Craig Winchell, Winemaker

 

My Wine Beginnings- The early days (Pre-GAN EDEN)

As a youngster growing up in Louisville, Kentucky during the '60s, I remember my first exposure to table wines. My father, an anesthesiologist, chose wine as one of his hobbies, and attacked the hobby with his typical enthusiasm. When he was not on call, he would have wine with just about every dinner. I remember beginning with Lancer's and Matteus, Blue Nun Liebfraumilch, and other typically well advertised brands of the time. By the late '60s, we had progressed to B&G's regional wines, as well as some of the bigger California wineries. But by the early '70s, we were entrenched in red and white Burgundies, red and white Bordeaux, and especially German Rieslings (which we grew to love). From the beginning, I was allowed to have wine as long as I could convince my parents that my homework was done (many are the times I lied). My father and I collected a cellar of about 20 cases which constantly needed replenishing with new and different offerings.

The first really memorable wine I had was in the early '70s, a Beaulieu George de Latour Private Reserve '64. It was 100% Cabernet, 100% American Oak aged. I had drunk some younger ones- raw and powerful... yet this was smooth, flavorful, but still powerful. Then, I had a '64 La Tour de Mons. It was smooth, a little too elegant for my taste. My style of Cabernet, intense, raw and powerful in its youth, but showing its stuff with age, was born from these beginnings. In any case, I drank alot of good Bordeaux, from 1st growths to crus bourgeois, excellent premier cru Burgundies (hardly ever Grands Cru due to the prices) and German estates (especially Saar and Mosel). Occasionally, we'd have an exceptional Chateaneuf de Pape or Barolo. I continued with wine in college. One semester, I brought a case of Chateau Monthelena Zinfandel east with me to school.

I dropped out of Haverford College in 1977, and made my way to New York City, where I found a position managing a wineshop in Greenwich Village. I enjoyed the exposure to the east coast wine scene, and I read many wine books during that time. There were quite a few good wines available, and I took advantage of them. I began that position as a glorified sales clerk, but ended it with real wine knowledge.

In 1979, back in Louisville again, I found myself as wine manager of a liquor store. I used the expertise I had gained in New York to make alot of friends, because I was one of the few wine knowledgeable people in the industry there. I went through the distributors' warehouses looking for bargains and overlooked wines, and purchased them at unheard of low prices-- '69 Bouchard Beaune Greves Vigne de l'enfant Jesus, '64 Leoville Las Cases, '71 Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberger auslese, and many others. Once, I illegally purchased wines from a widow from Georgia whose husband had owned an extensive selection of older Californians, so I was able to drink '61 and '62 Martini Special Selections and Vintage Selections, '62 , '63 and '64 Krug Cesare Mondavi, '64,'66 and '68 George de Latour, and regular selection Martinis and Beaulieus from throughout the '60s. The ageability of many of these wines was an eye opener. I took my liberties, but received quite an education.

Wine interested me so much, and I was so good at selling it, that I decided to get a BS degree in Fermentation Science at the University of California at Davis. I began there in March of '80, and received my degree in June of '81 and was awarded the Departmental Citation by the Department of Viticulture and Enology. I took an extra year there to study viticulture and to take graduate level coursework. While at Davis, I drank many excellent wines while a member of a weekly tasting group. While there, I made Cabernet, Port and rum.

My first winemaking position was at Tucker Cellars in Sunnyside Washington, but I soon tired of the Yakima Valley and moved back to California, where I became the winemaker of Viņa Vista Winery in Geyserville, and where I remained from summer of 1983 through February of 1985.