After working as a professional chef for many years, I started planting grapes and making wine in 2008, and have been working in vineyards and wineries ever since. I have a particular interest in underrepresented grapes, their histories, and helping to find their identities in California. Much of my experience has also been with warmer climate California vineyards and how to optimize challenging growing conditions for wine quality. Beyond grape growing and winemaking my experience spans wine retail, wholesale, restaurant consulting, sommelier certification as well as being a winery owner myself. I have been active in most parts of this business and love helping small producers and business owners getting started or help fine-tune their operations. Doing a lot with a little is my personal specialty, and I also have a network of professional colleagues who are ready to tackle large projects as well.
A few of my favorite grapes to work with:
AGLIANICO An ancient grape that can compete with hillside Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of structure, longevity, and capacity for length and minerality. It has great stomatal control, so handles heat very well. Very thick skins handle rain too - it is very late ripening, but as an ancient variety it is very disease prone and requires thoughtful pruning. The wine is also known for "shutting down" after bottling for maddenng periods of time.
NEBBIOLO Notoriously difficult in the vineyard, Nebbiolo planning requires careful sight evaluation and canopy management. Long internodes require thoughtful trellising in warm climates, and it can produce a charming Pinot-style red in zone 4, but Barolo profundity requires moderate warmth or large diurnal swings. Though the tannins will never polymerize like Cabernet, extended macerations are desirable to really flesh the wine out.
SANGIOVESE Soil types and water-holding capacity are an important key to limiting Sangiovese's productive nature, while in the cellar it responds best to Burgundian technique. A good heat spike towards the end can help dig out spice elements. Clonal mixing can be desirable as well. Water-holding soils can promote overcropping, and while tight planting can sound good, it depends on the sight. If water is limited I advise taking the Zinfandel route and using large spacing with the goal of dry farming - ripening time will be about the same. Though not common it can even be head pruned and responds well to spurred pruning with low disease probability.
MOURVEDRE Young Mourvedre vines can be remarkably productive and produce massive clusters of grapes with underveloped phenolics if not shoot thinned and sometimes fruit thinned. But, this productivity can become an asset if one plans on a lighter, Pinot Noir-styled wine, which can be done. Serious Mourvedre may be best with one cluster per shoot though, and though the skins are very thick it can be mildew prone. Like Barbera this is a grape that can be reductive, but that gives an opportunity to push it a bit and lean into meaty/gamey territory. Heavy oxygenation at pressing then extended barrel aging on lees can work well.
NEGRO AMARO Ok, so this one may be a stretch, but hear me out. It does not need long aging and can work as a stainless red. It makes great rosé. It does not like direct sunlight (no VSP) and actually prefers a canopy without shoot thinning, and it is relatively mildew resistant. It loves heat, has a wonderful soft texture with striking and unique aromatics. It grows like Grenache and can be head pruned, and looks happy at 100F. A bit of strategic blending can create a more structured wine, but a long fermentation can bring out beneficial tannin for a bit of gritty framing and grip. The bunches are very small, and the fruit on weak canes can have useful herbal tones as well, so no fruit thinning needed.
BARBERA The perfect gateway Italian wine for many, Barbera's dense and stable color plus low tannin and ample fruit has many fans. In the winery controling reduction (or using it effectively for complexity and leaning into a touch of funk) and creating a layering effect with different clones or multiple fermentation techniques are key in preventing a one-dimensional fruit bomb. It is adaptable to pretty wide soil types, and is forgiving in the winery, plus it can work well with some new oak, though a gentle hand is best to avoid a monolithic wine. It is also a good candidate for low SO2 winemaking.
CARMENERE If you want the full-bodied experience of Cab Sauv (perhaps a little less complex but with more red fruit) and have ample light and heat, skip the middleman and go straight to the source. Pyrazine management is key - which does NOT mean burning all the jalapeno out, but Carmenere can provide all the tobbaco and pepper-inflected red fruit notes you can handle, provided you are comfortable with high pH winemaking. Sandy soils work particularly well (necessitating drip irrigation) by maximizing aromatics while moderating tannin that can be clunky otherwise. A dash of Cab Franc can add nuance and layer fruit and spice as well.
SAGRANTINO Imagine the rich fruit of Zinfandel or Primitivo with the tannin of Tannat, rich floral tones, brooding forest floor notes, and serious noble tannins that guarantee ageability. It all exists in Sagrantino. The challenge is sky-high brix, even at veraison, and the weighting game for endless tannin to mature while the brix rise even further. Gentle handling is key, and I endorse rigorous lateral removal to reduce leaf surface area and shift sugar production to older, less vigorous leaves. The vines like clay, and it is an aggresive grower, but is susceptible to pruning wounds making fixed cordons problematic.