Valentines Among The Vines

Valentines Among The Vines

Balance, harmony, complexity . . . the same words that describe a stellar glass of wine also depict a perfect romance. With Cupid taking aim on February 14th, some prominent wine industry couples share their perspectives about how to make it work when you’re working with the one you love—24/7 and 365 days a year.

Lise Ciolino: Winemaker

Vincent Ciolino: Vineyard Manager

Montemaggiore, Sonoma County, California

“One secret of success when going into business with your spouse is having a clear delineation of who’s in charge of what,” states Lise. “We strive towards the same goal,” Vincent says. “I do what I can to produce the best grapes, and I leave it to my wife to turn that good fruit into good wine.” The couple also maintains a clear dividing line at home. “Leave work at work,” Vincent advises. However one of the beauties of working with your spouse is integrating your family into the business. “With this last harvest, Paolo, our six-year-old son, really got into helping us,” Lise says. “It was fun to be out there as a family doing the harvest together.”

Bruno D’Alfonso: Winemaker (also has personal labels, Badge Wines and DiBruno)

Kris Curran: Winemaker (also has personal label Curran and is Director of Winemaking at Foley Estates)

D’Alfonso-Curran Wines, Solvang, California

Opposites may attract but they don’t sustain, aver Bruno and Kris, who married in December 2007. “We live, sleep, eat, breathe and dream wine—and of course food,” says Kris. “For me winemaking is not a career, it’s a lifestyle. But when you love doing something, it doesn’t feel like work.” The duo thrives on bouncing ideas off each other. “We’re always challenging each other—not to win over or for one-upmanship, but to find the reasoning to defend our positions,” explains Bruno. For relaxation, Kris says, “Our biggest break is when we’re not out at a social event, but when we can actually sit at home, read a book, play chess—it’s a real release.”

James Mantone: Winemaker, Vineyard Manager, and Founder

Poppie Mantone: Assistant Winemaker and Sales

Syncline Cellars, Lyle, Washington

“We have to be constantly evolving . . . letting things flow as they change,” notes Poppie. The biggest shift came in 2004 when their daughter Ava was born. “Before we did everything together—just the two of us. Now my role is both mom and general manager,” she adds. The Mantones admit that their personal lives and the business are one. “We always seem to be talking about wine no matter what,” James says. To balance things, they make a point of taking vacations—California or Europe for wine sipping, or Mexico for seaside sunning. “We come back more energized and excited about our business,” states James. “Never let this thing that you’ve created together become more important than being together.”

Valentines Among Different Vines
By Roger Morris

California has a huge number of his-and-her winemakers—literally dozens of couples—who sometimes make wine together, but who generally work for different wineries.

For example, Joel Aiken is winemaker at Beaulieu, while wife Amy is at her own Meander winery.  Joel Gott takes care of his eponymous Gott Wines, while Sarah Gott is flying high at Blackbird Vineyards.  Cult winery queen Heidi Peterson Barrett works with several cellars, including her own La Sirena, while husband Bo is the long-time winemaker at Chateau Montelena.

Or take the sweet course of love and fermentation at Chateau St. Jean.  Young Margo Smith went to work there in 1980 as a lab technician and worked her way up to assistant winemaker.  Along the way, she fell in love with and married then-winemaker Don Van Staaveren.  He left St. Jean in 1997 to go to Artesa though Margo stayed and became winemaker at St. Jean in 2003. (Don is now a consultant winemaker for several wineries.)

The list goes on and on.

Does the course of true love and fine winemaking pair well together?  Heidi Barrett says she and Bo have similar approaches to winemaking, but their preferences at tastings often differ.  Joel Gott says he and Sarah have been known to argue about winemaking over the dinner table, but, in the end, “She makes Cabs, and I make Zins.”

And Dawnine Sample Dyer and Bill Dyer made wine separately for more than 20 years-he at Sterling and she at Domaine Chandon-before they finally brought their acts together and opened their own winery.  They call their new place the Dyer Straits Wine Company, which just goes to show that if you’re going to make wine with your spouse, it helps to have a sense of humor!

Also Read: Haute Chocolate for Valentine’s Day.

Published on February 9, 2009