Leaders in Biodynamic Winemaking Reveal Successes

Andrew and Adam Mariani, fourth-generation California farmers, talk about running a farm-to-bottle business in modern-day Sonoma.
Photo by Allan Zepeda

There is no typical day for either Andrew Mariani or his younger brother, Adam. But there are daily rituals at their Scribe Winery, tucked up on Arrowhead Mountain in Sonoma, located a little more than an hour’s drive northeast of San Francisco.

“Each day begins right here—over a cup of coffee, says Andrew. “It is our ritual.”

He sits across from Adam in a hacienda that once was home to a brothel. It’s stormy outside and “whenever that happens, we have some slight flooding, and we’re dealing with that. But we’ve got a fire going, and it’s warm and cozy.”

The pair are fourth-generation California farmers. Some call Scribe an artisanal winery, in part because it produces only about 10,000 cases a year, it’s biodynamic and it’s helmed by two millennials. But they think of Scribe as a farm with wine grapes as the main crop.

“We’re essentially farmers,” says Andrew, who grew up with his brother on a walnut farm in California’s Central Valley. There was always farm-to-table food at their house. “It wasn’t a thing,” says Andrew. “It was just dinner.”

Dinner at Scribe Winery
Photo by Allan Zepeda

That routine carries on at Scribe. Of its 250 biodynamic acres, 55 are devoted to vineyards, while a few others are planted to produce vegetables and cut flowers. There’s a small orchard and an olive grove along with what Adam describes as “a pretty steady and good-size chicken production.”

The pair generally divides the day’s tasks over coffee. Depending on the season, they blend wines or prepare bottles, barrels or concrete tanks. Andrew spends more time in the vineyard, while Adam mans the winery. Both tend to the livestock and oversee a small staff.

“Many people think that life on a farm can be boring,” says Andrew. “I simply love it,” Friends, some of whom are musicians and others who are among California’s top chefs, regularly drop by the winery.

“I think the wine production is obviously the core here, but we’re farmers,” says Andrew. “It’s what we do. We work on this property every day. We live out here. It makes sense at the table that when you are having wine, you have other things that support the meal.”

And the meals on this farm are none too shabby. Their younger sister, Kelly, helps out a few days a week when she’s not working as a cook at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.

Scribe is indeed a family affair. Andrew and his wife, singer/songwriter Lia Ices, had their first child five months ago.

February marks the winery’s 10th anniversary. “We bought this old turkey farm when I was 24 and very naive about the wine industry,” says Andrew. “But at the time, at least for me, it was an opportunity to maybe do something distinct.”

He enlisted the help of his uncle, Andrew Avellar, a vineyard consultant. They discovered that another pair of brothers had planted vineyards on the property in the mid-1800s, so they knew the land could sustain grapes.

Prohibition put an end to that first venture, though bootleggers were said to have used the place as a bordello. By the time Andrew arrived, the hacienda was a defunct turkey farm that had languished on the market for three years.

Most of that first year was spent clearing brush, getting rid of giant, rusting turkey cages and ridding the property of what seemed like hundreds of snakes.

“We were killing a lot of rattlesnakes while cleaning up the debris,” says Andrew. But again, the brothers were raised to make optimum use of the land. The dearly departed became the key ingredient of a homemade stew.

Andrew Mariani
Andrew Mariani

“It was delicious,” says Andrew.

The winery also produces parties, some as distinct as the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sylvaner and Riesling it offers. Its wines have been served at fundraisers for former President Obama and “we served it at Roberta’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn [New York], when my wife performed at a benefit for Hillary [Clinton],” says Andrew.

Scribe is a place for Andrew and Adam to experiment, shake things up and pare things down. Most recently, they’ve used concrete tanks to age their three Chardonnays.

“Wines from this area are very powerful—there’s volcanic soil—and they have quite a bit of strength and minerality, and the property of concrete helps these wines helps them soften and open up without the oak profile,” says Andrew.

The winery isn’t just a business venture. It’s their life. Each brother calls the farm home.

Photo by ALLAN ZEPEDA
Adam Mariani / Photo by Allan Zepeda

“We do everything,” says Adam. “There’s the seasonality of farming. The only constant is that 95 percent of the time, we’re here.”

They take on what they call a “holistic approach” to make wines that are very clean, vibrant and expressive. But Andrew wants Scribe “to be so much more than just a place where wine gets put into a bottle. Wine provides this amazing platform for communicating ideas to people. It’s a way to show what is good about California.

“The best way to experience wine is sitting down with somebody and eating, drinking and talking. Wine brings people to the table, and is one of the few ways people still relate to the natural world.”

 

 

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Published on February 24, 2017
Topics: A Day In The Life
About the Author
Leslie Gevirtz
Contributing Editor, Business

An award-winning journalist, Gevirtz spent more than 20 years covering disasters—natural, political, and financial—before becoming Reuters’ wine correspondent; a beat that guaranteed her colleagues were always glad to see her.



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