Leon Santoro came from Northern Wine Country in the early 90s as wine maker for San Pasqual's Orfila Winery. Rumor has it that he was the one who talked Ambassador Orfila into buying the place. Undoubtedly some thought he was crazy. In any case, Leon established Orfila's world-class reputation.

I met Leon about a dozen years later as part of Slow Foods, an international organization Epicurus himself would have appreciated. I had asked Leon if he would consult on a vineyard project involving unlimited resources. His first question was did I know anything about red wine. I said no. He asked if I liked red wine. I said no, but I liked the Brunello I tasted in Montalcino Italy a few months previously. He said then you know red wine. This vast overstatement started it all.

The 2007 wildfire avocado grove destruction led us to think that grapes would create a wonderful atmosphere. Brunello vines, of course, 2,600 of them, along with 1,100 other vines. Talk about failure to consider the end game. We didn't stop to consider we'd never meet enough people to consume 6,000 bottles of wine a year, although there've been many volunteers.

12 tons of grapes make about 24 barrels of wine. We are now in the midst of a full grape-growing, bonded winery and licensed tasting room operation. We're slowly coming to the realization we are in the wine business. We call ourselves Altipiano Vineyard & Winery and we're proud to be part of the Highland Valley Wine Country vineyards. You would think that, with a quarter century of hotel and food service operation, experiencing this realization would have come much sooner.

Now, like many things in life, failure to think out the consequences of producing a whole bunch of grapes didn't turn out to be such a bad thing. Wine makers turn out to be more like artists then business persons. Imagine Paris in 1870 and you end up learning beginning painting in the company of Renoir. Maybe not as much an exaggeration as you might think. Learning the art of grape growing and wine making doesn't suffer so much from the lack of helpful ideas from others, but rather the large extent of such help. Ask any three experts and you will get five opinions means a lot of decision making and a lot of mistakes. There seems to be no perfect way, any more than there is perfect art. Besides that, the only way to learn most things is by trying to avoid making the same mistake twice.

Good Brunello grapes can have a high tannin content, which makes possible improvement with age up to 30 or so years. If we are wildly successful at growing the grape and making the wine, I'll be about 105 when I taste our best wine. Some have said that with tasting wine all those years, I just might make it to 105.

How about that? Success arising out of failure.

 

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