“If Pouilly-Fuissé can be said to have superstars, then Gilles Morat would certainly count as one.” — The Wall Street Journal.
Gilles Morat was born into a wine family in the now-chic village of Vergisson in the heart of the Mâconnais, where his father and grandfather owned vines but had always sold their grapes to negociants. In 1997, after 15 years of working in the electronics industry and spending one year in wine school in Davayé, Gilles decided it was time to move back to his home town so that his children would enjoy the same life he did growing up.
Gilles thrives on maintaining an artisanal approach. The six-hectare property resides on Vergisson’s steep, east-facing amphitheater slopes— the very heart of the appellation where yields are kept low, elevating its terroir to find full expression in his Pouilly-Fuissé cuvées.
The domaine’s small size allows Gilles to effectively micro-manage his vineyards: he avoids vine problems with precise pruning to keep yields low, constantly checking his vines during growing season and using minimal organic copper-sulfite treatments only when needed. When necessary, he hand-plows the rows with different tools according to the season, and manually removes the grass directly under the vines. Harvesting is also done by hand at optimal maturity, with careful selection in the vineyard. His barrel program is also quite specific: after some experimentation and careful research, Gilles found a secret source for creating customized fine-textured barrels from the Allier and Cher forests in France’s center, enhancing the style of wine he seeks. The soil and site specific cuvées of Bélemnites and Sur La Roche were launched in 2001. From the outset, Gilles’ vision was to bottle the majority of his production and make wine in the elegant, pure style that has become his hallmark.
STU AND CHARLES SMITH (Smith-Madrone, Napa)
Stu and Charles Smith are proud pioneers of mountain-top winemaking in the Napa Valley. The brothers purchased 200 acres of land atop Spring Mountain in 1971, defying the contemporary norm in the region of making wine only on the valley floor. The family-run Smith-Madrone Winery is dedicated to producing fine wines exclusively from its own land. Charles tends to the wine while Stu minds the vineyards. Stu notes “I don’t wear contacts and he does. He can’t be out in the dust. I can sit on the tractor all day.”
The winery’s name has two sources: it is as a tribute both to the Smiths who pursued their dream and to the Madrone trees distinguishing the property. “It sounds better than Smith-Douglas Fir, Smith-Manzanita, Smith-Oak and certainly Smith-Poison Oak. The Madrone was a predominant tree on the property when we began,” Stu explains. “We had so much physically and emotionally invested in the development of the vineyard and the winery that we selfishly wanted our name on it. Smith is not exactly a grand Mediterranean wine name, and certainly we couldn’t call it just “Smith Winery.” He shares that the Madrone’s personality figures into this as well: “It never stands out, alone, in the forest; it’s always clustered for shade and protection with others.”
The winery was hand-built, using stones and lumber from the property. A cellar and the main floor house French and American barrels. The building’s roof – boasting stunning 360-degree views of the floor of the Napa Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance – is used for entertaining. Another striking historical and visual note is the dramatic corridor of twenty two 120-year-old Picholine olive trees, which descend below the winery’s slope into the vineyards. The trees which were carefully preserved when the vineyards were re-planted. Their huge proportions – some stretch as tall as 35 feet – are a testament to their struggle for precious mountain sunlight.
Stu specifically selected slopes with different exposures per varietal: eastern exposure for Riesling, southern and western exposures across flat stretches for Cabernet Sauvignon; the coolest north-facing slopes for Chardonnay. The history of international viticulture supported his early belief in the potential of these mountain grapes, which would have to “struggle” to produce. Drip irrigation was used to establish the vineyard but today it is mostly dry-farmed.
The vines send their roots deep to search for water and nutrients, only producing the precise amount of fruit exactly appropriate for their vigor, small berries with a large skin-to- juice ratio. “They should have lots of layers of interesting flavors,” Stu said. Charles and Stu don’t mind if the wines comes off leaner or lighter than what is typical for California wines. “Their acidity must be snappy. We value the elegance, finesse and restraint of Europe, which with a little California sunshine gives a very distinctive wine.”
JORGE NAVASCUES (Contino, Rioja)
“I aim for pure, direct expressions of origin, expressing regional virtues.” –Jorge Navascués
For Jorge Navascués, winemaking is a family tradition that dates back multiple generations. His father, Jesus Navascués, is one of the most celebrated oenologists in Spain and among its top wine critics; his grandfather made wine for the Campo de Borja cooperative in Aragon. And this is just the paternal side of the family! His mother also comes from a long line of winemakers in the Utiel-Requeña region.
Raised in Cariñena, Jorge readily admits that its regional Garnacha was his first love. And the winemaking style of his first wine, Cutio, is exemplary of his winemaking philosophy today: “That being aware that minimum intervention during the entire production process is synonymous with more sincere and direct wines.” Jorge honed his craft while working with top winemakers, including Mariano Garcia, of Vega Sicilia fame, and Alastair Maling, MW, and he consulted for many more, such as Pago Aylés in Cariñena, Viña Zorzal in Navarra, and Bodegas Somontano, to name a few.
His talent drew the notice of the Urrutia family of Viñedos del Contino. They are considered nobility in Rioja, having created the ‘château concept’ in Rioja when they established Contino in 1973, a 62-acre property, located just outside the hilltop village of Laguardia. Since 1994, the Urrutia family also pioneered efforts to save the noble grape Graciano from oblivion (today they include this ancient, now coveted variety in almost all of their blends). So when they began their search for a new winemaker in 2017, Jorge Navascués, who had by then accumulated twenty years of experience in premium winemaking, turned out to be the perfect fit.
Owner Victor Urrutia said that he had been seeking a winemaker who was “experienced but young, driven and enthusiastic. Someone with respect for previous work and for the past, but with a clear desire to do new things. Also, someone with experience outside of Rioja,” which he suggested would help “avoid bias and bring a fresh, objective perspective to how we are working at Contino.” Indeed, it is an exciting new chapter.
And those rare moments when not winemaking? One will find Jorge enjoying time with his family, and bike-riding around the beautiful Spanish countryside.
DANIEL BRENNAN (Decibel, Hawke’s Bay)
“Could you taste a wine and feel inspired? Could you smell a glass of wine and want to move to the other side of the world? It happened to me when I discovered New Zealand wines. I literally smelled the potential for adventure and pure discovery in the glass. My story and my wines are all about the people who inspire me, the places I’ve been and the music I love.”
Decibel was created by Daniel Brennan, a Philadelphia native who fell hard for New Zealand wines more just over a decade ago. At the time, Daniel had already traveled extensively through many wine regions as the manager of a rock band, but when he visited New Zealand, something ‘clicked’ and he decided to stay there and learn how to make wine. Having made that decision, he quickly gained experience under the tutelage of some industry greats of the region—such as Te Awa, Vidal Estate, Unison and Paritua Vineyards. When he decided to start his own label, he settled in Hawke’s Bay, a southern region of the North Island, where Bordeaux-style reds can be grown as successfully as New Zealand’s flagship variety, Sauvignon Blanc. He bottled his first vintage—a Malbec—in 2009.
As a first-generation winemaker, he credits his Sicilian-Irish heritage for his intrepid spirit and appetite for winemaking. “My grandfather Michael Rodolico, I discovered, was also a winemaker. My mother dropped this gem casually into conversation one day when I was justifying my new choice of career and lifestyle. And my great grandfather, who also made wine, had travelled from Sicily to America in search of inspiration which is not much different from what I did later!”
Daniel grew up at his family’s gastro pub, McCrossen’s Tavern on Philadelphia’s 20th Street, which dates back to before the Prohibition, taking up every role from busing tables, waiting, bartending to just hanging out. For him, wine has always been convivial; it is all about family and community. As an extension of this mindset, he generally takes a sustainable approach to winemaking, being mindful of the larger community at every step of the process. “Decibel Wines are my vision to create wines using classic practices, minimal intervention, and wines with a community-based attitude. These are ideas as old as wine itself and I believe strongly in them.”
Today, Daniel makes premium wines based on Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Viognier and Malbec from the best sites around Hawkes Bay. From the outset, Brennan focused on developing a market he knew best – his hometown. Decibel Wines is far better known in the Philadelphia restaurant scene than it is anywhere in New Zealand. Nearly 50 percent of what he produces, he says, is sold in South Jersey wine stores and Philadelphia restaurants: “It’s crazy, I know . . . but it’s working!”
MICHAEL TERRIEN (Bluet, Maine)
Acclaimed winemaker Michael Terrien had already established himself as a Pinot Noir specialist at top estates in California before joining forces with his childhood friend, novelist Eric Martin, on an exciting new project: making premium sparkling wines from wild Maine blueberries, historically referred to as ‘bluets’ by Thoreau.
Their idea was born 20 years ago over the enjoyment of many bottles of wine at a reunion among friends at Moosehead Lake. After consuming all else in the house, the last bottle left was a sweetly sugary blueberry wine. It led them to ask “why not make something premium? After all, the podzol soils here are beautiful, odd stuff.” Around 15,000 years ago, glaciers compressed the earth about 200 feet, leaving a thick deposit of granite sand or ‘ash’ and fossilized marine deposits, not unlike those found in the soils of Champagne. These tiny, wild blueberries actually evolved with that soil. They are super rich in anti-oxidants, have twice as many flavonols as hybrid varieties, and produce darker, much more flavorful fruit.
As their idea came to fruition, Michael and Eric not only saw the opportunity to protect this unique terroir but also to help the local blueberry growers. These farmers have been under threat due to competition from bigger industrial producers who focus on large-volume hybrid production. The (perhaps only) weapon against these titans is to create an alternative market for these wild blueberries, which are nothing like what you find in the grocery store.
As is the case with so many gifted winemakers, Michael’s path to winemaking was not exactly a direct one: After briefly considering a long-line sword-fishing career in his home state of Maine, Michael headed out west to San Francisco, working in restaurants while tackling science prerequisites for a degree in Marine Biology. His exposure to wines in the restaurants began to heighten his interest, which in turn was further piqued after making numerous trips to wine country and meeting lots of winemakers along the way. So while perusing the UC Davis academic course catalog, he happened upon Enology as a degree program, his direction was set.
After graduation, he made wine at Acacia and Hanzell, working under the tutelage of some industry greats. Around the mid 1990s, Michael made a fortuitous connection with Peter Molnar through a mutual friend. They met for a drink, and by the second round had decided to make some wine together, starting with just a few dozen cases for friends and family. A few years later, they—along with Peter’s brother Arpad—stumbled upon an abandoned orchard of bonsaied walnut trees on a steep ridge half a mile above sea level in the Mayacamas Mountains. According to Michael, this was a ‘delicious turning point’ and Obsidian Ridge Co. was formed. In 2007, he formed the Terrien Wine Company and in 2012, he also began winemaking for U.S. Grant.
Today, two different styles of sparkling wine are made under the Bluet label: Méthode Traditionnelle, made like Champagne, with the second fermentation in bottle and Charmat Method, made like Prosecco, with the second fermentation in tank. The Méthode Traditionnelle sparkler is dry and offers a delicately fine mousse with complexity and depth of flavor. Only 200 cases are produced annually for the NY, CA and local markets, where it has become something of a cult item—highly allocated among top restaurant accounts. The much more accessible Charmat-method sparkler is dry with playful, bright notes of fresh crushed berries, and is incredibly versatile and food-friendly. It is a perfect option for brunch or in cocktails such as the French 75.
FAOUZI ISSA (Domaine des Tourelles, Bekaa Valley)
Faouzi Issa is the youngest, most dynamic winemaker in Lebanon today. After receiving a Masters degree in Oenology at the University of Montpellier, he apprenticed under René Rostaing in Côte Rôtie followed by working a vintage at Châteaux Margaux. After his father wisely urged him to ‘get back to Bekaa Valley’, he took the reins of Domaine des Tourelles in 2008 at the age of 26. His indefatigable energy and efforts have paid off: his family’s wines are amongst the most recognized and awarded in Lebanon.
When speaking with Faouzi, his passions are clear. His first is Bekaa Valley, which—he is quick to point out—is more ‘old world’ than most with its 2000 year-old history. Situated on a plateau sandwiched between two mountain chains (~3,300 feet in elevation), Bekaa Valley’s terroir has all the conditions in place for organic farming: climate, diurnal range of temperatures, low humidity, soil diversity and just the right amount of rainfall. Situated in the highest sub-region of Chtaura, Domaine des Tourelles consists of 100 acres of vineyards, all organic and dry-farmed. Faouzi stresses the uniqueness of the region: “Lebanon is not Burgundy, Lebanon is not Bordeaux, Lebanon is a wine-producing country with a long history. So if I want to be scientific, I would say the Bekaa Valley is one of best areas in the world. If I want to be poetic, I would say it’s the sexiest area in the world.”
Which leads us to his second passion: Cinsault. “If you Google ‘100% Cinsault’, you will find Domaine des Tourelles popping up because we created a revolution by making 100% Cinsault in Lebanon–even Jancis Robinson picked 2014 Vieilles Vignes as the wine of the week on her website in 2017. We take our Vieilles Vignes and participate in lots of wine competitions either in Lebanon or internationally. In these competitions, we were against Cinsault from all over the world, like South Africa, Chile, Argentina and the South of France. Our Cinsault was one of the best among all of the competitors. How our wine differentiates from the others is the altitude and the terroir of Bekaa Valley.”
But the other key ingredient, of course, is the Faouzi’s winemaking—his third passion. Decanter dubbed Faouzi Issa the ‘dusty winemaker’ due to the fact he believes the cellar dust provides a unique, ambient diet for the yeasts, which in turn creates distinct character in the wines. He uses only concrete vats (rare in Lebanese wineries) which he believes provide the best biological conditions for a natural winemaking process and helps preserves the authenticity of his wines.
“Minimal intervention in the vineyard is what we do. Because the minimum amount of spray you use on the vines, the better their immunity will be. The fewer chemical products you use, the better the wine will taste, with vital aromas. And if you create, or you raise, a good indigenous yeast, with time, you will have a consistent quality of wine. So my philosophy is minimal intervention. Let’s put it this way, if you work in Bordeaux, it’s all about the weather. It is always foggy and humid, sometimes we need to treat in order to prevent fungus to grow. But in Lebanon, the philosophy is go wild, get a wild product, and that’s it.”
*Interview excerpts sourced from Grape Collective article: “Faouzi Issa of Domaine des Tourelles: Making the Adopted Grape Cinsault Shine in Bekaa Valley.”
MARTIN REYES (Peter Paul, Sonoma)
Prior to becoming winemaker and chief wine officer at Peter Paul Wines, Martin Reyes, MW, had already experienced a staggering level of success in the wine world. As a former Senior Buyer and Importer for The New York Times Wine Club, Williams-Sonoma Wine, The Washington Post Wine Club and Global Wine Cellars, as well as consultant to the Michael Mina Wine Club, he knows the ins and outs of fine wine, from crush to consumer. Martin has traveled extensively throughout wine regions, both classic and off the beaten path, experiences he found invaluable.
“Being where the grapes were grown and working directly with those sources, I was able to delve into understanding how a fruit or wine from a particular terroir or vintage will ultimately reveal itself in the glass.”
His winemaking strategies include site specific-winemaking and negociant-style blending, which to him means “more mud on the boots and miles on the odometer, but also the freedom to sleuth vineyards, sample barrels and shake a few hands.” His hope is to continue the tradition at Peter Paul Wines to craft wines of substance and longevity. Like his predecessors, Martin works especially close with two farming families – the Bacigalupis, with their historic Russian River Chardonnay vineyard, and the Karrens, from the rising powerhouse Terra de Promissio Pinot Noir vineyard in Petaluma.
Above all, Martin aims to express all that the Sonoma coast has to offer. Whether single vineyard or an appellation blend, his wines showcase the sunny, easygoing temperament of fruit grown here without losing the more refined elements of the grape’s DNA and European heritage. “Each wine offers the proper balance of fruit, savor, and structure to hit a ‘sweet spot’ of ripeness without confection, and fullness with manners.”
In addition to wine, he is making history. In the spring of 2018, Martin received the title – Master of Wine (MW) and is one of only 47 MWs in the USA, and the first of Mexican descent in the world. Martin is also an instructor for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, and a Certified Wine Educator. In addition, Martin was recognized in the Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 40 under 40 Tastemakers in the USA,” in October 2015, is on the advisory board for a luxury winery estate in St. Helena, and serves as an expert panelist for the Wine Program at his alma mater, Stanford University. In his free time, he is working to become fluent in a fifth language, and together with his wife, raises his two children trilingually in Vallejo, CA.
Sourced from Peter Paul Wines, peterpaulwines.com
KAREEM MASSOUD (Paumanok, North Fork)
Assuming the reins in 2001, Kareem Massoud is second-generation winemaker at Paumanok Vineyards, located on the North Fork of Long Island. Established in 1983 by his parents Charles (from Lebanon) and Ursula (from the Pfalz in Germany) at a time when Long Island winemaking was in its infancy, the family has always adhered to an ‘old world’ philosophy of expressing terroir and origin of place.
Paumanok has been a pioneer on many levels:
* First (and for a long time only) producer of Chenin Blanc, which is now considered to be their flagship wine;
* Embraced screw-caps early on;
* Experimenting with ungrafted vines; and
* In partnership with Cornell University, innovated an aggressive canopy management system that cuts down the pyrazine levels, which are responsible for green notes such as grass or bell pepper in the final wines.
Kareem is meticulous in the cellar (he laughs, “after all, I am half German!) and tends to keep a very light hand in terms of oak and use of sulfites. Aside from the Festival White and Red, all Paumanok wines are made entirely from estate fruit, sustainably grown. “As a winemaker I love to be prolific with the amount of varieties grown. They are all my babies, they all find homes … so why not?”
In fact, Paumanok is the only NY winery growing three Loire varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, and in addition, they also grow Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
The winery has been recognized with numerous accolades over the years including wine service at The White House, Wine Spectator’s Critic’s Choice Award, NY Wine & Food Classic’s “Winery of the Year” Award and “outstanding” reviews in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and a nomination for Wine Enthusiast’s “American Winery of the Year”.
RAIMOND DE VILLENEUVE (Château de Roquefort, Provence)
Château de Roquefort is a one-of-a-kind place run by a singular category-defying winemaker — Raimond de Villeneuve. Raimond’s talent is hailed by leading French wine critic Michel Bettane, who considers him one of Provence’s finest winemakers; Bettane writes, “The wines of Roquefort possess a hedonistic character that will make you immediately rejoice.”
Château de Roquefort’s stunning setting is a north-facing amphitheater of clay-limestone soils rimmed by sheer cliffs, and sits several miles inland from both the coastal Cassis and Bandol appellations. Raimond calls it “geologically like Cassis but at 1,300 feet altitude.” He painstakingly restored abandoned terraces, then replanted vineyards using hand-grafted cuttings from Provence, Corsica and the Rhône. Roquefort is a laboratory for a line of quality, value-priced wines that meet Raimond’s oxymoronic vision: “Wines that are seriously unserious.”
When Raimond was 10, his German mother took him from Provence to Munich, enrolling him in a Waldorf school inspired by Biodynamics founder Rudolf Steiner. “The first three months at school all we did was gardening,” he remembers. He quit high school senior year to apprentice as a carpenter. Raimond eventually returned to France, counterfeited a high-school diploma and earned a master’s degree in business. In 1987, as a bored futures trader at a Paris bank, he replied to a help-wanted ad for Burgundy négociant Mommesin. “Burgundy was a magic word for me,” he says. He was quickly hired.
Five years later, Raimond went home to Provence. At Roquefort, originally created by his aristocratic family in 1812, he found a “cellar the same as when it was built —there was no money, no equipment and vines trailing on the ground.” He renovated the winery, hired an experienced cellar master for his first harvest in 1995 and learned by listening and observing.
For the first decade, Raimond focused mostly on reds. Since 2007, he has emphasized rosé, a wine for which he has become a recognized master. His principal wine is now the Corail. “When I started out, rosé was like trash—where you put all the grapes that were not good enough to make red,” he says. “Now it’s different. I want to make rosé that’s a real wine.”
KAREN HOSKIN (Montanya Distillers, Colorado)
Karen Hoskin is the Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Montanya Distillers, the fast-growing award- winning producer selected as USA Rum of the Year at 2017’s Berlin International Spirits Competition. “I have been a rum fan for 28 years,” says Karen, who operates the distillery with husband Brice. At 2017’s American Distilling Institute (ADI) Craft Spirits Conference, Karen became the first woman keynote speaker ever named since the conference’s inception in 2003. Among the very few women shaking up an industry traditionally dominated by men, Karen is a passionate advocate for the craft spirits space.
Karen was first introduced to the idea of mountain rum—and the benefits of aging rum at higher elevations—while traveling in Guatemala. After tasting the clean, crisp flavor of a rum made with mountain spring water and aged above 7,000 feet, Karen decided to bring the concept home to charming Crested Butte, Colorado. Nestled high in the Rocky Mountains, Montanya’s altitude positively affects almost every aspect of fermenting, distilling and aging rum.
Maintaining ingredient integrity is a key focus too; Montanya proofs and bottles its spirits with well water from deep in the Rocky Mountains, 350 feet under its on-premise bottling facility. This well water is pulled from a snow melt and spring-charged aquifer which is free of heavy metals and filled with flavorful minerals. It has never been treated with chlorine, fluoride or reverse-osmosis filtration. The rums are aged in American White Oak barrels that previously contained Colorado whiskey. Add family-grown, non-GMO, minimally-processed sugar cane from Belle Rose, Louisiana, yeast, and a tiny touch of honey from bees near the distillery, and that’s it.
From scratch, Montanya Distillers handcrafts its distilled rums in a very traditional way using 100-gallon Alembic copper-pot stills from Portugal.
As Montanya is small in size, Karen dons many hats from day to day, playing a strong role in choosing distilling cuts and selecting spirits that are ready to bottle from the barrel. Duties and responsibilities also entail managing the bottling lines; national sales and marketing efforts; brand and product development; mixology; strategic planning; HR; and Montanya’s busy rum bar and restaurant, a worthy destination unto itself.
CEDRIC LECAREUX (Domaine les Capréoles, Beaujolais)
A trained agronomist and oenologist, Cédric Lecareux discovered the property he christened Domaine les Capréoles in Régnie-Durette in July 2014. The setting, steeped in history for more than 250 years, charmed his family with its ancient arched cellars and stones nestled within a wooded setting, truly an ideal place to call home while integrating his wine project with family life.
Cedric spent nearly 15 years working in the wine business before achieving his dream; he produced his first vintage in 2014. Everything he does is hands-on and natural, reflecting his core philosophy: “We do our best daily to implement values dear to us: respect, excellence, conviviality and passion. As in our family life, these values are our bases to develop and grow our estate. This includes simple but essential things like our decision of organic vine-growing.”
Capréoles derives from the Old French term for vine tendrils. Cédric chose this name for all it symbolizes: the reference to history and tradition, the natural support allowing vertical growth of the vine, but also the idea of relationships he wanted to establish with those who appreciate his work.
His passage from Languedoc-Roussillon to Beaujolais was facilitated as a teenager in the Auvergne, where he discovered Gamay, the most important grape variety of that region. A descendant of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, it has the same qualities of both. Control of yields is key for Gamay; to fully express its character and exist in the world of great wines, it prefers low fertility soils (such as granitic sands) and needs essential care. The results are purely-fruited, fresh Beaujolais that remarkably express all the richness of their exceptional terroir. Cédric prefers balanced and digestible wines, not too demonstrative in their power: wines that are exceedingly friendly at the table.
Thanks to http://escapadoenophile.com/ for the photo.
DIANA LENZI (Fattoria di Petroio, Tuscany)
Fattoria di Petroio is led by Diana Lenzi, the daughter of estate founders Pamela and Gian Luigi Lenzi. Following her mother’s “learn as you go” motto, Diana throws herself into running the business with great passion and energy; she follows and directs all phases of production commercially and promotionally, both in the vineyards and the cellars. As a member of Women in Wine and Young Agricultural Entrepreneurs (ANGA), she works diligently to bring Petroio to even higher levels of excellence while respecting its history and traditions.
After graduating with a political science degree from the University of Rome, Diana trained as a chef in several Michelin-starred restaurants, returning to Tuscany in 2008. “The winery was part of my life. I knew I’d end up here one day. Also, my dad couldn’t keep taking care of it; his real career is as a neurologist, and he’s quite famous. It was impossible to do both.”
“I cook and produce wine in exactly the same way. I start with the ingredient, which has to be the absolute best I can find. If I do a tomato sauce from my own garden, with nothing else but olive oil and basil I’ve grown, I’ll knock people out of their chairs. If I use a so-so industrial tomato, I can do the most intricate, complicated tomato-gelatin dish there is, and they’ll forget it before they’re even done eating. Wine is the same. I have beautiful, healthy grapes here —those are my ingredients. And I know my wine works when it reminds the person who takes a sip specifically of the grape from that vintage.”
As a pioneer within Italy’s male-oriented society — where women have had to fight for recognition by doing outstanding work — she shared, “Here in Tuscany, an estate would be passed onto a daughter only if there was no other choice. That’s changing. Plus, more women are pursuing professions in viticulture and enology. At Petroio, my right-and left-arm is Ilaria Marcomini, who’s worked here since 2001. She picked the books I studied and taught me chemistry. Out in the vineyards, she’d show me what a specific sort of discoloration on a grape leaf might mean.”
Diana is also among a handful of producers indirectly tasked with rebranding Chianti Classico, which somewhat butchered its reputation during the 1980s-90s. Notes Diana about that era, “You never knew what you were going to get in the glass–the wine could be modern or classic, round or tannic, diluted or powerful, you name it. The identity was gone. Now the best estates have gone back to what the land wants them to do. It’s an incredible return to our origins and a very exciting time for Chianti.”
MICKAEL AND JEAN-PAUL PICARD (Loire Valley)
Jean-Paul Picard et Fils is a family owned and operated winery, renowned for sensational Sancerres since 1750. Nearly three centuries later, descendent Mickaël assumed the helm in 2004 as lead winemaker. He pays particular attention to the development of his wines, guaranteeing the expression of terroir and his two grape varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. This allows a range of wines for all tastes: fruity whites and rosés as well as structured reds.
Fusing sustainable modern farming applications with traditional craftsmanship, Mickaël insists on harvesting his grapes manually — unlike 90% of Sancerre’s producers who harvest mechanically. He blends his fine Sancerre Blanc from the select Grand Chemarin and Chêne Marchand vineyards. Superb terroir and limited production translate into lusciously generous, gratifying wines.
The peculiarity of his estate is 45 small parcels of vines each with their own characteristics, proving that not all Sancerres are created equal; as Sancerre is a large appellation, the best villages have developed their own reputation for quality, with Bué considered among its finest.
The vineyard slopes surrounding this charming hamlet boast outstanding clay-limestone soils, sunny southwestern exposures and ideal elevations. Half the area is grassed over, especially on steep slopes to limit soil erosion. Mickaël works the soil by decomposing the vines and superficial plowing, further enriching the terrain’s microbial life, using indigenous yeasts to respect these differences resulting in wines of great complexity.
VINNY ALIPERTI (Billsboro, Finger Lakes)
Many people fall in love with the idea of becoming a winemaker — and a honeymoon abroad in winemaking countries often spurs those fantasies. But most don’t come home and become successful winemakers… unless you’re Vinny Aliperti, whose winemaking style is often described as crisp and fruit-driven with a focus on creating intense but balanced wines.
Vinny started his journey as a teenager, vinifying a barrel or two of wine with his grandfather each autumn. Following a post-college stint in the Peace Corps where he met his wife Kim, an opportunity arose to pursue commercial winemaking on his native Long Island. From 1997 to 1999, Vinny apprenticed under European-trained winemaker Roman Roth at Wölffer Estate producing mostly Chardonnay and Merlot.
In 2000, Vinny and Kim moved their young family to NY’s Finger Lakes region, where acclaimed Riesling pioneer Hermann J. Wiemer hired him as assistant winemaker. In 2001, Atwater Estate Vineyards lured him to Seneca Lake’s east side in the revered “banana belt” where more than 15 different varieties are cultivated; since 2003, Vinnie leads their winemaking operations too.
Billsboro is Vinny and Kim’s personal project started in 2007. Today, Vinny processes both domaines under one roof, strategically located within a mile of both Sawmill Creek and Atwater Vineyards, where a centuries-old barn serves as the main tasting room and is nestled in an idyllic 28 acres surrounded by century-old walnut trees, terraced fields and a deep wooded ravine.
Don’t let their laid-back, humble demeanor fool you, they make serious wine. Vinny’s dynamic approach earns praise both locally and nationally, including several write-ups in The Wine Spectator and New York Cork Report.
JUDITH BECK (Burgenland)
Judith Beck’s eponymous winery espouses her philosophy, “Wine, pleasure and the joy of living go hand in hand. We prefer wines captivating all of our senses with each new bottle and each new sip.” She is intent on forging her own path, crafting her vision of what Austrian wines should be.
Judith produces wines on the eastern side of Lake Neusiedl, near Hungary’s border on an estate comprising nearly 40 acres of vineyards. She focuses on native red grapes of the region — Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt, and St. Laurent.
Judith’s expertise and passion for biodynamics, agricultural practices that regard a vineyard as a living organism, were first codified by early-20th-century philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and go well beyond simply avoiding pesticides. Beck talks about it as a way of healing the soil, and is enthusiastic about the changes she has seen since 2007, the year she committed to farming in this mindful manner. The results show up in the bottle.