Vintners’ Other Obsessions

Vintners’ Other Obsessions

Handmade mandolins, Italian motorcycles and barbecue rubs are just three of the things that fascinate these winemakers. Wine Enthusiast delves into the private collections of these renowned professionals—and their obsessions may surprise you.

1. Italian Motorcycles

Senior winemaker of Trius Winery at Hillebrand in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, Craig McDonald is known for hands-crafted and award-winning wines, like the Trius Red—a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But his wines aren’t the only things he adores. The self-described “avid motorcycle enthusiast” has three Italian bikes in his collection. His Moto Guzzi Stelvio is “a high-performance bike designed for rugged back roads and vineyards,” says McDonald. “I get my vineyard samples on this!”

His other two bikes include what Europeans call a “naked” bike—an Aprilia Tuono race bike with a motorcross handlebar and no windscreen. McDonald hops on this when he needs to “blow off steam after a long day.” His other favorite, a replica of a ’70s-era Ducati Paul Smart 1000 with Termignoni race pipes, “gets one very fast ride per year and resides in my kitchen,” says McDonald.

2. Flea Market Finds

The Antinori family can trace its Tuscan winemaking ties back to 1385, and 26th-generation winemaker Alessia Antinori carries on the family tradition in her role as U.S. ambassador of Marchesi Antinori. Perhaps this sense of history explains her passion for flea market finds, Antinori’s nonwine obsession. “Whether I’m traveling for business or leisure, one of my guilty pleasures is taking an afternoon to shop at a local flea market. You never know what treasures you’ll come across,” says Antinori.

Among her best collectibles: A vintage Pucci jacket and a 1940s menu from a ship sailing to Tuscany, discovered in the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market in New York City, which Antinori framed for her Rome apartment. “I love the idea of finding rare, often one-of-a-kind items, and then telling friends and family the story on where I found them. It’s a wonderful conversation starter.”

3. Antique Duck Decoys

Dan Duckhorn, founder and chairman of the board of Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena, California, boasts an impressive collection of—obviously—antique duck decoys from West Coast carvers, mostly curated by Joe Engers, author of The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys (Lyons Press, 2000). One set of decoys, carved by Richard Ludwig “Fresh-Air Dick” Janson, was even used as the model for the winery’s Decoy label artwork. But Duckhorn’s obsession with ducks doesn’t end there: The former winemaker collects a number of original decoys, waterfowl paintings and carvings created exclusively for display at the Duckhorn Vineyards estate house, including several pieces by Harry C. Adamson, a famous local wildlife artist.

“I have extended my love for waterfowl art by obtaining Bob Kerr’s Waterfowl of the World in Miniature collection,” says Duckhorn. “[It] consists of approximately 192 wood-carved, hand-painted carvings of every waterfowl (male and female) that exists at a fifth lifesize.”

4. Hawaiian Shirts

Michael Martini, winemaker for Louis M. Martini winery in St. Helena, California, is known for making small-lot Cabernet Sauvignon, but what’s his other obsession? Hawaiian shirts, naturally. “It all started about 20 years ago when my wife Jacque gave me my first Hawaiian shirt, which aptly had martini shakers and glasses on it,” says Martini. “Since then, my collection has grown to 85 Hawaiian shirts. They are definitely my style preference around the winery; comfortable, relaxed, and I never travel without one.” Martini’s passion for Hawaiian shirts even resulted in his wearing one in a rather unlikely place: Alaska.

“One time when my band and I played on an Alaskan cruise, I wore a Hawaiian shirt out on a glacier,” says Martini. “It was quite the sight, but I was happy!”

5. Mandolins

As director of winemaking for Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars (, Daniel Baron is renowned for crafting stellar wines, including the Twomey Single Vineyard Merlot from Napa Valley using the soutirage traditionnel method—a process by which the winemaker uses gravity to decant the aging wine from barrel without pumping—that he learned in Pomerol, France.

Today, Baron oversees four winemaking teams in Napa Valley and Alexander Valley, California, but the talented vintner has a love beyond the bottle: Mandolins. “I began playing mandolin in the late ’70s but got really serious after I broke my leg snowboarding in 2004 and was grounded almost a year,” says Baron, who plays in a mandolin orchestra based in Sebastopol, California. And while Baron is humble about his collection, noting that “[it’s] nothing unusual for a musician,” he admitted that his prize possessions include a 1924 Gibson, a 1931 Dobro, a 2008 Giacomel and a 2006 A. Lawrence Smart mandola.

6. Barbecue Rubs

Ernesto Bajda, winemaker at Don Miguel Gascón in Mendoza, Argentina, is zealous about creating world-class, meat-friendly Malbec. And since grilling is such a large part of Argentine culture, perhaps it’s only natural that Bajda started collecting barbecue rubs from around the world. “After a visit to Texas where I received a copy of The Barbecue! Bible [by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing Company, 1998)], I became interested in how the addition of various spices enhances the flavors of barbecued meats,” says Bajda. “This led me to seek out various rubs and spices both here at home and while traveling in the U.S.”

Currently, Bajda has some 35 rubs and 12 barbecue sauces in his collection, and notes “[I] never fail to add to my collection during my travels.” He also draws a parallel between winemaking and barbecue. “I find that the use of rubs and sauces during the preparation and cooking of the meat is related to the techniques I use in the crafting of our Don Miguel Gascón wines,” Bajda says.

7. Modern Art

Craig and Kathryn Hall, vintners at Hall in St. Helena, California, are avid collectors of contemporary art. “Our vision for Hall has always been to craft artisan wines and showcase them alongside expressive art and masterful architecture,” says Kathryn. “It is our belief that great art and architecture stimulate both creativity and imagination.”

The Halls’ personal collection includes contemporary art from former communist Central and Eastern European countries, including pieces on loan to the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris. The couple has also helped develop the Texas Sculpture Garden in Frisco, Texas, showcasing 40 contemporary sculptures by living Texas artists, the largest of its kind open to the public. But this obsession with modern art doesn’t stop at collecting: Hall Artisan Collection wine labels feature art culled from the Halls’ personal collection.

Published on January 10, 2013
Topics: Winemakers