Breweries, Wine, and Cheese

What Makes a Winemaker Become a Winemaker

The Grapevine: Winemakers Get “The Call” or Get “Bitten”

By Gina Trippi

What makes a winemaker? In some instances, a person born into a family that has been making wine for generations may veer off course to another profession until they get “the call” from back home. Others who were not born into such a family may be working another job, totally unrelated, when the wine bug bites them hard and the alluring call of the vineyard ensues.

Elisabetta Fagiouli comes from a family of winemakers. She was, she says, “born with the land in my blood.” Considered the Grand Dame of Italian Winemaking, Elisabetta spent her childhood wandering the vineyards of Valpolicella on land farmed by her family for grapevines and olive trees since the 1700s.

Gaetana Jacono Gola is a seventh generation winemaker in Sicily, but it wasn’t always so. Giuseppe Jacono founded the winery at the end of the 19th century and the Jacono family has handed down the tradition of winemaking ever since. But the seventh generation took the path less traveled. Gaetana decided to pursue a career as a pharmacist in Milan. That is, until she got “the call” to come home to Sicily and make the wine. She did. Gaetana has been a leader in improving the quality of Sicilian wines and marketing the wines around the world ever since.

A similar situation happened in this country with Anthony Truchard. Growing up running between vines and climbing on tractors, Anthony was working every aspect of the vineyard by age 12. He was a natural. But he had his heart set on the law. Graduating from Cardozo School of Law in New York City, Anthony was practicing intellectual property law when he got “the call.” Today, award winning Truchard wines are on shelves around the world.

“Don’t quite your day job.” That’s how Kent Rosenblum explains his venture into the wine world. While working as a veterinarian in Montana, Kent took a trip to California and was bitten by “the wine bug” or, as he says, “I fell in love.” He started buying grapes and making wines, for the most part, in his basement. After winning a prestigious San Francisco wine competition with his homemade Zinfandel, Kent went professional and is now known nationwide as “The King of Zin.”

Then there’s Mike Merriman, who had worked as an accountant and then a music theory teacher when he met a winemaker and “became hooked on the Willamette Valley wine scene.” His first barrels of Pinot Noir brought in 90 points from Wine Spectator!

Quincy Steele, son of legendary Jed Steele, grew up in the vineyards. “Wine was always part of my life,” he says. “In the early days, my dad would drive a truck around with his wines in the back and would not return until all the wine was sold.” Despite what he calls “gentle pushing” from his father, Quincy had decided to study history and English and was settling on a career as a teacher when, he says, “the wine bug bit me.” Quincy now has his own popular labels: Shooting Star, Writer’s Block, and Calvino Jones.

And John Grochau was racing bicycles with the French Team through the Loire Valley when he rolled into the wine world. After touring some of the most revered winemaking regions in France, including Champagne and Burgundy, John returned to his home in Portland. He turned out his first vintage of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir in 2002.

Winemaking, no matter how one comes to it, is hard work. What makes a winemaker? A passion for the wine.

Gina Trippi is the co-owner of Metro Wines (, 169 Charlotte Street in Asheville. Committed to the community, Metro Wines offers big shop selection with small shop service. Gina can be reached at or 828.575.9525.

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