University of California Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office University of California
The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California
Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series
CREATING CLASSIC WINES IN THE NAPA VALLEY
Interviews Conducted by
in 1991 and 1993
Copyright 1994 by The Regents of the University of California
Warren and Barbara Winiarski evaluating Stag's Leap wines at
their home on the Silverado Trail, about 1974.
Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing leading
participants in or well-placed witnesses to major events in the development of
Northern California, the West, and the Nation. Oral history is a modern research
technique involving an interviewee and an informed interviewer in spontaneous
conversation. The taped record is transcribed, lightly edited for continuity and
clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The resulting manuscript is typed in
final form, indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and
placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and
other research collections for scholarly use. Because it is primary material,
oral history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete
narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in
response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved,
All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement
between The Regents of the University of California and Warren
Winiarski dated May 12, 1994. The manuscript is thereby made
available for research purposes. All literary rights in the
manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to The
Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley. No part
of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written
permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library of the University
of California, Berkeley.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be
addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library,
University of California, Berkeley 94720, and should include
identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated
use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal
agreement with Warren Winiarski requires that he be notified of the
request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Warren Winiarski, "Creating Classic Wines
in the Napa Valley," an oral history
conducted in 1991, 1993 by Ruth Teiser,
Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft
Library, University of California,
Copy no .
WINIARSKI, Warren (b. 1928) Winery owner
Creating Classic Wines in the Napa Valley. 1994, viii, 93 pp.
Academic background, St. John's College, University of Chicago, and Italy;
choosing a career in winemaking, Martin Ray winery; Souverain winery, 1964-
1966, and Lee Stewart; mid-1960s technology, cold fermentation for white
wines; Robert Mondavi winery startup, 1966-1968; making wine in Denver,
1968-1970; Howell Mountain vineyard; Stag's Leap Wine Cellars: vineyard
development, winemaking criteria; discussion of Napa County Agricultural
Interviewed in 1991 and 1993 by Ruth Teiser for the Wine Spectator
California Winemen Oral History Series. The Regional Oral History Office,
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
TABLE OF CONTENTS --Warren Winiarski
INTERVIEW HISTORY- -by Ruth Teiser vi
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION viii
I EARLY YEARS AND EDUCATION (1928-1961) 1
The Idea of a Sense of Community 4
Academic Years . 5
II WORKING IN THE WINE INDUSTRY 8
Beginning of Interest in Winemaking as a Profession 8
Experience at Martin Ray's Winery 14
Working at Souverain, 1964-1966 20
Winemaking Technology of the Mid-1960s 24
Starting Up the Robert Mondavi Winery, 1966-1968 28
The Denver Winemaking Enterprise, 1968-1970 31
Consulting and Studying, 1968-1970 35
Starting a Vineyard on Howell Mountain, Spring 1965 39
III STAG'S LEAP WINE CELLARS 45
Introduction to the Property, 1969 45
Replanting the Vineyards, 1970-1972 49
Developing a Wine Estate 53
Building and Equipping the Winery, 1973 56
The Paris Tasting, 1976 66
Classic Criteria 68
"Wines of Moderation and Restraint" 71
Growth and Special Programs 72
The Vineyards 74
Consistent Goals 76
Changes in Grape Growing Considerations 77
IV NAPA COUNTY AGRICULTURAL PRESERVE 1968 83
V VITICULTURAL AREA DESIGNATIONS 87
VI OUTLOOK 89
TAPE GUIDE 91
The California wine industry oral history series, a project of the
Regional Oral History Office, was initiated by Ruth Teiser in 1969
through the action and with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, a
state marketing order organization which ceased operation in 1975. In
1983 it was reinstituted as The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral
History Series with donations from The Wine Spectator Scholarship
Foundation. The selection of those to be interviewed has been made by a
committee consisting of the director of The Bancroft Library, University
of California, Berkeley; John A. De Luca, president of the Wine
Institute, the statewide winery organization; Maynard A. Amerine,
Emeritus Professor of Viticulture and Enology, University of California,
Davis; the current chairman of the board of directors of the Wine
Institute; Ruth Teiser, series project director; and Marvin R. Shanken,
trustee of The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation.
Until her death in June 1994, Ruth Teiser was project originator,
initiator, director, and conductor of the greater part of the oral
histories. Her book, Winemaking in California, co-authored with
Catherine Harroun and published in 1982, was the product of more than
forty years of research, interviewing, and photographing. (Those wine
history files are now in The Bancroft Library for researcher use.) Ruth
Teiser 's expertise and knowledge of the wine industry contributed
significantly to the documenting of its history in this series.
The purpose of the series is to record and preserve information on
California grape growing and winemaking that has existed only in the
memories of wine men. In some cases their recollections go back to the
early years of this century, before Prohibition. These recollections are
of particular value because the Prohibition period saw the disruption of
not only the industry itself but also the orderly recording and
preservation of records of its activities. Little has been written about
the industry from late in the last century until Repeal. There is a real
paucity of information on the Prohibition years (1920-1933), although
some commercial winemaking did continue under supervision of the
Prohibition Department. The material in this series on that period, as
well as the discussion of the remarkable development of the wine industry
in subsequent years will be of aid to historians. Of particular value is
the fact that frequently several individuals have discussed the same
subjects and events or expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from
his or her own point of view.
Research underlying the interviews has been conducted principally in
the University libraries at Berkeley and Davis, the California State
Library, and In the library of the Wine Institute, which has made its
collection of materials readily available for the purpose.
The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed
significantly to recent California history. The office is headed by
Willa K. Baum and is under the administrative supervision of The Bancroft
The Wine Spectator California Winemen
Oral History Series
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY INTERVIEWS
Interviews Completed November 1994
Leon D. Adams, Revitalizing the California Wine Industry. 1974
Leon D. Adams, California Wine Industry Affairs: Recollections and Opinions.
Maynard A. Amerine , The University of California and the State's Wine
Maynard A. Amerine, Wine Bibliographies and Taste Perception Studies.
Philo Biane, Wine Making in Southern California and Recollections of Fruit
Industries. Inc. . 1972
Charles A. Carpy, Viticulture and Enology at Freemark Abbey. 1994
John B. Cella, The Cella Family in the California Wine Industry. 1986
Charles Crawford, Recollections of a Career with the Gallo Winery and the
Development of the California Wine Industry. 1942-1989. 1990
Burke H. Critchfield, Carl F. Wente , and Andrew G. Frericks, The California
Wine Industry During the Depression. 1972
William V. Cruess, A Half Century of Food and Wine Technology. 1967
Jack and Jamie Peterman Davies, Rebuilding Schramsberg: The Creation of a
California Champagne House. 1990
Paul Draper, History and Philosophy of Winemaking at Ridge Vineyards: 1970S-
William A. Dieppe, Almaden is My Life. 1985
Making California Port Wine: Ficklin Vineyards from 1948 to 1992. interviews
with David, Jean, Peter, and Steven Ficklin, 1992
Alfred Fromm, Marketing California Wine and Brandy. 1984
Louis Gomberg, Analytical Perspectives on the California Wine Industry. 1935-
Miljenko Grgich, A Croatian- American Winemaker in the Napa Valley. 1992
Joseph E. Heitz, Creating a Winery in the Napa Valley. 1986
Maynard A. Joslyn, A Technologist Views the California Wine Industry.
Amandus N. Kasimatis, A Career in California Viticulture. 1988
Morris Katz, Paul Masson Winery Operations and Management. 1944-1988. 1990
Legh F. Knowles, Jr., Beaulieu Vineyards from Family to Corporate Ownership.
Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi , California Grape Products and Other
Wine Enterprises. 1971
Zelma R. Long, The Past is the Beginning of the Future: Simi Winery in its
Second Century. 1992
Richard Maher, California Winery Management and Marketing. 1992
Louis M. Martini and Louis P. Martini, Wine Making in the Napa Valley.
Louis P. Martini, A Family Winery and the California Wine Industry. 1984
Eleanor McCrea, Stony Hill Vineyards: The Creation of a Napa Valley Estate
Otto E. Meyer, California Premium Wines and Brandy. 1973
Norbert C. Mirassou and Edmund A. Mirassou, The Evolution of a Santa Clara
Valley Winery. 1986
Peter Mondavi, Advances in Technology and Production at Charles Krue Winery.
Robert Mondavi, Creativity in the Wine Industry. 1985
Michael Moone , Management and Marketing at Beringer Vineyards and Wine World.
Inc. . 1990
Myron S. Nightingale, Making Wine in California. 1944-1987. 1988
Harold P. Olrao, Plant Genetics and New Grape Varieties. 1976
Cornelius Ough, Researches of an Enologist. University of California. Davis.
John A. Parducci, Six Decades of Making Wine in Mendocino County. California.
Antonio Perelli-Minetti , A Life in Wine Making. 1975
Louis A. Petri, The Petri Family in the Wine Industry. 1971
Jefferson E. Peyser, The Law and the California Wine Industry. 1974
Lucius Powers, The Fresno Area and the California Wine Industry. 1974
Victor Repetto and Sydney J. Block, Perspectives on California Wines. 1976
Edmund A. Rossi, Italian Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry. 1971
Edmund A. Rossi, Jr., Italian Swiss Colonv. 1949-1989: Recollections of a
Third-Generation California Winemaker. 1990
Arpaxat Setrakian, A. Setrakian. a Leader of the San Joaauin Valley Grape
Elie Skofis, California Wine and Brandy Maker. 1988
Rodney S. Strong, Rodney Strong Vineyards: Creative Winemaking and Winery
Management in Sonoma County. 1994
Andre Tchelistcheff , Grapes. Wine, and Ecology. 1983
Brother Timothy, The Christian Brothers as Wine Makers. 1974
Louis (Bob) Trinchero, California Zinfandels. a Success Story. 1992
Charles F. Wagner and Charles J. Wagner, Caymus Vineyards: A Father- Son Team
Producing Distinctive Wines. 1994
The Wente Family and the California Wine Industry, interviews with Jean,
Carolyn, Philip, and Eric Wente, 1992
Ernest A. Wente, Wine Making in the Livermore Valley. 1971
Warren Winiarski, Creating Classic Wines in the Napa Valley. 1994
Albert J. Winkler, Viticultural Research at UC Davis (1921-1971). 1973
John H. Wright, Domaine Chandon: The First French-owned California Sparkling
Wine Cellar, includes an interview with Edmond Maudiere, 1992
INTERVIEW HISTORY- -by Ruth Teiser
Warren Winiarski won international fame at the 1976 Paris Tasting
for his Stag's Leap wine. This was only four years after he started his
winery. His adherence to high quality standards for his wines has
continued to this day.
Warren Winiarski was born on October 22, 1928 in Chicago, Illinois,
and spent his early years there. His Polish-American family was part of
a cohesive and somewhat isolated community of people of similar heritage.
He attended the public schools without achieving the kind of academic
excellence that would have been anticipated in a boy who went on for a
time to an academic career. As he explained, however, he was a difficult
student because he did not easily accept what he was taught but "had to
reduce things for my own illumination."
The same kind of turn of mind affected this interview. Always
courteous and affable, he steered the interview in his own direction,
although he generally followed the outline of suggested subjects sent to
him in advance. He, however, terminated the interview rather abruptly,
leaving the interviewer with some inquiries not made.
Thus this interview is remarkably characteristic of the narrator.
Evident are his intelligence, his interest in philosophy and abstract
ideas, and his broad concept of world wine. And his determination.
As he recounts, his interest in wine and an independent agrarian
life for himself and his wife led him from an academic career into the
wine industry. At first he worked for others, and finally in the early
1970s he created Stag's Leap vineyard and winery. His training in
viticulture and enology was largely on- the -job and through independent
study, and thus he developed the high ideals that have characterized his
winemaking and brought it success and acclaim.
The first interview sessions were held on July 24 and 25, 1991, at
the winery and in a sitting room of his attractive home north of Napa and
above the Silverado Trail. The final session, delayed until March 24,
1993, because of scheduling problems, was held in his office in the
Stag's Leap hillside winery. The tapings were several times interrupted
for winery matters.
Mr. Winiarski reviewed the transcripts twice at his request, the
second time reviewing his own editorial changes. He then made additional
small changes and revisions, but no substantive alterations.
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office University of California
Room 486 The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 94720
(Please write clearly. Use black ink.)
K * ' \ '
Your full nam W<X>C ^ CW W \ V\\ 0^ > V< 1
Date of birth October 22, 1928 ^ Birthplace Chicago. IL
Father's full name Stephen Winiarski :
Occupation Businessman Birthplace Chicago, IL
Mother's full name Lottie Winiarski ^
Occupation Honer.aker Birthplace chica g' IL
Your spouse Barbara
Your children Kasia ' Stephen, and Julia
Where did you grow up? Chicago, IL
Present community Napa, CA
Chicago Public Schools, St. John's College, University of Chicago
University of Florence, Italy, Croce Institute, Naples, Italy
Occupation (s) Winemaker
Areas of expertise w i ne growing and making
Other interest, or Ctiviti. Political Theory. Education, and Horticulture
Organization, in which you .r. tctive Board of Directors St ' J hn ' S C llege>
Burpee Seed Company, Napa Valley Vintners Association, and DARE (Napa).
I EARLY YEARS AND EDUCATION (1928-1964)
[Interview 1: July 24,
Teiser: We generally begin at the beginning- -when and where you were
Winiarski: Nineteen twenty-eight, October 22, in Chicago. It was at the
beginning of the Depression; it was a good harbinger for future
things. Sometime around then, in the fall of 1928, wasn't
there that stock market unpleasantness? I don't know how that
reflects on the current situation, but that's the year I was
Teiser: I guess people who were born during the Depression have some
little remnants, perhaps more psychological than not. Was your
family hit by the Depression?
Winiarski: Not that I recall. I don't think there's anything that I can
put in a recollection.
You know, my name, Winiarski, means "son of a winemaker."
The "-ski" part is genitive, so it refers to origin, like
Peterson is the son of Peter; so Winiarski is the son of
someone who makes wine, and my father was a winemaker; he made
dandelion wine and fruit wine as a hobby.
Teiser: What was his occupation?
Winiarski: He ran a livery business for weddings, funerals, and that sort
of thing, a business that his father started long before that.
The family was in this county about a hundred years or more.
Teiser: Were you involved in his winemaking?
lf rhis symbol (##) indicates that a tape or segment of tape has begun.
For a guide to the tapes, see page following transcript.
I remember putting my ear to the barrels and hearing the sounds
of the fermentation. He used that wine on social occasions,
since he did this sort of community service. This was a small
community within a large city. Everyone spoke Polish, and some
folks only spoke Polish. When he conducted these social events
and ceremonials, he would use some of his wine. That was
something very special, and I do remember that. I remember in
the cool cellar of our home where I was raised that there were
these barrels from time to time. I don't have any recollection
of the process, but I do remember listening to the
fermentation, and I do remember tasting the wine that he made
on some of these occasions. It was always very palatable and
So he made fruit wines,
He made honey wine also- -mead.
flavored wines, and mead.
I've never tasted mead.
I tried to make that early, too. I tried to go through the
footsteps that he had, and it's not very interesting. You can
leave a little sugar in it so it's mild and pleasant. I have
no recollection of that wine that he made.
Teiser: It was made under quite primitive conditions originally, wasn't
Winiarski: Yes. You have to dilute the honey down before you begin the
fermentation. Otherwise it just doesn't ferment. You have to
get to a degree of brix (about 22) that is suitable for
fermentation, and that's the way one starts.
Teiser: What was your early schooling before college?
Winiarski: It was actually in this same neighborhood. I attended public
school, but I also attended private school, which was to learn
Polish. That was in this little community that was so
insulated that we hardly knew what else was going on. I'm sure
some people did, but it was quite possible in this community- -
you knew everyone, or you knew someone who knew someone else.
There was a closeness, a sense of cohesiveness , and a sense of
real community, where there was a butcher, a baker, a
candlestick-maker. They were all on different corners or in
different parts, and you walked here and there around this
community to get what you needed.
Part of it was a public school within that community,
Casimir Pulaski School, the name obviously chosen for its
relevance to that community; it was a public school, but it had
the name of a Polish hero who was also a part of our
revolutionary war. He made contributions to the revolutionary
effort by his strategies and fortifications, as well as by
being a leader in the various battle campaigns.
Teiser: When you went to college, then, you got out among other people
more than you had when you were young?
Winiarski: Well, that happened when I went to high school. Then you go
into a larger community. That was a public high school,
actually a technical school, in Chicago.
Teiser: Your later academic career was more academic, not technical,
Winiarski: It was humanities mainly.
Teiser: Were you a good student? You must have been.
Winiarski: I think so, but difficult. I think I always had to see it my
way; I had to reduce things for my own illumination into terms
that I could understand. That was tough in the early days in
the public school. I remember being in trouble a lot in school
and sort of failing once and not advancing in the class for
reasons of science and other things where I couldn't quite
accomplish the transformation of the material for my own
purposes. They didn't think too highly of that endeavor, and I
stayed behind a year or a half year; it was 7A or 7B. That was
a shattering experience; that I can recall.
But still, I had to do that; I had to change things around
until I understood it in the way I could deal with it.
Teiser: Does that apply to the way you make wine?
Winiarski: It might. That's a very good point, actually. I think I had
to do that.
Teiser: How did you happen to decide to go on to do graduate work and
get an M.A. after college?
Winiarski: After high school I attended the University of Chicago for a
while, and then I attended a school of agriculture and mining
at Fort Collins, Colorado. I thought I might be interested in
forestry. That lasted only a short time, I think- -maybe a
couple of semesters- -because I found that it really wasn't what
I thought it was. I found myself more interested in
understanding things and more interested in the humanities than
in the technical proficiencies.
The Idea of a Sense of Con
Winiarski: I don't think we should abandon that early inspiration of the
wine. I think maybe there's something more there in those
early days. My grandfather, as I've heard, originally
delivered coal in the winter and ice in the summer for
businesses, households, and that sort of thing. Gradually that
changed itself from delivery to livery; they simply provided
horse and buggy and whatever other kind of carriages were
appropriate, mainly in this neighborhood. Later that was
expanded, but in the beginning I think the sense of
neighborhood, the sense of community was very important; and
now that I think of it, that may have contributed to the
unwillingness to become simply technically proficient at a
skill, for example, like forestry. Or I didn't want to be just
technically competent, but I wanted some larger sense of
community. [This was due,] I think, to having had an
experience of that in this small community where everyone had a
job, where there was such a cohesive community, and where
people felt about each other in certain ways and felt about the
outside in other ways --that's part of it unfortunately, but
that's a sense of community, and that means a closed community.
The intimacy and the coherence of that kind of life I think
made a pretty big impression on me.
My father contributed to that. Gradually that business
became narrowed down to concentrating on weddings,
confirmations, and funerals, and I think after a while even
more concentrated on funerals and that aspect of it. But that
was a very important part of that community, a crucial
contribution to the community. We lived across from the Polish
National Catholic Cathedral, so we were right in the center of
Teiser: Did you find any sense of community in the colleges and the
universities you went to?
Winiarski: I think that's why I was drawn to the liberal arts, because
that's an idea which is not particularly articulated in modern
times. It belongs to an earlier time when people thought about
social and political communities in different ways- -about their
limitations and about what guided the limitations. That's not
a modern idea. I mean, the idea of growth and the idea of
endless expansion is part of modern outlook, and not part of
the outlook that I had a taste of when I attended some college
courses at the University of Chicago.
There another outlook opened up, and then I went away from
that. That's when I went to Colorado, but it was very quickly
clear to me that it wasn't going to work. Someone gave me a
book about St. John's College in Annapolis, and that seemed to
satisfy all those- -they weren't interested specifically in
technical proficiency. They wanted you to understand those
things, but the most important thing was the understanding
itself --not to be competent in a technical way, but to
understand, and that's just what I was looking for. That might
have gone back to this old thing about having to redo things
that your teachers tell you in a way that you can grasp and
having come to it in some terms, making it your own.
You are very good, because you are drawing all this out.
These are connections I had not made before, but they are
obviously very important.
Teiser: Did you get your B.A. from the University of Chicago?
Winiarski: No, I got my B.A. at St. John's College. At that time the
[Robert M. ] Hutchins program, which you are familiar with, I'm
sure, was only in a remnant form at the University of Chicago.
Teiser: You mean it was past its prime?
Winiarski: I think many people would say it was past its prime. Hutchins
had already left, and what was there was already somewhat
diluted from his original intention. Where it did exist in its
original form, and perhaps even more than Hutchins himself
envisaged, was at St. John's College in Annapolis. There it
was not only practiced as a curriculum consideration, but it
was also practiced as a small community. There were four
hundred students at that time or maybe even less --three hundred
students. It had a very definite size; that college wanted to
be small to provide a community of learning where people were
able to communicate about the same kinds of things and engaged
with each other in elucidating the subject matter of those
Teiser: You then went on to get your M.A.?
Winiarski: Yes. I left St. John's and went back to the University of
Chicago for studies in political science. I think I was there
two years. Again, this was trying to articulate this other
Warren Winiarskl at St. John's College, 1953,
idea of the political history, which goes back to the need to
study those original texts which spoke of that earlier
tradition of thought- -about small communities, about cohesive
communities, and about principles of political life which are
different from those which are current. That was very
interesting to me.
Teiser: Did you become a teaching assistant then?
Winiarski: No, I went to Italy then and studied at Croce Institute in
Naples and at the University of Florence, again studying some
of the things that I had begun at the University of Chicago- -
Machiavelli in particular, Francesco Guicciardini , and the
theorists of the Italian tradition. That was about fifteen
months or so at the University of Florence, and I worked with
the Machiavelli manuscripts at the Laurentian Library.
I wanted to get to Germany. In Erfurt there was one of
the most important manuscripts of II Principe, but I didn't get
any response from the Communist authorities.
Teiser: Were you intending at that time to get a Ph.D. and go into
Winiarski: I think so. As far as I understood my own purposes, that was
Teiser: Then when you came back you became a--
Winiarski: I became a lecturer in the Basic Program at the University
College. This was sort of a program of non-graduate studies- -
people who had taken or not taken a degree. It was a four-
year, all-required program in part for people who had already
some academic training or who had an interest but no specific
academic training. It led to a certificate. This was one of
the last parts of the Hutchins program, and it existed then at
the University College. Not the College of the University;
there's a big difference. University College is sort of
extension, and that's where the program existed in its fullest
Teiser: How long did you do that?
Winiarski: I think I did that for about six years while taking further
graduate courses and working toward a Ph.D. In the meantime I
got the M.A. , and at a certain point I guess this idea of
cohesive community and life that Barbara and I and our family
then could live and practice together became the most important
consideration. It eventually became more important than
finishing the Ph.D. work.
Teiser: That's hard to break off after you've put that much effort into
it, isn't it?
Winiarski: It was. And there were satisfactions in teaching that would be
difficult if not impossible to duplicate. It was tough to make
II WORKING IN THE WINE INDUSTRY
Beginning of Interest in Winemaking as a Profession
Going back a little bit, sort of filling in the spaces, when I
was at St. John's I met Philip Wagner. You know, Phil still
thinks about these things. Maynard [Amerine] and Phil both had
a large hand in getting me started. It was Philip to whom I
wrote to ask about the opportunities, and he in turn wrote to
Maynard. Maynard said, "It's practically impossible to get
started these days the way you want to do it, with no formal
training." Phil sent that letter to me a long time after we
had achieved a certain amount of success in this endeavor.
What made you interested in wine as an occupation?
thinking of it as an occupation?
Or were you
I was, and I got encouragement from both Phil and Maynard in
this. Although he didn't underestimate the difficulties, he
did think it would be possible. Phil encouraged me more into
regional wines, which is a very strong interest of his. He
encouraged me to become interested in regional wines and the
development of the hybrids and use of hybrids to establish
wines of regional significance. That was very attractive for a
long time ; I was thinking about this .
I was playing with these ideas while I was at St. John's.
Later, while attending the University of Chicago, I even made
wines from grapes that one of Philip's growers produced in
Westminster County, Maryland, one year. While on a visit to
Barbara's parents' home in Baltimore, I drove up there and
bought a big crock at one of those antique stores along the
road. This is sort of amusing. I got this antique crock, and
I got the grapes. I crushed the grapes in Baltimore and took
them back to Chicago to finish the fermentation. This was a
graduate school exercise. Have you ever seen these old antique
Teiser: I think I have. Are they like what they make pickles in?
Winiarski: Right, exactly, and they were used to make wine, too. But it
is a different microbiology. I didn't realize that those tiny
hairline cracks concealed a world of life that was soon to make
a very important impression on the wine that I made,
[laughter] When you get one of these antique crocks, you can't
tell what it was used for before. This one probably belonged
to someone who made cabbage or pickles in the back country of
Teiser: How did you wine turn out?
Winiarski: It turned out all right for a while. Afterwards that stronger,
hidden force in all those little cracks reasserted itself, and
that wine turned to something that was not very pleasant. That
was my first winemaking venture.
Teiser: At least you got all through the process.
Winiarski: I got through the process, yes, and it was pretty good- -for a
wh i 1 e .
Teiser: Did you continue, then, making wine?
Winiarski: That simmered.
I have to tell you something else that happened. This is
another flashback (see how well you are doing your job?). In
1954 or 1955, after two years at the university in political
science, I went to Italy, as I said, and began to use wine on a
regular basis with meals. That was really fine; I liked that
whole idea. In our family wine was a special occasion event
and not daily, but in Italy I found wine used on a daily basis.
It was a little bit with lunch in the wonderful Italian
sunshine. I mean, it really made a difference in how you
perceived food and how your afternoon was fulfilled.
Teiser: Did you take any criteria from the United States about what
wine should taste like?
Winiarski: No. By that time my father had stopped making the wine, and we
used it only occasionally, so I didn't fasten in on the whole
topic and presentation of wine. It's been my experience that
everyone who is engaged with wine in a more than casual way has
some experience in which wine reveals itself for the first
time, no matter how many times you've had it before and under
what circumstances. There is one single moment when the
richness and the significance of it come to be.
I went to Italy and used wine and so on, and I came back
and spent a number of years again at the University of Chicago.
It wasn't until a friend visited Barbara and me and brought a
wine from the East Coast. It was in the class of one of Philip
Wagner's hybrid wines, and at that luncheon wine took on its
special significance for me. It was epiphanal! It illuminated
itself in a way it had never appeared before. From that time
onward I started to read about it, I became interested in it
and talked to people about it. I would viSit stores and chat
with people who were selling the wine who were familiar with
the origins of this or that wine and the status of them, the
characters, the virtues of them. It became a preoccupation.
This was toward the end of those six or so years at the
University of Chicago when the whole idea of finding a kind of
life that we could share as a family, participate in as a
family, began to emerge.
The two ideas began to converge; something we could do
together, and the interest in wine and the fascination with all
its aspects began to come together.
Did your wife feel the same interest?
Yes. Not from the same origins. Partly it was because I was
interested in it. These threads were not coming together
identically for her as they were for me.
Did either of you have any idea of agrarian life?
I think we wanted to be out of the city if possible. We
perceived it would be difficult to accomplish what we wanted to
do in an urban context. It wasn't going to be simply a
business, in other words. It had to be a special kind of
activity where we could share with each other the things we
were doing. I think that was clear.
Winiarski: I even went to New Mexico to see what kind of [opportunities
were there]. We didn't have the resources to go out and buy
something and live from that, so whatever it was going to be,
it would have to be something that we would have to work
through and hopefully eventually develop the resources to be
able to sustain ourselves. In retrospect, it was sort of
imprudent to a pretty large degree, because if things had not
been happening in California to make that sustainable, it would
not only have been "agrarian, " as you said, but it would have
been at a very low level of economic return. I don't think we
were thinking of that too much, and that's a sign of the
imp rudenc e also.
Teiser: What sorts of things did you look at in New Mexico?
Winiarski: It was to see grape growing, and I also got grapes there. I
fermented grapes coming back to Chicago. I did look at apples
there, for example, along the Rio Grande River in that green
belt that goes through the state. There were a couple of
places where they grew outstanding fruit. I knew one thing,
Ruth. I knew there was no chance of sustaining ourselves at a
mediocre level; whatever we had- -if we had apples, it had to be
There's a little addition to this. (I told this story to
Jim [James] Conaway in the book Napa 1 .) It was on this trip
that I took by myself and lived in the back of a station wagon
and had little shades; you know, I made it into a little
covered wagon sort of thing so that I could move very quickly
and be free to stop wherever I needed to- -maximum flexibility
to discover the things that I wanted to.
Outside of the irrigated areas, the country is arid, and
one day I stopped along the side of the road at a deserted
adobe house that had been abandoned. There were picket fences
around that had once enclosed something, and there was some old
corn lying there from the last time it had been harvested.
Maybe they had lived there only a short time and moved on, and
maybe they would come back, but to all intents and purposes it
was abandoned. It had an air of desolation, and the wind was
blowing and tumbleweeds were rolling across my field of vision.
The wind was doing this funny kind of whistling that it does.
It's a kind of lonely, desolate sound arid, deserted, and
Something in me then said, "You're considering this?
You're thinking about this? Your ancestors would curse you for
having left what you left to come back to something like this,
and your descendants will curse you for having opportunities
and then bringing them to this." Within myself, I was being
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990.
the playwright for the generations,
the thought of that enterprise.
That play sort of ended
Teiser: Then did you make a similar exploratory trip to California?
Winiarski: Right. That was later. I think that was about the time I had
already decided. After the experience when our friend brought
us the wine, and after the experience in New Mexico and
thinking about what my parents did to help me be educated, what
they sacrificed, the field narrowed down very tightly. I read
Philip Wagner's book with renewed interest. In the course of
the reading I was doing in these wine books, I read about
Martin Ray in John Storm's book 1 , I think it was --one of the
very early books about California wine.
I had read Schoonmaker ' s book. 2 That was another strong
influence. Philip Wagner's was a strong influence, and
Schoonmaker was a strong influence, probably Philip the more so
because he wrote about it so humanistically, about the
inwardness of winemaking and grape growing, and this was more
appealing. Schoonmaker ' s was more a sort of businesslike,
commercial approach. It was valuable, but it didn't have the
ability to stir and inspire the way Phil's did.
Teiser: Storm was someone Martin Ray knew?
Winiarski: Yes. The book was about California wine. It had been given to
me by one of my colleagues at the university. He talked about
a number of the small wineries, and there were only a few then
- -Mayacamas- -the people who were able, by their diligence, by
their perseverance, and by their application, to find a way on
a small scale, not as an industrial enterprise and a commercial
effort, but as a way of life rather than as a way of business.
When you read the description of Martin Ray, you didn't think
this man was pursuing a business; he was pursuing a way of life
first and foremost, and it managed to be a business. That was
very appealing, this idea of combining this, because it sort of
brought together all those aspects we were thinking about.
Teiser: I know that Martin Ray was very inspiring to people.
: John Storm, An Invitation to Wine. New York: Simon & Schuster,
2 Frank Schoonmaker and Tom Marvel, American Wines. New York: Duel,
Sloan and Pearce , 1941.
Winiarski: He was. He had the ability to infuse qualities of uncommon
interest, almost of magic. He had the ability to instill such
a high degree of enthusiasm for what he was doing and to regard
the things that he was doing with such enthusiasm that he was a
very compelling figure, a very compelling spirit.
Teiser: How did you get him to accept you?
Winiarski: Well, he didn't quite. That didn't quite work.
Where are we now in our narrative? I more or less made a
decision to try California, having read these books again and
having reaff irmation that this was the right thing to do. The
question was where and with whom and how this was all to be
brought about .
Teiser: So you were pondering where to go?
Winiarski: The method. The objective, I think, was pretty clear by now,
but the means were not clear. In reading this book- -by the
way, Chaffee Hall [of Hallcrest Vineyard] was one of these few
[small wineries], if I'm not confusing it. There were a few;
there was Lee [J. Leland] Stewart, the McCraes at Stony Hill,
Martin Ray, Mayacamas , Chaffee Hall. But what had probably the
greatest impact and attractiveness were the grand style wines
by this man [Martin Ray] who seemed such a powerful presence to
all who met him, to be larger than life itself up on this
That may be an extreme formulation, but that seemed- -if
one knew how that could be accomplished, that would be helpful
to a great and high degree to see how we might accomplish the
same thing. I think I wrote to Martin, and I got this letter
back from Peter Martin Ray, his son 1 , from the University of
Michigan. I wrote to him inspired by what I read about him and
about what he was doing there.
By this time I knew something about California wines. I
had not tasted any of Martin's wines, but there was a sense in
me that the Californians were not on the whole doing enough
with the fruit that they had to realize its full potential for
excellence. It was sort of crazy to think that, but that's the
way I perceived it. It was crazy to think that I could have
anything to do with that, but I knew or had a very strong sense
x His stepson. Martin Ray married Eleanor, Peter Martin Ray's mother.
that there must be people out there who were at the brink if
not beyond the brink of achieving this excellence. Because the
standard wines that came back to Chicago that I was able to get
were not of this kind. They were good, but there was nothing
of such surpassing excellence.
Experience at Martin Ray's Winery
Winiarski: From what I read of Martin in this book, I believed that he was
trying to achieve this- -from what people said about those
wines. It was just sort of putting two and two together,
making certain inferences from what they said. He had the
quality level, he had achieved the level of excellence, that
this way of life, if one could duplicate it, would be self-
sustaining economically. That's what I had to find out about.
Teiser: Was he really self-sustaining economically in the end?
Winiarski: I don't know. I guessed he was; I supposed he was. But having
learned some other things, maybe his stockbroker earnings were
supporting that to a large degree, and his real estate
endeavors with other people and the partners that he got in.
All of these things could have been working for it. It
appeared to be; however it was managed, it appeared to be
achievable, and that was very important for us. Imprudent as I
was, I did think about it being not just for one year or so but
a change for the rest of our lives. Therefore somehow it had
to provide the basis for doing this the rest of our lives and
for raising our children and educating our children.
Teiser: What did his son say in his letter?
Winiarski: I think it was sort of a fan letter that I wrote to Martin,
admiring him, expressing praise for the achievement, and all
this sort of thing, and wondering whether there wasn't some way
that I couldn't work with him and learn; whether there was some
place in his enterprise which would permit someone to learn the
things while working for him- -an apprenticeship idea.
Then I got this letter back from Peter Martin Ray. I
think he's still called that, isn't he? Whatever happened to
Teiser: He's still in charge of the winery, and he teaches at Stanford,
Winiarski: Does he? Biology, botany. He was a man of some accomplishment
in the field of biology or botany. His research was at a high
level of sophistication. I mean, he had a very high order of
acquaintance with the field. I'm not in a position to [judge
his work] , but he had a position with the university in
research. He also wrote a sort of basic textbook.
The letter said that there was some possibility, because
they had just made some changes in their organization. Someone
had left them, and there was a possibility that they needed
someone to help out with all the things that Martin did. It
was pretty much a one-man operation- -one-man guidance, one-man
inspiration, one man not smelling every bung, perhaps, but
pretty close to it.
In any case, he led me to believe there was hope that
something that I wanted and something that they wanted would be
to our mutual interest. That was a very exciting moment when I
got that letter back. Then there was some further
correspondence back and forth. I went out then to Ann Arbor to
visit Peter and his family and to taste, finally, Martin Ray
wines, which were a revelation. Beautiful wines.
Chardonnays- -I ' d never tasted anything like that. I think it
was whites only, if I recall.
Teiser: I didn't realize that the son had that much interest in the
winery that early.
Winiarski: He came out there on occasion and worked there. He was
Teiser: Yes, I believe so--not Martin Ray's son.
Winiarski: Right. Martin adopted him, I believe, and then Peter assumed
the name Peter Martin Ray.
The wines were extraordinary, stunning, a degree of
artistic excellence that I had not experienced in California
wines before. It was unquenchable, then, this desire to put
this thing together and make it work. I thought to myself that
it is people and their endeavors that really make this turn
around- -such stunning examples of excellence, such exquisite
pleasure to accompany food and dining. By this time I had some
experience with European wines and their similarities. They
had some regional character, but still outstanding in light of
that article of mine, "The Hierarchy of Wine Quality" 1 . There
l Uines and Vines, August 1986, pp. 33- 35.
is a hierarchy, and these wines were at the top of the
hierarchy. They were excellent not for their regional
qualities, not for their here-and-now qualities, but they could
be at any time, in any place, and anyone would recognize them
Peter got these shipped in from Martin, I guess as part of
his recompense so that he'd have the wines to entertain his
friends. They knew about the wines, and they put them in a
vault because even then they were so expensive that they were
properly cared for in safe places.
Everything seemed to be satisfactory on both sides, and to
explore this to the next step it was necessary to go to
California. They arranged it for me, and I think they even
provided for the passage from Chicago by train. Peter was
bringing his family from Michigan, the train passed through
Chicago and I got on the train. They were in a compartment,
and I got another compartment, and we went across country on
the old Santa Fe railroad. It went through Iowa, Nebraska,
Wyoming. Was it the Capitol Limited? They were trains that
traveled through the night. We got off at Niles, a stop near
Martin Ray's vineyard and winery, to go up to Cupertino and
then up into the Santa Clara mountains.
It was the middle of winter when I went there. I think it
was actually toward the end; it may have been February or
March. It coincided with Peter's being off from his teaching
responsibilities. As we traveled through the winter-scorched
plains and through the snow-covered mountains, can you imagine
what an experience it was looking out the window the day we
came across the Donner Pass and descended into the Central
Valley, where everything was green?
I spent a week at Mount Eden with Martin, Madame Pinot
(Eleanor), Peter and his wife, Terry, and two of their
children. They had built a building they called the chateau;
the partners contributed towards having their own place of
residence when they were there, part of which was for
residential purposes and part for making wine. I believe they
called that building the chateau, and I had a room in it.
Above that was the house where Martin lived, and then they had
a little guest house where Peter lived.
During this week I was to see how I liked them and how I
liked the work, and how they liked me and how good I could do
the work. I wasn't very good, I don't believe, but I did all
right. For one of the farm jobs, I walked behind the tractor.
They had just cleared one of the mountain tops for Chardonnay,
and I walked behind the tractor and picked roots out of the
ground. I did some pruning. I can't remember whether I did
some tractoring or not. I think I did some tractor ing- -driving
a tractor. Yes, I remember there was a breakdown, and the disc
that I was using broke down. I got Peter to help me, and I
can't imagine how I got to that point- -how I went back to get
Peter to help me fix the disc- -unless I had been driving the
tractor. Let's assume that's correct. I was supposed to do as
many things as possible during the time that I was there.
I helped them bottle. It was a fantastic experience.
They bottled with a siphon hose from a barrel. Everything had
its special magic. If you've never been up there, you don't
know that Martin had accumulated a number of bells from
schoolhouses that were no longer being used as schoolhouses .
On occasions, when visitors came, they rang those bells. It
was like a cathedral with all its bells ringing. It was
ceremonial; it was formal; it was very special. It called for
your taking strong notice, that this was not without its
"breath of divinity," for it invited comparison with its
churchlike original. The quality of the life there- -there was
nothing ordinary; not a thing was left to its ordinary
disposition. It tried to be heightened, enhanced, increased in
meaning. After a while you had to sort of rub your eyes,
because you couldn't believe all this was happening.
All this lasted a week. If we are able to come back to
these things I will be able fill in and speak about some of the
specifics. I hesitate to tell you about the parties and the
ceremonials that accompanied the eating, both casual meals and
the special meals that took place. Maybe we can get into that
if you think it's valuable, because that had something to do
with it, too.
Peter and Terry drove me to the train station. They were
going to spend another week at Mount Eden. I was feeling
pretty good, but then I noticed there was a kind of silence, a
lack of the typical easygoing vivacity which was characteristic
of our previous relationship. I noticed this kind of strained
quality to our conversation after while, and I couldn't quite
figure it out. Anyway, I went back to Chicago, and then I got
a message by letter (after I had written and thanked them for
the week and for showing me all the things, and expressing my
desire to go forward with our thoughts and discussions) , saying
that they had thought about it and- -I forget how Martin put it:
he didn't think it would work out because I was too
independent. I think that's the phrase he used.
In the meanwhile , they had shown me the place that they
expected me and my family- -Barbara and our two children- -to
live. It was small. We chalked it out on the floor; we marked
out where this would be , where that would be , where the other
thing would be. It was small. We were still willing to do it,
however, but that was a tough one, I tell you. It was tough to
think about living there, and there was a little pause in my
I had seen something of Martin's character at the same
time, and that may have expressed itself while I was there.
The magic --after I rubbed my eyes, some of the magic that I saw
there didn't seem to be magic. I wondered how this was
possible. There was a kind of unreality, and I wondered what
would happen when the reality emerged. And yet I was so*
devoted to the idea and so desirous of going forward with the
project that I thought, "Well, you just have to do all these
things. You have to forget about that, not look at this, not
see this, and forget about all these spaces that are so tight
in this cabin." I thought to myself later that I would be
willing to undergo this kind of "voluntary servitude," because
that's what it would have to have been, but I really wondered
if I could subject my family to the same thing.
Anyway, I still wanted to go forward with it, so when the
letter came it was a blow. I wondered how that could be
recovered. I talked to Peter on the phone, and I then went out
to see them in Ann Arbor. We talked it over: could it work,
would it work, why didn't it work? What was the independence,
and what were the things that had to be done or couldn't be
left off? I still thought, "Well, all those things may be
problems- -all the circumstances that might lead to
difficulties--." I think I was trying to fool myself, that I
could just forget about all those things. I think probably
Martin was wiser and saw something about me that revealed to
him that it probably wouldn't work.
So that was the Martin Ray story.
I think the lesson was invaluable for me, however it
turned out, to see something of what I wanted to achieve- -one
rendition of it. To see this man, who was able to inspire, who
did inspire, who evoked admiration, and whose achievements were
magnificent at that time. Some people have a different sense
of his wines. The wines I tasted were all outstanding. It was
said that some bottles didn't live very long, and the wines
were subject to oxidation and all that sort of thing. I,
unfortunately or fortunately, did not have the experience of
the faulty wines the times I was there and the times I had them
Reflecting on that afterwards, I thought Martin's great
achievement was perhaps doomed to failure, because it took
someone of that huge magnitude and capability to show what was
possible. But maybe that magnitude was unavoidably accompanied
by this --well, it's a tyrannical paranoia, if I could use this
kind of semi-clinical description. There was a tyrannical
spirit about him, absolutely to have everything his own way;
and that goes with the other thing, because in paranoia, to
feel that people are not with you all the way is an inevitable
consequence of wanting everything your own way.
But you saw California enough to want to return?
Yes. The idea was still very much alive. Maybe I went too far
to an extreme in thinking about how much could be overcome.
But as it turned out, I think the ending that came about was
entirely appropriate. I immediately began to say, "Well,
that's not going to be possible, so what else is possible?
What else can be done?
It was fortunate that you saw it that way.
Teiser: You had seen one part of California- -
Winiarski: Yes, and the mountain life- -this isolation and the endeavor. I
heard some things when I was there that led me to believe that
other people did not see eye to eye with Martin on how to do
this: Gil Nickel and Jack Davies. So I knew this wasn't the
only resolution, that there were other possibilities. Then:
Well, what were they? What other people? There's the Napa
Valley, there's Mayacamas , there's Lee Stewart. I began to
write to other people, and I'd give the same presentation:
"Here I am. I will do what's necessary in your organization.
I'd like to learn how to do these things, and we can be of
service to each other."
I got three letters back. Chaffee Hall wrote back and
said there was no possibility; or did I hear that? I can't
remember now. But two letters I do remember, one from
Mayacamas and one from Lee Stewart. They were both in the same
area, and that meant a trip to see what they were like and to
talk further with them.
Something happened at Mayacamas between my letter to them
and their letter coming back to me. Bob [Robert] Ellsworth,
"The Compleat Winemaker," was there. He and Phoebe lived up
there and were sort of running the thing. But I think
something had happened, because the letter that I remember
receiving, and the letter from Lee Stewart, said he had just
had a change. They both indicated that it would be beneficial
to come and see what they were like and talk further, and
that's what I did. Bob remembers it differently. Bob
remembers indicating that there wasn't any opening at
Mayacamas. We were both trying to recollect the other day
about how that happened.
I spent an afternoon up there, but then I found out that
they didn't have anything, it really wasn't an opportunity.
Bob and Phoebe kindly invited me to lunch in spite of the
misunderstanding, and we had an interesting conversation. They
were both very urbane and comforting, given the circumstances.
Working at Souverain. 1964-1966
Winiarski : I spent the balance of the time at Souverain, and there we did
seem to hit it off; we did seem to have something that was
beneficial for both of us in the proposal. So the deal was
settled, and we made an arrangement for me to return in the
middle of the summer before crush to establish my family. I
didn't even have time then, I think, to definitely find a place
for us to live, so that had to be done a little remotely. But
we did find a place finally, and we arrived out there. Barbara
should tell you some of the stories about coming across the
country in this station wagon with a trailer. The first day
out of Chicago we broke down because of the load we had. We
had to have the engine rebuilt, and it was worn out by the time
we got here. So we wore out two engines getting to California,
traveling with two children and all the things I had- -lots of
books, bookcases. And books were still coming; books were
still loaded on railway express, which had a depot in Vallejo
at that time.
Teiser: What were your duties at Souverain?
Winiarski: I was the assistant winemaker in a two-man winery, so that
meant do everything and anything. I tell you, that was a very
good experience, because every step was available; every single
step was open to observation, and you had to do every step,
from the most inconsequential to the most important.
Teiser: As I have heard, Lee Stewart was another person who inspired
Winiarski: Right. He made some outstanding wines there, and they created
a stylistic identity, that slightly sweet white wine of great
cleanliness, great clarity, and with refreshing qualities.
There weren't many examples of that in California. They were
not magnificent wines, as Martin Ray's tended to be on a large
scale, very sweeping statements of wine style, but at their
level of complexity they were extremely refreshing, pleasant,
agreeable, and expressed the fruit to a high degree. Martin's
wines tended not to express the fruit but the complexity, and
Lee's wines tended to be faithful to the expression of the
fruit characteristics of the grapes, even such poor wines as
Green Hungarian, which he made in those days. They are poor
grapes , but by careful blending he made it in a style which was
very pleasant, refreshing, appetizing- -enlivening wines and
very expressive of the fruit without complexities. Some people
said maybe some of that was due to the below- threshold level of
residual sugar that he left and also to the levels of C0 2 . But
there were not many wines of that character, and one found
those wines boundlessly enlivening and pleasurable
accompaniments for food.
Teiser: It sounds like the kinds of wines that Paul Masson made about
that same time.
Winiarski: Well, I'll tell you, the whole idea of cold fermentation for
California white wines was then in development by Lew [Lewis
A. ] Stern, who had been at Charles Krug. I think I met Lew
Stern once, but I've been given to understand this- -very cold
fermentation and retaining some of the C0 2 developed during the
fermentation, and a reasonable degree of acid and low, below-
threshold levels of sugar. This type of wine- -and I don't know
how it got to Paul Masson; maybe Lew Stern was--
Teiser: Maybe I'm wrong. I suppose by then Peter Mondavi was making
that type of wine.
Winiarski: Yes, and I think Peter and Lew Stern collaborated to a high
degree for this. Who is actually the originator and how this
came to be , I have no way to say. I knew Lew went then to
Gallo. He had some physical infirmity, and it was difficult
for him to continue. I think eventually he went to Gallo and
helped with some of the techniques. I don't know where that
originated- -who sat down one night and worked out this
formula- -but certainly Lew had passed through Souverain at one
time and was acquainted with Lee Stewart.
But it was more than that sort of accidental transmission.
I think it was a kind of wine that represented Lee Stewart's
personality more than anything else. It was a wine natural for
him, because he was a man of extremely fastidious
characteristics. One could almost say he was obsessively
concerned with the minutiae and the detail and the cleanliness
of all the process. Of course, this was a big- -it was like
Pasteur in the old days. Who would have thought that you
needed to wash your hands when you did some things? The
cleanliness of his operation was what struck me immediately- -
the scrupulous, even exceedingly scrupulous attention to all
this kind of thing where the wine could have been unfavorably
disadvantaged by carelessness.
Teiser: Where did Lee Stewart learn to make wine?
Winiarski: I'm not sure. I'm assuming that he had some assistance from
all these people when he decided to give up chicken farming
there. I think that's what he came there to do. He had left
Armour and Company. He had what I understood was a pretty
responsible position, and he sort of abandoned all that and
went up to that hill and began to raise chickens.
Teiser: You learned things there that you wouldn't have learned at
Winiarski: Absolutely. Let me just continue that: I remember him telling
me the story one day that the carrying of these sacks --he was a
man of great strength, and he worked as a coal stoker on a
train at one time, so he had lots of physical strength. He
said something about becoming impatient with carrying those
hundred-pound sacks of chicken feed. I think the difference
between what you could earn from chickens and what you had to
feed them became smaller and smaller, and this may have decided
that the use that he was putting that property to was not
giving the most economic benefit.
It would be interesting to pin that down a little bit. I
think Lew Stern was part of it, Andre Tchelistcheff may have
been part of it, and there may have been others when he
decided--. I mean, that was really the kind of winery that you
developed. You'd buy a barrel, you'd buy some grapes or grow
some grapes, you eventually paid for the barrel when you'd sell
some wines, and you'd buy another barrel.
That's the way we started here also. We didn't start with
the resources. The building (our fifth building) that you saw
when you passed by here is being built in a little different
way. We do use the bank now, but in the old days --and I think
Lee went through this process. Of course he had loans later,
but he was not only frugal but parsimonious, and some people
would even say tight. [laughter] He was very prudent, very
cautious. You can't say that a man who came out and abandoned
that business career that he had was entirely without a
gambling instinct, but yet there was this other part that was
So that way of proceeding- -you buy a barrel, pay for the
barrel, buy another barrel maybe, or maybe another half a
barrel if it's not a good year. [laughter]
Teiser: You certainly learned how to start from the ground up, then.
Winiarski : You said I learned things there that I would not have learned
from Martin Ray, and I think that's quite right. That's a
worthy thing to speculate on, but I certainly learned things
from Lee. He was an enormously beneficial master.
Teiser: Was he generous with his information?
Winiarski: Well, yes and no. I think he came to see very quickly that my
capacity for information was rather huge. He did try to
dissuade me from an independent course; he did do that. He
said at one time to me- -at that time there were probably ten
wineries in the valley- - "There ' s probably room for two more
wineries in this valley." Of course, I didn't believe that for
a minute. I listened to that, but I couldn't believe it. I
examined the argument, I examined all the things. Who knew at
that time? I don't think there's anyone who knew. As we saw
the wine prices move from $3.50 or $4 a bottle to $5 a bottle- -
man, that was a huge jump.
When Joe [Joseph E. ] Heitz came along with an $8 or $9
bottle of wine, that was phenomenal. Some of us knew that
Martin Ray got extraordinary prices, and that's the
sustainability idea- -my idea that we could not do what we
wanted to do on "culls," things that were culled. I knew
Martin Ray's wines were not culls. Even when I was there I
think he had sold some wine to the White House at extraordinary
prices because there was some interest to get those wines, and
that was the only way it would work.
So the sustainable idea. This excited a certain amount of
interest in land; the fact that wines could be sold in quantity
at this elevated price excited a certain amount of interest
from nonprofessional and non-dedicated investors- -people whose
interest was monetary investment simply. That was one of the
main ingredients in that later development that made possible
the excellence that we perceive today in the making of the
wines, the growing of the grapes. You had to have this outside
investor economic interest.
Teiser: There were tax advantages, too.
Winiarski: That was also there. All of those things. We didn't talk
about the major ingredient, the accumulation of scientific
information and things that people did at Davis. Maynard
Amerine's work with grapes and where they grow best --that
bulletin of the Agriculture Experiment Station at the
University of California 1 that I used as a Bible, reading it
in a devotional way. Every day you read a little bit of this,
at night you read a little bit of that, getting intimately
immersed in the contents. You read another chapter and tried
to figure out what these must analyses could mean and what
their significance was. The existence of such a rich body of
knowledge was certainly another major ingredient.
And I think the other thing was the people, among whom I
count myself, whose taste and aspirations were formed elsewhere
and who brought in the ability to actually accomplish the
coming together of these several elements.
Teiser: Maybe you were again echoing this kind of community that you
spoke of earlier.
Winemaking Technology of the Mid-1960s
Teiser: Did you find there was a community of interest in northern
California, the wine people and their technology?
Winiarski: Yes, I wanted to be a part of that community, no question. To
give you an example from my observations about the technology.
In touring wineries when I got here, all red grapes were pretty
much treated alike- -fermentation time, pumping-over regime,
degree of maceration, yeast strains, even malolactic organisms,
1 M. A. Amerine and A. J. Winkler. California Wine Crapes:
Composition and Quality of Their Musts and Wines. California Agricultural
Experiment Station Bulletin 794, 1944.
which was just beginning to come under a disciplined control.
I'm not sure precisely when ML34 was isolated, but Andre had
much to do with that. The importance of that was not
universally appreciated. Lee, for example, tried to avoid
malolactic, although Andr6 had conducted some experiments in
barrels there and he had malolactic microflora in his tanks.
Lee did not see the leavening quality that properly conducted
malolactic fermentation imparted to the wine. He did not
particularly appreciate it.
The real key, the real illuminating factor for me was how
they treated the skins. In red grapes the skins are the life
from whence the wine comes, and they were all treating them
alike; every variety was treated alike in the fermenters, with
the same pump -over regime, same times, same degree of pump over
and degree of maceration. The difference between the varieties
was simply not taken into account. The difference in the
quality of the skins from one place to another was not taken
into account, and that you might have to respond to that
difference by a different treatment in the fermenter and a
different form of maceration. Nobody talked about that.
You'd go from winery to winery, and you would see them
pumping over twice a day for ten minutes or fifteen minutes or
whatever it was, and the least skilled person in the winery was
doing the pumping over, not responding to anything that was
happening in that material that was before him. I mean, you
are like a potter or sculptor, forming and shaping the
material, and here they are; they have somebody from the
vineyard that they brought in to pump over the wines because
they didn't believe anything was particularly important about
that stage. Granted it doesn't require the greatest skill, but
to think you could bring someone from the vineyard, whose
outlook is not conditioned to respond to and respect anything
that's going on in that material --to expect that to make no
difference indicates the neglect there was for a very important
factor in red-wine making. That was, by the way, quite common
in those days- -that you'd get people in from the vineyard to
work in the winery.
When did this change take place, of differentiating the grapes
and their qualities?
Gradually over the course of time people began to see that
there were differences. I was certainly sensitive, and I think
part of that comes from having to rework everything people told
me and put in my own way. I couldn't believe that those skins
were not responding differently and that it was not a major
factor in what was going on for our red grapes, given that most
of the fermentations were short skin contact time and not long
skin contact time.
Under French conditions, where you leave the maceration to
take place for twenty days or so after that first four days of
fermentation, it doesn't have the significance, because by that
time the skins are all worn out; they've given all that they've
got, so they're so to speak cooked. I believe that's quite
true under those conditions, but under our conditions, as we
were then making wine here, we had short fermentation. We had
only four days to get the treasure from those skins, and how
you got it made a difference for a variety, even for the same
variety grown in different locations. For example, near the
river or out on the hills, the skins yield their riches
differently, they present themselves differently, and you only
have these four days. So does it make any sense to have the
extraction process be conducted by the least skillful person in
I think those observations, that awareness, that
sensitivity (Pinot noir might have contributed because of its
particularly recalcitrant character; it doesn't yield itself
very easily, and you have to think about those skins a lot)
might have caused reflections in some of the other varieties as
well. People began to be sensitive, that here is a treasure
that we are looking for in these skins. We have treated it
with contempt, and that's not the way to get the best parts out
of that material.
Were you aware of temperature differences during fermentation?
Yes. I think everyone knew how excessively hot temperatures
were negative. That I remember. Maybe we even swung too far
to cold for a certain period of time, thinking that we had gone
too hot, and now it was time to go too cold. As Gerald Asher
said once so beautifully, "The pendulum that swings one way has
yet to be invented." [laughter]
So we were fermenting too cold and not getting robust
qualities. We were using red skins as though we were making
white wine, I think, when we got below 70 degrees. I remember
that was an effort that was made at Mondavi at one point when I
was there. We were trying to get delicacy, and instead we were
Why did you leave Lee Stewart?
I think that independence was coming out again.
stayed two years, going through two crushes. I
saw later in
our own employment practices at SLWC [Stag's Leap Wine Cellars]
that someone who is bound to make his own wine learns the
essentials of the process in two cycles of the vines' life.
You can see that very well on a small scale, not so well on a
large scale. There you only get a fragment of a whole process;
you're only a segment, and you don't get to see the whole
thing, and it may take a bit longer. But in a small winery,
where the process is pretty much available to sight, and you go
through it intimately in those two years, I think probably
someone who is asking someone else the right questions,
thinking the right thoughts, and asking himself the right
questions and reading and doing all the right things-even
starting as I did with no professional training--! think that's
about the time it takes. If it's not happening then, you might
get a little concerned to move on.
I may have been revealing that sort of thing. Lee
initiated that. He may have thought this was the best
decision, because it made an opportunity possible for me, for
which I thanked him later. When we visited together years
later, he came back to our winery and we talked. I showed him
in the winery how I was making the notches in my bungs, just
the way he did, so that they lined up with the grain of the
wood, a little subtlety that I believe not many people were
doing. Now, of course, we have bungs that are not wood, so
this is an aspect which is completely lost. We have surgical
rubber bungs now, and they don't have any orientation or grain.
I kind of think that's too bad- -not in itself, perhaps, but
because the use of surgical rubber bungs doesn't require
certain habits and dispositions of care, so other aspects might
reflect a lack of care also.
We talked about my leaving, and I think we both agreed
that it was the very best thing that could have happened.
Going to Robert Mondavi in '66- -that was quite a different
operation, wasn't it?
Yes, it was. Lee had only one kind of pump, which we will call
a positive pump. That means it creates its own suction. He
thought that was better, that it was gentler. He was in
general right, but at a certain stage of the wine's life it
doesn't really make a huge significance. However, I didn't
know another kind of pump existed, because all I had learned
was the modes of wine transfer at this small winery, and we
only had one kind of pump. It was a great shock as well as a
chastening experience for me to realize that I didn't know
Maybe this is a good place to break and begin next time with
your time at Robert Mondavi.
Winiarski: That would be fine.
Starting Up the Robert Mondavi Winery. 1966-1968
[Interview 2: July 25, 1991]#//
Teiser: How long had Robert Mondavi been operating when you went there?
Winiarski: They hadn't been operating at all. I came there in the year
that was their very first year, 1966, the year they broke
Teiser: I see. What did you do?
Winiarski: I moved laterally, I think one could say. That would not be an
inappropriate term. Mike [Michael Mondavi] was doing his
national guard duty. I think he was married that spring or
early summer, and they broke ground somewhat in the middle of
the summer. I was really the only experienced winemaking
person that they had around. Bob originally intended to do his
own winemaking, but I think they rapidly realized that between
trying to get the building up and organizing all the details
they had for running the winery, financially and otherwise,
there simply was not any time available for him to be doing
that sort of thing. The equipment came in, and it had to be
situated, organized, put into place.
I spoke to Andre Tchelistcheff , who made the suggestion,
after I parted ways with Lee Stewart, that I should talk to
Ivan Schoch, which I did. Ivan Schoch was one of the partners
in the Mondavi enterprise in that year. Then Ivan spoke to
Robert, and I had a meeting with both of them over at Ivan's
house. They made a commitment that we would go forward with my
participation in the winery when construction began and when it
was time. I'm not sure construction hadn't already begun, or
at least foundations and footings and that sort of thing, but
there was no building and there was no winemaking facility. I
was supposed to be in charge of helping to get all of that
organized, which I did.
There weren't always winemaking things to do, equipment
wasn't always arriving, and overseeing some parts of that
wasn't always happening, so when it wasn't I would pick up a
hammer or a crowbar or a wiring device or a plumbing tool or a
pipe. Bob was there at the same time, as much as he could, and
we put that winery together with the carpenters, the masons,
the plumbers, the electricians, and the winemakers all working
on top of each other that year.
Teiser: Were you making wine outdoors?
Winiarski: Yes. For a while there was no roof. There were walls, but
there were no catwalks, no ladders. We had to make ladders.
The crushing had to take place before everything else was in
place for it to happen. You know, it was a frustrating
experience, because some of the pieces that were necessary were
not in place. It was like the nail in the horseshoe that lost
the kingdom in another famous incident. We were frustrated
trying to do a very simple operation for the want of a single
piece that someone had not remembered was necessary to operate
the whole thing. We had to find the piece before we could do
what we had to do. It was quite an experience.
Teiser: It must have given you a lot of knowledge to apply to your own
Winiarski: Indeed, out here at our new building it's a similar situation.
Of course, we've got an existing winery in operation here
today, so that if we do happen to forget something we can go
right over and find what we need. This is kind of an
additional facility. We had a little bit of that same
situation and same access in 1966, because although the Mondavi
brothers were, you might say, going their separate ways, we did
have quite a bit of assistance from people and from things at
Charles Krug. Even some grapes were exchanged, I believe.
Certainly I remember that Bill Bonetti was there at that time,
and we did even get some laboratory work done. Bill Bonetti
I'm assuming had Peter's implicit if not explicit authorization
to go and do certain things for us, and we took some things
over to get tested. We were titrating in buckets; that's what
it amounted to. It's quite an interesting thing if you have to
titrate in buckets. That's a little bit of an exaggeration,
but it gives you the flavor of the kind of mild chaos that was
present in 1966.
Gradually, though, things began to fall into place. We
did have the assistance of not only the Krug establishment but
many other people in the valley to make that work. I do
remember that. Many people bent over backwards to give us
whatever counsel and guidance we needed as well as actual
material assistance. Louis [P.] Martini, I remember, was
helpful, and we got some assistance some time from BV [Beaulieu
Vineyard] . Altogether there were many people who pitched in
under those extraordinary, difficult, and trying circumstances
to help Bob get started.
There was a lot of sympathy in the valley for each of the
Winiarski: Yes, that's certainly true. People were disturbed that this
had occurred. They didn't talk about it very much and sort of
looked the other way, but they did what they could to heal the
rift and to make whatever contribution they could to make it
possible for the rift to be resolved.
Teiser: By the time you left, two years later, was the winery complete?
Winiarski: Oh, yes, the building was completed. Quite a bit of planning
had gone into the staging of the various things, and eventually
all the pieces were put together. We were making wine in a
kind of calm, deliberate way even toward the end of the crush
that first year in '66, again without full facilities, without
ease, without smoothness, but with relatively calm
That was a late crush; it was a late harvest in 1966. The
last Cabernet grapes came in on November 11. I remember that
holiday, Veteran's Day. It was very cool there at the Oakville
location; there was fog all morning, so we had the advantage of
that. Now that you mention it, it's very similar to this year,
isn't it? This year is turning out to be a very cool year--
very cool nights, fog frequently until ten or eleven o'clock in
Teiser: Are you going to have a good crop?
Winiarski: Let's hope so. We have a very good-sized crop out there. The
size is wonderful. Whether we'll get all those grapes ripe is
But, as I say, it was running smoothly toward the end,
helped by the fact that, because of the coolness, we weren't
rushed in the harvest. So even that first year the basic
facility was almost complete. But other things were still to
be done, and the destiny of the winery was only beginning to
Teiser: Who was the winemaker then?
Winiarski: Well, Mike [Michael Mondavi] eventually came back. I think
they hired a laboratory person, although I still continued to
do things in the lab: I ran basic tests --the trial fining
tests --made the blends the first year, and did some of the
analytical work of a simple nature- -the sulfur content, the
acid and pH determinations. I'm not sure, but that first year
I don't think we had specifically a trained, technical person
in the laboratory. That's my recollection. I remember doing
the fining trials, for example, making equivalent samples in
small bottles of what we might do in the tank and trying the
different levels of fining agents to see what the effect of the
fining agent would be, and therefore providing the basics to
make a decision. Bob would be in on it, and later Mike would
be in on it also. Bob's partners, Fred Holmes and Ivan Schoch,
would be in on those tastings. They were held both at the
winery and at Bob's house. I would make up the equivalent
samples, we would all taste the various levels of fining
material, and then a decision would be made as to what level of
fining would best help to perfect the wine.
Teiser: As you progressed, then, did you have more specialized help at
Winiarski : I think the following year there was even more grapes than
there had been the year previous, and there were additional
people. At some point someone came in the lab because we were
getting more complicated.
Teiser: Was Mike [Miljenko] Grgich working there then?
Winiarski: I don't think so. I think Mike came in after I left, if I'm
not mistaken. He was still at BV. I left in '68, so I was
there for two crushes also, in ' 66- -although I'm not sure you
would call that a crush or a construction time, it was so much
of both- -and '67. I left prior to the harvest in '68. Mike I
think was not there at the time.
Teiser: Had Zelma Long come in?
Winiarski: No, Zelma wasn't there either. I think Mike came in either
shortly after that or a little later.
The Denver Winemaking Enterprise. 1968-1970
Teiser: How did you happen to leave?
Winiarski: Do you remember that two-year cycle I spoke about? After two
two-year cycles, one having to do with what you might call a
village art as practiced by Lee Stewart, and the other with a
high technology component as at Robert Mondavi , I thought I had
seen both poles of the possibilities for the industry. We had
meanwhile established a vineyard of our own up on Howell
Mountain from land that I purchased out of our own resources.
That Cabernet sauvignon vineyard, by the way, was the first one
of that variety ever planted on Howell Mountain.
I thought it was time to move on, and I was talking to
other people about what possibilities there were, I suppose
still thinking more about our own enterprise more than any
specific additional move laterally. I think I was thinking
about finally embarking on our own venture.
That came up with the Ivancie situation which you asked
Teiser: Ivancie was a company in Denver. Was it a retailer?
Winiarski : No, Dr. Gerald Ivancie was a man who loved wine, and he loved
the idea of wine. He loved the idea of making wine, and with
friends he had made wine from grapes that they had brought in
from California for a number of years before he decided to
enter upon the commercial aspect of it in Denver. His idea was
fairly simple and can be described as follows: We have now the
technology of refrigerated transport, and it was roughly thirty
hours from California to Denver by refrigerated transport (in
those days. I don't know what it is now; it might quite
possibly be much shorter). I think he expressed it this way,
"If we can't get Mohammed to the mountain, we'll bring the
mountain to Mohammed." [laughter]
He thought the best thing to do would be to bring the
grapes from California to Denver, make them into wine, and have
what would be a unique marketing approach for the Denver
audience- -California wines made in Denver, operated by a well-
known Denver resident. He was a periodontic surgeon, I think,
so he was well known socially and had lots of connections in
the business world and elsewhere, and he thought that would be
translatable into a certain marketing advantage. He couldn't
get all the good wines in those days that he wanted into
Denver, and he thought this would be a way to do it and
establish himself as a marketing presence at the same time.
He came out and was looking for grapes. He got my name
somehow as someone who knew where various kinds of grapes were
grown and what their quality characteristics were. He sought
advice as to where the grapes he was interested in did well and
where they were obtainable. His program appeared to offer a
possibility of making the skills that I had acquired more
valuable to other people who were in such a "beginning"
situation. He also had some rented space in Denver where he
wanted to construct a facility. He very much wanted to start
his own winery. He made an offer that in those days was
irresistible, and I thought this would be a beneficial step to
utilize some of the things I had learned in the past four
We did work together for that harvest.
Teiser: Did you go back and forth?
Winiarski : I went back and forth to Denver --that was the idea --as an
itinerant winemaker. I gave him the opportunity to procure for
himself the grapes, because I simply indicated where I thought
grapes might be of good quality, and he made those further
business arrangements and arranged for the transport. I
arranged for the loading of the grapes onto the transport.
That seemed like a marvelous idea. If this would really work
out, it was quite an extraordinary and interesting endeavor.
We loaded the grapes here frequently. That happened maybe
two or three different times for different types of grapes. We
used Camay beaujolais, and we used Cabernet and Pinot, but none
of the white grapes because we perceived that that might be
more risky in transport. Then I would get on a plane, and I
would be in Denver when the truck arrived with the grapes.
Quite an interesting thing.
Teiser: What kind of equipment did he have?
Winiarski: He had secured small-scale but best-quality equipment. He had
stainless steel tanks and fermenters, and he had proper
refrigeration, some of which I helped him to specify and
obtain. He had a beautiful crusher from Art Rafanelli at
Healdsburg Machine Company. He had pumps and all the necessary
paraphernalia for doing a good job with the grapes. And the
wines were pretty good! Some people have told me that they
recently tasted some of the wines that they had purchased when
they were released in Denver, and they were very pleased. They
thought at the time that the grapes came from local sources;
they didn't realize they were actually from California. In
general it was a very enlightening venture.
Meanwhile we were doing other things, too.
established this vineyard I told you about.
Teiser: Was the Ivancle enterprise successful?
Winiarski: I think it was. I think the first wines that we made were
sought after. He attracted other people to the endeavor on the
basis of these first efforts. They even thought at one time of
purchasing land in the Grand Junction area to grow grapes, and
I think they did so under different management. When Dr.
Ivancie was no longer involved they had professional
management. Their problem, I think, eventually turned out to
be a certain amount of inexperience with what it actually took,
on a first-hand basis, to run a winery. Their professional
management decided that it would be appropriate for them to try
to do everything in Denver, and they got to be quite a
substantial organization as far as financing from local
sources, but I think eventually their marketing considerations
got top-heavy, and that put them under a severe financial
burden. Also I think they didn't quite realize that these
production things, if not done by yourself as a single guiding
mind- -I don't mean a single person necessarily, but to start
that way, you have to at least know how to do it all by
yourself. You have to be able to do all the things yourself
and to be capable of making all the decisions yourself and be
That was my perspective. Eventually they couldn't support
the organization they put together. I think most of those
grapes that were put in at Grand Junction were eventually sold
to another winery or to hobby winemakers . There was another
effort to keep the winery going, and I think probably by that
time Dr. Ivancie decided he had better spend most of his
remaining time in his professional career- -in his first
profession. He was by that time completely separated from the
Teiser: Meanwhile you were back here in the Napa Valley buying land.
Winiarski: Well, we bought the SLV [Stag's Leap Vineyard] land in 1970.
Teiser: How much land did you buy?
Winiarski: About 40 acres. We bought SLV on the basis of having tasted
some wines that Nathan Fay had grown. Where are we in the
We're just at the beginning of your own enterprise.
Consulting and Studying. 1968-1970
Winiarski: What I did was consult for others in Sonoma County and
Mendocino County. There were a number of wineries that were
bulk producers for the most part, who were not acquainted with
preparing wines for bottling. Certainly I had acquired that
skill at Robert Mondavi winery.
Teiser: Which wineries did you work with?
Winiarski: Parducci for one, Pedroncelli, if memory serves, for another.
There were a number that I did different things for up in that
area. That's the way I supported myself --with Ivancie and with
consulting for California wineries that were making that
conversion at that time and needed transition assistance
because they were not ready to establish themselves first-off
with a complete organization the way Dr. Ivancie eventually
thought to do in Denver. They were making that transition
slowly, and they needed some transition consultation. At that
time Parducci didn't even have stainless steel tanks. Their
wines, for the most part, were sold in bulk, but they wanted to
get started in bottling and marketing for themselves on a large
scale. It was a perfect match for my own skills in helping
bring wines to completion, to a state where they were finished
in a more complete way than they had been for bulk sales
before. The next step that I could help with was in
stabilizing and otherwise preparing the wine for bottling. The
final step for me was in organizing and executing the bottling
Teiser: Were you consulting about their bottling facilities and about
their technique of bottling, too?
Winiarski: Yes, the technique of bottling and preparing the wines for
Teiser: At some point you also took a short course or two at UC Davis?
Winiarski: Oh, I took all the short courses, every one I could, and read
all the time. Someone remarked to me that the two teachers I
had were not the kind of people who could or would sort of pull
you aside and say, "Now, this is the lesson for today." That
remark is perfectly just. We had work to do. This was not an
educational endeavor that they were running. They were running
wineries, right? And Robert Mondavi in addition was building a
large organization. There wasn't time for the "this is the
lesson for today" kind of approach to things, but you learned
as you worked. But in order to learn enough and deeply enough
and comprehensively enough, you had to be thinking all the time
of what you were doing and why you were doing it. Gradually
you saw that if you did steps one, two, and three, step four
was necessary. The sequence of things and the whole grid, the
matrix of things that I had to learn was becoming clearer to me
because I was taking all the short courses and reading. But
perhaps more importantly because after coming home from working
and doing all those things, I would try to find out why I did
those things. So it was perhaps because my two main teachers
were not "here is the lesson for today" fellows that I had a
huge need to ask myself what the lesson for today was.
Teiser: So you were learning theory on top of the practice.
Winiarski: Yes. Not only that you do this kind of thing, but why you do
this kind of thing and how many steps were implicated further
forward and behind. I was putting all this together, so it
wasn't necessary for someone to tell me, "This is the lesson
for the day," because I was already figuring out what the
lesson was and how all these things fit together and looking
for the larger picture that was emerging through all these
mechanisms- -through working with it, through asking key
questions. Sometimes I would ask a key question, and a short,
simple answer would illuminate a complex whole without a long
explanation. So someone didn't always have to explain to you
steps one, two, three, and four, because if you asked the right
question about step five, you knew that the other steps were
predecessors for that one and that there were successive steps
This whole picture was emerging. You asked specifically
about the short courses, and that was of enormous benefit.
Talking to people was another enormous benefit. Tasting
different batches of wine- -I think this is what led to the
discussion of the vineyard. Since I had developed, in addition
to the acquaintances in the places where I worked, a large
variety of friends who were making wine or assisting in making
wine and working in various phases of the industry, they
graciously permitted me to taste wines in other cellars before
they were blended.
What years did you take the short courses?
I think the first one may have been in 1965. I took the [Napa]
wine library course in the fall of 1964. Thereafter in 1966,
1967, 1968. I don't remember exactly, but it was almost every
year, and then I began to take the viticulture seminars as
well, through the mid- seventies .
You remember we talked yesterday about the fact that most
people that I knew about in those days treated all the red
wines alike, with the same pump-over regimes and without making
fine distinctions? Also no one was bottling wines in those
days to reflect regional distinctiveness of a given variety in
the different parts of the Napa Valley. There was no one
bottling a Howell Mountain Zinfandel or a Stag's Leap district
Cabernet or a Spring Mountain Cabernet. These were just ideas,
very generalized, and it was not part of any winery practice I
know of to separate these different lots for purposes either of
identification or for purposes of following those different
local characteristics all the way through to the bottling. The
scope was more generalized. Division was more generalized.
Even though I think some of the winemakers paid attention to
the differences, they were not going to follow those
differences through. It was not the destiny of those grapes to
be separately bottled.
But that was of intense interest for me, to see these
differences and to try to identify the characteristics, because
we were still looking for our land, and I still had the idea
that Cabernet was so fine and so rich in possibilities that
this is what I would like to do. It was a very practical
interest as well as a theoretical interest to identify the
Going back to your Davis short courses, was there anyone you
worked with there or took courses from who was particularly
I don't think that's quite the way they were set up- -to
specialize with particular people. I remember Harold Berg,
Maynard Amerine , and Vern [Vernon L. ] Singleton. Jim [James
A.] Cook was there giving courses.
The whole faculty was teaching.
Yes, and the short courses. The viticulturalist A. [Amand N. ]
Kasimatis was there. Microbiology was Ralph Kunkee. I think
he is still there. There were many people who presented topics
of their specialty, and these short courses went on for two or
three days, so you had a variety of presentations in that
period of time, all very useful and all very necessary and
immensely helpful for me. Without that capability I wouldn't
have been able to do what I have done. The availability of
those subjects to be reviewed in such a concise and yet
comprehensive way was very important. The whole scientific
aspect of this field was very much in ferment (without making a
pun) at this time, so it was an exciting time. People were
discovering new things, elaborating new approaches, and I was
partaking in that. That was a very exciting and stimulating
aspect of it.
Teiser: It was a wonderful group of people at Davis then.
Winiarski: Yes, very. Have we left out anyone? Corny [Cornelius] Ough
was there, naturally, and he gave part of the discussions.
Dinny [A. Dinsmoor] Webb also. Some of the senior folks, the
ones who had lots of practical experience, like Harold Berg,
gave enormously helpful presentations from that perspective.
There were people attending the classes with variegated
preparation and backgrounds, so they had people who were highly
expert technically as well as people like myself, who had only
very general knowledge of this, some practical experience, but
interested in learning and intensely concentrated on the topic.
You had this wide spread, and the teachers at Davis managed to
bridge this spread of preparation, competence, and interest
with great success.
Teiser: All this time you were thinking about- -
Winiarski: Our own vineyard.
Teiser: And matching your knowledge of the areas here with what land
was available, I suppose?
Winiarski: Right, land that was available. For example, every time there
was a frost, I would go out and visit these various areas to
see whether damage was more in certain areas than others, where
it was free from damage, and all this sort of thing. I did
this not only to coordinate the soil types and what I perceived
to be the growing microclimate (I think they call them mesoclimates
now), but these major, very practical influences- -what areas
were relatively frost free, what areas were almost invariably
subject to frost. All these, I hoped, would begin pointing in
certain directions so that I could begin to prioritize, if we
had the opportunity, where this land would be. It wasn't clear
that we were going to be able to do this on the scale that
would permit us to live from it without other assistance.
Teiser: Were you visualizing being able to make the transition from
working for others to working for yourself in a certain way?
Was there a point at which you felt you could just work for
Winiarski: No. I hadn't specified that. I was hoping that would come,
and eventually something would present itself that looked like
the opportunity to make that possible. But first I knew that
to make that possible I had to get people interested. I mean,
in the future that may have presented itself, but I would have
to know enough about this whole field to make some kind of
judgment myself. It would be something that I would want to
do, and by acquiring the knowledge, be able to do.
Starting a Vineyard on Hove 11 Mountain. Spring 1965
Winiarski: You know, we had established this vineyard on Howell Mountain.
We bought some land up there in 1965. We moved from the first
place we lived in the Napa Valley, below Souverain cellars in a
place called Crystal Springs, up onto Howell Mountain and lived
on property that had once been used as a stagecoach resting
place by the Wells Fargo company; it was the rest stop on the
way from Pope Valley to the Napa Valley. The Pope Valley to
Napa Valley segment was only a part of a larger trail that
Wells Fargo had, and this ranch had been the way station and
overnight stopping point, I suppose, also.
Teiser: How many acres did you buy?
Winiarski: It was about thirty acres, and about ten acres of it were
Teiser: Was it planted?
Winiarski: It had not been planted. I bought the thirty acres from a man
who was a successor to the interest of the Wells Fargo Company.
He grew grapes on another part of the Wells Fargo property. It
was called the Nurenberger ranch, but my part of it, which he
subdivided, had never been in grapes.
Teiser: What did you plant?
Winiarski: We planted Cabernet sauvignon. As far as I have any reason to
believe, this was the first Cabernet ever planted on Howell
Mountain. This land was above the thermal belt, which made it
subject to cool nights, warm days. It was located above the
valley frost, and it was on red soil, which I then believed and
still do believe makes for intensification of the varietal
character in a red wine. Since it was on light soil, it
promised to fulfill all the sort of mystical expectations that
one develops, thinking that lean soils produce outstanding
fruit. It was also the kind of soil where the annual,
vegetative aspect of a vine's life would not have a tendency to
develop excessive vigor and where the vine could therefore
concentrate on making beautiful, expressive fruit.
So it had all these characteristics. I talked about
frost, and while it was subject to a minimum amount of frost, I
thought that was fairly infrequent. All these things came
together for that vineyard and suggested that it would make
Teiser: And did it?
Winiarski : Well, I didn't have very many vintages of that to work with.
It's near land that Randy [Randall] Dunn uses for his grapes
today, and many others have established vineyards in that
vicinity for Cabernet.
Teiser: Doesn't Ridge get some of its Zinfandels there?
Winiarski: They do, from the Beatty ranch. Where does that Howell
Mountain Zinfandel come from? There are three old vineyards.
The first was from the Nurenberger vineyard. Another was from
land that Keith Bowers owned at that time, which is now owned
by Doris Muscatine. I think that was the old Mackie place; I
think he was Finnish. Then there was the Ferrazzi ranch. That
was further back in the mountain, and that may be the source of
the Howell Mountain Zinfandel.
Teiser: I know he gets some now from the Muscatine property.
Winiarski: Oh, he does? Keith Bowers, who was both the county extension
agent for viticulture for the University of California and the
farm advisor for Napa County, eventually planted some Cabernet.
Teiser: Is he still alive?
Winiarski: Yes, Keith is retired now but still living here. A wonderful
family. His recollection of some of the things that went on in
the early days in the valley would be extremely valuable.
Teiser: Yes, he saw big changes here.
When did you start harvesting enough from that property
Winiarski: You see, we sold it to buy SLV. We couldn't do it without
having sold that property, since our resources were minimal
when we came here. You might even say less than minimal.
[laughs] We put together a partnership, but our contribution
to that partnership was not only having discovered that land
and organizing the partnership, but we also made a monetary
contribution to that partnership as well. Our share (the
financial contributors were divided equally between all the
partners) came in part from that first land. We had to sell
the land on Howell Mountain and to transform our labors here
into the new land.
Teiser: That was done in 1970?
Winiarski: Yes. But after all these regional investigations, after all
these attempts to find where all those factors converged- -
frost, the quality of the land, the assumed quality of the
fruit from given soils and from different microclimates, and
all these things that I had been working to put together and
make converge to spotlight the place where I thought the best
Cabernet would come from--. Some of this came from reflections
later; not all of this was perfectly obvious to me at the time.
Thinking about it afterwards, there was something working to
put all this together, but all those steps weren't perfectly
conscious and perfectly deliberate. I was doing all that
investigation, things were falling into place little by little,
but they weren't all organized with a perfect sense of how the
organization should be and how all the steps were put together.
Some things were very haphazard, I'm sure, and it's only on
reflecting on it afterwards that the coherence of the whole
thing become visible. As has been said so many times, there's
nothing like twenty-twenty hindsight. But reflection
afterwards made it compellingly clear to me that something was
sorting and sifting all the elements into what emerged as
One thing that did make a larger impression than some of
the other things and turned on again this light of
illumination- -someone suggested to me that our irrigation
techniques up on Howell Mountain were too labor intensive. I
irrigated that land from the back of a truck with buckets, made
basins in front of each vine- -you know, the old-timers did it
this way; you make a basin in front of each vine, and then you
put water in these basins, and that's the way you irrigate.
You give them five gallons or seven gallons, and then you close
up the basin. Well, this is very labor intensive, digging
these basins and doing all this.
Besides, it occurred to me afterwards, since you dig this
basin you are very near to the roots of this young rooting that
you have put in, and those root hairs are very delicate and
fragile. This water has a certain velocity when it begins to
pass through the soil, and because you dig this basin you are
closer to that root than if you had your basin at the surface
soil level and it percolated slowly. By the time it reached
the lower levels, these root hairs would be relatively
undamaged. You would lose some root hairs, but you would gain,
of course, by the water. Maybe we could avoid losing this.
That was my theory.
Someone said, "Nathan Fay has devised a way to do this
with a plow. You don't have to dig each basin by hand." The
idea of a plow struck me as being interesting. If you could
throw up a rill, a ridge, on both sides of the vines and do it
all in a row, then you wouldn't have the bottom of your basin
six inches into the ground; you would have it at ground level.
The ridges that you threw up with the plow on both sides would
be the sides of the embankment, and you wouldn't have this
inconvenience, if it was occurring, of breaking up the root
hairs as you irrigated each time.
I thought I should see that, and I came down to visit with
Nathan. Well, it wasn't quite as it had been described, but it
had enough improvements in my own technique of watering so that
I wanted to use it. We got to talking about this thing and
that, and then he invited me in to taste some of the wines that
he had made from Cabernet in his ground, right out in front
here. [points to the original Fay vineyard] "Right out in
front here" means that the location is to the east of where we
are sitting overlooking this little interior valley surrounded
Nathan was the first to plant Cabernet in this area. He
told me once there were only seven hundred acres of Cabernet in
the whole state when he planted this land. Does that sound
right to you? This was in 1960.
I don ' t know .
I should check this. [Added later:] According to CDFA
[California Department of Food and Agriculture], that is
correct: in 1960, 721 total acres of Cabernet sauvignon
planted in the whole state! Currently it's 34,000 acres. But
surely I knew there were no Cabernet planted south of the
Oakville crossroad. People said, "It's too cool down here."
Indeed, none of this land was planted to varietals except
Nathan's. All that [indicates] was pasture. Our land was
prunes, cherries, apples, and a small amount of the old
standard grapes. The field that is now planted by Mondavi
across the way was pasture, dairy land, and there was hay land
beyond. The Reguscis had some Zinfandel up on the hill because
it was out of the frost; people thought when you got down below
the steep slopes it was too frosty. This little hill land,
because of the slope of the land, tends to be relatively frost
free; this is affectionately known as the "banana belt" in
here, because we turn the wine machines on very little to
defend the vines against frost.
Teiser: You are gesturing toward the east.
Winiarski: Yes. So there were very, very few vines around here
altogether. Regusci was pasture, prunes; SLV was mainly
prunes; this was pasture. Stelzner had a little bit of grapes
back here when we moved here in 1970, but in 1960 he wasn't
here. None of the other plantings around here existed then.
Nathan possessed real daring and pioneering spirit to do
what he did. It's lonely, if you think of it. You prepare the
ground, you plant the vines; you're waiting about two years for
the time the vines make their own first leaf after the graft in
the first year. The second year it doesn't have any fruit, and
the third year you might have a bit of fruit, but if you're
sensible you cut it all off. So now it's four years and maybe
five years since you've prepared the ground before you taste
any of the relatively mature fruit from relatively adolescent
vines. Maybe it's six years, and maybe it takes a year or two
in the winery before it develops any kind of subtlety. You
might say a whole decade passes before the sense of what this
land can produce planted to this varietal is at all visible.
That's a third of a man's adult working life, or maybe a little
Teiser: It certainly is a long time for a man who doesn't have much
money to start with.
Winiarski: No question. This is a highly venturesome, speculative
endeavor. Now, people did recommend to Nathan that he plant
Cabernet, but I don't think any of these people were certain of
the outcome. I mean, it's impossible that they could have
known what the outcome would be. They were thinking more in
terms, I believe, of what they would like to have happen or,
less charitably, of what variety was increasing in popularity,
rather than a sure- thing result. The important thing is that
no matter how well or ill informed one's recommendations are,
they do not change the character and the magnitude of the risk
and the quality of daring that was involved in this unknown
area or in an untried variety.
Teiser: That was your introduction, then, to that area of the Napa
Winiarski: It was. That's exactly right.
III STAG'S LEAF VINE CELLARS
Introduction to the Property. 1969
Winiarski: It was in 1969, I think, when I came down to get this
assistance for thinking about irrigation, and I tasted the '68
wine that Nathan made himself. He had already been selling the
grapes from his land to Krug for a number of years , and I think
they were esteemed. But he also made his own wine, and I
tasted that wine. When I tasted his wine, I said, "Eureka!
That's it; that's the grape that satisfies what I believe to be
most expressive of the variety. It has not only regional
character but also has elements of 'classic' character." That
is to say, it had all the characteristics that I thought would
not only express regional distinctiveness but had also the
potential to express the classical characteristics if properly
From that point on- -I think I even said something to
Nathan: "Where do these grapes come from?" He said, "Those
are my grapes," because he had some others; he had some white
grapes, and he had some different wines that we were tasting
that were not all his own. He and Father Tom Turnbull grew
grapes together for many years. Father Tom eventually bought
some land from Nathan over there, and produced his own grapes.
He's passed away now, but they worked together and made wine
together for many years.
Anyway, the wine which was such a revelation to me was
made from Nathan's Cabernet sauvignon grapes, and I believe
they were from 1968.
You could tell in that young a wine?
I could tell in that young wine. It had the characteristics
that I was looking for. We tasted other wines, and they really
confirmed it. Maybe I had the germ of the idea from that wine.
We did taste older wines, and all the evolution of the wine
from more grapes suggested the same qualities and virtues that
I tasted in that first sip. So at that time, the conclusion
was: we had to buy some land in this area.
By chance, the adjoining Held ranch was available. My
mother had been suggesting for a number of years that if we
were going to do this California adventure--! mean, she sort of
didn't approve of it when we did it in the first place, but she
suggested that we should be thinking about buying land. When
this land came up, she provided, in a manner of speaking, the
seeds for the venture. We sold our first vineyard in Angwin of
course, but really the seed for this SLV venture came from her
making available by a form of a loan to us some capital by
means of which we attracted others. That was really the first
part of it. So we had her help, and then we got the partners'
help, and we eventually succeeded in purchasing what became SLV
and planning the development, pulling out the prunes- -ten acres
the first year and the balance of it the second year- -and
replanting to Cabernet.
[Interview 3: March 24, 1993 ]##
We seem to be getting a little more historical. The anecdotal
part of it serves its purpose at the beginning, because that's
what it was. There were no themes there, really, and now we
are getting to some of the thematic parts.
The general theme really should be what is your dominant idea,
and what are the things you are doing and have done to go
toward that idea. You clearly have a more abstract concept
than a lot of people who go into the wine business. It seems
to me that what is important about this interview is that you
can express what it is that you have been wanting to do, have
done, and will be wanting to do. It's very interesting to
have someone as articulate as you keep this in mind.
I will keep that in mind, because it might have some value for
others to think about.
Teiser: I don't know what most people have in mind when they go into
the wine business. A lot of them just want to lead country
lives, I think.
Winiarski: I'm not sure we were far from that in the beginning; that sort
of agrarian aspect certainly made it attractive. When I saw
what was happening up at Martin Ray's, that was certainly part
of it- -the fact that he had the economic resources to support
that. The question for us, then, was whether, not starting
with his resources, we could pursue that way of life and at the
sane time make it sustainable economically so that we could
live from it. You and I talked a little bit about that in the
course of the interview- -that this was an issue. Maybe that's
not possible any more, but that agrarian aspect was certainly
attractive as a way of thinking about what, we wanted to do.
So we are just purchasing that vineyard from the Heids
after that visit to Nathan Fay- -tasting his wine and deciding
that this was the place that would express most fully the
character of the wine that I wanted to make from Cabernet
grapes. This was a place I thought was most appealing to me,
most attractive, most expressive of the characteristics that I
would like to have embodied in a wine. This area did that for
those grapes .
We were at the point where it became the quest to identify
some land that might be purchased in this area. I think it was
again one of these things that happen by chance, that I didn't
have to go very far to do a lot to induce someone to sell land
in this area. In fact, there was some land that was being
actively offered for sale and was in the hands of a real estate
agent. It had been for some time.
I don't remember now the exact mechanics of how that
happened with this land. I didn't go to every real estate
agent, but it wasn't too long after a decision was made about
finding some opportunity in this area to purchase that we
became actively engaged in discussions and negotiations to
acquire what was then known as the Heid Ranch. Fred Heid's
first year on that property was 1928, the year that I was born,
and they made wine. Afterwards he gave me his little
notebook- -a kind of cellar journal- -describing the wines that
they had made in each of the years. The first entry in that
journal was in 1928, so it was kind of a touching coincidence.
They made the wine from that property. That would have
implied that there must have been grapes there planted before.
I'm not sure we ever talked about that. That's an interesting
point: who actually planted those grapes? Since they came on
the property in 1928 and made their first wine, the grapes had
to have been there. When we purchased the land, they were
Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet- -Petite Sirah, which is said
to be Durif , from the hillside vineyard, and Alicante Bouschet
from the lower vineyard near the creek, the two extreme ends of
the cultivatable land.
The Alicante would have been planted during Prohibition,
probably. Alicante was a good shipping grape.
Right. For shipment,
tough- skinned berry?
It's a large berry. Is it a fairly
Yes, it's got tough skin and lots of color. It shipped well.
I know that variety was coming into the Chicago market, because
I saw it arriving sometime when we still lived in Chicago--!
went to the market where food came in from California- -for
Italian winemakers who used Alicante for part of the blend.
That may have explained why it was planted along with Sirah.
Maybe both were shipped. Sirah has wonderful color, a deep
color. I'm not sure about the stability of Bouschet's color,
but Sirah has deep and stable color.
The story was that the Italians in the East liked it because
they could get lots of colored wine from it.
Was it a stable color?
Yes, and they could add water and still have color. [laughter]
I know they blended, because I saw some of them looking at
grapes, pinching the grapes, and sizing up what was available.
In these lugs coming in- -I think they were called "L.A. lugs,"
twenty-eight-pound paper-backed lugs- -they would not buy a
single variety; they bought a number of different varieties. I
chatted with some of them, and they said they always put
together a number of varieties for different purposes to
acquire a different character into the final wine. A little
bit of this, a little bit of that, a little bit of something
else- -that was their approach to it, and always dependent on
the fruit quality also. Some of it would not have shipped as
well for some particular reason, so if the grapes were more
shriveled they would have bought less of this and more of
something else. All those kinds of practical considerations
weighed very heavily when they were making their blends- -not
only what they would have liked to have done from an artistic
point of view or from an end-quality point of view, but also
what happened to be not so good in its arrival conditions.
I guess those are compromises that are always made.
A similar kind of thing of course happens in France. They made
their original plantings not so much from any artistic point of
view or end product point of view, but from the point of view
of what would ripen in some years and wouldn't ripen in other
years. As farmers, they are always thinking about a crop--
having crop in some year. Some of it would get wiped out by
the frost because it was earlier- -for example, Merlot. Some of
it wouldn't ripen in the fall because it would be decimated by
fall rains. So they were always striking these compromises as
well with what they planted. Lots of people think the planting
decisions were made on the basis of their wine character, and
that's only partly true. To a large extent it was farming
considerations that dictated what they would plant.
The choice of this land, however, was guided simply by the
consideration of the wine quality that I had tasted from Nathan
Was Fred Heid a good winemaker?
His wines were not bad. They were palatable, and some of them
were quite agreeable but in a rustic style.
Replanting the Vineyards. 1970-1972
Winiarski: We pulled out the Alicante, and we pulled out ten acres of
prunes for the first year. We left the Petite Sirah on the
hillside for one more year, and eventually that was pulled out
also. We planted Cabernet and Merlot. The Merlot was the
first in the southern part of the Napa Valley- -the first in
what is now Stag's Leap District. The first ten-acre block was
two -thirds Cabernet and one -third Merlot. That was the least
favorable soil, where we planted the Merlot. I had the
impression somehow that the best Merlot in France was planted
on rocky soil. That was misinformation. Specifically we are
talking about vineyards that have a higher clay content than I
was led to believe. But we did plant it, and it turned out to
be a good decision. It had the same conditions as clay soil on
the root limitations so that it would not be very vigorous, and
it would not tend to delay its vegetative cycle. Where we
planted it, in fact, the rockiness of that area contributed to
the same end product. In other words, we didn't have very
great root development, we didn't have very vigorous vines, and
the two conditions, although they are not the same, contributed
to the same end- -a shorter vegetative cycle and more rapid
ripening at the end of the season.
Teiser: I should bring this up in connection with current necessity to
Julia, Stephen, and Kasia Winiarski tying young vines, 1973.
Due to phylloxera?
Fortunately we don't have that situation there,
But it's still
It's quite interesting that the considerations then that
led me to plant those two varieties, and in the places where I
planted them, have changed a little bit. We're still looking
for quality fruit, but the way to the quality fruit is a little
bit different now. Not only spacing, an important
consideration, but rootstock- -we would make different decisions
today than we made in 1970. We know a little bit more. We're
still interested in quality fruit; tonnage is not the
objective. But the way to that objective is seen differently
now than it was.
Did you plant rooted cuttings?
We planted rooted cuttings of St. George.
Where did you get them?
I think we got them mainly from Frank Emmolo that first year, a
nurseryman here in the valley.
And they worked?
You're lucky now.
Right. St. George is not the best, but from the point of view
of phylloxera it was certainly the decision to make. The second
planting was put in in 1971, the year after. I think we
replanted everything. There was a small part that we didn't
plant in 1971, and that was done in '72, so within those three
years we replanted the whole thirty-five acres.
That was a big gamble you were taking, wasn't it, starting with
Well, I had Nathan's experience. It was less of a gamble than
he took, because we knew how the grapes had turned out for him.
This is now a time in the valley when planting is taking place
at a fairly rapid rate, and I wanted to be in on that ground
floor with our development so as not to get behind the curve,
so to speak, of the things that were taking place. So we did
want to plant as rapidly as possible. This was done with
investors, and they were interested in getting it done as
rapidly as possible. They were not patrons; they were
investors. They were interested in what I wanted to do, but
they wanted to see a return on it also. They were friendly
investors, but they were investors; they were people who wanted
to get some benefit from their investment.
Teiser: That's a good mix.
Winiarski: Well, it was, I think. Do you remember when this Bank of
America report came out in the seventies that was so
Teiser: Yes. [Bank of America, California Wine Outlook, September
Winiarski: That actuated a number of things that were happening in the
past. For example, there was a scientific component to this
revolution, this development that took place. There were the
scientific aspects of it, there were the economic aspects, and
there were the human resource aspects. All three of them had
to come together in those early days, in the late sixties and
early seventies, in order for this tremendous enlargement of
the scope of California winemaking to take place. You had to
have all that patient scientific work that took place in the
past- -that all made a contribution, all the giants of the
"golden days" --whose work was so important to the progress of
the science. All the development that was taking place needed
to have been done already and waiting. Secondly, you needed to
have people who were interested, who wanted to be part of the
new development. They had the idea that maybe the California
wine industry was entering upon a new age. They understood
that it took the human resources to organize the whole process.
Then you had to have people who were interested in
"banking," in funding and in risking an investment opportunity
to support those other two aspects. But you had to have the
human resources to organize all that, the craftsman-
entrepreneur- -in which category I would count my own position
there. I had an aesthetic interest and an artistic interest to
make those kinds of wines, but I evidently had acquired enough
organizing ability to put those other two components together --
the scientific winemaking and grape growing disciplines on the
one hand and the financial -economic investment people on the
other hand. It couldn't have been done on the old scale,
because it took people with a fresh vision to do that. I
remember discussions with some of the old-timers about the day
when they thought varietal grapes would be nothing but a
passing fancy, would be out, and we would return to
"standards." I couldn't see this for anything.
I had discussions along these lines with a number of
people, just to confirm the absence of reality to their own
thinking. We were never turning back to growing standards.
That's not what the land was capable of, and the land would
naturally, I thought, move to its highest capability, which was
not growing standard grapes and common grapes --the Zins, Petite
Sirah, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet. This was not going to be
what this land was used for. I could see that.
So it took someone to see that. It took someone to see
what potential there was, someone, as I think I said, whose
taste was formed on the outside of this valley, whose
aspiration gave impetus to putting together the other things
that were out there, building on the work of the scientific
giants, as I call them, and utilizing all the advances that had
been made at Davis and at Fresno State in the whole scientific
Teiser: What did the Bank of America report do? There was also a Wells
Fargo one that was similar.
Winiarski: Was there? I don't remember that.
Teiser: Very similar.
Winiarski: Now that you mention it, I do remember others supporting that
original one. I knew of it as the Bank of America [report]
because it had such a powerful impact. It showed that this
tendency was not only local but worldwide . There was an
interest in high, non- commodity type wines. At the same time
that this was taking place , there was a continuing replacement
of the dessert wine consumption with dry wine. That was not
only in California but was a widespread phenomenon in Australia
and in other places around the world. Dessert/fortified wine
was losing, but table wine was gaining.
Among the table wines, specialty, non-commodity type wines
seemed to have the brightest promise. There was a strong
interest, whether it was due to the war, as some people say,
with people getting experience of drinking wine as a mealtime
beverage, or whether there were other factors. You can't
believe that all over the world the same thing was happening.
You think it's in the air, people breathe it, and then they're
infected with it. But it seemed to be a very broad phenomenon,
and it seemed to have a very powerful demand support from
I think that's what the Bank of America report identified.
It identified where those tendencies were leading, and one
could make certain reasonable conclusions based on that. I
think that gave a very strong feeling of confidence to
investors that this was something that would repay their risks;
so they ventured. So all of this came together, the people --
the human resources- -the science, and the economic capability.
There was this kind of investment, and one didn't want to be
behind in what was happening.
Our investors certainly were aware. I certainly used the
Bank of America report to reassure investors that this wasn't a
kind of an idle dream and that it had a reasonable certainty,
if it was done well, of being successful and that their
economic expectations would be fulfilled.
Teiser: I think others' expectations were too high sometimes so that
there was a drop afterwards. Wasn't there a world price drop
in about --
Winiarski: Seventy- four .
Teiser: But then the market recovered. Did that drop bother you?
Winiarski: No, because at that time we had started the winery. I'm just
talking about the vineyard here; [we had] a separate set of
partners. By that time we had set up the winery, and we had
made a sweetheart arrangement between the winery and the
vineyard; the vineyard grapes were committed to the winery.
Since I was general partner of both the vineyard and the
winery, and some of the ownership was duplicated in both
organizations, this made it a very good arrangement between the
But I think you're right; there were some disappointments
for one reason or another. There were a lot of "ifs." The
fact that it was a very favorable time didn't guarantee that
everything would be done well and would prosper.
Developing a Wine Estate
Teiser: Had you always intended to follow your vineyard purchases with
Winiarski: That's a very good point. I think that was always an
aspiration, but it awaited the opportunity. I don't think you
could even say that it was a conscious and deliberate plan that
steps would follow. I think you could say it was always a
potential, always something like a possibility, but it required
putting together a number of things that I could not count on
being put together.
Teiser: When did you decide to go ahead and build a winery?
Winiarski: Actually, that was another thing that happened by chance. I
think I was still working for Ivancie, and somehow the
connection was made between Ivancie and the source of grapes
and the Martini planting on Zinfandel [Lane], which was
Cabernet. So acting as a consultant or an agent for Ivancie, I
visited the Martini ranch on Zinfandel Lane and made contact
with someone who was representing the Martinis for some of
their real estate. That was the person who happened to own the
house at the top of the hill, the house [belonging to the
Winiarskis] that you visited last time.
Winiarski: So, Ruth, this was one of those chanceful things, because this
person, Marian Backus, who represented the Martinis, lived in
the house at the top of the hill, the Tommy Parker summer
house. This hill that we're on is called Parker Hill on the
maps. Tommy's family was one of the original pioneers in this
whole area. Tommy Parker's father built the house in 1910 at
the top of the hill as a summer house to catch the cool breezes
from the bay. When the valley was hot, they thought that was a
I took Barbara with me on this visit where I had to
discuss something about the Martinis with Marian Backus at her
home, and we fell instantly in love with the house.
Teiser: It's a delightful house.
Winiarski: It wasn't quite what you saw; it was a little bit different,
but still we loved everything about it. So I think the whole
idea- -and the house was sitting on thirty acres. Marian
happened to mention that the house was for sale. This house is
less than a mile from the vineyard. And there were thirty
acres with the house. This is one of the chanceful
circumstances. We fell in love with it, and by this time we
were thinking that we had always rented, and it was time to buy
a house; it was time to live in a house for our family. We
wanted to be out of the "fatigue of need" that had gone on
since we were in the valley. The whole venture since we moved
from Chicago was now time to be remedied or at least thought
about. The presence of the house, the fact that they had land,
and the possibility of purchasing it--.
When I came back the next day to talk about it some more,
I misunderstood something that David Backus had told me. I
misunderstood by a wide margin the amount that he thought he
needed to sell the house. The original dream about a
misunderstood number transformed itself from something that we
might do ourselves on the basis of a misunderstood number to
something that we could only do with others. So the idea of
making a chateau for winery purposes came to be, since its
location, its suitability, and everything suggested that we
could make this work. The idea of buying the house would only
work if we could buy the house as an adjunct to a winery, an
enterprise that would be started on the property. We really
wanted the property. The winery needed the property, our
family needed the house, and we thought there was some synergy
there and that maybe the two could work together.
Teiser: And you managed?
Winiarski: That was the thing that was managed. But at first it was
entirely chance. As it turned out, it's a wonderful place for
entertaining winery guests, and it was then. It was very
useful for the partnership while we were a partnership. But
that's how it started; it started with this effort to bring
together our need for a house and the need for the
establishment of the winery for purposes of utilizing the fruit
that T*as so close, and the whole estate concept was created.
Teiser: How many partners did you have?
Winiarski: We had eight other partners in the beginning, some of whom, as
I said, were in the vineyard and remain in the vineyard. Some
were brought in through their acquaintance with the original
vineyard partners, and some of them were new. Are you talking
about the vineyard or the winery?
Winiarski: Well, there were eight partners, and then we brought in another
for the vineyard.
Teiser: When was it that you made your decision to go ahead and have a
Winiarski: I don't remember. [laughter] It just happened. Maybe it
happened on the circumstances of the house. It's like if you
have a dog, you have the other things --the leash and so forth,
Teiser: When did you actually start planning the building of a winery?
Winiarski: The first thing was to close the purchase for the thirty acres
and the house . That was dependent on finding water , because
this is a very poor area for water. The idea of the winery and
the house together on this site had already been put together,
and we needed water. We needed more water than had been
available for domestic purposes, so we couldn't close without
demonstrating that there was adequate water to operate a
winery. We drilled while our escrow period was in effect. We
drilled many holes. We never found the water on the property,
but we decided to bring water over from the vineyard property,
which was closer, as a way to accommodate the winery need.
I think the idea had already been formulated of putting
together the house site and its acreage for winery use, but
where it would be located, where it would be built, and how it
would be built we didn't decide until we got together with some
of the prospective partners.
Teiser: When was the winery built, then?
Winiarski: The winery was built in '73. The negotiations were concluded
in '72, and we thought we might use part of the house premises.
It's a building on three stories because it's built on the
hillside, so the bottom area was capable of being used.
Indeed, we had that bonded. For the first year we used the
winery house for our wine aging program. We brought in barrels
and used that for wine aging.
Gradually we moved out of that space when we built the
winery building in '73 and used that space for case storage.
Buildinc and Equipping the Vinery. 1973
Teiser: Did you yourself design the winery?
Teiser: By then you knew--
Winiarski: Well, it's a simple building, as you can see. It's a
vernacular kind of architecture, so it didn't take--. We had a
local engineer help us with the engineering, and between
Barbara's and my concepts of what a winery should look like- -a
simple building, vernacular style- -it was born in that
simplistic way. It didn't have an architect as such.,
Teiser: How about equipment?
Winiarski: I knew enough about the equipment; that was my business then.
All that was designed and scrounged from used equipment in the
beginning. We were thinking about a very conservative
approach, so wherever we could, we got used equipment, things
that had already been around and were no longer in active
service. We managed to moderate our capital requirements by
using a great deal of used equipment.
Teiser: Has that stood up?
Winiarski: Yes, but that's all changed now. I don't know what we have of
the original equipment except the tanks. The original presses
are gone. I think we may have some of the original pumps, but
in general all of these things were very useful in the
beginning. The lift is still in operation. Some of its
original structure is still useful, but the actual lifting
mechanism we have replaced and that sort of thing. Even the
tanks- -you know, the famous "Cask 23" that we sell? We got
this wooden cask from Inglenook. They were disposing of some
casks, and we renovated them inside and out. Guy Kay, who was
at Beringer, helped us move some of the casks one afternoon. A
forklift from Beringer was brought down--
Teiser: What kind of tanks were they?
Winiarski: Wooden. They were wooden ovals, and they have been replaced.
But the original Cask 23, the inspiration for the name, came
from the fact that in the lineup of tanks that we had, that was
It was very cooperative; it wasn't as competitive in those
days. People helped each other quite a lot. They had the time
to do that. You remember that there may have been twenty or
thirty wineries in the valley. Freemark Abbey was to a large
extent a model for a four-hundred- ton crushing operation.
Chuck [Charles S.] Carpy was of assistance. We visited other
wineries to see what they were doing. We had a very generous
outlay of time and consideration from other winemakers. All of
these things were very helpful. It could not have been done
without it. I think we visited almost every small winery to
see exactly how arrangements, dispositions- -when you have to do
it for yourself, you take a very careful look. Even though I
had been a consultant, I had never built a winery before. I
had never arranged flow of material for maximum efficiency on
my own, and this was all important to see what other people had
done, how they had solved these very basic problems. This was
Teiser: You were speaking earlier about a sense of community in your
childhood home. Did you find a similar sense of community
Winiarski: Right, restricted not to social aspects but simply the
willingness to share experiences and thoughts about how one did
things. That community spirit was there; people were very
willing and anxious, excited even, not for their own behalf but
on your behalf. They were excited for the things that you were
doing, so they very freely shared their experiences and their
own thoughts with me. So that sense of community in that
respect was there.
Teiser: Chuck Carpy, I gather, has been an important part of this
valley in his influence. Is that right?
Winiarski: I remember that when I was still at Mondavi, Mondavi had some
wines that they stored at Freemark Abbey. Going over to work
on these wines gave me the opportunity to become better
acquainted with Chuck. We had also struck up an acquaintance
because we both were part of the drive to introduce the
agricultural preserve ordinance in the valley back in 1968.
When I would go over there, we would have a chance to chat
about this and that kind of thing. Since he had overseen in
large part the refurbishing, the reestablishment of Freemark
Abbey, his experiences were very valuable as examples of kinds
of things to think about and do. Chuck is the kind of man who
thinks a great deal about what he does, and his grasp of detail
was very strong. His knowledge of why things were done the way
they were done was very useful and helpful. If the world is
divided into two kinds of people, those who think about
everything and those who think about nothing, he was the kind
of person who thought about everything. [laughter]
So that would take us up to 1973, when we built the
Teiser: Had you been making wine in someone else's premises?
Winiarski: We made it in '72 at Oakville, at the old [Wilfred] van Loben
Sels operation at that time. We crushed the grapes there, and
we brought them back, I think, before the end of the year and
put them in our barrels in the ground floor of the house , and
we aged the wine there. So they were all here. We had bonded
that premise; part of that house was a bonded winery at one
time. The use we made of the house for these purposes probably
repaid a good portion of the partners' original investment.
Teiser: What was your first production in your own winery?
Winiarski: That was in 1973. The 1972 crop from the vineyard was the
first crop. It wasn't commercially very significant, and the
second crop, 1973, was the wine that went to the Paris tasting
Teiser: Oh, really? First time around!
Winiarski: Yes, first time around. That dedicated the building, you might
say; that was the first crush of the building.
Teiser: That certainly got it off to a good start.
Winiarski: Couldn't have been better, could it?
Teiser: The wines that you were concentrating upon then were Cabernet
Winiarski: Cabernet and Merlot here. We very generously got some help
from Robert Mondavi in Riesling that year. In 1974 we did
start to crush our own Riesling. We were able to buy some
crushed juice, unfermented juice, from Robert Mondavi that year
to add to it. So this was a help to be able to do that, to be
able to get somewhat larger production. Seventy- four, if you
recall, was a very warm harvest, and the grapes tended to come
in all at once. So it was very good that we could expand the
capacity of our own operation by Robert Mondavi giving access
to some of the fruit from his own harvest for us to take over
as juice and to ferment here.
Winiarski: I think it's an interesting point that the composition of the
farming, the type of farming that was being done by the Heids
before we pulled out--. They were not bound to a single crop
when they farmed that land. I guess that was important, that
they not only had the grapes, but they had prunes, apples, and
cherries in this small acreage. While they were not quite
subsistence farmers--! mean, they obviously didn't subsist on
those prunes and the cherries- -they wanted to make cash. But I
think a characteristic of quite a few of the lands that are now
in vineyards in this valley were before not mono -cultured; they
were not single -crop enterprises.
Teiser: There were a lot of prunes and apples planted at Prohibition.
Winiarski: Correct. And even the olives were put in the hills, not during
Prohibition but when phylloxera began to devastate the
vineyards. This was when the olives were put in, because no
one was certain, I believe, at that time that rootstock would
not eventually itself also succumb to phylloxera. This was an
element of uncertainty, and olives were seen as an alternate to
grapes because of the phylloxera.
In any case, most of the smaller properties, and even some
of the larger, like the Trefethen property, which was
considerably larger, were not single-crop enterprises. They
had a number of different crops that they relied on for sales.
So it was a little bit different. Prunes may have been
dominant, and I think that wasn't always so; they became
dominant simply because there was more security about having
some cash return from that. In general, I think people spread
the risk and did not have a single crop that they relied on.
It was not until grapes became such a powerful dominant
economic factor that such single -purpose agriculture took the
place of a more variegated agricultural endeavor.
I think that's an important point. It may also have had
something to do with the way this valley developed. The
successive waves of immigrants from different kinds of
backgrounds might have contributed to that to some extent. The
Italians didn't come in until later. The first people the
Beringers , the Younts , the Krugs , the Carpys , Schram- -were more
or less the first wave of people. There may have been even a
wave earlier than that --ranching, grazing, and that sort of
thing- -when agriculture became dominant. It was not the
Italians; they came in later.
So first of all you had the Germans, then the Italians,
and then there was Prohibition. Then you have this recent wave
of people who come from all over. There are even some Polish
people in this group. [laughter] People like Jack Davies and
the Carpys take over an earlier tradition. But if the new
people were not part of that continuity of that old Italian
tradition- -Martinis , Mondavis, and so on- -you have people who
come in whose families have been in this country for some time
and are relocating themselves.
Sometime, Ruth, you are going to write another book, which
will have to do with the motivations and the thoughts of the
people who came in here in this valley and succeeded each
other. I think you will find that those motivations were quite
different. They were not refugees, so to speak. There may
have been a different kind of aspiration that guided all of the
different kinds of people who came here at different times. It
might be something interesting.
Anyway, I think the observation is at least of more than
passing interest that the successive waves were differently
structured in terms of their backgrounds and their national
origin. They contributed in different ways and were guided by
different stars. I think one could say that.
There was the gentleman farmer and the gentleman vintner
tradition, and it's longstanding in Europe, too. Does that fit
into what you are just saying?
I look over this list, and I think of when the Heid brothers
came here, and I don't see any gentlemen farmers until very
recently- -people whose wealth originated elsewhere who wanted
to establish themselves in grape growing and winemaking.
Looking at this list: Krug, Beringer, Yount, Schram, the
Italians who came in- -all of these were people who were active
either in grape growing or winemaking or in other professions. 1
Ernest Wente told me that the Wentes complained because they
were in one of the few businesses that had amateurs as
competitors, because there were a number in the Livermore area.
I think that's certainly true today, if by amateurs one means a
person whose motivating aspirations come not from merely
professional discipline but from the heart (which is the
original meaning of the term) . The acquisition of the
professional skills might even be secondary to supply a means
of supporting that aspiration.
You mentioned Trefethen, for instance,
He was typical, I
Winiarski: Yes, whose background was not professional in any way.
1 Schram was a barber, Beringer an experienced winemaker, Yount a
wo rkman- of -all- trades , Krug a political activist and journalist who did a
number of other things before he became a winemaker.
Today I think it's even more difficult- -it's very
difficult for someone to duplicate what I did, to start from
scratch with the investors. I think that would be really tough
Teiser: Chappelet was in the food vending business.
Winiarski: Business success elsewhere in another kind of business. This
kind of resource-rich endeavor I don't think is characteristic
of any of the people that we talked about before historically.
Teiser: You were lucky.
Winiarski: No question. That's why I want to point out these things. So
much depended on chance circumstances. The availability, the
putting together of various things depended so much on things
that you could not have ever calculated would be there as
Teiser: Well, you recognized them.
Winiarski: Maybe there's something to that.
Sam Aaron [distinguished wine merchant and connoisseur of
New York City] once told me, after the Paris tasting, that in
the Paris tasting we were struck by lightning. That's
certainly true. This was a tremendously energizing event,
circumstance, and happening. However, we did climb to the top
of the tree, or the top of the hill, in order to be exposed to
the possibility of being struck by lightning. One could also
Teiser: Was it Grgich who also scored well in that Paris tasting?
Teiser: That's helped him, too.
Winiarski: It certainly has.
Teiser: We're back at your first fermentation.
Winiarski: I also wanted to mention about Merlot, because one sort of
assumes Merlot is also always around, and one should not take
that for granted, either. Outside of Sterling and I think
Martini, I don't know another grower in the valley who chose to
put in Merlot at the time that we did, back in 1970. I chose
our bud wood with very great care. I went out to the Delta to
get it on a planting that doesn't exist any more. It's been
very good. As a matter of fact, when the success of this
Merlot was recognized because it cropped well, was free of
virus, and produced outstanding fruit, we probably realized
more from selling cuttings than we did from the grapes
So the Merlot was a matter of choice, as I said, but there
were chance elements as well. I was looking to restrict the
vegetative aspects of it and to make it less vigorous --to find
a less vigorous site. The fact that it turned out so very well
there, that it produced and had a good crop very consistently
from year to year, and that it turned out to make very good
wine was an important step in the development of the use of
Merlot in this valley.
Teiser: Were you your own winemaker?
Winiarski: Yes. That's interesting. Why did you ask that question?
Teiser: Most entrepreneurs quickly get themselves a winemaker.
Winiarski: No, this was my skill and my love, so I combined the expert and
the amateur. I came to the whole thing through production,
which is a little bit different from the way of coming to it
which others followed. Learning, having undergone this
Teiser: I suppose some people expect to be their own winemakers but
find the other aspects of the business absorb them too much.
Winiarski: I think this may be a little bit more true when you get larger,
then you get a conflict for your time. Winemaking could be
considered the head part and the hand part, and gradually you
have to do more of the head part- -thinking through the steps
and developing the means to achieve the ends that you wish for
the wines that you are looking to produce. Then someone else
could actually do the body parts. So as a winemaker you could
become somewhat disembodied. That is, you don't actually use
your muscles to move those barrels, but you decide what barrels
you want to use, when you want to fill the barrels, how long
the wine will remain in the barrels, and somebody else does the
body part of it. Maybe it's still important that you smell
quite a few of the bungs, but maybe not every bung. Maybe you
don't do all the topping; someone else does. All of this is
winemaking, and somehow the head part of it or the thinking
part of it gets severed from the body part. So here we are
walking around like heads without bodies. [laughter]
Teiser: As your winery developed, did you relinquish some of the duties
Winiarski: Yes. The executing functions are now delegated. So long as I
have complete confidence that goals I am looking to achieve are
very well understood by someone else, I can even leave some of
the means to accomplish those goals. I don't have to be
present at every day-by-moment decision. Someone else can do
those things, so long as they're clear about the objectives.
So it's very important that we get the confidence, the tasting:
What would you do? How much of this would you put in to make
it get like that? It's important that I know this, and it's
important that I have confidence that someone who is making
those decisions knows where I want to go also. That part of
winemaking- - the understanding of how to get to where you want
the wine to be, what you want it to be, how you want to give it
its opportunity to express to the fullest its nature of that
year- -the means to do that: How much do you squeeze it? How
much do you not squeeze it? How much do you let it alone?
When do you let it alone? All these things you have to know or
someone has to know. You can't make wine without knowing those
things, but eventually someone else could actually do it, as
long as they know what has to be done.
Teiser: Who tastes here?
Winiarski: We all taste. The most important tools in this winery are the
palate and the nose. Everything else is subordinate to that.
So we're always tasting, and I'm always part of the tasting.
How much oak, how little oak, rackings- -all these sort of
things we're tasting, and everyone tastes together. As a
matter of fact, when we taste in company for purposes of
deciding on where we stand with respect to the rest of the
industry and with people we consider our peers, we try to get
someone else in so that we are not too much bound by our own
ingrown preferences. This is very good, to get the shock of
someone who might not experience the same qualities as you do;
so this corrective is very important, and we try to do that.
Teiser: I'm always interested when I'm in a winemaker's office, and I
look at what wines they are tasting against. I see that you
have Joseph Heitz's Cabernet over there. Who shops for wines
to taste against?
Winiarski: Well, it's done in different ways. Sometimes people say we
ought to be tasting these wines with ours, that we ought to be
tasting what's new. So we put together tastings, and sometimes
they originate them. Sometimes I say, "We have to taste so-
and-so. I've heard about this, or I've tasted that." That's
Warren Winiarski delivering remarks on wine at an international meeting at the House
of Commons, 1978.
very important to continually do so that these little shifts in
stylistic objectives are sensed. Sometimes the tools are
elaborated so that you can achieve an objective which the
technology of yesterday didn't allow you to achieve. It's
important that this sense of movement and opportunity is not
I just came back, Ruth, from tasting seventy-six-odd 1970
vintage of Bordeaux in Florida. It was a very valuable
tasting. Robert Paul, a collector and connoisseur in Florida,
put on this tasting for a number of us. They had some of the
French producers of the wines there and English tasters --
Michael Broadbent, Clive Coates , and people like that. The
winemaker and owner of the Chateau Pichon-Longueville was
there, also from Figeac and Pavie. There was a wide variety of
people who are talking about the wines and appreciating the
wines , and this is very important also to get the sense of the
long term, what's happening to the wines after twenty years.
Some wines are merely recollections of what they were in
the past. They're not even pleasant. The English tend to like
some of these wines with more aged characteristics more than we
do. We tend to like the fruitier, more robust wines, and they
tend to like the more attenuated wines, so it is a difference
We are able to taste wines of that age and with that range
from different regions- -from Pommerol, Saint- Estephe , Pauillac,
and other different regions --to see how they age, knowing
something about the technology that produced them and having
the producers there to speak about all these issues, each one
liberated from what might be an excessive preoccupation with
one's own kind of endeavor. It's important also to have a
sense not only of where you are going and what you'd like to
accomplish but what others are doing and how this fits into a
wider horizon of wine. Your own preoccupations might give you
the temptation to suspect that you are only concerned with your
own, and therefore you don't see that larger context. Since
we're interested in producing world-class wines, it's important
to see what is that whole class out there; what is that larger
class, and what happens to those wines after twenty years.
Do you consider California wines to be on what they call these
days "a level playing field" with French wines?
Some of this I address in that article, "The Hierarchy of Wine
Quality." I try to make a distinction there between regional
wines and classical wines or wines that transcend merely
regional excellence. I think we have the opportunity in
California to achieve, and I think in that Paris tasting (we
can talk about that later a little more schematically) we
showed that we were capable of transcending our regional
limitations, and we could produce wines that are good any place
and every place, any time and every time, simply because they
embody these classical characteristics and are not simply good
because they represent a region.
The Paris Tasting. 1976M
Is this a good time to talk about the Paris tasting?
This is a perfect time to talk about it.
The Paris tasting was developed by Steven Spurrier,
you get into it?
Steven had a restaurant and a school--! think it was primarily
a school, but he also had a restaurant- -in Paris. The
objective of the school was to train people in the trade about
the wines of France primarily. He had a staff of people, one
of whom was an American named Patricia Gallagher. For some
reason she was given the job of coming to California and seeing
what we were up to for a purpose that I think Steven originally
conceived would be some kind of celebration of the
Bicentennial- -some kind of recognition, some kind of event
which would embody a recognition of the fact that the French
had helped us in our revolutionary war, and we wanted to
express our gratitude or recognition of that by some kind of
event that he would participate in. I think he had in mind
that it would give the French a sense of what we, borrowing the
grape types and some of the technology, had brought to the New
World from Europe and from France in particular.
That was the kind of idea, I think, in the beginning.
Then it modified itself over the course of time to become a
little bit different. I don't think it was ever conceived as a
beauty contest as such, where there was one winner and all the
rest were losers. It was a comparison and meant for
observation and to show some of the wines of the New World.
Patricia came over to find out whose wines they might be. She
was helped in this I think a little bit by Bob [Robert]
Finigan, who pointed her in certain directions and said, "You
might be interested in these wines and those wines," and she
In cellar, barrels of wine that won Paris Tasting of 1976.
came around and visited the wineries that he indicated might be
She visited here, tasted our wines, and she tasted the
wines of others. She must have said back- -I'm just guessing
about this- -"Steven, you have to come out here yourself,
because some of these wines are of great interest. You should
come out and make your evaluations." In any case, he did come
out after she did. She made a certain preliminary list of
wines to be taken over for this event, and he came out then and
also did the same thing.
Our wines were among those chosen to be in this
demonstration, and they were carried over as hand luggage by a
group that was going over to visit the chateaux in France, to
make a visit throughout the French vineyards. The wines were
deposited with Steven in his school and were then placed in the
Hotel Intercontinental for that particular day that the tasting
was to take place. They were tasted blind, and they were
judged by the assembled persons, whose skill was very great in
discriminating between wines. They were all French and were
among the very top people whose abilities in tasting wines were
equalled by few others. They had recognition and reputations
to match their powers. They tasted and compared California
Cabernets and Bordeaux wines of classified, even first growth
origins. They also tasted and compared California Chardonnays
and the white wines of Burgundy. It was later reported that
several of them had felt it would be very easy to distinguish
between the French and the California wines.
As a result of the tasting, our Cabernet of 1973 and the
1973 Chardonnay of Chateau Montelena were found to be worthy of
comparison with those outstanding wines --not only worthy to be
compared but, on that particular occasion, preferred.
Yes, I was astounded when I read of it.
It certainly had far-reaching implications for us personally,
for our endeavor, and I think it had certain implications for
California and for the Napa Valley. It was a kind of
consummation for my notion that the California grapes had
potential which was not being expressed or was not being
exploited; we were not doing the best we could with California
I think if you look at the results and try to understand
what was really important, it was not that our wine or
Montelena 's wine was chosen above some French wines. That was
very gratifying, pleasant, competitively significant, and all
these things, but the fact that the tasters could not
systematically separate our wines from their wines meant that
we had achieved a certain classic character. Our wines were
not good because they were ours ; they were good because they
could stand in the company of wines which had come to be
identified with those that embodied characteristics good every
place and always, not only because they represented this region
but because they had these characteristic virtues that lifted
them in category, in type, in being. They were styled in a
classic way. From this point of view, it is of the utmost
significance and also, by the way, deliciously ironic, that the
French tasters thought, when making their judgments known, that
they were tasting and preferring their own French wines; i.e.,
they thought our '73 Cabernet and the Chardonnay from Montelena
were from France! This was reported by various people who were
there and who overheard the comments which were made .
Winiarski: That's the point I guess I try to make in this article ["The
Hierarchy of Wine Quality"], that there are certain wines which
are regional, and their excellence is understood as an
expression of the region, and that would have been the wines
that many people in California were trying to make then which
were wines that had very rich, very powerful, very ripe fruit
characteristics, and possessed great abundance of varietal
character. There are also some others that we didn't often
make then, which possessed the characteristic of "restraint,"
which I call the third "r." There are two "r's," "richness"
and "ripeness," and there's another one which might be called
"restraint" or moderation, and my goal with the 1973 fruit was
to give it this quality of moderation. The Paris Tasting
showed what California grapes, with all their richness and
ripeness, could attain if the wines also were styled to embody
a certain restraint. These would not be wines noted for the
most massive expression of ripe fruit but would be wines
expressing our regional abundance, balanced by moderation and
restraint. That is to say that the level of fruit character
would be moderated to the point required for a wine to qualify
for the name "classic."
Teiser: It's interesting that there was a consensus among the tasters.
How does it happen that such a thing exists, that some kind of
ideal is understood by a number of different people?
Winiarski: When you get to these very fine points, I don't think there's
very much disagreement about what is superior. I mean, there
might be preferential differences, but if you look at the
judging that takes place at some of these Olympic contests, you
don't find one judge who gives a 2 and another one who gives a
9.5; they are within a narrow band of disagreement. I think
when you get to such embodiments of excellence, even though
there might be certain conventional aspects to what you judge
as good and not good, there is less of a disagreement among
people who are competent about what constitutes excellence in
any given field. There was a range, surely, and accident and
chance play a part, and preference plays a part, but within
that range I think there is less difference. People generally
have a band within which they judge what is excellent and what
I think the fact that they didn't throw the wines out on
the first go, that they couldn't systematically tell the
difference, means that the standards or the criteria of
excellence are those by which those wines could be judged all
together. I think that's the important part of the Paris
tasting that doesn't get very much expressed. That's the
implication, that we had achieved the quality level, and it was
almost universally recognized within this group. In addition,
it also recognized enough so that one could throw out as
idiosyncratic those judgments in that group of judges which
were not in accordance with that, that there is a standard for
wines of this character, universal, classic, international
standards, and that these standards can be used as guidance.
For the most part, we were not merely regional wines; we were
wines that embodied certain trans -regional characteristics, you
might say "transcendent" characteristics- -balance , harmony,
euphonic relationship between the parts: the soft, smooth,
fruity parts and the tannic, hard parts; there was a certain
balance there. No predominance, no excessively forceful
elements, a certain highlighting that takes place in the fruit,
a certain complexity, a depth, a length, a persistence of
flavors, no shortness, no interruptions, continuity between
what you smell and what you taste- -all these things are
characteristics of wines that have these universal, or
regional -transcending characteristics. I think for people who
are experienced, these are not hard things to identify, and I
think most of the California wines in that tasting were seen in
I think this insight is very important, and I think our
contribution to its illuminating power has been significant. I
think it's important to recognize exactly what it was that
happened there. It wasn't just a contest, it wasn't just
walking away with first prize; it was more than that. It
implied something deeper, and I think that is a lesson that
should be well understood.
I think that should guide us in the future also. To a
certain extent we were dazzled by our own potential. The
richness that our fruit was capable of was simply dazzling- -the
high alcohol, the powerful extractives, the tannin, the rich
and powerful fruit, the heady aromas. All of these things are
impressive in themselves, but they do tend to fatigue. You
cannot have a wonderful aesthetic experience where you are at
the edge of fatigue every moment, engrossed. So I think that
element of restraint was very important, and it still is
These elements- -the richness, the ripe fruit, the power,
the expressive fruit, the opulence- -are all means; they're not
ends in themselves. We were preoccupied with the means and
took them to be the end, and they never should have been the
end. You had all these 14-percent-alcohol and highly extracted
wines, these late-harvest Zinfandels, the Cabernets to end all
Cabernets, the Chardonnays to end all Chardonnays . The most
powerful, authoritative statement seemed to many to be a
statement of beauty, but beauty doesn't need excess. On the
Look at this head [refers to picture of a sculpture of a
Cycladic head from a human figure]. It refers to humanity in
an abstract way. It's from the twenty- fourth century B.C. It
is rather a minimal statement, a statement which still allows
the engagement of the mind to take place, where the sensor or
the experiencer is engaged in that. It doesn't have everything
done; the sensual experience does not do everything in itself.
I think that's a point we could start with next time, because I
think I have a little elaboration on that point.
Winiarski: [In response to a question about the name Stag's Leap, which
became the name for the viticultural region] So there was no
forethought to distinguish ourselves from anyone else. We knew
there had been a Stag's Leap resort- -Stag' s Leap Manor, I think
it was called- -when we chose the name, but we didn't do it with
any reference to what was to become a drawn-out legal conflict
over the use of the name [first over the proprietary use of the
name with the owner of Stag's Leap manor and later joined with
that same owner over the form of the name to be used to
designate a viticultural area] .
Teiser: Has the name created any problems?
Winiarski: There is some consumer confusion. There still is, and there
always will be, I expect, when two wineries use a name which is
so uncommon. People think there is only one, and we still have
the problem of separating our proprietary usage from the other
proprietary usage. It might have been a problem with the
appellation, the American viticulture area, I didn't approve
of that effort and wasn't on board, so to speak, in the efforts
to get this viticultural area until there was a clear
understanding that we would try to separate proprietary use of
the name from the geographic or viticultural use of the name.
That came about when the application was modified so that it
was for Stag's Leap District. The name was not simply the two
words, "Stag's Leap," but "Stag's Leap District." I think that
was a clear recognition that the effort should be made to apply
for a name which would be clearly geographic in character and
"Wines of Moderation and Restraint"
Winiarski: I wonder whether we should see if we have everything stated
about the last point, which I think is so important for
California's future and mission, so to speak, and certainly how
we perceived our effort in having a part in defining the fine
winemakers' mission in California. I would state that as
follows: we are trying to raise the aspiration of those people
who are producing fine wines so that they would be concerned
with identifying their own wines with what I called before the
classic wines- -the wines of the classic tradition, which means
wines which do not simply express the regional excellence.
What I thought we had to do was rise above our concern with
expressing the power and the richness of our fruit and employ
the virtues of moderation and restraint for expressing the
That's primarily what my objective was. I'll tell you a
little story about that. It was never so clear to me that what
we wanted to do was right as when I was at a marketing dinner
early in our history; it may have been in '74 or so when we
were first releasing our wines. I was down in southern
California. We had an agent at that time in southern
California who invited me to a dinner. At this dinner the wine
that was served was a Late Harvest Zinfandel. Mind you, this
wasn't a dessert course; this was a food course. Even today I
remember the feeling: the first sip was okay, and I got the
sense of this huge, powerful wine that was with the food. Each
sip afterward was like the anticipation of dread for what was
going to happen to the mouth and what was going to happen to
the food that I had just swallowed a little bit of.
The sense of "anticipating with dread" was like a
revelation. I was thinking, "This is not what we should be
doing with California grapes. We should not be making wines
like this or anything near it for food." This was an assault
on one's senses; this wine obliterated any sense of the food
and was not in any way its companion. It demanded one's
exclusive attention; it wiped out everything else. Such
experiences were not what I thought was appropriate for dining.
It was strongly reinforced for me that we were going in an
entirely different and better direction.
Eventually, I think what the Paris tasting showed was that
wines that aspired to be of classical character had to learn
restraint and moderation, which is the major idea, I think, in
what I brought to the Cabernet varietal at that time. I think
the Paris tasting sort of sealed that. No longer were we
interested in- -the winemakers of California had the possibility
of a new kind of goal, because they saw it was successful.
So I think the Paris Tasting was a kind of affirmation for
us, and it was a big lesson to be learned for California from
Growth and Special Programs
You have told of building your first winery,
the growth of the business since then?
Can you sketch
A good bit of that was made far easier by the fact that the
Paris tasting occurred. The partners were very satisfied,
naturally. The telephone was a constant reminder that wines
that we had difficulty placing before were now sought after.
There was a good reason why people wanted to buy our wines,
where we might have had difficulty persuading them before.
Things became a bit easier, and that made the development of
the winery and continued investment a far more reasonable
prospect than before.
At some point, Ruth, the family enterprise- -what was to be
a more limited scope- -shifted its focus, and we were no longer
focused on a family enterprise at a lower level of economic
return, as we had been in the beginning. It became more
businesslike, you might say; it became less personal and more
rational, if that makes sense.
Teiser: What has Mrs. Winiarski's function been in the winery?
Winiarski: She has always concerned herself with the public aspect of it
and the food aspect and with engaging the attention of those
people who were important to the winery on a personal basis.
She has written the release letters sometimes, and she has
thought about how we were presenting words to the public. She
has in all ways been my helper and comfort. What has been
achieved over the years would not have been possible without
As I say, the buildings proceeded, and our overall
economic goals changed. Eventually we bought out the partners'
interest, so it became a completely family enterprise at a
somewhat higher level of economic activity than we originally
thought. We're finished with that development now. We have
three children. If they wish to continue this, there is an
opportunity. The basis is laid; it's large enough to occupy
all of them. We are no longer dependent simply on the grapes
from our own vineyard: we buy grapes from others. All of our
white grapes from others.
In 1976 we started our Chardonnay program. It was small
then but has developed much more extensively recently. We were
pleased to be first among 350-some-odd white wines in a recent
Beverage Tasting Institute competition with our '90 Chardonnay
Reserve. So now we are about as well known for our Chardonnays
and their stylistic character as well.
Teiser: You buy Chardonnay grapes, but your vinification is all here?
Winiarski: Yes, vinification is all here. Actually, the last building
that we built [constructed in 1990] was for the purpose of
improving the character of the Chardonnay wines in particular.
We can ferment at cold temperatures in barrels, and we couldn't
do that to any large extent in the existing buildings. That's
one of the primary reasons for that last building, to give us
the room to do that. Our Reserve Chardonnay program has
received as many accolades as our Cask 23 [program] . We've
certainly developed a technique. Starting in 1980, it took us
about six years to develop the technique for Chardonnay, and we
think we are, again, focusing on a restrained elegance while
still being loyal to the regional characteristics. We don't
see any reason why our Napa Valley regional characteristics for
the wine should not establish a new kind of worldwide standard.
White wine production building completed in 1991 .
For the type of regional characteristics we have, we think we
can establish a model, classic type wine, still loyal to the
regional characteristics but expressing classic character at
the world-class level.
Teiser: What is your Cask 23 program?
Winiarski: Yes, you are right; we didn't talk about that. We take the
most distinctive part of, up to now, the SLV vineyards, and we
segregate that early in view of its excellence and its
distinctive ness for a special bottling of the Cabernet, which
we call Cask 23. 1 That wine is not made in every year; it's
got to be a year of exceptional character. Eventually that
finds its way to the market as a proprietary blend, Cask 23,
under that name, which is then our reserve bottling of the
Cabernet for that particular year.
There have been a number of years together where we
haven't made it, in the early eighties, for example, but
roughly every two and a half years we come out with a cask
bottling. That usually is an immediate sellout. It's at
roughly the same price level as the very finest California
offerings of that varietal. It's sought after because it
represents an exceptional blend from an exceptional year.
Sometimes people ask us whether the year (or the vintage) is a
Cask 23 year. They judge the quality of the whole vintage by
whether or not we will be making a Cask 23. That is flattering
but somewhat exaggerated.
Teiser: Is it a single vineyard?
Winiarski: Up till now it has been a single vineyard. It has come from
the Stag's Leap [SLV] vineyards. Since we bought the Fay
vineyard adjoining, which is twice the size, we will have the
opportunity, as that vineyard is replanted and comes into
production, to source our material from a pool which is now two
times larger than it was before. So we should have more supply
and more opportunity, but it's still going to have the same
Hfe started this proprietary blend, which was new for California, in
1974. I think it was the same year that Phelps made its first Insignia,
also a proprietary blend. I can't remember if there were any others that
principle of exceptional quality from any given exceptional
Did we talk about the Fay vineyard? I think when you were
up at the house last, you looked out over it.
Teiser: Yes, I think you spoke of it.
Winiarski: And the circumstances of how we came to that vineyard?
Teiser: Will you tell about it now?
Winiarski: I went down to Nathan about 1968, about this irrigation
Teiser: Yes, you talked about that.
Winiarski: That's why we bought SLV, because I tasted Nathan's homemade
wine. So that part of the story we know about. However,
twenty years later we finally were able to buy that vineyard,
which was the origin of the whole story, so to speak. Now it's
being replanted, and the first vintage that uses grapes from
the newly-planted vineyard will be '89. Thereafter we should
have progressively more fruit from that vineyard.
Teiser: How many acres do you have all together planted now?
Winiarski: We have 35 and 70, so it's roughly 115 acres, 105 acres under
cultivation in various stages.
Teiser: Do you have any plans for other varieties?
Winiarski: We have planted Petit Verdot in the Fay vineyard (also a first
for our district and area) , but our estate vineyards are meant
to be just that; the grapes go into the SLV and the Fay and the
Cask 23. We think that land is an exceptional place for a
Cabernet vineyard or Cabernet type. I haven't really found
Cabernet Franc which I like, so we have not put in any of that,
but we might try a bit of it. The Fay vineyard is under a
replanting program, and we have started now in SLV to pull out
the first block we planted in '70, the first ten acres or so.
Teiser: Why are you pulling them out?
Winiarski: The vines in that block are a bit tired, and they've been
cropping in an eight-by-twelve spacing, which was the original
spacing. We're going to change that. It's not because of
phylloxera, but we think we will improve the quality with this
Teiser: What spacing are you going to have?
Winiarski : We will probably put in a seven-by-five. That's roughly a
third of the space per vine. We will make smaller vines, we
will change the trellis, and we will put in a rootstock which
will not give us the difficulty that we have had recently
controlling the amount of vegetative vigor there is. We will
concentrate more- -and this is the last thing I actually wanted
to talk to you about. But you had some other concerns--.
Teiser: I was going to ask you if your winemaking has been changed in
any way or affected by consultants.
Winiarski: I would say it has not. This goal, this introduction of the
classical considerations, has not been affected; I've kept to
that goal. I've had people in to help me achieve it, but the
goal itself has not changed. We're still looking to produce a
wine that has these classical characteristics and at the same
time is loyal to the soil and to the climate where these grapes
are grown. So we want to express both of those things. That
goal hasn't changed; that goal hasn't been modified.
Andre Tchelistchef f , whom I mentioned in our first
meeting, was here for a while and was very helpful, very
significant in helping us to flesh out those goals and to
articulate those kinds of things I had to be thinking about in
order to achieve those goals. It would be interesting to put
all that together from your various interviews with people who
have been influenced by his insights and experience.
Teiser: It would be interesting, yes. I don't think I have ever
interviewed anyone specifically on that subject, so I'd have to
sort of start afresh. Certainly his influence is mentioned
Winiarski: He was a unique combination. He provided, in his own soul,
this extraordinary combination of science and poetry. That's
what it takes in this kind of thing. He was uniquely and
surpassingly, perhaps, gifted with this combination of those
two aspects at a very high level.
Teiser: Yes, and I suppose his experience in Europe and here helped
give him a perspective on the Napa Valley.
Winiarski : Yes , that few others would possess . I never worked for Andr6 ,
but Mike Grgich worked for him. The two Paris tasting prize
holders --we both worked for Lee Stewart and Robert Mondavi, and
we both had an association with Andr, another circumstantial
combination that bears some reflection.
Teiser: It comes back to that community of interest that you mentioned.
I think you and Mike Grgich have added greatly in your own
selves, of course, to all that.
Winiarski: Well, it's a continuing thing, isn't it? We are nourished, and
we go on to continue the nourishment. We enrich and we are
enriched. There is a lot to do.
Changes in Grape Growing Considerations
Winiarski: Refinement is now taking place in the vineyard. Everyone talks
about the new things that are happening in the vineyard, and
they are rather extraordinary. They're far- reaching. Before,
we were talking about winemaking and grape growing as
agriculture. Well, yes and no. Agriculture in the strict
sense, as the term "agri" implies, is a field crop; you don't
concern yourself with individual plants. That's the province
of horticulture- -hortus , meaning garden, and it's in the garden
setting that most of the strong developments have actually
taken place. 1 When you begin to deal with plants on an
individual level, you're dealing with something that's more
appropriate to garden techniques. Field techniques, as they
are applied when you plant corn, barley, rye, or wheat, are not
applied to individuals. There you sow the whole field, and
you're not concerned with individual plants anymore; you're
concerned with the whole field of plants and the crop that
comes from it.
That was the way our so-called "agricultural endeavor"
with grapevines was before. We were mainly thinking about the
vineyard as a field of plants, as I can see it, thinking about
the way I learned, using the standard textbooks before, which I
read all the time. True, we were pruning individual vines, but
we were not thinking about the vines as leading to wine at the
level that we have been talking about most recently- -that
moderation and restraint consideration, for example.
Winiarski: We weren't thinking about particular vines leading to
particular styles of wine. We were thinking about quality, no
1 This distinction was suggested to me by my perceptive friend George
C. Ball, President and Chairman of the Board of Burpee Seed Co. For some
time, he was also president of the American Horticultural Society.
question about that, but in a very generalized level. We
didn't have very specific, stylistic criteria wherein to judge
the objectives of what we were trying to do in our vineyards.
I think all that has changed. We are now very much concerned
with the individual vine and how to manage it, not to produce a
crop of very generalized excellence but very specific, down to
the stylistic considerations of what that vine and its grapes
should produce by way of wine. So that is not treating vines
as a field any more but treating them as though they were in a
garden, as individuals.
That's what we're doing now with the SLV replanting
program. That's the reason we're replanting, to get to this
kind of consideration sooner rather than later. That's .
certainly what we have been doing since 1986 in our Fay ^
vineyard. Even before that, thinking about purchasing that
vineyard, the question was: what happened with those vines?
Why did the quality of the fruit that they were producing
decline? Why was it that Joe Heitz was making those wines
before and then was not too keen on them? Something was
happening in the vineyard. We knew that in the beginning it
produced outstanding fruit. After fifteen or sixteen years,
the quality of the fruit that it was producing had changed.
Why couldn't they hold to those original quality parameters?
Why was the style changing?
All those questions were in my mind, and we were thinking
about that. When I went to Australia in 1986, we were in the
final stages of our reflections. I had, I thought, formulated
all the questions. I had already bought the Fay vineyard,
actually. But before we began any work in that spring- -that
was the spring of the great floods--! was invited to Sydney by
Len Evans to judge at the Sydney Wine Show as their
international judge. The function I served there was (to go
off the track for a minute) the same function as when we try to
get someone from the outside to share in our tastings at our
winery- -to give someone with an outside perspective the ability
to judge with people who are very used to their own wines. We
arrange this so that we can get a kind of fresh perspective and
fresh insight into the kinds of things that need to be
I met there Danny Schuster, whose ideas about vineyard
management and principles of growing answered my questions about
the Fay vineyard. We bring him over a number of times a year,
and we have worked together now for the last six years to develop
the principles to apply to our own vineyard from his experience
in New Zealand and Australia. He's done a great deal of profound
study on what might be called the non-agrinomic way to
agricultural economics way to approach a vineyard, with a view
to producing high-quality fruit. For example, to take what has
now become an easy to understand and almost "classic" example,
your vine spacing- -how closely should your vines be spaced?
The agricultural economics answer would be, "What's the size of
your tractor?" If your tractor is five feet wide, then you
should have a vineyard with rows at least wide enough to
accommodate the tractor. It's not a consideration that has
anything to do with wine quality. But maybe if you put your
rows apart as far as they have to be for your widest tractor,
you won't make good wine. That's the non-economic caveat. The
fact that you don't want to buy a new tractor has nothing to do
with wine quality. Maybe closer spacing, with a narrower
tractor, might have something to do with wine quality. This is
not to say that the economic considerations are irrelevant. On
the contrary, they are very important but also secondary and
subordinate . 1
Those kinds of decisions are of a different weight and a
different bearing for what you should do in a vineyard- -how
high your canopy should be, how much fruit each vine should be
allowed to bear, not how much it costs to plant a vineyard or
that wider spacing is more economic than narrower spacing.
What we should be thinking about is, "What is your objective
for wine quality? What kind of style do you want these grapes
to produce?" Maybe that should be the most important thing.
That's the kind of thing we're thinking about now that we
weren't thinking about in precisely those terms back in 1970.
Have there been changes in availability of rootstock, too?
This whole thing about phylloxera has now forced us to rethink
the alternatives. As a matter of fact, they call them now the
"alternative" rootstocks, by which they mean alternative to
AxR#l and alternative to St. George. St. George, being
completely rupestris in its origin- -in other words, one of the
native Americans- -is immune to phylloxera. I'm not sure immune
is the correct term. It tolerates; it does not succumb to
phylloxera. AxR#l, having a vinifera parent in its origin, is
susceptible to phylloxera.
So AxR#l is out, and St. George is still in. But the
question is whether St. George is the best rootstock for the
1 Cf. the discussion of the relationships between "way of life" and the
"economically sustainable way of life" highlighted on p. [23 1 and
adumbrated in earlier discussions when reflecting on the sustainability of
the new career. WW
kind of farming, the kind of viticulture that I was talking
about just a second ago, the kind of viticulture that has to do
with the ultimate objective of wine quality. Maybe it's not,
and I think it is not. It's resistant, but there are other
resistant rootstocks which might serve our purpose better- -for
example, rootstocks which have a shorter vegetative cycle,
which means, say, Cabernet ripens earlier because the
vegetative part of the vine stops earlier, and the reproductive
phase of the vine begins. The reproductive phase is the one
that has to do with seeds and fruit. If we can get the vine to
focus its attention on the reproduction, namely on the seeds
and fruit and stop thinking about making leaves --if we can get
the vine to stop "thinking" about making leaves earlier in the
season- -we might have better fruit. We might have fruit that
we don't have to wait until the end of October to get ripe.
Teiser: Are there new varieties or variations of other varieties?
Winiarski: New to us. They've had European experience. There are
different crosses and different types of rootstock which have
been used in Europe and elsewhere more than they have been used
in California. AxR//! and St. George have really dominated the
scene for a long time here.
Teiser: How about the grapes themselves?
Winiarski: The fruiting varieties? Well, people are talking about some of
the Italian varieties now for novelty, because so much
attention is given to Chardonnay and to Cabernet. I think
Petit Verdot, that we are using, is one of the new varieties
that has not been much used in the past.
Teiser: Have any of the varieties that you have been using been
improved within themselves?
Winiarski: I can't say that they have, unless there's some clonal
selection. To the extent that anybody has been doing that,
there has been improvement. For example, we have twenty -two
years experience now with our own clonal selection. We made
this selection from two different sources. Essentially it all
goes back to what is called the Oakville clone of Cabernet. In
the twenty years, we have developed technique for judging the
final suitability for picking of our different blocks at SLV.
After we get to a certain sugar, we no longer rely on sugar
tests. Rather, what we do is go through the field and taste
the individual vines for the quality that we're looking for.
We mark the vines that we like, and we do not mark the vines
that we don't like. Over a period of years, if some of those
vines turn out fruit that we are not happy with for taste, they
are eliminated from those which are marked.
In the beginning we had quite a few. After a number of
years, the large number is now a smaller number of vines that
consistently, year after year, produce the quality, the taste,
that we're looking for near the time of picking. Those are the
ones that we will propagate from for our next vineyard. We'll
use those as scion wood to multiply in our next vineyard. Now,
you might ask if that is an improvement of the variety. I
Of course we're looking for disease resistance. If there
is a sign of disease or virus in those vines, we don't use
them. We're looking for a fair degree of crop per vine, so we
don't mark vines that are not good bearers. Those are the
first things: disease free, good-sized crop- -not excessive,
but good- -and how they taste at the end of the season. If they
taste good, that's the final consideration. Vines that don't
satisfy all three of these requirements are left aside. We
don't multiply from those vines. I don't know whether by this
process we have a selection or a clone. Maybe there's no
genetic difference between one and the other, but we know those
vines always produce similar characteristics. They're
scattered throughout the vineyard, so I don't think it's a soil
consideration, and they're always producing better fruit.
You say you don't have any phylloxera here, but you'll be
planting resistant stock. Have you had Pierce 's disease or any
Yes. This is a little problem that maybe you were aware of.
The Pierce disease seems to be related to the vigor of the
rootstock. St. George and AxR#l did not show the results of
Pierce disease as rapidly; they were able, it seems to me, to
live around the fact that they had some infestation, some
presence of the disease. It's like having a cold. St. George
had this Pierce disease, and I'm sure there were vines that
eventually succumbed, but we've got St. George in the vineyard
that has lived with Pierce disease for twenty years, and it
still produces a crop. It's not as strong, but there's still
some crop out there.
Do you know what the vector is?
Yes, it's a leafhopper which picks up a bacterium, which is
then transferred into the grapevine.
Nobody's been able to find a predator that kills it, I suppose?
Winiarski: No. An antagonistic bacterium might be the way to solve that.
But there's not enough biological control within our capability
yet. If one could implant in the vine an antagonistic
bacterium, that would work- -something like immunology. If we
could find some way to do that, I think it would be an
extraordinary manipulation of this disease and its vector.
Teiser: Are there other problems that are coming up that haven't been
Winiarski: Yes, naturally. When you deal with a less vigorous plant, as
some of these newer rootstocks are (which is the reason we are
looking for them) . The way of training and developing them in
the beginning is much more critical. They don't have capacity
to forgive your mistakes to the extent that St. George and
AxRy/1 did because of their vigor. That's why they were
preferred, because they forgave all those mistakes and still
performed wonderfully in their youth and their adolescence. If
you didn't water them the way they should be watered, they
didn't much care and got along without it, and they did all
right and recovered. But some of these newer rootstocks
require far more attention and will tolerate fewer mistakes on
your part. So these are little problems that we are learning
as we begin to use these less vigorous stocks- -their greater
sensitivity and their greater reliance on you to make fewer
mistakes. We're learning that.
IV NAPA COUNT? AGRICULTURAL PRESERVE 1968.
Teiser: What haven't we discussed?
Winiarski: The ag preserve- -Napa County land use.
Teiser: Where do you stand on it?
Winiarski: You know, Ruth, in 1968, as I said about my beginning
acquaintance with Chuck Carpy, we both, among others, were very
interested in getting that land regulation at the county level
established. That was a highly controversial, highly divisive
issue at that time. It was first a twenty-acre lot split
limitation as a means of preserving the agricultural potential
of this central zone here in Napa County- -the Napa Valley
proper. Although now, technically, from a viticultural
standpoint, almost the whole county is called the Napa Valley.
It's not only the watershed, but Napa County is almost
coextensive with Napa Valley; Napa Valley, Napa County- -it's
almost the same thing.
Teiser: What nomenclature is that, then?
Winiarski: That's the American viticultural area regulations [AVA] .
Teiser: The appellation?
Winiarski: Yes. BATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms] is
charged with establishing the boundaries of a viticultural
area. They hear from various people, and there were quite a
few very insistent voices when the viticultural area was being
established who wanted to be included, because their grapes
(for example from Wooden Valley) had always been used by the
Napa Valley vintners. So there's very little land that's
wasn't recognized by the BATF as being included in the
viticultural area as having a Napa Valley character.
Now, that was just an aside, to talk about the
viticultural appellation of the Napa Valley. To get back to
the protection of agricultural land, that has been done in many
steps to safeguard agriculture. As I said, in 1968 the Board
of Supervisors established the 20-acre lot size minimum in the
Agricultural Preserve --roughly 30,000 acres on the valley
floor, and in later years it was increased to a 40- acre minimum
in the Ag Preserve and 40-160 acres in the rest of the county
designated as Ag Watershed. (Before '68, it was a one-acre
minimum in all those lands.)
Well, of course there were still ways to get around that,
to create new commercial and residential areas on rural land.
So in 1980 the voters passed an initiative, Measure A, limiting
the growth of county housing to 1 percent a year. And in 1990
they passed another initiative, Measure J, saying that any
change in zoning of county agricultural and agricultural
watershed lands required a voter approval.
There was still the question, apart from the size of
parcels, of what kinds of uses were compatible with
agriculture. So in the early nineties the Board of Supervisors
worked out the Winery Definition Ordinance and the Hillside
Development Ordinance, two things that many people thought we
needed to enable the county to prevent proliferation of uses
which would undermine the ability of the ag preserve to sustain
itself. If one began to use the land for purposes which were
fundamentally subordinate to agriculture, eventually you could
force the end of agriculture in this valley. This again,
however, was a highly controversial, highly divisive issue.
Eventually things that one could do at wineries in
subordination to the fundamental thing that they were meant to
do was extended somewhat, but it was defined for the first
time: what a winery was, and therefore what it could do in
conjunction with its primary job of crushing grapes and
processing fruit was defined for the first time. That was
something that I had something to do with also. I thought it
was very necessary to accomplish these things if grape growing
in this valley were to survive.
That was a question of retail sales and that sort of thing?
Right, and all the other so-called marketing endeavors that
took place in conjunction with the primary use of the winery- -
dinners, kitchens, entertainment of various kinds, and so on.
People were thinking about having elephant tours through the
vineyards- -bringing in elephants and selling tours. That's a
little bit of an exaggeration, but it was an actual proposal
that came into the Napa Valley Vintners' Association.
Where did you stand on it?
Winiarski : I was very strongly in support of the need for a certain amount
of restraint, because without that it is clear to me that
agriculture would eventually become secondary and that, for
example, the valley could fill up with grape -processing
operations whose grapes didn't even come from the valley. All
of these pose very serious problems to the ongoing agricultural
endeavor. This land is unique; it can't be duplicated any
place else in the world, and it needs to be thought about.
What is it that protects it?
On the other hand, people said that without the marketing
endeavor the wineries can't survive; and if the wineries can't
survive, then the vineyards can't survive. That point of view
had to be made, it had to be listened to, and it had to be
taken into account .
Teiser: I think people kept holding up Carmel as an example of what
Winiarski: "The Carmelization of the Napa Valley," is that it? [laughs]
Well, it's surely a possibility. The Napa Valley has a
wonderful name, it has vast consumer acceptance. It sets a
standard for so much of what the consumer thinks about the best
California wines, and that, unfortunately, has a danger. It
lends itself, therefore, to the danger of being exploited
without any connection to reality. People talked about the
danger of "zip-code" wineries; they would use a Napa Valley
address and process out-of -county fruit in an activity which
depleted the limited county resources of water, space, air,
transportation access, and all of these things, and had nothing
to do with the Napa Valley. That was surely something that we
had to address.
Teiser: Are you fairly well protected now?
Winiarski: One could say that we defined the issue, and it's there for
people to have another look at. If it's not enough, then maybe
we have to do more. I don't hear anyone saying that it's too
much. The case is similar to what we had when the first
agricultural preserve ordinance was put into effect.
Eventually we had to extend that. We came in with twenty
acres, and eventually we went to forty acres as a minimum lot
size. If there is a general sense that we have to revisit
those issues in light of our experience as to how well it's
doing, then we have laid the basis for it in the first effort.
What about the hillside erosion?
Has that been kept under
Again, there's very little you can do with land use that
doesn't create a controversy. People rightly feel that the
land they own is castle -like. Your rights to use land are very
important, and the Constitution provides for that kind of
property. The regulations have to be clearly for a public
purpose, and they can't take it from you in the guise of using
it for public purposes. All those issues are very present. I
think there is a division of opinion of whether that has gone
too far. Some people cannot develop the hillsides because it
is too difficult, too expensive, and the erosion control is too
demanding. On the other hand, if they don't control the
erosion, the vineyards that they put in would only be there for
a short time anyway. So maybe some of those things have to be
resolved in the same way. You have to look to the long-term
use of the land, and long-term use does not mean five or six
years of excessive erosion which eventually makes the land not
usable for anything as well as coming into a condition which
made it detrimental to one's neighbors. For example, if the
erosion causes your neighbor's land to end up damming your part
of a stream or silting up everything downstream from the
All these issues were explored. Where we ended up is
always a compromise. Some people are unhappy. The net result
I think is constructive. That might take revisiting also.
Look, if we didn't have an extraordinarily precious resource,
the issues would be very simple. They could be solved by
moving on. The little village that sat beside the San
Francisco Bay in its first days --there were probably some
people who were nostalgic because that little village was going
to disappear, and it became a thriving metropolis, a commercial
and industrial metropolis. I don't think it's the same
situation here. We have something that's got to be used for
what it is, or else it's lost. Its identity, its destiny is
not to become a metropolis or a housing tract. Its best and
highest use is to grow this quality fruit which represents this
national treasure to such a large extent. This is a national
treasure. If we lose it, it's gone, and we can't produce those
grapes and those wines any more.
If all of that is valuable, and I think it is, then we
have to think of preserving this in its identity as it exists.
That takes, unfortunately, restraints on what all of us can do.
Warren Winiarski, right, receiving award from writer Harry Waugh for Stag's Leap
V VITICULTURAL AREA DESIGNATIONS
Teiser: Does the designation of the viticultural areas help the
Winiarski: That's a very interesting question, to come at it from that
perspective. In a way, it seems that it helps. You have
official, governmental recognition of this land as a
viticulture area. There is therefore with this recognition a
public sensitivity or public acknowledgement of something
important. Maybe the subdivisions of that viticultural area
will have a similar value- -because now we have Rutherford, we
probably have Oakville, we have Howell Mountain, Stag's Leap
District, and maybe we'll have a Yountville. At least public
attention is focused on something, an official recognition.
It may be quite important, therefore, to be sure we get
these viticultural areas as right as we can; namely they should
be reflections as much as possible of the viticultural reality.
If there's really a difference between the Cabernet grown here
and the Cabernet grown there, maybe we should draw the line
between the two and not extend it for the sake of the
convenience of individuals. There's always somebody on the
outside of a boundary who would like to be included, and that
sometimes doesn't necessarily work to the benefit of the
reality. The reality is maybe extended a bit too much, so you
have these little boundary extensions that might dilute the
Of course, having said that, the tendency to do that on a
more political basis is always very strong. That's why I said
"as much as possible." It may not in every case be possible to
reflect those realities as truly as you would like them to be
I guess I have a sense that all of this has to be done in
steps, and maybe at some future time we'll redraw some of the
lines as we get more sophisticated, as we get more consumer
interest in doing that. There might be some greater demand for
that. The French system was not conceived overnight. There
were at least three major layers of regulation which changed
the former ones, extended, and refined and so on. Sometimes
when I'm on marketing trips it's difficult to make people
understand the Napa Valley- -that Sonoma, for instance, is not
part of the Napa Valley or vice versa. That might be the level
of distinctiveness that people can handle at this time. Maybe
these finer subdivisions get additional refinement only later.
When you have one horizon, you are familiar with it, and then
you go to smaller horizons within the larger one . That might
take a little more time and interest and experience.
Teiser: There was an effort being made to have a viticultural
designation called San Francisco. 1 think it was made for
marketing purposes, despite the fact that San Francisco never
grew any appreciable number of grapes; but it did store
tremendous amounts of wine at one time. That seems to me a
very strange use of the concept.
Winiarski: I'm sure that's not the way it was presented by the proponents.
They didn't say it was marketng; they said it was viticultural
primarily. Well, they have the burden of proof: what's the
viticultural evidence for the distinctiveness? I
BATF's mandate is fairly clear along those lines:
good evidence for viticultural distinctiveness?
Where is that project right now?
Teiser: I don't know.
Winiarski: I forget who proposed it, but I remember talk about it some
time ago, and then I've never heard anything about it since.
Well, the "burden of proof" is I think a beneficial part
of the BATF's mandate in looking at these kinds of proposals.
Teiser: The last question on my outline was about changes in the
California wine industry since 1964 in your judgment and
observation, and what the outlook is.
Winiarski: I think we've covered some major ones since 1964--the
agricultural, the winemaking style, the regional and classic
aspirations- -as they were tangent on our own activities. The
outlook now is whether some of these aspirations will succeed
in being embodied, whether the competition that has developed
over the last years gives us still the opportunity- -doesn' t
make us so competitive that we lose sight of our long-range
goals because of the short-range pressures. I think that would
be unfortunate. I think it's important to keep those long-term
objectives. Ultimately, all we have is our distinctiveness and
our quality. If we put aside those objectives or lose the
ability to achieve them because, for example, of competition- -
because we're selling our wines under the prices that we
should, and the economic resource is not there to support the
pursuit of excellence- -that would be unfortunate. Maybe there
would be an ongoing shift of winery capacity from weaker hands
to stronger hands. By stronger I mean the economic. That
surely has to be there. The long-term objectives can't be
accomplished without a certain amount of resource to do that.
That could be a problem in the present situation.
Teiser: One of the problems connected with that is the growth of large
organizations which take over small wineries. They seem
sometimes to be ruthless about not maintaining quality
standards. It's frequently said that when a large winery buys
a small winery, its quality will go down, and I suppose it
often happens. Are there enough small ones coming up to fill
that loss over the long haul?
Winiarski: I can easily see considerations where a small winery could not
continue to do what they set out to do because of competitive
pressures and because it lacks economic resources. It's
possible also that a larger winery not only has the resources
but the will to achieve the quality goals that a smaller winery
for one reason or another is no longer able to achieve.
So maybe the thing to be concerned about in reality is not
the size but the will and the application. In other words, in
principle, there's no reason why a larger winery couldn't
organize itself to achieve the goals of smallness, namely
complete dedication to quality. The temptation as a practical
matter is probably strong not to do that. But maybe the
division between large and small is more accidental, and the
real thing is the distinction in the will to achieve quality,
the aspiration to do that.
I can see small wineries not being able to achieve those
aspirations by not having the resources, by not having the
talent, and not generating the continuity of ability. That's
certainly possible also. I can see a larger winery organizing
itself to achieve the goals that normally are associated with
smallness. If you can take that normal association of
quality- -namely dedication, preserving the distinctive, not
treating wine as a commodity- -then in principle you could do
that at a larger scale. So the real thing is the quality
versus commodity distinction: what are you striving to achieve
with this organization?
In other words, the larger- -I'm not sure about the
largest, because at some point the goals have to shift simply
with the size; they become different. I think you have to look
at what it is devoted to. Let's say a larger winery, instead
of having one f if ty- ton-an-hour crusher, had ten five-ton-an-
hour crushers. If the way the grapes were crushed made a big
difference to preserving, enhancing, capturing the quality, it
could be done. They could have a lot of small gondolas in the
field. They wouldn't necessarily have to treat grapes as so
many tons, not thinking about the fruit but thinking about how
many tons. In principle, it's not impossible. Therefore you
could say that if they had the resources they could do what a
small winery is normally believed to be able to do simply
because its scale is at a level where the human- scale and
quality-detail levels predominate and not where the mass aspect
comes into play. As I said, in principle it's not impossible,
but in practice--.
Teiser: Thank you very much. We have covered a tremendous lot of
information, and I have enjoyed listening to you.
Transcribed by Judy Smith
TAPE GUIDE- -Warren Winiarsky
rview 1: July 24,
tape 1, side a
tape 1, side b
tape 2, side a
tape 2, side b
tape 3, side a
Interview 2: July 25, 1991
tape 3, side b
tape 4, side a
tape 4, side b not recorded
Interview 3: March 24, 1993
tape 8, side a
tape 8, side b not recorded
INDEX- -Warren Winiarskl
agricultural land, protection of,
Amerine, Maynard A. , 8, 23, 24
appellations, viticultural, 83-
Backus, David, 55
Backus, Marian, 54
Ball, George C., Jr., 77
Bank of America, 51-53
Beaulieu Vineyard, 29
Bonetti, Bill, 29
Carpy, Charles S. (Chuck), 57,
"Cask 23" designation, 57, 75
Charles Krug winery, 29, 45
Chateau Montelena, 67
clonal selection, 80-81
Conaway, James, 11
Denver, Colorado, winemaking in,
Ellsworth, Robert and Phoebe, 20
erosion control, 86
Fay, Nathan, 42, 43, 45, 49, 50,
Freemark Abbey, 57, 58
Gallagher, Patricia, 66
Grgich, Miljenko (Mike), 31, 77
Healdsburg Machine Company, 32
Heid, Fred, 47, 49, 59
Heitz, Joseph E. , 23
"Hierarchy of Wine Quality, The",
15, 65, 68
Holmes, Fred, 3, 31
Hutchins, Robert M. , 5-6
irrigation techniques, 41-42
Ivancie, Gerald, 32-34
Martini, Louis P. , 29
Mondavi, Michael, 28, 30, 31
Mondavi, Peter, 21
Mondavi, Robert, 59
Mondavi, Robert, Winery, 28-31,
Mount Eden. See Ray, Martin.
Nurenberger ranch, 39, 40
Parducci Winery, 35
Paris tasting of 1976, 52, 59-
Parker , Tommy , 54
Pedroncelli Winery, 35
phylloxera, 50, 59, 79
Pierce' s disease, 81-82
Polish community in Chicago, 2-3
Rafanelli, Art, 32
Ray, Martin, 12-19, 21, 23
Ray, Peter Martin, 13-17
AXR#1, 78-80, 82
St. George, 50, 79-80, 81
Schoch, Ivan, 28, 31
Schoonmaker, Frank, 12
Schuster, Danny, 78-79
SLV. See Stag's Leap Wine
Cellars "Sense of community",
2-3, 24, 45, 58, passim.
Souverain Winery, 20-22
Spurrier, Steven, 66-67
Stag's Leap vineyards, 75-76, 78
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, 29,
34, 40-41, 43, 45-90 passim
Stern, Lewis, 21, 22
Stewart, J. Leland (Lee), 19-23,
25, 26, 27
Storm, John, 12
malolactic fermentation, 24-25
tasting, 64-65, 78
Tchelistchef, Andre, 22, 25, 28,
Trefethen property, 60
Turnbull, Tom, 45
University of California, Davis,
van Loben Sels, Wilfred, winery,
vine spacing, 76, 79
Wagner, Philip, 8, 10. 12
Winiarski, Barbara, (Mrs.
Warren) , 73 and passim
Winiarski, Lottie (mother of
Warren) , 46
Winiarski, Stephen (father of
Warren), 1-2, 4, 9
Winiarski, Warren, passim
St. John's College,
Annapolis, 5, 8; University
of California, Davis, 35-
37; University of Chicago,
3, 5, 10; University of
Colorado, 3, 5; University
of Florence, 6
University College, lecturer,
wine, earliest recollection,
winemaking, earlist, 8-9
Grape Varieties Mentioned in the
Alicante Bouschet, 47-48
Cabernet Sauvignon, 39, 40,
42, 45, 80, passim
Merlot, 49, 62-63
Petit Verdot, 75
Petite Sirah, 47-48
"standard" varieties, 52
Wines Mentioned in the Interview
Cabernet Sauvignon, 59
Chardonnay, 67, 68, 73-74
Green Hungarian, 21
Zinfandel, late harvest, 71-
Born in Portland, Oregon; came to the Bay Area
Stanford University, B.A., M.A. in English;
further graduate work in Western history.
Newspaper and magazine writer in San Francisco
since 1943, writing on local history,
business and social life of the Bay Area,
and the wine industry of California and Italy.
Book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle .
Co-author of Winemaking in California, a history,
An interviewer-editor in the Regional Oral
History Office 1965-1994.