There you go (laughs).

Donald Patz:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
All right, man. Donald so good to hear your voice and catch up with you and, uh, thanks for sharing your story.

Donald Patz:
Yeah. It's really fun. I'm glad that you c- I'm glad that we got in touch two years later (laughs) to do this.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) All right. All right. I'm buying lunch. I'm buying lunch.

Donald Patz:
No, no, it's great, it's great to be able to chat with you about it too. And, 'cause we haven't had a chance to really talk about all of this stuff one-on-one. So it was fun to do it today. I felt like we were just having you and me have a con- a conference and uh, and let's, let's cl- include some other people and let them hear about it today too.

Doug Shafer:
We will, we will.

Donald Patz:
And thank you again for the opportunity.

Doug Shafer:
You bet, buddy. Great talking to you. Be good. Safe travels.

Donald Patz:
Thank you.

Doug Shafer:
All right. See ya. Bye.

Donald Patz:
Bye.

Full Transcript

Doug Shafer:
Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of The Taste. This is Doug Shafer, and today we've got one of my favorite Stags Leap District neighbors. We do a lot of things together, usually promoting Stags Leap District in the Napa Valley, but I've never had a chance to hear her whole story. So today is the day. Welcome to Elizabeth Vianna, general manager, winemaker of Chimney Rock Winery. Elizabeth, how are you doing?

Elizabeth Vianna:
I'm doing great, Doug. Thanks so much. This is so cool for us to actually get to chat a bit.

Doug Shafer:
I know, because we're usually at these things and we're, you know, promoting wine, talking wine, and it's like, you know, we never have a chance to say, "Hey, you know, what's going on in your life?" So. So I'm-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Exactly. I know. You've, you've had dinner at my property. I've had dinner at your property-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
... but we never get to chat. So.

Doug Shafer:
I know. All we do is-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Good to fix it.

Doug Shafer:
All we do is tease each other about our wines in front of people. That's always fun.

Elizabeth Vianna:
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
Um, so anyway, a lot to cover here. We've got the Chimney Rock story for anyone who doesn't know that, but, but there's your story, which I'd, I'd like to start with. I, 'cause I think it's pretty cool. So let's start there. It starts in Brazil. Is that right?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. So I am Brazilian-born. My dad's Brazilian. Um, my mom is from El Salvador. I was born in Brazil and sort of grew up all over. Um, I was in Brazil, zero to three. I'll kin- kinda make it short, that I, we hopped to the U.S. lived in the U.S. from three to nine. Went back to Brazil, nine to 16.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
And then back to the U.S., so, an adventurous in childhood (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
That must have been, uh, you know, as children, we, we just roll with the punches, but looking back on it, was that traumatic? I don't know. Probably not, but, or was it exciting? Or it just was, what was it, what's your recollection of going back and forth like that?

Elizabeth Vianna:
You know, I, I think my, my parents lead, led by example. And kind of always made it seem like it was an adventure. Um, I, I can't even remember how many different schools I went to, but, uh, we lived in Los Angeles. We lived in Illinois. We lived in Massachusetts.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
And then we went back to Brazil. So I would say that it was challenging for a kid. Right?

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
You're like the new kid in school. I know, I know we have that in common. I know you got to move your last year of high school too. And I, uh, I think, you know, in retrospect, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
Because it, it's, it made me who I am. Right? And I'm kind of an adaptable human being. And I love people because, you know, I got exposed to a lot of different things at a young age. So. Um, not traumatic, but definitely challenging.

Doug Shafer:
Of course, and, but, but you're right. It makes you flexible. I mean, we're, and adaptable. We were talking about silver linings before we started. Um, and that's one. I mean, you're able to, 'cause I, I've seen you in action. You can, you, you can handle or deal with anybody anytime (laugh). So, I mean, you, you've got that, that, that knack, which is really cool. But what was, wha-, why were you guys moving? What was it? Was your, is your dad's career, or your mom's?

Elizabeth Vianna:
My dad's career.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. So dad, dad's a chemical engineer.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Uh, and he, uh, started actually in the sugarcane business. Um, so mostly import-export from Brazil in the beginning. Then he got a job, with a small company in Los Angeles. Worked there for a year. Then he got a job with, um, you'll laugh at this, with Dicalite, which is a company that produced diatomaceous earth.

Doug Shafer:
Oh yeah. I remember Dicalite Forever.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. Remember that? Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
For D, DE fi-, DE filtrations in the winery (laughs).

Elizabeth Vianna:
So, so d- dad was working for Dicalite, and then he ended up working for, um, a subsidiary of, um, Raytheon out of Massachusetts. And Raytheon was dealing with petrochemicals, and, uh, th- they actually moved my dad back to Brazil. So we lived in Massachusetts for a little bit, and then they decided they wanted him to open an area division down in Brazil for them. And, uh, so we went back down there. And then (laughs)-

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And then from there, he worked for Petrobras, who brought him back to the U.S.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
So, um, just, you know, kind of full circle.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Citizen of the world.

Doug Shafer:
Um, any siblings?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. We're, um, we're a good traditional Latin family.

Doug Shafer:
There you go (laughs).

Elizabeth Vianna:
We are, um, we are six kids.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
I know, big family. Uh, big, big and complex. Uh, dad was married before he met my mom. So I've got three sisters, but we're very close, from his prior marriage. And then, um, my parents had four biological kids, and then, uh, actually adopted my sister. So that actually makes eight, isn't it?

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
Well, that's great. Big families. That's fun.

Elizabeth Vianna:
I know. Yup.

Doug Shafer:
And, and so, growing up, uh, was there wine in the house? Was that around, and were you exposed to that? Or, or I'm, I'm always curious about that.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Absolutely. Yeah. So my-

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... dad definitely had an affinity for the fine things in life. He loved good wine. Uh, he had a- actually, he prided himself at, in once buying two bottles of the 1945 Mouton Rothschild-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
... um, from a restaurant closing sale in San Paulo. So he, he definitely appreciated fine wine. And, um, I think this is probably kinda crazy, but in Brazil, you know, my parents, they would pour us a little splash and they would let us taste things that were at the table. So it was definitely part of the table for us.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Um, but I, I didn't really, didn't think about it in depth at that point. But it was there, it was definitely a part of our, our make up.

Doug Shafer:
That's great to hear. Um, I've done that with my kids. They're all ... Well, you know, you know, they've grown up (laughs) a lo-, around a lot of great vines in winemaking, so, um, they've seen it forever. Um, and so, but, uh, moving around, uh, did, when you hit high school, was that in one spot or was that still moving from place to place?

Elizabeth Vianna:
No. No. No such luck. I got to go to three different high schools.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, man. That's tough.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Uh, I know, I know.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Elizabeth Vianna:
First year, first year was in Brazil. Second year, Massachusetts. Last two in New York, right outside of New York City. So, uh, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Uh, that's tough-

Elizabeth Vianna:
But like, like I said, you know?

Doug Shafer:
... high school years.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. High school years. That, that's not my favorite period. I will say that (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
No. I can't blame you. Were you, were, were you, what were you, were you in day activities, or was it tough because you kept moving around?

Elizabeth Vianna:
You know, my first love was actually music. And, um, I started playing piano when I was like seven years old. So music became kind of the way that I would bond with people. Right? So I could immediately like join choir ... and do this. And, um, music was always my kind of connector. So that, that actually kinda helped me at least connect with like the musical kids right away. Um, so I had, I had my tools. That was one of my s-, tools (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Nice, nice. I'm glad you had that. Um, I had that too. It was, um, I was in concert choir, this, in Chicago. And, uh, it was a big, big school. And, um, if, you know, music department, band orchestra. They put on a, uh, musical every year. And then also, sports was a big, big thing. So after high school, where, where, where to?

Elizabeth Vianna:
So it's funny. My, I was literally on the career track of becoming a concert pianists.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
That's I was thinking. I had studied with a couple of great teachers in Brazil, and then one at the Boston Conservatory. Um, and I was going to apply to like Juilliard and, uh, the music school up at Rochester. And then kinda last minute, I, you know, just took a deep dive and, and thought, "Do I really wanna play music for a living? Or will that, will that take something away from it?" It was, music had been kind of my, you know, my happiest place. And I, I literally got scared that somehow if I had to make a living doing it, it would take away from it.

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

Elizabeth Vianna:
So, lo and behold, I surprised my parents and said, "No. You know what? I'm gonna apply to liberal arts schools. I think I'll c-, I'll continue to play, but I wanna explore other areas." And, um, and, and so, I applied to liberal arts schools instead, and ended up, uh, landing at Vassar for my undergrad, um-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... where I spent four years. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Well, nice. So you finally got one place for four years. That must have been kinda nice. Yeah (laughs)?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Oh, it was amazing. You know what? I finally belonged somewhere-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... for the, for the first time in my life. And Vassar was a pretty, uh, perfect school for me because there were kids from all over. Uh, a lot of them ha- had also had similar experiences where they moved around or, um, they're from all over the place. And I just felt like I fit in there, you know? And, uh, so it kind of erased tho- those like high school years pretty quickly for me.

Doug Shafer:
Good. Good. I'm glad you had that (laughs).

Elizabeth Vianna:
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
So that, so, uh, you know, college, was it, was it beer? Was it wine?

Elizabeth Vianna:
You know, it was beer.

Doug Shafer:
Or both? All above (laughs)?

Elizabeth Vianna:
It was, it was beer and wine, but definitely not high-end wine. I'll just say, I, I recall a, you know, probably bottles of Hardy Gallo burgundy-

Doug Shafer:
There you go.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... at parties in my group. So at that point, it was about cost. Right? It wasn't about, um, sophistication. So, so, but, but wine was present-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
... certainly in a, in it's, in a very, uh, weird stage (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Right. I'm with you. It was just, it was there, but it wasn't like, you weren't thinking of a career in wine at that point.

Elizabeth Vianna:
No at all. Not at all.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. Okay. Yeah. Just wanted to clarify that. Okay, good. So Vassar, you get out. And Vassar in when, um, what year?

Elizabeth Vianna:
So I graduated in '89. And basically, I had majored in biology. And I was pre-med. and I'd gone from, you know, wanting to play music to thinking I needed to save, uh, children (laughs). So I, uh, I now wanted to become a pediatric oncologist. We had a family friend who had been a mentor, who I loved, who was a pediatric oncologist, and I think he kind of inspired me. And I mean, I was taking it pretty seriously. I did an internship at Mount Sinai Hospital like one summer in college. And, um, I, I really, you know, I, I thought I was really committed. And ... um, get out of college and decide, "Well-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
"... let's not quite go to medical school just yet. Let's um ..."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
I, I had dreamt of living in New York City. This was like a thing in my mind, that in order to live a full life, I had to live in New York City for a year or two, or whatever. And so, I applied for a couple of jobs, uh, in New York. Um, the first one that I got ended up being in research. So I got a job at Cornell Med School in New York City, doing, uh, developmental neurobiology research.
And it was just a means for me to, you know, make a living while I lived in New York and kinda, um, enjoy life before I went off and borrowed money, and went to medical school. And, um, ironically in that period, I was hanging out with a buddy of mine from Vassar, and his dad, um, their Wall Street guy, and had collected a lot of great wine and had some, some great wines in the cellar. Like, you know, Grand Crus, First Growths. And, um, he was very generous and shared these wines with us. And he bought these all like in the '70s.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
So they had some age and, um, you know, they're, they're am-, they're amazing. There were like nothing I had ever had. Um, and that sort of started though, wait a minute, this is, this is a lot more than I ever realized. Um, those ones kinda stopped me in my tracks, literally. So it became kind of a hobby, you know, so I started going to tastings in New York and reading the Wine Spectator, and ... you know, getting my coffee of Hugh Johnson. And suddenly, it was becoming a little bit of an obsession.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
You know, and I, and I, and I'm still working and having a great time in New York. You know, you're in your 20s in New York. You're enjoying theater and music, and making friends all over. It was, it was just a great, great period of my life, you know? And suddenly, I, I realized, "Wow, six years have passed and here you are, you're still working in New York. No med school, what, you know, what's, what's next?"

Elizabeth Vianna:
So I happened to go to a tasting, uh, pre-auction tasting at Christie's, and, uh, Christian Moueix spoke at that. And he talked about going to UC Davis's graduate program in winemaking at this talk. And that was kind of my light bulb. You know, said, "What? A program in winemaking."

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
"Uh, that sounds interesting." So I like immediately, uh, wrote to Davis, got the application, and, um, put it in a drawer. I was like, "You're crazy. You're not doing that. That's, that's nuts."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
And then I, I, I remember having brunch with a really good friend of mine who's in the movie business, and he, um, I sat down and I was like, "John, I have this crazy idea." Like, "I'm thinking maybe about going to winemaking school." And he knew me really well, he's a really, really close friend to this day. And he said, "That's it. I can see it, do it."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
And I, and I said, "John, I think, let me wait for a year. Let me sit on this for one more year. And then if I'm still gung-ho in a year, maybe I'll do it." And he said, "Don't wait. If you wait, you won't do it. Just do it." So, you know, I went back to that drawer, pulled out the application. Filled it out, and, um, applied to Davis. And what's serendipitous about where I was is, at this point, I was working at a clinical lab. And I had become kind of an expert in HPLC and, uh, GC mass spec. Which as you know, were the analytical instruments that you use to measure aroma compounds in wine, and phenolics, and-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
So I had a skill that, um, and I had all the science classes that would help me get into Davis. So applied, got in. And next thing you know, Doug, I'm starting at Davis in '97.

Doug Shafer:
I go- ... That's crazy. So, uh, I gotta ask you a question. Before you heard Christian speak, had you ever heard of UC Davis? Did you know there was like a wine school?

Elizabeth Vianna:
I, I hadn't.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
I hadn't thought ... I, honestly, I had been-

Doug Shafer:
That's crazy.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... exploring wine as a consumer. You know, and I hadn't even really started to think about the process, or, or production, or vineyards. I had not stepped foot in a v-, in a winery.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Have you ev- ... Yeah. Had you been to the vine-, uh, the wine country, or vineyards-

Elizabeth Vianna:
I-

Doug Shafer:
... in upstate New York? Anything?

Elizabeth Vianna:
... you know, I had been to two little wineries in New Mexico-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
... as my exposure to a physical winery. Like, how funny is that? So-

Doug Shafer:
It's wild. I mean-

Elizabeth Vianna:
I know, kind of insane.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. 'Cause I was, one of my questions is, how, how did you find Davis? So it was Christian Moueix ta-, Moueix talking.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Christian, he, he he's responsible. And I had a glass of 1985 Socien du moelleux in my hand when he mentioned that. So I call that my aha wine.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Because it-

Doug Shafer:
That's when it happened.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... it was, it was what was in my hand when I made the decision that would like change the course of my life completely. So.

Doug Shafer:
That's great. So Christian, for those of you who don't know, he's the, um, proprietor of Dominus here in Napa, and also, uh, a fairly famous little winery called, um-

Elizabeth Vianna:
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
Petrus in France?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Ye- yeah. Petrus (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
So, all right. So you g-, apply, you get accepted. All of a sudden, you're in Davis, California. That's not New York, Dorothy.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Right.

Doug Shafer:
And, uh (laughs)-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Right.

Doug Shafer:
... um, in the master's program. So how was, how was that? Was anybody, uh, anybody there, classmates that, um, stand out, you got to know well? There's, any business now?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, g- going to Davis was like going to heaven ... suddenly, right? Like, I'm obsessed with wine, and suddenly I'm in a room with people who were equally obsessed. Um, so yes, absolutely made lifelong friends there. Um, I, I'm sure you know some of them. Robbie Meyer was in my class. Sally Johnson up at Pride was in my class.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Um, let's see, Merissa Taylor up at Rutherford Hill.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
Um, Andy Erickson and Helen came the year after me. So they w-, they, they were, they were there. Who else was in my class? Anyway, these are ... Matt Rorick, who has a-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
... little brand called Forlorn Hope.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Tim Milos also. A really, really good friend, uh, and, you know, continue to be to this day. I mean, it's kind of this family that you instantly form.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Right?

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
When you, when you get to Davis. So, um, amazing time there. And I, I started, I finally stepped foot in a winery, a real winery, uh, in 1998. Uh, Peter Luthi of Trefethen gave me my first internship.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, cool. Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
I remember Peter. Good, at Trefethen.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Y- yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Which is great.

Elizabeth Vianna:
At Trefethen.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And P-, and Peter, Trefethen was reputed at the time that I was at Davis to have one of the best internships. 'Cause Peter really made sure that people kind of rotated through every aspect, you know? So I, I, I got to do everything.

Doug Shafer:
Mm.

Elizabeth Vianna:
From bottling to, you know, to cork trials, to vineyard stuff, to learning how to take apart a ball valve.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
You know?

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
It was like, it was comprehensive. And, uh, I still remember, you know, probably my f-, one of my first day is on the internship, like just looking up at the sky, seeing a red, a red-tailed hawk go by and thinking, "Wow. I, I, I can't, I can't believe I'm, I did this."
You know? Uh, just kind of knew that it was the right thing for me, uh, instinctively and, and that this is where I was meant to be. It's bizarre. It makes no sense, but that's what it was (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
No, that's great. And, uh, just for fun, how, how were your parents on this one? 'Cause they probably never saw this coming either.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. You know, my dad had the, the, had paid that bill for that Vassar education.

Doug Shafer:
Right (laughs).

Elizabeth Vianna:
I'm, I'm not, I'm not sure what, what he thought, but, you know, my parents had always been supportive of any endeavor. Whether it was the music thing, and then when I changed my mind about music. Um, so they, you know, I, I think they, they were a little skeptical but supportive nonetheless. And, um, I think they have not come to regret being supportive. They now call me when it's time to send them another shipment of wine.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
So (laughs) I think they really, they, they enjoy the perks.

Doug Shafer:
That's great. Yeah. I've got the same situation with the family, "Hey, dad, I need some wine (laughs)." 

Elizabeth Vianna:
Exactly. I bet.

Doug Shafer:
So Trefethen, and then, uh, you did other internships while you were at Davis?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. So my second internship, um, was at Chimney Rock.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
I, yeah, I was, I went to the job fair while I was in, at Davis. And, um, Leilah Backhus was the assistant wine maker at Chimney Rock at the time. And she was a good friend of mine. You know, we had been, um, schoolmates, and she was like, "Oh, come work at Chimney Rock. We'll have so much fun." And, um, I took the job, of course, and, uh, you know, I knew I wanted to make Cabernet from the get go.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
Like, that, that was always my grape. I knew that that's what I wanted to do. So Chimney Rock was a pretty sweet place to, to get that second internship, you know, with the estate vineyards right around the winery. Um, just a really great learning, learning place. And I, I loved it here. The vineyards were spectacular. I just, I just loved the place. Doug Fletcher was the winemaker at the time.

Doug Shafer:
Oh Doug, yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And yeah, and he was, you know, he was just a Renaissance man. We, we laughed a lot. He loved opera and classical music, so we connected on that level as well. And, um, yeah, had a great internship at Chimney Rock.

Doug Shafer:
Oh yeah. And Doug's a great, great winemaker. I bet he was a great, uh, mentor, you know?

Elizabeth Vianna:
He was.

Doug Shafer:
I'm sure he was, I can see that.

Elizabeth Vianna:
He absolutely was.

Doug Shafer:
Miss him. I haven't seen him in a while. Um, so after graduation, what happens?

Elizabeth Vianna:
So after graduation, I, um, started applying for jobs. You know, and of course, you're just out of Davis. And in my mind, I, I had a vision of what I wanted. Right? Like, an estate-grown small winery.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
Something like Chimney Rock.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Um, and, um, I stumbled upon a job position at, um, Napa Wine Company. And it was a lab director position. Uh, and, you know, I go for the interview and I'm like, "God, it's a really big place." And, you know, it, they don't have any, they, they do have some vineyards, but you know, it, it, it wasn't what I envisioned for myself. So I remember I actually called Doug and I said, "Let's have lunch. Um, I, I need, I need some, some counsel."
And, um, at the time at Napa, this was 2000. Um, this was, um, before a lot of, a lot of little wineries hadn't been built. So, um, like Heidi Barrett was making her wines there. Celia was making Staglin there. Um, who else was there? Erin Green was making all of Pahlmeyer there. Nickel & Nickel was being made there by Doris Fanelli.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
So, so Doug basically turned to me and said, "Well, duh, this is a great opportunity."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) I need, I-

Elizabeth Vianna:
You know?

Doug Shafer:
... I need to interrupt real quickly. For those who don't know, Napa Wine Company, a big operation, um, run by a great family. And they've, they've got their own label, but they're, they're a big business, especially back in, in this era when Elizabeth was working there, um, custom crush. So if, if you have a brand or a label and you don't have a facility, you can bring your grapes in, crush them there. And they, they, they age it, they bottle it, they do the whole thing, I think Elizabeth. Right? So.

Elizabeth Vianna:
That's exactly right. Yeah. And Andy really lo-, Andy Hoxie-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
... who's the, you know, who runs it and who's just the loveliest gentleman. Um, he, he really favored bringing in the small clients who wouldn't have the opportunity to make wine otherwise, you know? I know, I know he had several GMs who tried to convince him to bring in some big boys so he could really make some money. And he was like, "No, that's not the point of this. You know, I really wanna support the folks who, who need a home."

Doug Shafer:
So, so Doug set you straight and said (laughs), "It's a great opportunity," and-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Take the job, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... "Take the job." Because as lab director, let me guess. So you're doing all the analysis basically for all these different clients.

Elizabeth Vianna:
All those wines. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So you're seeing how all these super-duper winemaker folks. Are you involved in, are you finding out what they're doing, what kinda yeast they use? What they have -

Elizabeth Vianna:
Oh, everything.

Doug Shafer:
Everything?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Everything. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
You (laughs)-

Elizabeth Vianna:
I started as lab director, and then I became assistant winemaker there. So I call it my Napa Wine Company University. You know?

Doug Shafer:
Oh man, you, you learned all the secrets from everybody.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Oh, it was so cool.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And, and not only that, but like, it was a really warm welcome to the business. You know, Heidi would be doing like trials, and she'd be like, "Elizabeth, come over. Taste with me."

Doug Shafer:
Nice.

Elizabeth Vianna:
You know? Uh, Aaron Green would do the same. Like, it was such a ... Pam Starr was there. I mean, there were so many people. Uh, John Gibson was making Frazier there. There were ... I mean, Sean Catheo.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
I, I could go on. There are so many like the who's who of Napa, right, were making wine there. Um, so I just can't tell you how grateful I am for that period.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Uh, it was, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Well, because, yeah, because if you're at your own place by yourself where you got your assistant winemaker maybe, or something like that, it's just, that's all you have is your fruit and your wines and that's it. It's um-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Exactly.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Exactly. And, and, and also just the discovery, you know, that there's a lot of routes to making great wine.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
Right? Um, there's a lot of ways to do it. There's a lot of different approaches, philosophies. And to kind of get exposed to all of that under one roof, um, was just, you know, kind of a great, um, a great launching pad, I think for me. And a great way to get to know, um, get to know all of Napa, you know? So.

Doug Shafer:
Well, you get to know people, you get to know growers. You find out, you, you kinda get, you know, because that's like, when we start sourcing grapes, you know, you see, it's usually somebody who knows somebody, who knows somebody. You know, that type of thing. So. I gotta ask you one question, did you meet a guy named Randy Mason?

Elizabeth Vianna:
I love Randy Mason.

Doug Shafer:
You p-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Randy Mason was the best (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
You-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yes, absolutely. He was making his Sauvignon Blanc there.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Um, and this was like before Pomelo. He was making just the Mason brand.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
And he was also the winemaker for, for Napa Wine Companies, uh, wines at that time.

Doug Shafer:
Right. He, uh, he's just retired a few, a few months ago. But, um, have yo-

Elizabeth Vianna:
I haven't seen him in like forever.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, he's doing great. You probably don't know that he and I have quite a relationship. He, um, he was my first boss in the business.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Oh, and I didn't know that.

Doug Shafer:
Did, there you go. That's why we-

Elizabeth Vianna:
And wha-

Doug Shafer:
... do the podcast (laughs). So.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And where, where, where was that?

Doug Shafer:
That was in a little place called Lake Spring Winery, which was south of Yountville on Hoffman Lane. I think it's owned by Joel Gott now. That's, it's a facility.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Oh wow.

Doug Shafer:
And I started, I was his cellar rat assistant winemaker, truly just a cellar rat. God, what was the first year? In 1981. Uh, I came back from teaching school and got a job. It was just a two-man operation. And we were making Cab, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. But Ra-, Randy, Elizabeth, you know, I had the, the, the whole oenology thing, but Randy taught me how to work a cellar. You know?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Right. Right.

Doug Shafer:
And how to move wine, how to hot-wire a forklift.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
How to, you know, bottling.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Right.

Doug Shafer:
You know, filter those.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
How to wash a tank right and wrong. I mean, I was with him two or three years before I came over to Shafer, but man, that guy taught me how to ... He, production. His strength was just fantastic. It was so efficient.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So those skills stayed with me forever. And, um, he's still a very, very good friend. But, um, I figured you didn't know that one. So that -

Elizabeth Vianna:
That is a cool connection.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
I, si-, six degrees everywhere you turn.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
It's awesome.

Doug Shafer:
All right. So how long were you at, um, Napa Wine Company?

Elizabeth Vianna:
So I was there from 2000 to 2002.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
A couple of years.

Doug Shafer:
A couple of years.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And Leilah Backhus, my old friend who had been Doug's assistant. Um, and this is kinda funny. Uh, she decided she was kinda bored with wine, believe it or not. I don't know how that happens, but she decided she was gonna go to medical school. So she applied to med school and, uh, got in. Now she delivers babies in Chicago.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Oh great.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And I was asked by Doug to come join him. So, um-

Doug Shafer:
That's great.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... I, yeah. And I, you know, I, I had learned a lot at Napa Wine Company, but I really was ready to get my feet in the vineyards. Like, that was the component that I was missing there in some ways. And so, I came running 'cause I knew it was a Cab estate and, um, and Doug and I had gotten along. And I just, I knew that was, that would be a good f-, next move.

Doug Shafer:
Super. So, so off to Chimney Rock you go. So let's take a break from your story. Um, give us the, give us the Chimney Rock story.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. So Chimney Rock, uh, kinda got started in the early '80s. You know, so kinda that heyday post-Paris tasting of '76, right?

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
Which kinda put our little neighborhood on the map. Um, so Hack and Stella Wilson were the founders of Chimney Rock. Hack had been a Pepsi executive. He's the guy who brought Pepsi to South Africa.

Doug Shafer:
That's right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
I'm sure you knew-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... Hack and Stella.

Doug Shafer:
I did.

Elizabeth Vianna:
They decided, uh, in the late '70s that they were interested in owning a winery. They, they first actually went shopping in Bordeaux-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
... and, um, Hack actually knew Alexis Lashine. And Lashine's counsel to him was, "You should go look in Napa. Napa is gonna be, uh, uh, the next great region-

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... that's developing.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. And so, so, a-

Doug Shafer:
A Frenc-, a Frenchman said that. What do you think? That's g-, that's great.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Y- yeah. How about that? How about that? Um, anyway, he came out and found this 140-acre property and bought it. And as you know the history, it was an 18-hole golf course at the time (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
It was a great course.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And-

Doug Shafer:
Uh, I used to play with my dad all the time (laughs).

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. And that, and that-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Just, you know, just a mile away from the home ranch here. It was great. No, it's okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. And we still, we still find golf balls out there, by the way.

Doug Shafer:
I know (laughs).

Elizabeth Vianna:
Spirit, the spirit is still alive.

Doug Shafer:
There you go.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Um, anyway, they pulled out the f-, the, you know, the first nine holes. Planted some vines, and first vinage of Chimney Rock was 1984. And, um, you know, Hack's kids were not really interested in taking over the business at the time.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
And so, Hack knew that he had to find somebody to, you know, make, continue to make his dreams come true about this super premium, you know, appellation dedicated, uh, Cabernet house. And, uh, the, the story goes that he, it was sold at a blind auction. And it was sold not to the biggest bidder, but, uh, to the family that Hack thought would make the investments that he thought were required to make the property really blossom.

Doug Shafer:
Huh.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And that family was the Terlato family out of Chicago, as you know.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Um, so they, uh, they became part owners in 2000, and then, uh, full owners in 2003.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. And then, they also owned, or still do I think, Rutherford Hill Winery up the street.

Elizabeth Vianna:
They do.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

Elizabeth Vianna:
They own Rutherford Hill. And then they also own Sanford down on the Central Coast. And, uh, they've actually just bought a little vineyard up in Washington. They have a Klipsun Vineyard, which is a famous vineyard up there. So they've continued to make some investments. And, uh, and, and, and actually a little bit of, uh, property in Friuli as well. I don't know if you know about that.

Doug Shafer:
No.

Elizabeth Vianna:
But there's a Terlato Pinot Grigio, as you know, they, uh, the patriarch of the family, Tony Terlato, who sadly we lost-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
... um, last year, uh, Tony really was the guy who put Pinot Grigio on the map in the U.S. ... with, uh, the Santa Margarita brand. And, uh, so they, they really wanted to pursue their own brand and, uh, started doing that a few years ago as well.

Doug Shafer:
That's neat. I like that. So they, they took over ownership, I think it was 2004. And then, um, in 2005, what happened to you?

Elizabeth Vianna:
So yeah, I, I, Doug got me the, you know, the head honcho, VP winemaking for all the properties. And, um, I, I got promoted to winemaker. So my first, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... head wine-making gig at Chimney Rock had been here for three years and, uh, just jumped right in.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, that's neat. And then you were, but you were still working with Doug 'cause he was overseeing all the properties of the Terlato's.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Cool.

Elizabeth Vianna:
absolutely. And Doug, Doug was super involved-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... in the vineyards. He, he kinda let me do the winemaking, but he was very much, um, involved in, you know, all of the farming, et cetera.

Doug Shafer:
I would guess that was probably a pretty smooth transition. Yeah. Knowing Doug.

Elizabeth Vianna:
It was-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
It was very smooth. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Nice. Nice.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Really easy, really easy.

Doug Shafer:
So you didn't get thrown into the, you know, the big pot. Like, "Good luck. See yeah. (laughs)"

Elizabeth Vianna:
Exactly. No, not at all. Not at all.

Doug Shafer:
So you're making wine, and then, uh, something cool happened in 2009, I found out. And which I did not know about. I think-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Oh, that's funny.

Doug Shafer:
... uh, went back to Davis. They asked you back. What happened there?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. I got-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
... uh, I got a phone call, uh, uh, and I was asked to do a commencement speech for the, the Graduate School of Sciences. Which, I, I mean, I have to tell you.

Doug Shafer:
What (laughs)?

Elizabeth Vianna:
I was 10, I was 10 years out of school.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
I was like, "What do I have say (laughs)?"

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
I'm like, uh, you know, I'm, uh, I, I don't know. I don't know, but I, I of course, heard the call to action. I was like, "Listen, if somebody thinks you have something to say, maybe you do. Maybe you should just, you know, listen." And so, I, I did the commencement speech to a room of 5,000 people (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Which was-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
... whi- which was definitely my biggest public speaking gig, uh, till then. Um-

Doug Shafer:
Super. What was, do you remember what the topic was? I'm curious.

Elizabeth Vianna:
You know, I think I talked a lot about, um, I talked a lot about getting to know the people and, and keeping your relationships with people that you're in school with.

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Because they become your professional family. And kind of drawing a parallel to how, how that had transpired for me. Um, and that, and tha-, and that's a true story. When I went to Davis, I remember I went to the, um, like the welcome barbecue. And I was talking to Roger Bolton and I said, "So Roger, like, if you were to sum, you know, what I should get out of Davis in one sentence, like, what would that be?" And he said, "Get to know your peers."

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Elizabeth Vianna:
You know, "Taste with them, spend time with them, nurture those relationships." And that, that surprised me, that that's what he said, you know? I thought he would, uh ... And, um, and I, but I took his advice to heart. And, um, you know, I think, uh, not just the network of people that you went to school with that was in your class, but beyond that. Right? Davis does become a family. And then, once he moved to Napa, it's all one big ha-, you know, happy family.

Doug Shafer:
Right. Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
So.

Doug Shafer:
You know, we are, and people, you know, w-, I tell people that, and they kinda look at me like, "Come on, you bs'ing me ." You know, "You guys all don't, you, you guys all don't get along that well." It's like, "Well, yeah, we do." I mean there's really no animosity. We're all kinda working with mother nature and hoping for a good year. And nobody wishes ill will on anybody else around here.

Elizabeth Vianna:
No.

Doug Shafer:
It's like, "Let's, let's all-

Elizabeth Vianna:
I mean-

Doug Shafer:
"... let's all grow ho- ... You know, let's have a good season, get some grapes and make some wine and go for it, and .."

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. And I, I think that's unique to Napa in some ways.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
I think the sense of comradery here is sort of extraordinary. I can't say that I've visited a wine region where I felt kinda those ties as, you know, as strongly. And I, and I honestly, Doug, like, that's how I feel. I believe that, I, I don't care if, you know, a consumer drinks my neighbor's wine. What we all want is, um, to have, uh, a greater appreciation for wine, I think in our culture, um, ultimately. And of course, we want our businesses to do well. But whether love Shafer or they love Chimney Rock, or they love, you know, Clos du Val, like there's plenty of wine to go around.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And there's plenty of people, right?

Doug Shafer:
Well it’s fun.

Elizabeth Vianna:
So we do-, we, we don't have to compete.

Doug Shafer:
No, God, just one wine in the world (laughs) would be really boring.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Exactly. Exactly.

Doug Shafer:
I gotta, I gotta tell you a funny story. When you're talking about Davis grad school experience, I had, gosh, I was probably about 35, 36, 37. And s-, they, they might still do it. They had a, during the spring. Yes, they have a Friday afternoon, Friday evening barbecue. But the deal was, they'd get a speaker come in and speak to the oenology grad students, you know, for an hour or so. You know-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... a little talk, a question after you probably have done it.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And then afterwards, you, there's a barbecue with his grad students and hang out, and chit chat and all that. And so, they asked me to do it. I said, yes. And then I was like, "Oh no, grad students." 'Cause I was, I was never in grad school. I was, I got a teaching credential, but, you know, in oenology I was just undergrad. And the grad students-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Right.

Doug Shafer:
... were always those, those older people. Those-

Elizabeth Vianna:
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
... really (laughs), those really mature people. You know, s-, you know, it's like, "And they're really smart 'cause they're grad students." So. All of a sudden, you know, I'm 36 years old going, "I gotta prep this talk to grad students. What am I gonna do? They're so smart."

Elizabeth Vianna:
That's hilarious.

Doug Shafer:
"They're so smart. And I'm scared. I'm, I've never ..." You know, by this point, I'd been on the road for 10 years doing winemaker dinners and sales meetings, and everything. And I was, Elizabeth, you woul-, you would have cracked up. I remember Elias was like, "Why are you sweating it so much?" (laughs) And I said, "Because they're grad students." And so, I, I worked on this like speech. You know, you know, um, got a talk with talking points and what my experience has been and, you know, challenges I've had, and successes I've had. And I threw in some jokes and, you know, I got in, and it was like 30 students in this room. Was a Friday afternoon at four o'clock, and, and they were so young (laughs). They were so-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Oh (laughs), that's hilarious.

Doug Shafer:
They were like, they looked like they're in high school. And I, you know, I, I'd laid out the whole thing, and they all kinda just looked at me. You know, knowing maybe a couple of questions. I was thinking, you know, there's gonna be a lot of questions. No, a couple. And it's like, "Let's go have a beer and have a barbecue." And that was that. But boy-

Elizabeth Vianna:
That's funny.

Doug Shafer:
... ain't that funny?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Perspective, right?

Doug Shafer:
Grad, grad students. Grad students.

Elizabeth Vianna:
This perspective. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Anyway.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So, you know, your, your life, your career, pre-med track, all science, you go into winemaking, a couple of different jobs, winemaker. And then, and then you get, uh, general manager. When did that happen at Chimney Rock?

Elizabeth Vianna:
So that happened in 2011.

Doug Shafer:
Wow. 10 years ago.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And yeah, 10 years ago. And I, yeah, it's funny. The Terlato family approached me about doing that. And my first reaction was, "Wow, I'm so flattered, but, um, I really wanna keep my hands in wine and in the vineyards. That's my love." So I, I kind of said, "I, I wanna have an if, an out clause (laughs)."

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
"I'll try it out."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
"If I feel like I'm, you know, only looking at PL-, PNLs and doing spreadsheets, I, I, I wanna reserve the right to come back to you and say, 'You know what (laughs)? I, I'm not having enough time to make wine and to the vineyards.'" But, um, as it, as it turned out, um, I, it was okay. You know?

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And it was kind of learning the side of the business that I wasn't that exposed to, which was important too. Um, and I felt like we're small enough that I, I still had time for the winemaking.

Doug Shafer:
Oh good.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And I still had time for the vineyards. And, um, you know, I was definitely intimidated by it because I, I didn't have an MBA, so it was learning on the job. Uh, but, uh, but it, uh, just immensely flattered with the trust that they put in my hands. And, you know, they knew that I had a passion for the place. And their priority was, you know, quality first. That's one of Tony's mottoes. And they thought that having the winemaker in charge of the business would help keep quality the priority. And, um, so I felt very fortunate, and I've been doing it since then. So.

Doug Shafer:
Wow. What, yeah, I don't, I don't know how you do it. How do you juggle it all? You must have, you must be super organized. Well, you, you are super organized. I know that (laughs).

Elizabeth Vianna:
Well, you know, strong team. Right? We all know the-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... term winemakers a little bit of a misnomer. I have an amazing assistant winemaker, an amazing cellar master. Um, and I, I could make wine without them, obviously.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
Um, but, uh, I still, my priority is still the wine in the vineyards, Doug. Like, I will tell you that. And, and kind of the way the business is structured. Like, we have a vice-president of direct-to-consumer, so there's somebody who's actually doing the DTC.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

Elizabeth Vianna:
You know, kinda the logistics, et cetera.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. Well (laughs), and, and speaking to vineyards, you've got, how many, are all your vineyards in Stags Leap?

Elizabeth Vianna:
They are.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
So we have a, 105 acres planted right around the winery. Um, mostly Cabernet, about 80%. A little Merlot, a little cab Franc, a little petit Verdot, a little Malbec. And, um, I don't know if you know this little secret, well-kept secret. We have a single row of fiano, uh-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
... in the middle of our cab Franc, which is kind of strange. Fiano is an Italian grape from Campania, from the southern part of Italy.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And, uh, Doug, I don't know. He, I guess he went to Italy with his wife, and they had a lovely time. And he loved the grape.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
And he, he convinced Hack to plant a row. This, it's been there since 1995. And it actually does quite well in Napa's heat. Like, it, uh, retains acidity. It's like-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
... it's kinda awesome.

Doug Shafer:
Nice.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And, uh, it wasn't, we never made it commercially until a couple of years ago. And so, we make a whopping like 16 cases of this little Italian grape, which is kinda funny.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And then we have some, we have another vineyard that we work with for whites. And that's up in Rutherford on Mee Lane.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
So we, we have both Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris up there.

Doug Shafer:
Nice.

Elizabeth Vianna:
And those are the two white grapes th- that we primarily work with.

Doug Shafer:
Super. And what's current lineup varietals-wise, as far as what you guys are selling? What do you have?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Well, in, in distribution, we do our estate cab, which is kind of the ambassador.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
It's like a blend of the entire property. And then we do our proprietary blend called Elevage. And we do, we do a number of single vineyards out of the property, but only Tomahawk is distributed in the market. Um, and then we do, uh, a white blend, which is a blend of Sauvignon blanc and Sauvignon gris. And those are kinda the four wines that go into distribution, so restaurants and retail. And then the rest of our wines are pretty small production, you know, 200 to 400 cases of this single vineyard, that single vineyard. And, um-

Doug Shafer:
And, and those-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Like-

Doug Shafer:
... are those available what, at the winery and-

Elizabeth Vianna:
At the winery, exactly.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Or, or mainly being in the club, uh, a lot of them are kind of clu- club exclusives. So.

Doug Shafer:
That's kinda neat. Tell me, yeah. If people-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... are looking for your wines, obviously restaurants, retail stores around the country, I'm, I'm assuming. But, um also, is there, you mentioned the clubs, is that another way they can do it?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. We have our little club called The Palisade Society, and, um, you basically commit to getting a case of wine a year. And you get, you know, a bottle of each of these special wines. We do, like I said, seven single vineyard Cabernets, and then we do a little bit of Cabernet Francs, some Merlot. Um, I think that, that's, that, that's kind of it. But you get those, and you get the other wines that we distribute, um, in advance of release. So, um, yeah, it's a, it's a pretty cool-

Doug Shafer:
Cool.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... club.

Doug Shafer:
Good, good to know. Um, a new projects at the winery for you, anything in the, in the hopper right now?

Elizabeth Vianna:
Oh God, no (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
No. I think-

Doug Shafer:
She says with relief. I love it.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. I think right now the focus is really, um, you know, we, we worked on getting Napa Green certified both in vineyards and winery, and we're gonna continue that. Um, so that involves, you know, quite a bit of work. And I think really, um, I think thinking actively about sustainability is front of mind. You know, given the couple of years that we've lived through in Napa, we know climate change is a reality. So I think really thinking about those things and what our long-term plans are, uh, I think that's, that's sort of where my head's focused.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Good. Good. So kinda wanna end on a personal note. So it's been a tough year. We're getting our vaccines. We're venturing back but, back out, but, uh, I saw on Instagram that you got to do something pretty cool recently. So tell me about seeing your folks after 14 months.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah. Oh-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Elizabeth Vianna:
... yeah. My, my parents are just the loves of my life. My dad is 93.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Um, and mom's 77. And I literally, prior to the pandemic, I would go see them once a month. That's how close I am to them. Um, so-

Doug Shafer:
And they live, where do they live? 

Elizabeth Vianna:
They, they live in Maryland-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... now.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Uh, with my sister. And so, um, it was, it was really challenging to be far away from them-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elizabeth Vianna:
... and know that I couldn't see them. As it was for th-, you know, the entire country. We all went through the same thing. Um, but to see them, see those smiles again was, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

Elizabeth Vianna:
... I, I can't even put it into words, you know, kind of the emotion. And you realize, you realize when you see each other what a tough thing you've just been through.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
You know, and, and we've all been very brave and, you know, resilient, and managed, managed our businesses, continued to work, but, um, this is stuff that really hits you at the core. Right?

Doug Shafer:
... you know, we're, we're people people, and, uh, you know, I don't care what you say about virtual and Zoom and, some things changing in the future, you know, to be more virtual. But, um, I don't know. I think people, the people's really important. Um-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... it is for me. I know that. So.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Absolutely.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Elizabeth Vianna:
I totally agree. Totally agree.

Doug Shafer:
All right. So I'm gonna get my car and run down and give you a hug in, in your parking lot. Or a virtual hug (laughs).

Elizabeth Vianna:
Uh, I know. We need to actually have lunch or something. Um-

Doug Shafer:
Well, we stop by when-

Elizabeth Vianna:
... I need that. Would be really fun.

Doug Shafer:
... we can stop by and we drink in the parking lot. Well, you know, we can tailgate. You know, as I remember seeing kids doing that. I mean, I'll pull my car and we'll sit on the tailgates in, you know, the parking lot and-

Elizabeth Vianna:
Totally.

Doug Shafer:
We can do that.

Elizabeth Vianna:
New, new Stags Leap tradition (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
There you go.

Elizabeth Vianna:
I love it.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Friday afternoon tailgates (laughs). Yeah, I like it.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Awesome. I love it.

Doug Shafer:
All right.

Elizabeth Vianna:
I love it.

Doug Shafer:
Elizabeth, thank you for your time. This has been wonderful. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Such a pleasure, Doug. Thank you. It's been an honor to, to be chatting with you.

Doug Shafer:
You bet. Well, take care. And we'll see you around. See you soon. Have a good one.

Elizabeth Vianna:
See you soon.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Okay.

Doug Shafer:
Bye. Bye-bye.

Elizabeth Vianna:
Bye.

Full Transcript

Doug Shafer:
Welcome back everybody to The Taste. This is Doug Shafer, and today we've got a great guest on. He's a longtime winemaker, I think over 20 years at Opus One Winery, Michael Silacci. He, uh, used to be my neighbor here when he made wine at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in the mid-90s, but he, he left. He went to Oakville, to Opus and now I don't see him anymore because Oakville is really far away from Stag's Leap. So, uh, good to have him on. And, uh, Michael, welcome, welcome.

Michael Silacci:
Thank you very much, Doug. It's, uh, we spoke about this a while ago and I'm glad. I've always wanted to do it, and it just seemed we never had the, we never would able to, were able to synchronize our calendars, but this is fantastic.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
Good to hear your voice.

Doug Shafer:
You too, man. You too. And, uh, things are getting better out there in the world. So, uh, we'll be able to go have lunch together soon. I'm looking forward to that (laughs).

Michael Silacci:
Exactly.

Doug Shafer:
So anyway, got a lot to cover with you. There's your story, there's the Opus One story, but before all that let's go all the way back to the beginning. You know, where did you come from? Talk to me.

Michael Silacci:
I was born in Gilroy, California at the Wheeler Hospital at 2:53 in the morning on July 6, 1953.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
(laughs) So, so I'm a moon child.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

Michael Silacci:
So I grew up in Gilroy. We, uh, lived a little bit in Morgan Hill, which is not, yeah, just on the edge of the sticks. Um, and uh, basically my formative years, I grew up on, um, my grandfather's dairy farm and we had, my grandparents both sets live close to each other.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
And so I had one pair of grandparents that had plum orchard in a dehydrator. And to this day, I just loved the, uh, smell of prunes and the other, um, it was just my grandfather, he had a dairy farm, you know, and when I smell a Brettanomyces wine, I kinda like it. (laughs) But, um-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs). We're all products of our early educations for sure.

Michael Silacci:
We are. And then the, uh, third smell in the neighborhood was when I drove forklift at the, uh, at the local garlic and onion plant, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Michael Silacci:
... on the graveyard shifts. So, um, I got exposed to those types of aromas fairly early.

Doug Shafer:
You were a farm boy, you work on the, work in, in ranches and farms. Yeah?

Michael Silacci:
Yeah, yeah. And a shit kicker because you know, we'd walk down the, uh, the pasture, um, between the levees and we, that's how we fertilized. We just kick the cow pies and let the water take them around and, you know, spread it out and fertilize. So yeah, I've done it. Uh, (laughing) my boots have seen ... the bottom of my boots have seen many things.

Doug Shafer:
I love it. I love it.

Michael Silacci:
But no necks, no necks.

Doug Shafer:
Very go- Yeah, yeah. So, uh, growing up in the country, kind of the country, the sticks. And, uh, how about high school? What were you into?

Michael Silacci:
Uh, Gilroy High School, I played football. I took, uh, Latin, I took the first year of Latin knowing that the program would be discontinued, but I still wanted to start learning Latin. And then I switched to, um, uh, to German and, uh, I r- I really enjoyed school. Uh, I was, uh, in student council and just had a lot of fun and playing, you know, playing football, lots of, you know, of course you hanging out with all your friends there. But I didn't, in all of my school years, I never like was in a clique. I was, uh, like a hummingbird of cliques. I'd go from one clique to the other and just try to be friends with, uh, is- with everybody, um, 'cause I didn't wanna get, you know, I didn't wanna fall into a, a group mentality. Um-

Doug Shafer:
But I, I got to ask you, I gotta stop you for a minute because anytime I've ever heard anyone speak about Latin or taking Latin, it was just like, "Oh, I had to take it. It was a requirement, oh, I don't want to do it." So you actually, I, I got to ask you, why did you want to take Latin?

Michael Silacci:
Because it's the root of, uh, so many romance languages.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
And uh, and you can understand with Greek or Latin, the meanings of many words without having to look them up in, uh, in the dictionary or now Google. That's why, that's why I took it.

Doug Shafer:
Well, it just shows that you were kind of tuned in because, um, I certainly wouldn't have been in that head space at all. So it kind of, I think that kind of leads into my next question because what happened after high school?

Michael Silacci:
Well, I didn't, uh, I was accepted at UC Santa Cruz and I decided I didn't want to go to university until I found what I wanted to be when I grew up. So I worked, um, at my, with my grandfather, I worked, um, at a local, uh, clothing store. I drove a Pepsi-Cola truck, delivering, um, cartoon glasses to Taco Bells. Um, I worked for Pepsi-Cola for a while and then I, um, decided that I was going to travel and I wasn't coming home until I found what I wanted to do in life. So I headed out to Japan.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
I stopped in, stopped in Hawaii Honolulu for just a, it was gonna be a weekend. So we went to, we went to Maui and, um, camped on a beach north of Kaanapali Beach Resort for three months and I didn't want to spend any money. So I got a job, busing tables and washing, uh, dishes at the Sea Scoop Restaurant in the Kaanapali, Kaanapali, uh, Village Resort or Village. \ And, and I hadn't been to Maui forever in a day. And I was with Steve Palumbo who's our, was, was our West Coast sales manager. Um, and we went to do an event. I, I think it was, I think it was a Ritz-Carlton.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
And I said, "Hey, can I borrow the car?"

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And I th- I think that that resort was built on the area that I actually lived on the beach. And s- so I had come back. I had closed yet another circle.

Doug Shafer:
You, you closed the circle, but so what, what year are we talking about when you're out, out of high school?

Michael Silacci:
I graduated in 1971 and this was in '75 when I left.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
And then ended up in Japan. And-

Doug Shafer:
But I got, I gotta stop you 'cause camping on, camping on- I'm just cur- I'm curious from my own ... I'm just curious. You're camping on the beach for three and a half months. How do you do that? Like, well today, maybe you couldn't do it today, but as far as, you know, legally, safety, you know, that type of thing. That was o- that was okay to do is what you're telling me.

Michael Silacci:
Yeah, but we did, uh, we did have to move once because there was a hepatitis outbreak nearby.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) oh.

Michael Silacci:
And so, you know, that whole area was being, you know, we were s- we were alone.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

Michael Silacci:
There was just a few of us there. Um, and, uh, so we had to find another spot, but, uh, left shortly after that. (laughing) Also some Sunday, some Sundays we'd go to Hare Krishna, uh, events, you know, where you'd chant and have great, uh, um, vegetarian food. Um, anyway, so it was, it was fun.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Okay -

Michael Silacci:
Then I went from Hawaii to Japan in, uh, in winter time - I went to Japan because I wanted to go to a place where it would be very difficult to go home. For example, let's say you go somewhere and you know how, when you first start something, um, a trip or university or whatever, you kind of you're, you're not really secure about it and, and you can easily just give up on it.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
So I wanted to go to a place that would be difficult for me to get home 'cause I had a one-way ticket if I didn't like it, or if I panicked or whatever. And I fell in love with it. I, (laughs) so I arrive on a night flight, I mean, late afternoon flight. And I showed the information booth people, the, the, um, um, what do you call it? The youth hostel-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
... where I wanted to stay. And so they wrote down instructions for me, and then they called somebody over and had that person get me to, uh, the first subway. And then, then they, they got somebody to get me off at the next stop to get me on the next s- I was passed off like a baton-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
... from person to person. I arrive in the, the final subway stop in the, the police booth. They showed me how to ... I had to walk across this big park ... uh, which you'd never ... I did once in, almost did once in New York city, uh, which was foolish - at really late at night, but I, this was not a dangerous park. I ended up at the youth hostel like 9:59. And if I were to have arrived at 10:01, they would not let me in.

Doug Shafer:
Oh wow.

Michael Silacci:
They were very strict. So stayed there and then, uh, wanted to go to Kyoto to see the temples. And, um, so they, (laughs), so they pu- they put me ... I go to the train station to get a ticket and they put me on the Shinkansen which is the fast bullet train.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
I had no idea I get on this train 'cause I had never been on a train before, other than, you know, like Santa Cruz, you know, where you go through the redwoods-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
... big basin or whatever. So I get on this train and holy smokes, hold onto your hat and get your seatbelt on. Cuz, it was ... I think it was the fastest train in the world at that time. The French with the TGV were always competing with the Japanese to have the fastest train in the world. Um, so then arriving in, in Kyoto and also I had known about the Shinkansen because my grandfather was really into stuff like that. And he always said, "Look at this bullet train," and, and, uh, and so I got to write a postcard telling him that I had been on the Shinkansen, excuse me. And stayed in this, um, uh, place called Tawny House. It was a t- Tommy Matt, um, private hostel-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
... and I just went back to work. And, uh, no, I went back on vacation, uh, last week of February, first week of March in 2020 ... and went to see the Tawny House just to, just to compare, you know, places where you've stayed. Um, and then from there, um, I went back to Tokyo. Um, my sister had gone elsewhere. Uh, we split up and then she was going to Tokyo so I went to meet her in Tokyo and in the youth hostel, there was a French woman. And my sister said, "Yeah, there's this French woman just wearing clogs with no socks." And s-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And so I went over and, and she was w- I was talking to her and I said, "Do you know where the French woman is without any socks?" Because she spoke perfect English. And she said, "Well, I'm French and I don't have any socks."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And so I, I gave her my favorite pair of green socks. And, and then I headed off to ... where did I go, Taiwan in, uh, then Taiwan and then Philippines ... and bumped into her by chance in a market in the Philippines. So my sister saw a Canadian woman who we had met named Ellen, and she, Debbie said, "Ellen." And then Ellen said, "Debbie." And I said, "Rashaan." And she said, "Michael."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And, um, so anyway, we had, uh, we were in ... every, every country that I visited, I stayed the maximum, uh, for a visa. If I had three months, I'd stay three months. But then-

Doug Shafer:
So you were tra- you were traveling, uh, so you're traveling, just going to different countries. So what'd you do about money? Were you working, um, how, how'd that work out?

Michael Silacci:
No, I saved up money.

Doug Shafer:
You sa- okay, so you just traveling.

Michael Silacci:
And, yeah. And, and, uh, for example, the most expensive place I would have been was Japan ... but I had actually made more money than I, uh, needed to live in, in Hawaii. So I had that money-

Doug Shafer:
Great.

Michael Silacci:
... uh, of course, camping on the beach (laughs) what are you going to spend money on it.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah (laughs), right.

Michael Silacci:
Um, and, nd then, um, eventually made my way to, um, to Europe went to Locarno, near Locarno ... Olive Rosasco where my grandfather was from. All my grandparents came from, uh, this was, uh, the Italian part of Switzerland.

Doug Shafer:
So I, on all your travels, I gotta ask you this at some point. Um, was had the wine thing kicked in? Was that part of your traveling experience? Were you drinking wine? Were you drinking beer? I'm just kind of curious, 'cause you're in your early to mid-20s at this point. So I'm just curious about that.

Michael Silacci:
Yes. So, beer in Japan, uh, along with Sake and then in, uh, I’ll never forget this island, the Chocolate Hills are Sa- was it Saber or the Chocolate Hills? Where, y- 'cause we ha- San Miguel Beer was amazing and it was only f- you know, like five cents ... a bottle. Had some Thai beer also in Thailand, but basically it was beer, but I had, um, been turned on or my grandfather always drank wine.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
And so I drank wine with him and we would go to, uh, Peter Scaglione's winery out on the Hecker pass. My grandfather (laughs), he always had a white Cadillac. He had, uh, uh, four gallon jugs in the back of his car in a cardboard box. So we go and he w- Peter, Mr. Scaglione would s- would siphon wine and fill up his jugs and they would have a glass of wine and tell dirty jokes. And then we get back in the car and go home.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And we'd have a, (laughs) a- and so I had a little bit of wine with him every now and again.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
And then the first bottle of one ever purchased was, um, uh, 1974, I think, a ‘74 Robert Mondavi Reserve. And that was $7.50 and everyone thought I was crazy for spending that much money on a bottle of wine. So I li- I liked wine.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
So anyway, fast forward to when I arrive in France, I knock on the door of the woman who I had met, who I had given these green socks to and, in Paris and she, and the only French I knew was bon voyage.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And she said, if you want learn to speak French, eat well and earn money, you should pick grapes.

Doug Shafer:
Ah.

Michael Silacci:
So I got, got a haircut borrowed, a car, went to Nault and drove out in the countryside of Nault and drove into this little domain, this courtyard. And there was a fellow named George loading, loading sacks of sugar into the back of a little van. And I (laughs) said to him, 'cause I had practiced all the way down like a good Californian or a good Hare Krishna, "I want a job picking grapes. I want a job picking grapes." So I-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
I said to him, bonjour, I want a job picking grapes."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And he smiled because he had figured that that's probably all this kid knows. He said, he made me understand that if I helped him finish loading the van with, uh, the sacks of sugar, he would find a job for me because he w- he had had a full team. So we, um, went and delivered the sugar, and then he takes me over to, uh, Domaine du Grand Mouton, uh, which is Louis Metaireau's property. And I got a job there. And so I didn't speak any French, but it was like working at McDonald's if you don't read English. You just look at the pictures and press the, you know, the big Mac or whatever. And so I would just look at what other people were doing and at the end of the rows ... and it's funny, um, even though it's more of a social democracy there (laughs), you get to the end of the rows. You know, here when people are picking ... because they, they pick as a team-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
... they, when somebody finishes their row, they'll come back and help their neighbor, their neighboring row, right? There, social democracy I think at the end of the row, they have a glass of wine from the vet, and you're on your own to get to that end of the row, because you're picking, picking as a team, all right? The whole country of France, because you're all being paid the same, no matter what you do (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Okay. That's true.

Michael Silacci:
And then I would, um, follow people when they usually tell me it's time for lunch and we'd go inside. And Doug, I fell in love with two hour lunches and wine. And that's where-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, so that's where it hits.

Michael Silacci:
That's, that's where it hit.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, wow.

Michael Silacci:
And I'll never forget the time where I, where, when we went to pick at one of the reserve blocks, right adjacent to, uh, Mr. Metaireau's house. And (laughs) he came outside and he, we're all standing around the, at the end of the rows and he looks left and he looks right and he says, he asks, "Where's the Buvette?" And the foreman was trying to get away because he had forgotten to bring the Buvette. Buvette is just a little like wheelbarrow with all the wine and water. And he had to confess that he had forgotten it.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Michael Silacci:
Mr. Metaireau runs into his house and comes out with bottles of his reserve cerlie, um, uh, Muscadet which, you know, this is not an expensive wine, but it was so hot that day Doug and I was so thirsty, we just passed it around-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
... drinking out of the bottle and it was the most del- 'cause it's just a fine, fine, fine effervescence. It was just the most delicious thing I've ever tasted in my life. So that's where I really ... that's where I got the, uh, uh, the bug. And what I wanted to do is I wanted ... I had read about, uh, the Compagnon which is a, a group, it's like a tradesman group, craftsman a trades group in the middle ages in France, and they worked with wood. And they would, um, they would go to one area to learn how to make, let's say wooden chairs. And then they would work during the day as an apprentice and study at night under a c- with a candle light, candle light.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
And they would be there for about six months. And then they'd go to the next area of France and they would do a tour de France, a tour of France, sorry.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
And they would go to each area learning how to make d- work with wood in a different way.

Doug Shafer:
Huh.

Michael Silacci:
And I thought, that's what I wanna do. Um, in Muscadet, I want to go to Bordeaux and then I wanna, uh, they I wanna go to, um ... I actually worked in Cognac as well.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
Then I wanna go to south ... I wanted to do a tour of France, learning how to make wine. But I realized very quickly that although I have an I at the end of my name, Silacci ... it's not, my name is not Mondavi, nor is it Winarski. (laughing) So I had an absolutely no contacts. And, and so, um, I thought the next best thing would be to go to, uh, uh, to school. But I, um, traveled a l- uh, traveled a lot there on bicycle, uh, worked, doing, making, um, doing, making decorations for Estee Lauder and Lancaster and, uh, Revlon. Um, I worked for a company called Garlin, uh, 01. It was a commune. The thing that we did that was the most fun and exciting was we were going to do something for Estee Lauder when they, um, brought out the Orient Express line of-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
So we went to the, um, the, um, train yard in Paris, where they had all the antiques. And these, you know, all the workers in, in France, they wear these blue coveralls. And so we told them we wanted to talk to them about that. And they just put, brushes said, "No, no, no, you know, no, no, no, you know, we don't know what you're talking about." So we just stuck with them. And what did the trick was when I agreed to, to have a shot of their homemade, um, of spirits. And I'm just praying that there's, this is not methanol city. And knocked back a couple and we were in like Flint. We could have whatever we wanted.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
So we built these for three, in three different perfume, perfumeries in Paris, you'd walk by and you look into the big window and you would be looking into a cabin of the orange express, like the dining car or a sleeper car. It was, it was so much fun doing that. What was also fun is that I would always get help from the staff in a perfume shop, especially when I went on my own, because I had an accent, I was alone and they felt, and I, and I gave that puppy dog look in my, from my eyes. And they'd all helped me out. Whereas when I was with the French guys, they would just be told off, or, you know, don't park in the front of the ... you know, they'd be, they'd be kind of, uh, not very pleasant with them. So, um, they often sent me alone (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) That's great. So you're, so you're doing everything. And, um, so when did you ... was this point your heading home? Is that what the next step was?

Michael Silacci:
Uh, almost. I rode, um, we r- I rode bicycle to Corsica and back up to Paris and then from Paris to Stockholm and back to Paris. And then, um, I went in, I did. We did one more trip. We rode bicycle to the middle, middle of the Sahara Desert and back out.

Doug Shafer:
Hm, wow.

Michael Silacci:
And then I went to, um, came home and I, so I got (laughs), I brought a ... my mom had this old car sitting in the, in, in the yard for, um, you know, as an extra car for people like me-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
... the pro- the prodigal son. And, uh, said, "Take this car," I'm going to Davis 'cause I'm going to, I want to go to school at Davis. And, um, the car breaks down in Dixon.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And it was when it, when it ... you remember, like -

Doug Shafer:
Just eight mi- eight, yeah, eight miles away or something like that. Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
And the air was filled yet with another rumor of that of a slaughter house.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
Um, and so get the, it was a fuel pump that went out, had it fixed. So (laughs) I go to the admissions office, stand in line and, and I get my turn and the woman said, "Yes, what can I help you with?" And I, I asked her, "Well, when does the next quarter start?" And she said, "Um, in f- in four weeks or five weeks, whatever it was."

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
And I said, "Great, I wanna come." And she didn't know what to say, um, 'cause I, you know, I'd f- I hadn't been out of school, you know, I didn't really think about these things. And she said, "But I, I, you can't just come.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
You have to fill out an application and, you know, the earliest you could come would be, you know, the quarter after this one." And, and so I, um, I said, okay, but it's the best thing that ever happened to me because I did get a reality check.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
Um, and I went to s- I went to, I, I hadn't been in s- in school for a few years. So I went to City College of San Francisco ... and I took typing, library science, um, chemistry, uh, trigonometry, uh, and something else, French I think. I had a full load, but I learned everything I needed to, to the infrastructure, the mental infrastructure, you know, gotta know how to type-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
... gotta know how to use the library. And then I went to school at Davis.

Doug Shafer:
So I gotta stop you. So this is great. So you're probably what, how old are you at this point? Mid 20s?

Michael Silacci:
I was 20. I was, that would have been in 1983. I was close to 30. I was, yeah, I was 30.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. Okay. Okay. And so you've been, you've been traveling for years-

Michael Silacci:
Yup.

Doug Shafer:
... for three or four or five years, and you promised yourself, you weren't gonna go to college until you figured out what you were gonna do and you left on your worldwide travels. Um, and so when you came back w- where you ca- you came back, were focused on I'm gonna be, I'm gonna be a winemaker. Was that, was that the deal?

Michael Silacci:
Well, according to Corneo, Dr. O, and Dr. Singleton and Dr. Dr. Kunky, um, I had blurred vision-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
... because I told them I want to have a degree in viticulture and enology. And they said ... they chuckled. They said, "No, no, no, you can't do that. You have to ch-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, I remember that.

Michael Silacci:
... you have, you have to choose one or the other." And I said, "Well, why?" And I said, "In France, they do it." And they said, "This isn't in France, son." And so I, so I chose enology.

Doug Shafer:
That's funny.

Michael Silacci:
And, but, but what I did, Doug, is I took all of the classes, 'cause I was so motivated. I didn't have to deal with the social, uh, stuff. Uh, I was really motivated on getting a degree. And so I took all the classes that were prerequisites for graduate work, because I felt I'm going to do, take my, what I have to take anyway. I'm gonna take the harder chemistry, the harder physics, et cetera, whatever I need to get into graduate school so I don't have to - because you'd ha- you'd take the, the ... if you didn't plan, you'd have to take the m- you'd have to take the higher, the harder, the upper division course, um, um, again.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
So I didn't, I didn't wanna do that. So then I, um, went to ... I decided I was gonna go. I went, went into plant science too, because I wanted to be a viticulturist. I wanted to have that side. I wanted to have ... I had my degree in ... actually I have, I have to sidestep for a second. I did my general ed at Davis, and then I took, a, a PELP. Uh, PELP is, um, Planned, Planned Educational Leave something. Program. So I, after my general ed, I went to the University of, University of Bordeaux and the Institute of Oenology and I got a degree in, it was like, uh, just in oenology.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
Uh, and then came and did an internship with Denis Dubourdieu, and, uh, so it was all white wine, some reds. And then also worked a little bit ... didn't really work. I can't say I did an internship at Doisy Daëne but I was exposed to, uh, Barsac Sauterne with his, his father. So (laughs) his ... yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So what was, w- so you jumped over to Bordeaux b- so that just, you just wanted to get as much exposure to different things as you could is what I'm guessing.

Michael Silacci:
Yes.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
And the other thing was, uh, the, the green socks girl. U, she-

Doug Shafer:
Oh yeah (laughs). Whatever happened to her?

Michael Silacci:
Well, we eventually got married.

Doug Shafer:
Oh (laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And we had, we had, uh, we have a daughter. We're no longer together, um-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
... uh, but you know, that those things happen.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
So anyway, she said, "I'm, I don't wanna, I need to go home for a little bit."

Doug Shafer:
I see.

Michael Silacci:
And, um, I mean, she was tired of ... she was bored with California. And so, uh, we went to France and she taught English and I went to school.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
So Pierre Dubourdieu (laughs), his son is a professor at, at the University of Bordeaux and he knew I had just finished classes there. He was, he was like, it was perfect. He said, we said, "Let's go check the temperatures of the fermentations."

Doug Shafer:
Right (laughs).

Michael Silacci:
We go into the ta- (laughs) we go into the tank room, he put his hand against the tank and f- (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) I've done that. I do that all the time, you know.

Michael Silacci:
Yeah. But he would not even look at the temperature. Then he's doing this to a kid who just got out of college right?

Doug Shafer:
Right (laughs).

Michael Silacci:
Or was in midstream. And then he'd say, "Well, we got to chill this down a little bit," but he did everything.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, that's great.

Michael Silacci:
Just, it was fantastic. And it, and it was great to be exposed to that. Anyway, I just thought it was hilarious because-

Doug Shafer:
No excuse.

Michael Silacci:
... his son was doing all of these experiments at his winery and his father's t- feelings tanks to see if the fermentation temperatures correct. So-

Doug Shafer:
Well, I, you know, I'm, I get that. I think that's pretty cool.

Michael Silacci:
Yeah, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And you know, and you do too at this stage, you know, we all, we're all kinda tuned in that way.

Michael Silacci:
Exactly.

Doug Shafer:
You know, it's a lot of feel, a lot of gut feel.

Michael Silacci:
Yeah. The, the best thing you can put, uh, in, in your vineyard or in your cellar are your own two feet.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). There you go. Look at you. You have to put that one on a wall somewhere. So cool. So you're Davis Bordeaux, and then you're back to Davis. Is that how it worked?

Michael Silacci:
Yeah. Went back to Davis, finished my undergraduate degree in enology fermentation science. And then I, um, spent a year. Um, I only had to be in, in, uh, class and doing my experiment for one year because I had gotten so many prerequisites out of the way. And I was with, uh, uh, Janice Morrison. And she was, uh, she was very proud that her first student master student had to rewrite his a- they passed his thesis back and forth like a ping pong golf eight times.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Michael Silacci:
So I had, I had, uh, applied for and gotten a position at Beaulieu Vineyard ... as enologist/viticulturist. And Tony Bell, uh, you learn a lot during interviews because first interview I show up and, uh, it's about a good half an hour, 40 minutes before I actually get into the interview with, with Tony and I think Joel. Joel, I think Joel was at the first, maybe that was the second one.

Doug Shafer:
Was Joel there?

Michael Silacci:
Yeah, Joel-

Doug Shafer:
Joel was there. Was he winemaker there at that point?

Michael Silacci:
Uh, yes. That was-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
Uh, yes, he, I think he was winemaker in '85 if I, if I remember correctly.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. Yeah. He and I were, uh, he and I were classmates at Davis, so he, we go way back.

Michael Silacci:
So, um, my third interview, it was like sitting in the little antechamber waiting room for about an hour and a half. And, and then I go into the conference room and it's Tony, Joel and, um, Tom Selfridge.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
And Tom Selfridge said, "You know, you realize that you're going to be reporting to Tony and you're working with Joel too. And you know, you're not going anywhere. You're in an enologist, viticulturist. You're not gonna like move, be moving up the food chain anytime soon, because this winery was founded in 1900 and, um ..." on and on. I said, "Yeah, I understand."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) That's en- en- encouraging too. Yeah (laughs).

Michael Silacci:
Yeah. But I said, "This is perfect because I want to be at a place where I can really start to understand how things go."

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
And Joel is, was such a great, uh, mentor and teacher. Um, so I was good with that, but, uh, a year and, a year and a half later, I was, uh, in the role of production manager, and I was overseeing, um, grower relations. I think I was ... yeah, grower relations and, um, the ... crew and bottling, uh, and experimental winemaking. And then a year after that, I, um, they formed the Heublein ... and I was working also with Tony. We were doing a lot with Inglenook as well. So, um, then a year after that I bec- um, Heublein and Fine Wine, Wine Group was formed. So it was Quail Ridge, Christian Brothers, um, Inglenook and, uh, Beaulieu.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
And I became viticulturist for the Heublein Wine, Fine, Fine Wine Group. And, um, I worked with, uh, five different winemakers, five different vineyard management companies and 85 grape growers. We owned, leased-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
... or worked with 4,000 acres of Napa Valley vineyard. And I did not have an administrative assistant.

Doug Shafer:
No way. You know, you've always been the nicest guy and the easiest to get along with and now I know why.

Michael Silacci:
(laughs).

Doug Shafer:
I mean, God, Michael, that must've been crazy. Think about all this stuff, especially like at harvest when everybody wants this and that, and it's gotta be this way and this guy wants it this way, this guy wants it another way. Oh, how'd you keep it straight?

Michael Silacci:
Well, I learned an invaluable skill and that is to convince other people that was in their best interest to help you accomplish something. And I, I became very good at that.

Doug Shafer:
Huh.

Michael Silacci:
Uh, so good at it that when I g- (laughs), my first, uh, when I first arrived at Opus, um, I was told ... actually, I had seven interviews to get here, but that's a whole nother story. But my first, uh, time, when I first arrived at Opus, um, a woman, a Swiss woman named Uno Shard came to my office. She was really buttoned up like all Swiss are, no smile, walked into my office and reminded me that I was responsible for three, uh, events. The, um, Cinco de Mayo because they started on March 5th, 2001. So Cinco de Mayo was coming up, the Harvest Party and the Blessing of the Grapes. I said, "Yes, that's great. Yes." She said, "But you know, Cinco de Mayo is coming, you need to plan that." And I said, "Okay, well, why don't you sit down?" "No, I don't wanna sit down." And finally, I got her to sit down.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
So I don't know, maybe half an hour later or so she leaves my office and with a big smile on her face, goes out the door and they're like French doors so I can see her. And then I see her stop dead in her tracks and the smile goes away and she gets a furrowed brow. She comes back into my office and she says, "Michael, I came here telling you everything that you need to do for the Cinco de Mayo party. And I'm leaving doing everything." And I looked at her and I said, "Well, yes, of course you are. I'm paid to manipulate people and make them feel good about it." So (laughs)-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Look at you. Oh.

Michael Silacci:
I did, I did. But of course I worked with her.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
I mean, but, but it was, it was just, but that's what I learned. I mean, you in, uh, you know, like working at, in that, as a viticulturist at, with that group, that's what I had to learn, how to do.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). You bet. And you got to work with, uh, Andre, right?

Michael Silacci:
Yes.

Doug Shafer:
Andre Tchelistcheff. Tell us, tell us about that 'cause his a, his name comes up quite often and he's, you know, wonderful, wonderful man and wonderful part of, you know, fine wine in Napa Valley. You got to work with him. Tell us about that.

Michael Silacci:
Well, I first met him. I mean, I first saw him. I never really met him until, um, till I was at Beaulieu, but, um, he, he was talking at Davis and he was just amazing. Um, the intensity, the passion, the focus. So then, uh, they told me that they had Ron Vitori, they had hired Andre as a, as a consultant and he was going to spend half a day in the vineyard every week and half a day, uh, at Beaulieu with the, with the winemaking team. So, um, I meet him at the Chile's house at Inglenook and he's sitting at one end of the table, I'm at the other and the room is ... we're, I mean, we're all sitting or I just happened to be seen at the other end of the table and they introduced me to him. Uh, and he said, "I'm looking forward to you taking me to your kingdom and exploring your kingdom with you."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Oh, wow. No pressure.

Michael Silacci:
And, and so the f- so the first couple of times we went out to the vineyard and he always ... I would pick him up at his house and he and I would have biscotti, uh, and coffee that Dorothy would prepare this and she would sit with us. And we would talk, the two of us would talk about what we would do together to make Beaulieu great again. And then we go off to start always at his favorite vineyard BV-5, which is, um, a vineyard in Carneros with Pinot and different clones. And actually the very, um, I was told that, uh, Andre was not ... we had a ... I'm sorry, I'm jumping around, but I have to give you some context. In To Kalon uh, Beckstoffer To Kalon, there was a, 10 acres strip on the w- on the east side. It's a beautiful, probably the best part of that vineyard that we had 14 different Cabernet clones randomly, in a randomized design pattern, eight different replicates of each. And we would make the wine in this room we called the clone room with, uh, olive oil d- in olive oil, plastic, olive oil drums. And so I was told, do not take Andre to ... Don't ever do anything with him, with the, with the, with the wine. Don't tell him, don't talk to him about the clone room drum, blah, blah, blah. And part of it was they ... I don't know why they wanted to keep him out of it, but they use the excuse that his son Dimitri's working with us on that and they don't want any conflicts. So San Francisco Chronicle wants to do an article on Andre coming back to Beaulieu. So (laughs) where do we get the picture taken? In the vineyard with all the clone wine, with all the clones.

Doug Shafer:
Oh know.

Michael Silacci:
And he, of course, he s- he starts talking to me about it. And so one day when I, um, when I, uh ... well, I'm gonna go back to this pickup story. We're in the vineyard, uh, and the third time, you know, he'd, we'd be driving around and he'd be telling me, this is amazing what you're doing. And just patting me on the back and telling me how great, you know, the vineyards look, et cetera. Third visit, we're in B-V5 and I stopped, turned off the pickup, and I looked at him and I said, "I think that they're paying you a lot of money, not to tell me what I'm doing that's great. But to tell me where I can improve and what's wrong with what I'm doing." He said, "Well, what do you mean?" And I said, "Well, all you're doing is telling me nice things. And I think you're supposed to critique my work, not, you know, tell me all the good side." And so he said, "And that's what you want me to do?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "And we'll be, will, will you promise me that we, we will still be friends at the end of every session?" (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) 

Michael Silacci:
And I said, "Yes." And he reached his hand out and we shook hands and he said, "I will do that." (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Oh man.

Michael Silacci:
So I don't know if you remember, um, um ... that Dustin Hoffman f- Little Big Man.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
When he meets, uh, Custer and he tells Custer, Custer our general George Custer. "Should I go down there?" Mule, mule skinner, he said, "If you go down there, you will be, um, uh, massacred." And he said, "So the mule skinner thinks that if he tells me, blah, blah, blah." So he's trying to reverse logic to the guys, he goes-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Right.

Michael Silacci:
"Let's go down there." So he goes down and they get ambushed. So that's what it was like with Andre-

Doug Shafer:
Huh.

Michael Silacci:
... men- mentally. We'd go out and then he'd lead me down into the valley and then he'd bury me with criti- criticism (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
But, um, but one day we were walking, uh, he said, "Let's ..." Oh, so I asked if we could buy a, um, like an ATV. And I was told no because that would be an asset and everything was judged, um, by a return on asset.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And so I said, well, but he can't walk very far and we just get barely to the edge of the vineyard.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
We'll just drive between the, in the avenues. Then I, and I said, "Well, how about ... can I rent one?" And he said, "Oh yeah, you can rent one." And he said, "But you realize that the rental just for one season will be more expensive than if we bought one."

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
It doesn't matter. It's not an asset. (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Oh man.

Michael Silacci:
And so we c- we, um, Mike Walsh took it out and had it ready for us at, um, Carn- uh, Carneros Hills vineyard. And, um, we go out and I said," Andre, do you know what that is?" And he says, "No," it was one of those John Deere, um, ones with the two seats and the-

Doug Shafer:
Right, right.

Michael Silacci:
... the gator, I guess they call it.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
And he s- he said, "What is it?" And I said, "Well, most people would call that an, uh, ATV, Andre, but I call it an AVT." And he said, "Well, what is an ATV?" I said, "An uh, all-terrain vehicle." "Well, then what is an AVT?" And I said, "An Andre Victor Tchelistcheff mobile."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And we would go between the rows and he'd stop me, back it up, taste this, taste that. And, and we were in a Chardonnay block and he said, "Let's ..." We're tasting the fruit and then we, and then we were going up this hill and he said, "Stop. Did you notice a change in flavor?"

Doug Shafer:
Hm.

Michael Silacci:
I said, "Not really." We went, we backed up, went forward, backed up and went forward until I could find the place for the flavor change. And then he said, "Okay, now back up again." He said, "Just look ahead of you. Do you see anything that might indicate why the flavors were changing?" And I'm looking and I said, "Yes, the soil got lighter." And he said, "That's it." And he said, "Do you see any other area where it might change?" And I said, "Yes, up there almost just below the crest of the hill, where the soil is yet a third color." And he said, "Very good grasshopper."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Michael Silacci:
And, uh, so (laughs), but he taught me how to, how to taste fruit to make harvest decisions.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
And it was eye-opening because, you know, when I first started, uh, in the industry, it, you know, we had those grape contracts and there were windows of, um, of ripeness. And if you were off a 10th of a degree, uh, like if you were anywhere, uh, right or left at 22, seven, I think was the number, um, you would be penalized. And so I th- he had opened my eyes up to this whole new world. And so I called, uh, Joel and them and I said, "Hey, can we pi-" He, actually Andre asked me. He said, "I know it's not a large amount." We defined an area that could be picked. He said, "Would you call and see if we can pick this?" So I called and they said, "Well, what is the sugars?" And I said, "It's this." And they said, "No, the sugars are too low." And I said, "But it tastes ... you know, come down and taste with us." They, they wouldn't, they were too busy to come and taste, they couldn't taste with us. Next time we're, we find this as in a, um, Pinot block where we had Cordon versus Cane, um, t-bar versus, uh, vertical. And we found one of the treatments that was perfect. Call again. Can we pick this? What's the sugar? 21, eight. You're crazy. There's no picking anything at 21. Well, come and taste it. And no.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
Third ti- third time's always a charm. Right? I went to, um, B-V1 right across the street from Beaulieu and the numbers were textbook perfect. And I said, "But the fruit's not ready. Just come out and look at it. It's got this purple-ish color that's just not quite ripe yet."

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
And they said, "No, we're, let's bring it in. The numbers are perfect." And then they saw it in the, in the gondolas and they said, "Okay." And they stopped. We'd picked half the block.

Michael Silacci:
But that was the first time where we made any headway, um, um, and Andre, one day, um, now going back to the clone trial, um, we're sitting at the house having this biscotti and coffee and he said, he asked me, "So how are the clone wines doing?" I s- and I said-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) He knew about them.

Michael Silacci:
Oh, he knew about them.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
I said, "Oh, they're, they're great." And then some, a thought came to mind and I, and I s- asked him, "Would you like to taste them?" And he, it was like, as if I said, 'cause he's in 14 different selections. Right?

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
It was as if I asked a child, "Do you wanna go taste all 31 flavors at Baskin Robbins?"

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Michael Silacci:
He, he was so excited. And why, why did I do that, Doug? Well, all the top brass was in Hartford Connecticut.

Doug Shafer:
Oh … yeah -

Michael Silacci:
All the-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, but what ab- what about Dimitri? He was his baby, right? Dimitri was-

Michael Silacci:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug Shafer:
Was it Dimitri everyone was, uh, Andre's son and he was the winemaker at the time at BV or was it, he was on the team I think.

Michael Silacci:
He, he w- he was a consultant for the-

Doug Shafer:
Consultant, okay.

Michael Silacci:
... the clone trial.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

Michael Silacci:
And he, that guy's a fantastic ... was a fantastic taster. He'd tell me, I said, "How d-" he s- asked me, "Michael, do you wanna know how I make the final decisions on blends and s- whatever?" I said, "No, please tell me," 'cause he'd always say, "Well, I think this one's probably it." And then he'd say, "Well, I go take the, the glasses home, takes the samples home. And when I wake up in the morning and look at the table and see which one's empty or the lowest volume, that's the blend." (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) There you go.

Michael Silacci:
So, so I call ahead and I called Jeffrey Stambor. No, I called Linda Hanson, who was a, um, an intern at the time. I think she's at Hanzell now. Um, great person. Um, we used to have ice cream every Tuesdays after work. Anyway, I said, "Could you get all the clone wines and set it up in Lee Knoll’s old office? A place for four of us, you, me Jeffrey and, uh, uh, Andre."

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
So we go, we go to Lee Knoll’s old office and I said to Andre, "So these, this is the clonal trial. As I, as I explained to you before we were in the vineyard and the objective is to determine which one of these wines best fits George Latour Private Reserve." He said, "Okay." So we tastes through twice and then he gets my, and he whispers to me across (laughs). He said, "What was the objective?" And (laughing) I said, "The objective is to determine, which is the best suited for George Latour Private Reserve." So he tastes through a third time and he sits quietly waiting for us. And we, we finished tasting. And I said, uh, he asked me, "Would you like to know what I think?" I said, "Well, kind of the objective here, Andre." So (laughs)-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
So he say, "There's one on the table that I think is, would be perfect. And, um, it's got ..." he, he described it's, you know, beautiful concentration, uh, the, the intensity, um, the finished link to the finish, the, the fruit character, but mostly mouthfeel. He said, "But I think that the bean counters in Connecticut, won't, there's pro- the problem with this one. I think, I think it's probably yie- low yield and you won't be able to use it. It's this one that you have, it's the green one, the green clone." He said, "And then there's one that is not ... it's really good, but it, it is more restrained than this green one, but I think it's probably gonna be fine quantity and quality, uh, the yellow one." And he said, and (laughs) he said, "And this one over here, the red/black one, that's the one my son Dimitri likes the best." He was spot on.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Michael Silacci:
The green, the green clone was the Jackson clone, which, you know, has a problem with infertile pollen.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
So very low yields, but incredible wine. The yellow one was clone four, the one that came through Mendoza-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
... and is used quite a bit. And the third one was, N-ra, 5197. And it had a problem with stem pitting, but it was the one that he said Dimitri liked the best. But-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) No, he's good. He was great.

Michael Silacci:
Yeah, he was.

Doug Shafer:
That's a great one. So BV, I think you were there for two or three years, is that right?

Michael Silacci:
No, I was there for, I was there for, uh, li- over six.

Doug Shafer:
Over six years. My, my mistake. I apologize. And then, uh, and then you got hired away by my neighbor.

Michael Silacci:
I was be-

Doug Shafer:
Tell me about that one.

Michael Silacci:
No, no, no. There was an interim stop. Uh (laughs) You know, Andre said to me one, one morning, um, "There's a place that needs you in there and you need to be there. You need to be a winemaker. You can't be asking people to pick grapes and they don't want to do it. So, um, you're, you have, you're going to be a winemaker, but so you're going to that conference in, at the IPNC conference and you're going to see me there and I'm going to make eye contact with you. You're gonna come over. I'm gonna, going to introduce you to some people, and then you're gonna just say like "Hello," and then you're gonna say, "Well, it was very nice meeting you," and turn around and leave." (laughing) And so I did it. And then, uh, the next day I left for France, um, for three-week vacation. You remember those when you're able to do that?

Doug Shafer:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
Um, you probably can now, but um-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, yeah. Not really (laughs) but carry on.

Michael Silacci:
Um, anyway, so, and I never, you know, never called in those days. And, and, uh, anyway, I did call in on the payphone and there were a slew of messages from Dorothy, "Please call Andre." And he said, "These people really want to meet you." And, and so when I came back, I went and interviewed at King Estate. And, um, I, I got the job.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, that's right. Up in, up in Oregon, right?

Michael Silacci:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
So I was there for a little over a year and a half, and then I came back and the good news was that, um, I, we had a house, we ha- we were just finishing up. Like we had built a house in St. Helena-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
And we were doing the, all the wood frames and staining them and sanding them. And, um, then, um, the bad news was, I didn't have a job, but I had gotten enough money to get me through, um, February. And so, um, I said, we finished working on the house and I said, "You know what? I need to get out of here because now's not the time to find a job." And so we, I said, "Let's go to Hawaii." We went to Hawaii for a month and every morning my daughter, we'd take ... uh, my daughter was just a, a little one.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
She was f- four or five. And we'd go into a, a place for breakfast and I'd say, "May I have a glass of orange juice, and a double order of bacon." (laughs) That's, and that w- that, 'cause she needed a ba- a piece of bacon in each hand. Um, and, uh, she'd bury me in the sand every day and just had an amazing time with her. Then I came back and I worked, um, uh, 50-hour work weeks doing informational interviews. I'd s- call somebody. And like I interviewed with Justin Meyer with, um, Corey Gott, uh Carrie Gott, um, Mike Fischer, Linda Pawson. Linda Pawson teaches, um, the, the executive speaking experience.

Michael Silacci:
So she'd say, "Well, why in the world would you want to interview with me?" I said, "I just, I bring my in- I bring my resume, resume. Once you look at it, I want to tell you what I've done and what I want to do, and just critique my resume." And my, you know, my, when I'm talking to, in my, in my presentation. And she said, "But why do you want to come and see me? I don't, I have nothing to do with these people." And I said, "You have eight students every month, at least. And who are they? (laughs) They're, they run wineries, they're winemakers. So you're gonna, at lunch when they're, when you overhear somebody saying, "I need a winemaker." You're gonna say, "Oh, I've got a resume for you (laughs)."

Doug Shafer:
There you go. Good moves.

Michael Silacci:
Mike Fischer, same thing. But I had the time doing that Doug because I saw, I could draw a caricature in my mind of a corporate owned winery, which I cut my teeth in, family-owned winery, which I experienced it as King Estate. All these different, you know, I saw the, the cultures. And then when I, um, uh, interviewed at Warren, with Warren, I had 10 interviews with Warren. The shortest was two hours. The longest was four.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Michael Silacci:
And I had, um, two take-home assignments. One was okay, take these, uh, this bottle of, um, reserve Chardonnay, this bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and this Cask 23 home tonight, taste them and write a report on what you would, would have done during the growing season, harvest, um, blending, et cetera, to have made the wines better.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Michael Silacci:
Now that's, that's something you either just freak out at, or you just say, "This is gonna be fun," and have fun with it. And, and I did, and I got in trouble for it with him because, um, George Schaeffler had given me a bottle of, uh, Opus and I bought a bottle of Pahlmeyer because that was the, the hot Chardonnay at the time.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
And Sauvignon Blanc I had just gone through with, uh, his team doing a competitive tasting. So I didn't really need to focus on, I didn't need any reference points on that one. So when I turned it in my report the next day, I mean, you've worked with Warren and you've seen him.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
He puts the paper down and he's got that look on his face and his eyes are burning through me. He said, "I didn't ask you to taste Opus One or Pahlmeyer. Why in the world did you do that?" And I said, "Well, I thought you would appreciate some frame of reference."

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
And, (laughs) you know, and I, so I did a little song and dance around it. And so it was okay. Um, and the other one was, I had to re- write a report on how to get better color out of Cabernet Sauvignon. About-

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) So, okay. I just, I, I just wanna make sure people know who we're talking about. This is Warren Winiarski owner of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. So you've got 10 interviews. 

Michael Silacci:
Um, at interview seven or so, he asked me, uh, he said, "You know, um, I don't, you, you don't have any re- red wine on the shelf. You only have white wine on the shelf. And I've tasted your blends of Pinot, but it's not Cabernet. And I know you worked to BV, but we've got a job here. There's two jobs, the associate winemaker job for Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, and then the job for the Napa Valley Program and Hawk Crest and grower relations. I know you can do those. So how about taking this other job?" And I looked at him, he knew I had no income. He knew I had just finished building a house so I had a mortgage, and he was trying to find my limit.

Doug Shafer:
Hm.

Michael Silacci:
He was trying to see what I was made of. Right?

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
And I looked at him. I said, "You know, I have enjoyed these interviews so much and s- I'm gonna miss, uh, hanging out with you. But no, there's no way I'm gonna take that job. That's not the one that we've been talking about." And his, he shot back kind of, you know, slightly in his head, his head went back and he was like, "You're kidding me." And he said, "Okay." And I, and I said, "So anyway, it's been nice chatting with you." And he goes, "No, no, no, no, no, no, wait. I think we have more to talk about."

Doug Shafer:
Huh.

Michael Silacci:
And so, we had, uh, three more interviews use and the last interview you said, "Well, this is André Tchelistcheff again," and this almost makes me ... it kinda makes me tear, it tears me up because he said, "I called Dorothy and I asked her, what would Andre have said about you?" And he said, "So I want you to be my winemaker."

Doug Shafer:
Ooh, boy. Boy.

Michael Silacci:
But there was a catch. (laughs) There was, there was a catch Doug. He said, he offered me $10,000 a year less than what I'd been making in, in, in King Estate. And he said, "You are on one year probation. At the end of one year, if you don't feel this is the right place for you or if I don't feel you're the right place, the right person for the place, then we'll go our separate ways, no hard feelings." And I said ... I held out my hand and we shook hands. And right away what happened, that was, I started March 5th, 1995. And, um, in s- uh, the beginning of the gr- because they were, it was like a, a pyramid top-down hierarchy-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
... you know, where the cellar master had ... the winemaker had every, all the knowledge and would dole out just enough to the cellar master to be able to, to dull out a little bit to each of the cellar workers to, to get things done. And I, um, and I said, "I'm going to flip that." So if you look at a triangle and you break that triangle up into triangles, there's one triangle that has ... that the base is wide. The top is wide and the tip is down.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
Um, and I said, "That's gonna represent production, winemaking and viticulture." And so I said, "We're gonna put together a training program so that everyone goes from the entry level to cellar position four, which includes some supervision and management, and we're gonna bring everyone up to level four." And so the cellar master didn't like that and, and left.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Michael Silacci:
And so, uh, this is like we're approaching harvest. And Warren said, "Go out and fi- you just find what, whoever you want as cellar master. I don't care how much it costs, just get someone." And I'm was thinking about, and I spoke with, uh ... Brooks Painter was the Hawk Crest winemaker in Napa Valley Winemaker-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
... and Julia Winarski was working with me. And I said, "You know what? I want Benjamin to be the, the cellar master." And they say, "You can't put Benjamin there. He's never ... he's just one of our, he's one of the two top cellar workers." And I said, "No, but he will be ... we can teach him how to do this."

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Silacci:
And they were s- they were afraid of that. And they said, "No." And, and I said, "Listen, you, I can teach someone how to manage. I can teach someone how to run a team. I can teach someone how to follow through on things. I can't teach people interpersonal skills like he has. You know, one could, he's got the ... he's ready for this." They, so they, I s- I said, "I'm, I'm sorry I worked by consensus, but it's one to three here. I'm gonna go, um, with my gut and I, I want him to be Benjamin." So then I have to go present it to Warren. Warren, same pushback. "No, you're gonna fail.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
You know, it's not gonna work." And then finally, he says, "You remember Michael, that you have one year, and if he fails, you fail." And I said, "I would bet my career on no one other than Benjamin Ochoa." And I said, "It's one to four, but I, you gotta let me do this." And it was the best decision to secure my career now.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, yeah. Well, good for you.

Michael Silacci:
And after one y- after one year, sometime in late March of '96, I went and see Warren and I said, "Warren, when are we gonna meet to talk about, um, uh, you know, the job?" And he said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, my year probation's up." And he laughed at me and he said, "Go back out into the vineyard." (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) That's great. So that was, Warren was, kind of had a great winery for sure. And so you were with him, that was the beginning of a good, a good stint. You were there for gosh, what? Five, six years.

Michael Silacci:
Six, six years to the day.

Doug Shafer:
All right. And then, uh, and then did you, uh, did you go out looking or did somebody come find you?

Michael Silacci:
No, I was, I was so happy there. You know, people criticized, uh, my decision. They said, uh, 'cause I had three different offers. And they, they say, "W- we told you, you should never go there. Um, I mean, you've, you know what Warren is like." And, and I, and I said, "You know, people have pools of people that, there are people in their pool that, with whom they can work. Some people it's an ocean. Some people it's a lake, other people, it's a puddle. I happen to be in Warren's puddle." And I had such a great time there. But I, I was approached in at first, uh, and that was in July of or June of 2000. And then I, I, uh, that was with the recruiter and I said, "Okay, well, I'm going to go on vacation in France for three weeks. So, let's chat when I come back in August." Uh, what I really wanted to do was I, I called, uh, Denis and I said, "Denis can you ..."-- 'cause he consulted for all of the, he knew all the, the top, the, the first growths -- and I said, "Can you hook me up with the first growths?" And, um, the person who sat next to me in class every day in Bordeaux was Eric Turvy who was the technical director at Mouton. So I got into Mouton easily.

Doug Shafer:
Huh.

Michael Silacci:
But he set me up with all these visits and actually Denis said to me, he said, "If you really wanna learn what's going on in Bordeaux right now, you should just go to the garagiste." And I said, "Okay, I'll visit some garagiste, but I need to know classic," because he didn't know what I was doing this for, but I needed to be able to interview intelligently with the French-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
... uh, Patrick Leon. And, um, so that was preparing for that those interviews. And, um, so you do the personality test, you do the, all these different tests and meet the, I think it was three, three interviews with the recruiters and one was supposed to be recorded interview. They had, um, Dawnine Dyer was their consulting winemaker to write questions, you know, for interviews. And I was, I was supposed to be recorded and I told Jody Shepard, who was, it was her first, um, um, first assignment at placing someone. And-

Doug Shafer:
And I, I gotta jump in here, just I think you and-

Michael Silacci:
Sure, please.

Doug Shafer:
Um, just making sure everyone knows we're talking-

Michael Silacci:
Oh, I'm sorry. Yes.

Doug Shafer:
Now we're talking about Opus One. So it was because Patrick Leon, he was, uh, he was the president of Opus One at that point or running it?

Michael Silacci:
He w- he was winemaker out at, at Mouton. And-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, at Mouton.

Michael Silacci:
Yeah, yes.

Doug Shafer:
But he was involved with the Opus One project there.

Michael Silacci:
Yeah, he was on the bo- he was on the board. He was the co-winemaker with Tim Mondavi.

Doug Shafer:
Got it. Okay.

Michael Silacci:
Yes.

Doug Shafer:
So the original team.

Michael Silacci:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And so this is ... so, so they're, they're recruiting you for … a position.

Michael Silacci:
I was, I was gonna be a DOVE.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
So you have the t- the two co-winemakers. There were co-CEOs. I had two half bosses and I had two, and there were two co-winemakers. Right? So it, I really, and it was perfect. I was a dove of peace. So you'd have, um, differences of opinion between Patrick and Tim. Tim, if you put on a blindfold and had those UN, um, translator earphones so you didn't know who was who, you would swear Tim was a French winemaker and Patrick was a Californian because the restrictions that they have in France, you know, they, he wanted always bust out of that and do whatever, do things that were more extreme, Patrick.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
Tim was, had learned from Lucian Enciano, who was a co-winemaker with them for the, from '79 through '84. And so he was very, had a very restrained, goal or, um, style. So, so, so-

Doug Shafer:
Sure, style. But so you have that, so you were the g- you were the go between.

Michael Silacci:
I was, I was the DOVE.

Doug Shafer:
The peacemaker.

Michael Silacci:
And w- we, we were like a three, three-legged stool. So DOVE, what is it? That stands for, um, Director of Viticulture and Enology.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
So, it, but I like to find correlations between these things, you know, like, oh, that has a meaning here.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
And it did. And then, then, um, in May of 2003, uh, I was, uh, uh, asked to fly at the last minute to, uh, Miami and they say, "Get a room at the Mandarin Oriental and come to the board meetings." So I reported it to the board meeting. And that was where I was told that I was now the sole winemaker first sole winemaker. Uh, O-L-E and O-U-L, uh, a of Opus One.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, I didn't know that. So you were, you hired, you started Opus One 2001 as the DOVE-

Michael Silacci:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... Director of Viticulture and enology and then so '03, so, 03, you're promoted ... I didn't know that. So you were ... that was the first time there was just one winemaker, not co-winemakers, France and US.

Michael Silacci:
Exactly, exactly.

Doug Shafer:
Mi- Michael, I never knew that. Congratulations. That's, that's, that must have blown you away. Geez.

Michael Silacci:
It, w- it, it did, but it lasted only one year.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Oh.

Michael Silacci:
(laughs) No, no. Th- this is what I mean, Doug.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Michael Silacci:
So I was w- sole winemaker for 2003, and then in May of 2004 I'm on jury duty in, uh, in Napa. And I'm a big daydreamer, and I was daydreaming about ... and I wasn't on trial when this happened.

Doug Shafer:
That's good.

Michael Silacci:
I was daydreaming about the vineyard workers how we taught them the principles of viticulture and practices we wanted here. And, um, and they had done things that helped us to improve the quality of the, of the grape berries coming into the winery. And I was thinking about how they did that. They improve the quality. And then I started thinking about the cellar crew and I, and you've got one of our, the first s- cellar crew members that worked here, Fernando.

Doug Shafer:
Fernando, yeah.

Michael Silacci:
Who's fantastic, one of the nicest people on earth.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, he's great.

Michael Silacci:
Um, anyways, so, um, I was daydreaming about them and I th- and I was thinking, "Well, they know the mechanisms of winemaking, but I don't know if they feel it in their tribes."

Doug Shafer:
Hm.

Michael Silacci:
So come back to the winery, get the six cellar, six cellar workers together and I told them my story, except I didn't tell them, I don't know if you're passionate about what you do or have any feelings for it. But I said, "I'm going to divide you into two teams of three. I decide who goes on each team, because I want you to have some differences of opinion. I don't want the three buddies together with three people, uh, three others. I, I want, um, you to, um, learn to reach consensus on everything. I'm giving each team 22 rows of vineyard in our best vineyard, and you're going to prune, sucker, do green harvest, fruit drops and taste to make harvest decisions. And you'll each have, uh, small stainless-steel tanks in which you will ferment two tons of fruit making 120 cases of wine or 1400 bottles." And they looked at me and they said, "No, no, no, no, no. We don't make decisions. We do what you tell us to do." And I said, "That's the problem, until everyone had Opus One is engaged in the pursuit of absolute wine quality, we can't get to the next level fast enough. So I'm not asking you if you want to do this, I'm telling you we'll do this. And I'm not ..." I was thinking about everyone. "And so what we're going to do is you three will each be together for as long as you're at Opus with the same 22 rows of vines for, for this project, which will be an annual project. And each year we're gonna have for each team, a vineyard worker, um, a tour guide, and an office worker on your teams." So since, uh, then, Doug, up until this year, we have had 110 non-production employees make wine at Opus One. So beginning in 2004, I was no longer the sole winemaker.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Yeah. But you're the leader. Good for you. So was Constellation purchased Mondavi in '04 how w- so now there are 50% owners of Opus One. What was that like for you? Big, big changes or things stayed the same?

Michael Silacci:
It was, there were changes because before, you had two families, um, trying to work in a 50-50 joint venture, and sometimes it was a little tense.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
Um, and then when Constellation came in, uh, Philippine de Rothschild and Xav- Xavier de Eizaguirre negotiated extremely well to make sure that, um, that it was understood that Opus was to become independent, and that Opus was, um, uh ... so my decisions, the sales and marketing decisions, all decisions were made by the team on site. And we would have one, a CEO, uh, no co-CEOs. And that CEO would be paid by Opus. The co-CEOs were paid by the mothership's by Mondavi or by, Mouton.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
And so that was another big change, and that happened in 2004, but, um, th- there really wasn't that much of a change. I just felt that, um, a l- more freedom and there was less tension, uh, because Constellation, they were s- they were great. Um, they, they s- they saw, we knew what we were doing, and they let us do what we were doing. Um, so that was, that was, uh, I thought it was a very positive change.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, good to hear.

Michael Silacci:
I, I've been in ... everywhere I'd been, Beaulieu, Tom Selfridge, there'll be no change here and I had four different positions while I was at Beaulieu. The last position was where they sold, um, Christian Brothers and Quail Ridge and Inglenook and Beaulieu came back to Beaulieu and I was on the winemaking team at Beaulieu, winemaking/vit team. Um, King Estate was an, uh, in constant ... I mean, there was an entrepreneurial, um, atmosphere.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
Um, and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, we had constru- ae had construction projects going on every single year.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Michael Silacci:
My first year they were, the, the welder was still welding, uh, spots in the platform for the, that w- w- where we would bring the Chardonnay in macro bins and empty them into, um, into a conveyor belt, which would go into the press. As he was finishing up his last touches, the first truck came in. I mean, that's the way it happened at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. They peeled off the whole outside of a building when ... every year we had a construction project. And so, um, I was used to-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, used to.

Michael Silacci:
... uh, used to that. So then here we have, you know, had changed also. I would have expected less change here, but there has been an evolution here as well.

Doug Shafer:
Well, I was gonna ask you about that. You've been there quite a long time, 20 years, I think. So you've been there for lots of changes in the vineyard and the cellar, anything that, that stands out as being that worked really well, that, you know, while you've been there, improved quality?

Michael Silacci:
Yeah. One of the biggest improvements was what I did right off the bat. And I ... well, first of all, I came in with my, um, my lips sealed-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
... and my ears wide open, and my eyes wide open. And I, my question to myself was what can I do that would have the biggest impact on improving wine quality? And, and it's like, in life, you have, whether it's your professional life or your personal life, you have a honeymoon period. Right? And your personal life, you never want the honeymoon to end. Your professional life, I, I've always wanted to end it with something that would not get me fired, but would have the biggest impact on wine or grape quality. So I determined that we needed, I needed 27 vineyard workers. 24 vineyard workers, two supervisors and one vineyard manager to be dedicated exclusively to Opus One out of the, carve them from out of the Mondavi team. They had, I think, 11 different teams, all I needed was three. And so I convinced the Mondavi, uh, vineyard management team to let me to do this. And I remember they said, um, this is, I started, uh, on them right away in April of ‘01. And they said, "Okay, yeah, we can do that, but let's, uh, get through harvest and we'll, we'll do it." And I said, "No, Tim and Patrick are gonna be coming for the, the, um, summer technical meetings. And I want them, when we go to the vineyard to see that there's no barrier between ... no hedge between me and the vineyard workers, they know who I am, and I knew who they are, so it has to happen now." So they did it and we didn't ask permission. We just did it. And they sent out a memo saying this. So that was the first, um, uh, sin, so to speak. But the cardinal sin was that they named (laughs), they named in one team Opus One in the second one Opus Two.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, no, no, no, you can't do that (laughs).

Michael Silacci:
So I get called into the co-CEO's office and they're both at each other's throats. Not really, but kind of, thinking that the other orchestrated this, and here I am, the little lamb that comes in. And I said, "No, actually it was me, uh, and these are the reasons, this is the reason I did it." And I explained it to them. And they're sitting there with their eyes, you know, like looking at me like they, dumbfounded, who does this guy think he is? And I was excused from the, um, from the meeting and brought back in, they called me back in and they said, "You know, that you can't just do things like this.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Michael Silacci:
You, you have to, that's why we have co-winemakers, you know, you have to consult with people and you, you have to go through the process." And I said, "Oh, darn." You know, but, but what, they, they were amazed that I did it, but, you know what I think they were more amazed at? Was that I actually admitted that it was me.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, yeah.

Michael Silacci:
And I said, "Well, I just asked them, they're the ones that made the decision." No, I said, "It was me. I talked them into it." And they said, "Don't do that anymore." Now, granted, Doug, I knew that I had to do, reach consensus, but did I have five years to work on that? No, because every time, you know, I could see this being a negotiation between the two, each getting something out of it to give me a team. And I just said, I just did it. So I didn't get fired for doing it, but I got a severe looking, look over.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs) Right.

Michael Silacci:
Um, but that, that I think is to this day, one of the biggest contributions to wine quality at Opus One.

Doug Shafer:
Huh. Good for you. Congratula- yeah. Well, I that's a, and I, I'm, I'm in your camp, you know, 100% the relationship between vineyard and cellar and making sure everybody's on the same page, you know, the upside down pyramid is, uh, is vital to quality for sure. Yeah. I got a question for you. I, tell me about Overture. I've never known the story of that, which is it's, it's, it's, it's, uh, another wine that you make it Opus, right? What's, what's the story on that?

Michael Silacci:
Um, first of all, it's a true second wine. Uh, we make Opus from our four estate vineyards-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
... and whatever lots don't go into Overt- uh, Opus One, are available for Overture.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
So we, once we finished the blending process for Opus, we then, uh, start the blending process for Overture. Blending for Opus takes about four to six weeks, you know, just going back and forth, taking time in between. Uh, Overture is, um, uh, done a little bit more quickly, but it's not just like the "worst lots."

Doug Shafer:
Oh no, I'm with you.

Michael Silacci:
Because, because y- you know, as well as I do that, you can take the five best basketball pl- pro basketball players in the United States and put them on the Olympic team and they might lose because there's no chemistry, there's no teamwork.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
So there are some outstanding lots that are excluded from Opus because they just don't fit.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
They take the wine, the blend in it, in the wrong direction, and those are available for Overture. So the first Overture was made in 1993.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
A couple of reasons for why they did it. One was they made this wine and then whatever was left over, they sold it in the, on the bulk market, uh, at a very low price. Secondly, that put a lot of pressure on the winemaking team to put as much wine into Opus to make the biggest blend possible because, for financial reasons. I, I'm not supposed to think about the cost of things. I'm only supposed to be thinking about wine quality and that's the way they should have been thin- they were probably thinking.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Silacci:
I'm sure they were. Um, so then that, and that started in 1993, I, and it was available at the winery in the, in the partner's room. We never poured it, uh, for people to taste, you buy a bottle and, you know, trust us. And it developed its own little cult following. And then, uh, I can't remember, I'm bad with years now, but I don't know, seven, eight, nine, 10 years ago, um, we started to offer a taste at the beginning of a tour. And then we wanted to see what, how it would do in the, in the market. So there was a test market in the summer done in Southern California, and then don't, laugh in Florida, 'cause, you know, who's buying red wine in Florida in the summer? But, um, but it was successful. And then it was put into 10 or 12 states and now it's sold ... you know, 60% of our wine is sold outside of the United States-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
... through Laplas in Bordeaux, through 22 negociants. And it just now started to go through the Laplas, and so some is sold internationally. It's always been, um, uh, sought after in like a cult wine in Japan. David Pearson and I were on, uh, on a market visit in, in, in Japan. I think it was '04, or '07. And, uh, we went to the New York Grill at the top of the, um, Park Hyatt in Tokyo. And I said, (laughs) I said, "Oh, David, they have a, a vertical by the glass of Opus."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And he goes, "Oh yeah, that's great." And I said, "Oh my gosh, they got Overture. That's not legal."

Doug Shafer:
(laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And he said, "No, it's not." He goes, "But don't say anything." A glass, and you know, the pours are short there.

Doug Shafer:
Yes.

Michael Silacci:
$180 for a short pour of Overture.

Doug Shafer:
There you go (laughs).

Michael Silacci:
And we were just blown away. But what, what would happen is, you know, people would come to visit, they, they buy a case of Opus and take it back and sell it to a restaurant or whatever.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. That's, yep. Yep. Those things happen. So yeah. You mentioned your distribution, Opus One. I mean, the wine is well-represented all over the world. It's beautiful. And um, but for all our folks out listening, I mean, there's, are there other ways people can get a hold of Opus? You guys have a website, can, uh, where else can they purchase Opus or Overture?

Michael Silacci:
Well, the best place to purchase this is to come and visit. We have a brand new, uh, partner's room which is beautiful-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
And it has a really nice view. Um, so that's the best way to, to come and taste and then buy some. We do have a website and you can dry it, buy it directly from us.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Silacci:
So we have direct to consumer. Uh, we, there are plenty of retail shops in the United States, uh, that bottle shops that, that sell, uh, Opus One. Um, we used, we actually, we were 60%, uh, on-premise 40% off for the longest time.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Silacci:
And then a year ago, you know what happened.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, that changed.

Michael Silacci:
And we, I have to give credit to Chris Avery, who was our, the VP of sales and domestic sales. He saw that and he went, boom, went to 80%, um, uh, retail and 20% or 10%, uh, on-premise. With 10% just to go wherever, you know, just to have as a backup. But that was, uh, you know, just another change in our lives, right?

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. For all of us, without a doubt.

Michael Silacci:
For all of us.

Doug Shafer:
You bet. Well, Mr. Silacci, I want to thank you for taking this time. This has been great to hear your story. There's a whole lot about your life that I did not know and I do now. So, um, I look forward to getting together and having a glass of wine and hearing more stories. So thanks for your time, my friend.

Michael Silacci:
And like, like to hear more of yours, Doug.

Doug Shafer:
Okay. Well, yeah, we'll have to do those off air. They're not, they're not PG.

Michael Silacci:
Yes (laughs).

Doug Shafer:
Okay (laughs).

Michael Silacci:
All right.

Doug Shafer:
All right, man.

Michael Silacci:
Thank you so much.

Doug Shafer:
You bet. Take care. We'll see you around.

Michael Silacci:
Okay. Bye-bye.

Doug Shafer:
Thanks, bye.

Full Transcript

Doug Shafer:
Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of The Taste. Uh, we have had some wonderful guests: famous, successful winemakers, chefs, restaurateurs, professional athletes all here on The Taste. Today is our first famous, accomplished novelist, and part-time wine writer, and full-time wine lover, Jay McInerney. Jay, welcome.

Jay McInerney:
Thanks, Doug. Good to hear your voice. It's been a while.

Doug Shafer:
It has been a while, and, uh, again, I'm, I'm sorry we can't do this in person, so we'll have to find a time later to share a bottle of wine.

Jay McInerney:
Soon.

Doug Shafer:
Soon, I hope.

Jay McInerney:
Soon I'll be, I'll be returning to Napa.

Doug Shafer:
Good.

Jay McInerney:
Can't, I can't wait.

Doug Shafer:
Well, speaking of returning to Napa, the first time we met... I was thinking about this last night... I think it was you and Lora Zarubin, from House and Garden, were in Napa doing some research, and Annette joined us, my wife. We had dinner at Redd, in Yountville.

Jay McInerney:
Oh, that's right.

Doug Shafer:
And we, remember? And we drank a lot of wine. That was a good time.

Jay McInerney:
We drank a lot of wine, including, it seems to me, a '78.

Doug Shafer:
God, good memory. I wondered if you remembered that.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
That was the first, Dad's first wine. We popped one of those.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, it was... Yeah. And it was very good. It was very special, obviously. We'd given the, the history. But, uh, yes, I, I do remember that.

Doug Shafer:
That was a fun night.

Jay McInerney:
That was, uh, that was something. It was back in my, my very first, uh, wine-writing incarnation, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... for House and Garden. I think it was 19... 1996-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
... when I started that column at the request of, of then-editor-in-chief, Dominic Brown. I think it was a close friend of mine, and knew that I was a wine nut.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
And that I liked to bore my friends talking about wine, and she thought maybe I could do it in print. Uh, (laughing) and she asked me to, to do a column, which was, initially I found very daunting because, you know, much as I loved wine I, I, you know, I had no formal education in wine appreciation and I, uh, you know, I wasn't even sure what malolactic fermentation was at the time of that (laughing). But... she said what she was looking for is passion and, and somebody who could, who could write, and, uh... and I think, you know, some of the, some of the skills I had developed as a novelist were, were, were transferable, you know?

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
And I loved, I loved to write about the people who make, make wine, and, I decided that metaphors and similes, uh, you know, comparing a wine to an, an actress, or a car, or a poem, or a pop song, uh, could sometimes be just as effective as, as literal taste descriptions, you know.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
I'm not a huge fan of the, the piling-on of flavor descriptors. So, uh-

Doug Shafer:
(Laughing) Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
... So, anyway, I, I, I, I, I went for it and I said, "Oh, I'll do it for six months," and then, years later, I was still, I was still at it until the magazine folded ... in, uh, I believe 2007.

Doug Shafer:
But, I wanna go back farther than that. I'm gonna take you way back. I want, I wanna... 'cause, you know, you and I have talked about wine many times through the years, but I don't, I want to know more about you. Where'd you grow up, where were you born, family, where did it start, man?

Jay McInerney:
(Laughing) Well, I was, I was, um, the... my, my father was a bit of a corporate gypsy. He worked for Scott Paper Company as a director of marketing-

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

Jay McInerney:
... uh, which entailed, uh, moving between different markets. I grew up, uh... I think I, I think I attended 14 different schools by the time I, I got into high school.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, wow.

Jay McInerney:
I was born in Hartford, but it seems kind of irrelevant since I certainly don't remember that. Um, my family's from New England and, uh, we used to spend summers on Cape Cod, which was one of the few consistent, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

Jay McInerney:
... locations in my life, and, um, we lived in Vancouver, Canada; in, uh, Geneva; in London; and kind of all over the States while I was growing up.

Doug Shafer:
That's, and this is, like, this is before, before graduating from high school.

Jay McInerney:
Yes, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Gee, that must have been crazy. What was that like?

Jay McInerney:
Yeah. It wa-, well, it was kind of unsettling.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
I mean, on the one hand it, on the one hand I think it made... it made me, probably in the short run, very insecure and neurotic (laughing), but I think in the, in the longer run it made me, uh, very comfortable with new situations and, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

Jay McInerney:
... with mee- meeting new people and I can't really wish for a, a different background, but there were certainly, certainly times when, you know, chan- changing schools and being the new kid in school, um, is not something I would-

Doug Shafer:
Oh man, yeah. Well, especially, you know, multiple, 14 times, you know.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, yeah. I was, uh, yes. I was always the new kid.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughing) Always the new kid. So-

Jay McInerney:
Yeah. So I, I, I developed survival skills.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Well, you have to. So, quick question.

Jay McInerney:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug Shafer:
With becoming a novelist and a writer, did, was that happening when you were a kid? 

Jay McInerney:
You know, I, I was a, I was a big reader, um-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... and, uh, I spent, you know, probably spent an inordinate amount of time alone since, uh, it, it inevitably took, took a while to make friends-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... and, uh... But I loved reading, and the first things I remember reading were the Hardy Boy Mysteries-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... I don't know if you're familiar with those.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, I am. I know those.

Jay McInerney:
Uh, when I le-, when I was... I moved to England when I was six years old and developed a big interest in English history. Later we moved to Vancouver. I became a big fan of the novels of Jack London.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Jay McInerney:
You know, set in the West, and Alaska, and the Yukon, and so on.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
And, somewhere along the line I started writing stories.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Jay McInerney:
Uh, inevitably they were imitations of whatever I was reading at the time (laughing), but it became writing became a, uh, outlet, and, and eventually passion. When I was in highschool I discovered poetry, initially, through the work of Dylan Thomas, who's, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... the perfect poet for the adolescent sen- sensibilities.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
So, he's so purple, and passionate, and florid, and, his language really approaches the condition of, of music, I think, and, um, the, the first thing I remember reading of his was A Child's Christmas in Wales, which is a wonderful piece of writing. Uh, I guess originally it was a radio play, and, um-

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

Jay McInerney:
... and I just decided then and there that I was going to be a writer, and I never really changed ambitions after that. For a number of years I was a, I thought, I thought of myself as a poet, which made my father cry-

Doug Shafer:
Well (laughing)-

Jay McInerney:
... writing that stuff. I wasn't meant to be a poet.

Doug Shafer:
Well, Jay, I would argue that all writers are poets. 

Jay McInerney:
I think, I think all wri-, all writers aspire to be poets.

Doug Shafer:
There you go.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, yeah. But, uh-

Doug Shafer:
So, do you still, do you have any original poetry? That's what I want to know.

Jay McInerney:
Oh gosh, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
God (laughing).

Jay McInerney:
I, I, I do have, I do have a lot of poetry. I'm not sure that I would want to expose too much of it to the world. I do remember that my first, my first poem, um, which I wrote when I was five or six and living in England was, as I said, I had an interest in English history, and the, the first few lines went, "Old King John was a dreamy lad. He went swimming in the sea, he got bitten by a crab."

Doug Shafer:
(Laughing) At six years old? I love it.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, and it, and it, and the poem went on to... Sadly, they could not remove the crab from the king, and so they had to bury them both there on the beach.

Doug Shafer:
Oh (laughing).

Jay McInerney:
I have no idea where that idea came from. But, that was my first poetic production, and I think they, they got better from there, but, uh, maybe not so good that I decided to become a professional poet. I did publish a few poems when I was in college and grad school.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
But, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Nice.

Jay McInerney:
But, happily for my readership and my bank balance, I eventually decided to write fiction instead.

Doug Shafer:
Right, right.

Jay McInerney:
Well, it's a somewhat more popular medium. It's a sort of a ridiculous ambition, really, and, uh, uh, it's an unlikely vocation. At least, unlikely in the sense that not that many people really succeed in supporting themselves as, as writers of fiction, let alone poetry. But, but fortunately, um, when you're young you're, you're bold and ignorant, and so I boldly set forth on this path and, and, and, and, and improbably was eventually successful at it (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
Oh, it's great. You have been, very, very. So, switching back to wine, and... was wine in the household growing up?

Jay McInerney:
You know, wine was a little bit in the household.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Jay McInerney:
Um, I remember Korbel.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Jay McInerney:
For special occasions, my, my parents would break out the Korbel sparkling wine-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
(Laughing) And, uh, we would have, we would have, you know, the occasional bottle of Paul Masson would appear on the table. But my parents were, my parents were really the cocktail generation, you know. Um, whiskey sours, and old-fashioneds, and there was a brief period where they were drinking stingers, which was pretty disastrous.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, my mom used to-

Jay McInerney:
Apparently-

Doug Shafer:
My folks used to do that.

Jay McInerney:
My parents' friends, they had this stinger period and they were all just, like, trashed. They were staggering around our house doing terrible things, ending up, ending up in bedrooms with the wrong-

Doug Shafer:
With the wrong-

Jay McInerney:
With the wrong person. 

Doug Shafer:
Oops (laughing). 

Jay McInerney:
But, yeah. Wine wasn't very much a part of my upbringing, and I think that's, uh, I think that's one of the reasons that I was, was attracted to it, because, you know, I first really became aware of wine, um, wine and literature were somewhat intertwined for me because you know, for instance, Hemingway was one of my first, um, literary enthusiasms, and, there's certainly a lot of wine-drinking, particularly in his early novels, you know, in Spain, and in France. And, also another writer that I liked quite a bit was Evelyn Waugh, lot of wine in novels like Brideshead Revisited.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
Waugh, Waugh was quite a wine connoisseur and a wine snob, and, um... So, for me, wine became associated with, not only with literature, but with, you know, uh, sophisticated taste, with Europe, with a life which was far more glamorous to me than my suburban life.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
Uh, you know, as much as we moved around the world, we, we always ended up in, you know, one suburb or another. (Laughing) They were all pretty interchangeable and, you know, I couldn't wait to sort of get away from suburban life, from, you know, the, the middle-class, uh, conventions of my upbringing. So-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... so, so wine was ver-, was very much an aspiration for me and, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Interesting.

Jay McInerney:
... yeah. And when I went off to college, uh, it was, uh, during that, that happy period when the drinking age was 18 instead of 21 (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
I do remember that one, too.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah. So I, um, you know, so I was able to explore, you know, on my limited budget, of course. I was able to explore the world of wine somewhat. I do remember that my, my wine of choice for dates when, when I went to, uh, Williams College was, uh, Chateau Neuf du Pape, which, you know, is a, it's a crowd-pleaser.

Doug Shafer:
It's a crowd-

Jay McInerney:
I mean, yeah. I mean, I was, I, I, I... Remember, I was an East Coast guy, um, really-

Doug Shafer:
Sure.

Jay McInerney:
The wines that we tended to first become familiar with were the, were European ... uh, you know, Chianti and, uh, Chateau du Neuf-

Doug Shafer:
Chateau du Neuf, yeah.

Jay McInerney:
So, I, I, I was, I was, uh, you know, happily drinking wine-

Doug Shafer:
So, you were a wine guy.

Jay McInerney:
... in college.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Jay McInerney:
Without, you know, with enthusiasm, but without much sophistication.

Doug Shafer:
Okay, but... I'm with you. So, that's where you and I div- diverge. So, 'cause when I was doing research on you, you and I have some parallels that you don't know about (laughing). So, first of all, we were born the same year, which we aren't gonna mention-

Jay McInerney:
No, don't mention that.

Doug Shafer:
... um, and, uh, I grew up in suburban, and my parents, you know, maybe there was a bottle of Lancers, but it was, it was the cocktail, like you said, and they ended up with Stingers. Yeah, and these guys would go til 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, crazy (laughing). So, I got a similarity there. Uh, growing up in Michigan, it was Boone's Farm in the summer, on the beaches, and if I wanted to impress some gal... 'Cause I read you did, you had the same move-

Jay McInerney:
Ah, yes. Lancers?

Doug Shafer:
No, no, Mateuse, with the bottle.

Jay McInerney:
Oh, Mateuse.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, that I used to work.

Jay McInerney:
No, the... Yeah. Those, tho-... Yeah, actually, I should mention: Mateuse and Lancers were, were, were two great date-

Doug Shafer:
It was the date, it was the date wine. Yeah. Same, same age.

Jay McInerney:
It was, you know, yeah. Everybody liked them, you know, and the bottles were really cool, and-

Doug Shafer:
Sure.

Jay McInerney:
Yes. My, my very first date ever was a bottle of, uh, I guess Mateuse, uh, at a restaurant in Lenox, Massachusetts, and I thought I was so sophisticated (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
So cool, I knew exactly what to order ... or so I thought. You know? Probably, it was probably, it was probably about four or five bucks a bottle, then, at, at the restaurant.

Doug Shafer:
Sure. (Laughing) So-

Jay McInerney:
But, uh, but you know, it's like, it's... wine appreciation is, you know, it's situational, and-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
There, there is, there is a sense in which that was one of the best ones I ever had in my life, because at that moment, in that occasion, with that girl, you know, um, that was just the perfect one to drink ... You know, I've certainly, I've had more e-, more expensive and complex bottles since, but (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
Sure. That's true. It's, you know, the enjoyment of wine, and your... You know, people always say, "What's your favorite wine?" It's like, it's, it has more to do with a situation, like you said, than the actual wine itself.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
It's because it's that memory of whatever was going on. 

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, the other one... the other one I remember at concerts was Almaden. (Laughing) We, we would get the... we would get these big jugs of Almaden.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, but oh, it was, it was a little bit sweet. Get a headache.

Jay McInerney:
But, you know. Yeah, very sweet, I know. But, yeah, and it seemed to go really well with the sort of cheap cal- the cheap pot that we were smoking-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... at the, at the time (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
Oh, we have a lot... Oh, we have a lot in common. Oh my goodness.

Jay McInerney:
Yep. It was pretty bad. It was pretty bad, but it, but it got the job done.

Doug Shafer:
I love it. All right, so here, here's one more parallel.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Um, we both took road trips. You did it after college-

Jay McInerney:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... I did it, I, I taught school for a couple years and after my first year of teaching I did a big road trip for, you know, two or three months. But, uh, it was about the same time. So, tell me about that. You, you, you took a big road trip after school?

Jay McInerney:
Well, after. Yeah. Grad-, I graduated from Williams and, and I wasn't quite sure what the hell I wanted to do with myself and my parents had given me a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle for my, for my graduation.

Doug Shafer:
Nice.

Jay McInerney:
Uh, and, yeah. It was already more than a decade old, but hey, it was transportation. (Laughing) So, um, a friend of mine and I a classmate, uh, jumped in the Volkswagen and decided to do a Kerouac, basically, and drive across country and see, you know, see what we could see, and who we could meet, and ... we probably were on the road for about three months, and eventually... the eventual goal was San Francisco, where, uh, we decided we would try to get newspaper jobs. Um, (laughing) this was, this was right in the sort of middle of the Watergate days, right afterwards, and unfortunately Woodward and Bernstein had made journalism the most popular profession-

Doug Shafer:
Sure, right.

Jay McInerney:
... probably in the country. Even though, you know, there aren't, there are never that many jobs in journalism anyway. But, but that was our eventual goal, but in the meantime we visited every place we could, we had ever wanted to see. We went to, we went to Nashville, you know, looking for Willie Nelson, and, (laughing) uh, we went to, um, you know, Oxford, Mississippi to visit Faulkner's house-

Doug Shafer:
Oh yeah.

Jay McInerney:
... and we went to New Orleans, and, um, we kind of zigzagged around the country, probably, I would say almost three months, sometimes sleeping in the car. When we got to, when we got to Las Vegas, we were pretty much out of money. But, we, we stayed, you know, we sat down at the blackjack tables for eight or nine, eight or nine hours and made, made about 1000 bucks-

Doug Shafer:
Keep (laughing)-

Jay McInerney:
... and were able to keep-

Doug Shafer:
Keep, yeah. Keep going.

Jay McInerney:
That kept, that kept us going for another few weeks. It was a great adventure, but eventually we, we got to San Francisco and nobody, nobody wanted to hire us as reporters, or at, or much of anything else, you know. Ironically, my future wife's family owned one of the papers.

Doug Shafer:
How funny.

Jay McInerney:
(Laughing) The San Francisco, San Francisco Chronicle, but I didn't know that at the time. So, so eventually I drifted back to the East Coast and I did find a, a job at a weekly newspaper in New Jersey. Um, not very, not ver glamorous-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
But, uh, but it was a start.

Doug Shafer:
Right. And then, and then, uh, very quickly, after that I think you ended up in Japan, but.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, yeah. I- I, I, I very quickly get tired of, uh, writing about planning board meetings and dog shows, and, uh, and sewer board meetings (laughing). So, I applied for a fellowship, a Princeton fellowship, um, that sent me to Japan, it was just a graduate fellowship to study Japanese culture-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... and I, at that point I was, I was just at a, at a loss, really.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
It was, I just wasn't sure what the hell... I knew I wanted to be a writer, but it, it didn't... I, I couldn't quite figure out how to support myself while I... while I try, tried to, uh, to do this. And so, a classmate at Williams had told me that it was really easy to make a lot of money in Japan teaching English a few hours a week-

Doug Shafer:
Huh.

Jay McInerney:
... and, uh, and I was, I was intrigued by the culture, you know. I mean, people like, you know, writers like Allen Watts and Gary Snyder were very much in the air at that time: people writing about Zen Buddhism and Japanese culture, and I was intrigued. Um, so off I went to Japan. I ended up staying there for two years. I completed the Princeton program, I stayed on for another year and taught English and tried to write the Great American Ex-patriate Novel.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
I studied karate, I studied the language (laughing). You know, it was wonderful, until finally I realized that I was just sort of postponing the start of my real life unless, indeed, I wanted to spend it in Japan. So I returned to New York, or I, or I went to New York-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Jay McInerney:
... since I never actually lived there before. But, New York, uh... this was 1979, and I was hearing... I don't know. I was feeling these sort of cultural vibrations from New York: the New Wave music, you know, CBGBs was, happening, um, and also, you know, it seemed like pretty much the literary center of, the United States, you know, where New York was where the publishers were, where the, you know, the Beat generation had pretty much been based there. Writers like Norman Mailer, and Truman Capote, and-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
Dahl had sort of started out there. It just seemed like the place to go, and in fact, I immediately fell in love with New York and, as someone who'd never really had a hometown, I thought, "Hey, this is it. This is, this is my pl-, this is my place." And I have never changed my mind about that.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
And, and New York became my subject, as well, you know. I mean-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
You know, Raymond Carver had the Pacific Northwest, and William Faulkner had, you know, Mississippi, and, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... but, and I'd, but I had never really been anywhere. I had never really lived anywhere long enough to particularly identify, and suddenly I thought, "Hey, why not write about New York?" It just seemed so exciting, you know. I mean, it, it was a really interesting time to get there because on the one hand, it seemed like New York was completely falling apart.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. I remember that. It was really edgy. I remember that.

Jay McInerney:
Really edgy. I, the city had almost gone bankrupt-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... two years before, uh, and it was dirty and dangerous-

Doug Shafer:
And, and crime, yeah.

Jay McInerney:
And everybody, everybody got mugged-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... and there was a heroin epidemic at the time. Uh-

Doug Shafer:
And this was your, this was your new home.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah. My Volkswagen, I drove my, I drove my Volkswagen to the city, it was immediately stolen (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Jay McInerney:
But there was so much energy. Um, there was a, there was a real cultural scene that was, co- coalesced around downtown. Basically painting was almost being reinvented.

Doug Shafer:
Huh.

Jay McInerney:
You know, there was a... in the 60s, the 70s, painting had been almost declared dead, um, you know, in favor of, you know, conceptual art, of performance art, and so on and so on. And suddenly these guys like, you know, Basquiat and, uh, Keith Haring, Eric Fischl, guys that I was actually seeing on the street, you know... Julian Schnabel-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... they were reinventing painting. There was this whole, you know, sort of punk, new wave music scene that was going on at places like CBGBs and the Mud Club, you know.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
You know, I was a little too late to catch the Talking Heads at CBGBs, um, but, uh, you know, they had sort of moved on to bigger venues. But, I did, I did see, I did see them at the Mud Club. I saw the Ramones, I saw the B52s at these little-... little, little downtown venues, and it was sort of my idea that I wanted to, I wanted to create a kind of literary equivalent to these, uh, to the music and, and art scenes that were, that were flourishing in the midst of this mi-, downtown Manhattan squalor (laughing). I mean, and it was, it was squalor, but it was, it was sort of touch-and-go for a while whether, you know, whether New York was gonna sink into the, into the East River, or whether it was gonna, there was going to be a renaissance, and of course there did turn out to be a renaissance.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
Certainly culturally, and, uh, economically. Uh, although, you know, we, we did have this terrible, you know, tragedy of, of the AIDS crisis, which developed uh, a few years after I arrived in New York, which really kind of scythed through the artistic community. But, uh, but it was, it wa-, I, to me it was just an incredible time to be there. And eventually I wrote a book about the literary and the nightclub scene, the downtown, uh, music and art scene, called Bright Lights, Big City, and, uh, published it, uh, to increasing acclaim, and-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
At which point, I don't know, within a, within a year or two there was su-, there suddenly was, indeed, a kind of literary equivalent to the music and, and art that I had been admiring as a, as a young man.

Doug Shafer:
Well, you're be-, you're being-

Jay McInerney:
... it was a great time to be young in New York.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, you're being really modest. It's a fantastic novel, and Bright Light, Big City, I think most everybody is very familiar with it, so, um, you should take a bow. But, um-

Jay McInerney:
It was basically this autobiographical novel about-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah (laughing)-

Jay McInerney:
... the life I, the life that I'd been living for two or three years in, in New York, uh, when I, when I was, uh, working as a fact-checker at The New Yorker, and, uh, and going out to nightclubs at night, and, crawling into The New Yorker office in the morning and doing a fairly bad job of being a fact-checker, to the point that I was eventually fired (laughing). Uh, I, you know. Rightfully so. I think I, I think I earned-

Doug Shafer:
Well this, this makes, this makes for great fiction. You know, I mean, come on.

Jay McInerney:
Well, that's-

Doug Shafer:
You know.

Jay McInerney:
... well that's, you know.

Doug Shafer:
... is it truth or is it fiction?

Jay McInerney:
It's, it's true, you know. Hemingway, Hemingway said that, you know, the worst thing that can happen to you as a writer, or the be-... He said the best thing that can happen to you as a writer is, is the worst thing that happens, so long as it doesn't kill you. In my case, in my case I, um, lost my job at The New Yorker, my mother died of cancer, and my wife left me, uh, all in the space of about se- seven or eight months.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Jay McInerney:
So, um, so it was a real trifecta of-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
... of heartbreak, which, which ended up, I don't know, making, making for, uh, an interesting-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
(Laughing) and heartfelt novel, I think.

Doug Shafer:
Of course.

Jay McInerney:
And, um... yeah. At the, at the time it didn't feel good (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
No. And, and, uh-

Jay McInerney:
It did not feel good.

Doug Shafer:
I think-

Jay McInerney:
It didn’t feel good at all. I mean, on my, um... I mean, um, the, the fact-checking job was never one that was really dear to my heart, but on the other hand, it was The New Yorker, you know?

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
It was, it was, it was prestigious, and it paid, paid fairly well, and, uh, it was, it was very humiliating to get fired. Uh-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
... and, and, and to tell my mother, who was sick with cancer, that I'd been fired. Um, and, uh, at that time I was dating a woman who was very successful, a fashion model, I'd actually met her in Japan. We went back to New York together.

Doug Shafer:
Hmm.

Jay McInerney:
And her, she had become a successful model, uh, and I, I, you know, my... after a, um, nine glorious months at The New Yorker I was, I was fired and, uh, her career was going up and mine was going nowhere, and... I don't know. I think, I think I thought it would do my mother's heart good if I got married, given, given her health problems and-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... um, and, and it, and it, it might have, except that within three or four months of getting married my, my wife ran a-, ran off with an Italian fashion photographer, so-

Doug Shafer:
No. No.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah. So that pl-, that plan didn't work out very well.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, man.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah. So it was-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, Jay.

Jay McInerney:
It was... these are, these are the circumstances from which I was like, my novel, Bright Lights, Big City, arose. So after, after losing my job and my wife in New York-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... basically, I felt like the city had beaten me. You know.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
(Laughing) I'd been there for two years or so, and I, I just felt, you know, like I'd been whipped out of town, and I, I, um, I applied to, uh, some graduate school programs, but one in particular that I really wanted to attend was the Syracuse University because Raymond Carver was teaching there. And Carver was, at that time, probably the most influential writer in America, and certainly one of my favorites, and I, and I had the good fortune of meeting him through, through my friend, Gary Fisketjon, uh, my road trip buddy- ... who had, who had gone to work for Random House. Carver had come into New York for a reading at Columbia University and, uh, after lunch at Random House he had nothing to do before his reading and my friend, Gary, called me up and said, "Raymond Carver is coming to your, coming to your apartment." (Laughing) "You, we want you to show him around the city." And I was, I thought it was a joke and I just, I just hung up. But, sure enough, my buzzer rang a little bit later and there was this big, big shambling bear of a man, name of Carver, and we ended up hitting it off and sitting around the apartment talking about literature, and his friend, Richard Ford, came by, who was on the verge of becoming a very important writer himself.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, we stayed in touch after that, and Carver invited me to come to Syracuse, and, and I, I applied, was accepted in the writing program, and that was the, that was the start of my, my wine store phase.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Jay McInerney:
Uh, to supplement my, my meager fellowship. I worked, I worked at a, a store called the Westcott Cordial Shop, which, in addition to selling, uh, industrial fortified grape juice to, to guys with bad hygiene, we also sold a, a few real wines (laughing). There was the, you know, there was, there was a few serious bottles on the shelf, and, and also the, uh, the proprietor had a wine library in the, in the store. He had all the, you know, Hugh Johnson books.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
And so on. So I would sit, sometimes, and read between waiting on these winos and sometimes occasionally getting, occasionally living through a stickup-

Doug Shafer:
Oh no, really?

Jay McInerney:
Yeah. Oh yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Like they pull, they're pulling a gun on you?

Jay McInerney:
Pulling a gun.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, man.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah. It was a, you know, it was a bad... it was actually a bad part of town.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, okay (laughing).

Jay McInerney:
But, um, but I did, yeah. It was a tradition of mine with clerks that we'd take a bottle home every night, uh, since we were paid minimum wage. And you know, it, I started with, uh, I don't know. I started with, what, Yu- Yugoslavian Cabernet when there-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah. This is, this is when there still was a Yugoslavia, and you know, I worked my up to, like, Freixenet-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
The, you know, the Spanish Cava. But you know, I, I started to develop a bit of a palette-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
... starting at the bottom. Starting at the bottom, working my way up, and I was actually at the wine store when I got the phone call saying that Bright Lights, Big City had actually been accepted for publication.

Doug Shafer:
Oh. Well, okay, good. Things are turning around.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, right? Very excited, yeah. So I, I actually brought home the nicest bottle in the store. I figured I would pay for this one. It was, um, it was... I remember it was a 1978 Smith Haut-Lafitte. I think I was partly attracted to the label. It had, uh, the same sort of blue, blue-and-yellow label that it does today. But I, again, that was one of the greatest bottles I ever had in my life, simply-

Doug Shafer:
Very, yeah.

Jay McInerney:
Perhaps, because of the circumstances. The fact that my very first-

Doug Shafer:
Sure.

Jay McInerney:
... novel had been accepted for publication by Random House, it was, you know, great. A great day for me, and-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
And I... it seemed a great bottle of wine (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
Well, of course it was, and you know, all of a sudden your life's turning around, finally.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, everything, it's... well, life was turning around.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
I was also at the Westscott Cordial Shop working with the cash register when I, when I get another call from, um, from Paramount, from someone at Paramount Studios, telling me that he had just read my novel and they would like me to fly west and talk about making it into a movie.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Jay McInerney:
And, uh, yeah. That was, uh-

Doug Shafer:
That's pretty cool.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah. So there was, there was a pretty big turnaround (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
So that, that, that cordial shop was okay?

Jay McInerney:
It was. It was all right. So I flew the, the, within days of getting this phone call. So, I flew to LA and I, I stayed at a place called the Chateau Marmont-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
It was recommended to me. They said, uh, "You want to stay at the Chateau Marmont?" And I said, "Is that good?" And they said, "Is it good? Well, John Belushi died there." You know.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughing) Oh no, they actually said that?

Jay McInerney:
And I think, I think, I think given some of the, uh, you know, substance abuse in, in the novel, Bright Lights, Big City, I think they somehow felt this would be the perfect place for me.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
But, but one reason it was a great place for me is because they had a very limited room service menu. It was a tuna melt and a, you know, a, say, a Reuben sandwich. But, somehow they had this big cellar of... Pa- particularly of old burgundies.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Jay McInerney:
There was, like, there was a ton of old Bouchard burgundies from the s-, from the ‘70s, and so I worked my way through that, you know. I would just order a bottle every night, you know, like... You know, it was '78 Corton Charlemagne-

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Jay McInerney:
... or Montrachet, or, uh... it was-

Doug Shafer:
With a tuna, with a Reuben. That's great.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
That, that's perfect.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah. And then, yeah, and it didn't cost that much-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
... and the studio was pay-, the studio was paying, so I didn't care (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
But, that, that was another little chapter of my wine life. I kept going back to Chateau for a number of years, and then ev- eventually, of course, the stock of burgundy was thoroughly depleted. Uh, I, I, I certainly had a lot to do with that (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
So, at this point, are... So, you're definitely... you're definitely got the wine thing going. So, are you, are you starting to collect wine …

Jay McInerney:
Ah, yes. Well, what... So, Bright Lights was published in 1980... Fall of 1984. I got $7500 for the, for the book.

Doug Shafer:
Uh-huh.

Jay McInerney:
Um, which was, which was pretty good, you know.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
It was, it was about... it was a little bit more than the average advance which, of $5000. Mostly that went to pay off debts and stuff-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... but some, but within a few weeks the, the book really started to gain momentum and, and the first printing, um, sold out, and the second hu-, a huge second printing was ordered. And, suddenly, um, I went from poverty to relative prosperity (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
Uh, at the exact moment that the 1982 Bordeaux were hitting the American market (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
Good timing.

Jay McInerney:
So, a fair, fair percentage of my earnings went into buying '82 Bordeaux, you know. That was the world-shaking-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... vintage, the, you know, the vintage that made Robert Parker. But, uh, but, uh, for me these wines were, even on release, they were, you know, s-, fairly drinkable and opulent and delicious-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... and believe it or not, I still have, I probably still have one or two of the-

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Jay McInerney:
... bot-, of the bottles that I bought then, because, of course, you know, Bordeaux can last almost forever-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... and, um, and you know, I think the '82 vintage proved that Robert Parker was certainly right about that one.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
That was when I started to go a little nuts (laughing). I just... and, uh, and, and, and obviously, for, for a while, um, I was a Francophile.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
And Bordeaux, Bordeaux was my thing. I, I really didn't... I didn't know that much about burgundy, despite my depletion of the Chateau Marmont's cellar, and, uh, ohiIt was almost a decade later, really, that I discovered what was happening in California. Specifically in Napa and Sonoma. Um, when my friend, Dominique Browning, called me to offer me this, uh, wine-writing job, um-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, that was at House and Garden, right?

Jay McInerney:
At House and Garden.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, but that was, that was, that... didn't that surprise a lot of people? You know, all of a sudden-

Jay McInerney:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
I'm just like-

Jay McInerney:
Absol-

Doug Shafer:
McInerery's gonna write about wine?

Jay McInerney:
Absolutely. Everybody thought, everybody thought she was crazy, not least her, her... She had already hired the food editor, named Lora Zarubin.

Doug Shafer:
Right. Good.

Jay McInerney:
Uh, uh, the, the woman-

Doug Shafer:
Your great friend.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, still my great... still my great friend. Uh, saw her the other night, and, uh... But, she was very suspicious and she said, you know, she, she ba-, she basically said, "What does Jay McInerney know about wine?" You know, "His, his," you know, "His sinu-, you know, his nasal passages are probably destroyed from cocaine, and..." Um, and so we had dinner, you know. So then, we were supposed to have lunch at the Four Seasons, um, so she could check me out.

Doug Shafer:
Check you out.

Jay McInerney:
Unfortunately... Yeah. Unfortunately, I arrived at lunch at the Four Seasons really hung over. I had been, uh, I had been, I had been out with Bret Easton Ellis the night before. So I, I, I don't think I made that good an impression, except that I blind tasted something that she, she ordered, um, and she was somewhat impressed. But, but her caveat was, if I was going to be the wine columnist for House and Garden, I had to go to California and I had to visit Napa and meet the, you know, the people who were - in her mind the most important, and the people who were really changing, uh, the whole scene there, including, for instance, Helen Turley. This was 1996, and, uh, Helen, uh, Turley and John Wetlaufer had - they had just bought their, uh, their vineyard on the Sonoma coast, uh, I think the, I think the year before.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Jay McInerney:
Uh, I went, I went and met Helen. My very first wine, professional wine-tasting experience is meeting Helen at the Napa Wine Company, the Gulf Custom-Crush facility.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, right.

Jay McInerney:
She had this tiny little cubicle there, where she was making, uh, her own Marcassin label from, from purchased grapes. And also, Bryant and Colgin.

Jay McInerney:
So I tasted all of these wines, um, at 10:00 in the morning. Right, you know. At-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
... at that time I thought it was quite extraordinary to taste wine at 10:00 in the morning. Of course, now I know that that's-

Doug Shafer:
That's what we-

Jay McInerney:
... when the palate is freshest, and that's what we do.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
I didn't know this. Um, but you know, she was pretty skeptical, too, 'cause she, she knew exactly who I was and she just thought, you know, "What the hell is this guy doing here?"

Doug Shafer:
Yeah (laughing).

Jay McInerney:
Uh, and so, she said, she, she quizzed me before we tasted and she, she said-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, wow.

Jay McInerney:
"Oh, you know, what do you know about California Chardonnay?" Um, and I said, "Well, not that much." I said, "I, there's a few I like," and then I said, she said, "Like what?" And I said, "Uh, well, I really like this one called Peter Michael." I, I had no idea, but of course, until, like, the year before, she, she had been the winemaker.

Doug Shafer:
She'd been making it, yeah.

Jay McInerney:
Making, making the Peter Michael Chardonnays.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah (laughing).

Jay McInerney:
And, uh, so she brightened up considerably after that and, uh, and we, we ended up, you know, forming a friendship. I, you know, I, and in the trip I also met her, her brother, Larry - who, who of course is, uh, behind the Turley Zinfandel, which she, she was making at the time.

Doug Shafer:
Yes.

Jay McInerney:
That didn't, uh, that didn't last much longer, but, um, I met, uh, Bart and Daphne Araujo, um-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
It was eye-opening for me because, you know, that, that was, you know, that was a turning point, I think, in, in Napa. It was '95, '96, '97. When people like Helen were, were, you know, kind of, kind of, kind of changing the predominant style-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... of, of the wines there, and it was, it was a very exciting time. You know, I, I, I... it was either that trip or the next one that I met Bill Harlan-

Jay McInerney:
And you know, I, I found these new, I found these new wines to be very exciting. there's, there's just been several chapters of Napa wine history since, but one of the things I loved was the fact that they were figuring out how to, how to make Cabernet Sauvignon after years of, of, you know, big tannic, uh, wines.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
They were, they were learning how to tame the tannins of, of Cabernet so that, you know, it was, it was drinkable at a, um, approachable at a much earlier age. And, and also, you know, discovering Zinfandel, I mean, you know, this... It's, it's a wonderful, exuberant, all-American taste sensation, really, and, uh, I just, uh, I just really enjoyed, uh, arriving at that moment, and I subsequently became a regular visitor to Napa, and eventually to Sonoma, as well, and, uh, met you somewhere al-, somewhere along the line.

Doug Shafer:
Somewhere along the line, yeah (laughing).

Jay McInerney:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
No, the 90s were super exciting. There was a lot going on, both in the vineyard and the cellar, I, and I, you know-

Jay McInerney:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... I was right in the thick of it.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So it was like, uh, you know, there was new s-, new ideas every other week, just new things to try and play with.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And that was, it was really fun. So, your timing was good, but you, you touched-

Jay McInerney:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... on something earlier. I want to ask you again about... So, you're coming in as a wine, you know, to be a wine writer. I mean-

Jay McInerney:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug Shafer:
And you know, knowing you and, and, as I have through the years, but it's like, I'm sure you took a good, you know, look at it and thought about... did you have a, an idea of what you wanted to do, um, as far as, you know, what was your, what was your stamp gonna be?

Jay McInerney:
Well, I think, I think that, uh, at the risk of, of sounding, uh, arrogant, um, I knew that I was a better writer than most of the people writing about wine at that time, you know? It just seemed like, in terms of (laughing), in terms of, uh, incandescent prose, the bar was pretty low in the wine-writing community. But I also felt that, you know, that I would try to just bring some novelistic, uh, skills to the, to the table, you know.

Jay McInerney:
You know, as I said, you know, to, um, you know, I, I've, I'm pretty good at creating metaphors and similes and and also I thought that, you know, I wa-, I wanted to write about the people, I wanted the winemakers to be characters in my, in my, in my essays, and really it was so interesting, particularly at that time in Napa, when everybody... like your father, for instance... everybody there had come from someplace else-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... and some other profession, really, at which they had been successful, and then they'd gone to California to make wine. So, you know, there's so many great stories there about transitioning to, to, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... you, you know. And, and, and everybody, like me, had their sort of, their story about the wine epiphany and the thing that finally made them decide to commit to this, to this path. So, you know, I knew, I knew I was a pretty good storyteller and that I could, uh, and, and I knew that there were so many interesting characters, really, in, in the world of wine. You know, the Eur-, you know, the archetypal European wine story is usually quite different. It's usually somebody who's inherited this tradition, and has to wre- wrestle with whether or not they want to-

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney:
... go back, go back to the farm, as it were, you know, after, after college or after exploring the world a little bit. But, um, but you know, certainly in California your, you know, your and your dad's stories is, is archetypal-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... you know, sort of a change, you know, a sort of radical... It, it, it's almost, you know, it's almost like the, you know, the 19th-century pioneers, you know, pulling up roots and going, going West in a covered wagon while that-

Doug Shafer:
(Laughing) Well, there was.

Jay McInerney:
... there's, there's so many, there's so many of those stories.

Doug Shafer:
It was a country, a Ford Country Squire station wagon with a-

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... with a dog in the back. That's what ours was. It's pretty funny.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, the, the, the Mondavis were unusual for a-

Doug Shafer:
Yes.

Jay McInerney:
... and, you know, they'd been there for several generations, but, uh, but most of you are, I think most of your peers could, your contemporaries, had, had started somewhere else-

Doug Shafer:
Somewhere else.

Jay McInerney:
And wine, you know, they, they, they came for the love of, of wine, and it's fun, it's fun to write those stories. It really is.

Doug Shafer:
That's great. And then, you... So, so you banged out... You've, you've got how many books? You've got, uh, Bacchus and Me... that was your first one... Adventures in the Wine Cellar.

Jay McInerney:
Oh, I, yeah. So, eventually I, uh-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
Somebody asked me if, if they could publish my columns-

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Jay McInerney:
... in a book, in a book, and it was a very small press, and I s-, you know, I called, I called my editor, Garry Fiskejon, who... my Williams road trip buddy who has since become my editor at Random House, and I, and I said, uh, "Is it okay if I do this?" And I think he was relieved that I didn't want him to do it (laughing), and he, and he said, "Sure." Um, but the book ended up selling a lot of copies in hardcover. I mean, you know, like, like, 40-50,000 copies in this tiny, tiny press.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
So then, uh, Random House sort of set, sat up and took notice and (laughing) ... uh, they bought the, they bought the rights to the paperback and they published the subsequent, uh, collections of my, of my wine writing, and, I like to think that I'm writing for... I, I, I'm not writing... I'm not writing for the specialists, uh - I think I'm wri-, I'm writing for wine enthusiasts who are, you know, a few-

Doug Shafer:
Well, you-

Jay McInerney:
... p-, uh, they're a few chapters behind me in the textbook, basically, and, uh, I like to help people appreciate wine more. I'm, I'm, I'm a lover rather than a fighter, so I, I very seldom write about wine in the, in highly critical fashion that is in a negative fashion.

Doug Shafer:
Sure.

Jay McInerney:
If, you know, if I hate something, then I just-

Doug Shafer:
You just don't write about it.

Jay McInerney:
Don't write about it.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah (laughing). You know, I think the books have filled a, a, a niche, uh, filled a need over the years, although, although I have to say that since, since I started writing about wine, the landscape has changed so much, and now there's an amazing amount of very good wine writing in book form, on the internet, and blogs. Uh, it's, you know, it's been a real renaissance. I think I could retire right now and nobody would, nobody would really notice. But, back in nine-... you know, back in the late 90s there, you had, you had these English critics sort of writing about, you know, the scent of hawthorn blossoms, and you, and you had the Wine Spectator guys, like, writing this really technical stuff about barrels and, you know, and fermentation-

Doug Shafer:
At this point, all these years you're writing wine columns, you're still writing novels, right? I mean, that's-

Jay McInerney:
Yes. Absolutely, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So you're doing-

Jay McInerney:
I'm, uh-

Doug Shafer:
... how's, what's that like, bouncing back and forth between novels and wine columns? 

Jay McInerney:
You know, I, I, I feel like I do it in different moods.

Doug Shafer:
Huh.

Jay McInerney:
The wine writing just feels right some days, and, and the fiction feels right other days, and, I probably shouldn't admit this, but I, I, I can write a wine column when I'm hung over (laughing), but I, but I can't write a good one, I can't write a good short story when I'm hunger over. Not, not, not that I ever get hangovers.

Doug Shafer:
No, no. Me either (laughing).

Jay McInerney:
But it's, yeah. I don't know, it's just different, different muscles. And also, I don't know. It's, it's always fun writing about wine for me. It's a little more, huh. Its' a little more serious, it's a little more daunting, sitting down to start a new chapter of the latest novel. But I am, I'm in the middle of, I don't know, what must be my 10th novel, I think, now.

Doug Shafer:
Wow. That's, that's great.

Jay McInerney:
Ninth or tenth. I really should know this, but yeah. I think it's the 10th novel. And, I mean, I certainly, I have a, I have a new book of wine columns kind of ready to go, but we haven't really organized that yet. It's been a, in case you haven't noticed, a very strange year (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
Well, yeah. I was gonna, yeah, how are you doing? You know something, you know, you had a good run, but your, your luck ran out. Uh, what ha-, you got-

Jay McInerney:
Oh, it's been a terrible year.

Doug Shafer:
... you got screwed. What, what happened in 2019, after Christmas?

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, right after Christmas, uh, my house in, uh, in Bridgehampton, New York burned, uh, almost to the ground-

Doug Shafer:
Oh, Jesus.

Jay McInerney:
... and, uh, we were a-, we were a-, we were actually in it at the time. And fortunately, fortunately, we got out and all our pets got out safely, um-

Doug Shafer:
Good.

Jay McInerney:
But, um, you know, this, this really is our main residence, uh, and, and was, it was really heartbreaking.

Doug Shafer:
Wow.

Jay McInerney:
Uh, you know, I lost a lot of stuff. Uh, fortunately I'd, uh, I didn't lose my book collection.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Jay McInerney:
I, I collect first editions, mainly of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, um, all of which are pretty much irreplaceable, as, you know-

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
... they're signed to Dorothy Parker, or, you know, or Hemingway, or whatever. So I was running back in the house getting these books out. (Laughing) The firemen were yelling at me to get out of the house. Um-

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Jay McInerney:
But, you know. No, first were the pets, then, then the books.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Jay McInerney:
It was very, very traumatizing. And then, um, then of course this, uh, general catastrophe. Started to unfold in, uh, in March and our, our dog died. It's just-

Doug Shafer:
Just, yeah.

Jay McInerney:
It was a... I... it was a very bad year last year-

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Jay McInerney:
... and I'm very, very glad it's over, and, uh, the house is being rebuilt, and in the meantime we're spending some time on the West Coast-

Doug Shafer:
Good.

Jay McInerney:
... which is pretty nice.

Doug Shafer:
Good.

Jay McInerney:
But yeah. We, we, we got a house in Malibu and I'm, I'm spending, spending some time here (laughing).

Doug Shafer:
Well, bring some of those -

Jay McInerney:
Looking out, looking out over the ocean right now.

Doug Shafer:
Look at you. Bring some of those '82 Bordeaux out and I'll, I'll drive down and see you (laughing). That's motivation, baby.

Jay McInerney:
Yeah, that's actually the, the next... Yeah. The next step is, of course, I have to get a, a wine refrigerator installed here. I hope the pandemic is-

Doug Shafer:
No, we're, we're hanging in-

Jay McInerney:
... Hope you didn't do too badly.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, we're hanging in there. You know, we're, we're growing grapes, we're making wine. Um-

Jay McInerney:
Are you gonna-

Doug Shafer:
... you know, it's just different 

Jay McInerney:
... open up? Are you gonna open up the tasting rooms soon, or-

Doug Shafer:
Um, we're revamping it right now. We're kind of re-looking at the whole program, see what we're gonna do, and we're just taking a pause. So, we're working on that right now, so we'll see what happens. But, uh, already people are, you know, reaching out and saying, "Hey, we're gonna do a trade show in the fall. You want to come pour wine, and we're kind of going, "Okay, I'm not sure yet, but." So, I think it's just a... Well, you know. We're, we're all in the same boat and it's just kind of-

Jay McInerney:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
... you know, baby, it's baby steps. Like, what are you gonna do?

Jay McInerney:
Well, I hope to be there before too long.

Doug Shafer:
All right.

Jay McInerney:
Uh, maybe even this summer. So, I will-

Doug Shafer:
Good. Let me know, will you?

Jay McInerney:
I will check in with you soon.

Doug Shafer:
All right, man. Jay, thanks so much for taking the time to do this. It's been great talking to you.

Jay McInerney:
My pleasure. Thank you.

Doug Shafer:
All right.

Jay McInerney:
It's great talking to you, Doug.

Doug Shafer:
All right. Be good. See you around. Bye-bye.