|Virginia Madsen and Paul Giametti, Sideways, 2004|
Bill Turrentine, my boss, had inherited the fledging company from his father. When I started there were only eight of us. By now, there are three times that many. I did database work, entering vineyard and sales data and working with statistics and copy editing our newsletter. But I also answered the phone. The people that were important to us were the ones who created sales and I quickly learned their names!
In the early part of the decade, we spent a lot of time finding grapes for DennisHill, a perfectionist winemaker and the magic behind Blackstone Merlot. Derek and Courtney Benham had spent the previous ten years developing the brand. Derek was a genius at it! Blackstone was so popular it was thought that Millennials might start drinking wine rather than beer. In 2001 the Benhams sold the brand and DerekBenham began another venture, determined to bring the elusive Pinor Noir grape “to the people.” He had another great success with this venture. Dennis went on to found his own venture, Cannonball Wines.
Bill Turrentine and Ron McManis of McManis Family Vineyards helped each other in many ways. The vineyards are near Ripon, a bit south of Lodi, with a California appellation. Bill found the great winemaker Jeff Runquist for the rapidly growing company. Jeff now has his own operation in the foothills near Plymouth where he carefully selects the vineyards to go into his mostly red varieties, Jeff RunquistWines.
When you heard someone answer the phone and then break up in giggles, we all knew that Paul Moser of Greenfield Wine Company, was on the other end. Paul’s wines were deliberately European in style, more refined, and not as “big” as some. His got high ratings from Robert Parker, but the company was always under-capitalized and no longer exists. You might still find a Moser-Schardingwine, but don’t count on it. Gale Sysock of Delicato Vineyards was also good for a smile and some good grape deals. He is now Vice President of the large Delicato operation.
We didn’t have much to do with the huge Gallo organization, but in the early years of the decade, harvests were often huge. Grape growers called us begging us to find someone to purchase their grapes before they had to let them dry on the vines. Fred Franzia, of Bronco Wine Company would come in at the last possible minute and sweep up whatever vineyards were still available at the lowest possible prices. Fred, a nephew of Ernest Gallo, was behind Two Buck Chuck, or Charles Shaw Wines, which came to prominence during the decade, sold mostly at Trader Joe’s.
In the later part of the decade I worked with Chris Smith and Eric Aafedt who make the wonderful Bogle wines. Though I learned to appreciate many wines, most are beyond our price range. Bogle wines are not! We drink them often. Don, my husband, has a favorite brand too: Bonterra. Bonterra wines come out of the Fetzer family’s commitment to organic and sustainable vineyards. The great PaulDolan began this tradition, before moving on to Mendocino Wine Company.
During the years I was at Turrentine, three movies came out which also boosted the idea of wine drinking “for the people.” In 2004, Sideways depicted an adventurous wine-drinking crawl through the Central Coast. Several of its characters talked eloquently about wine, and memorably put down Merlot in favor of Pinot Noir! (Hmmmm, could Derek Benham have had a hand in that?) The movie was said to have quite an impact on wine consumption.
In 2005 came Mondovino, a documentary which quizzed critics and tastemakers, trying to find out whether wine was losing its typicity to global market demands. And in 2008 came Bottle Shock, a dramatization of the so-called “judgment of Paris” in 1976 when, through a series of misadventures, Chateau Montelena’s Napa Valley wines were judged better than French wines in blind tastings.
The world wide web is full of stories about wine production. Stories move us. They drive the culture. These stories are just the tip of iceberg of those I heard at Turrentine Brokerage, where I was lucky enough to work with great people, taste many California wines and get paid for it.