At 6:30AM on a brisk October morning in 2002 is when it happened. The film industry Unions were all on strike, so instead of heading into one more day on a dark stage somewhere, waiting endlessly for some Director to yell “Action”, I was barreling down Silverado Trail, heading into what was about to become my new life.
Offered an interesting opportunity by an old friend from my twenties, I was in the midst of my first harvest as a cellar worker. 39 years old, green as grapes, stiff, sore and tired to the bone, and so very lucky to have been given the chance.
That day, driving in to work in the cellar and soaking up the early morning colors of Napa in the Fall, I was smacked in the head by the awareness of how “alive” I felt. Everything I was doing was fascinating to me, and the sheer scope of all that I was learning was totally engaging me. I was drawn into it as I hadn’t been to anything in a very long time … maybe ever. I was challenged and absorbed and fortunate, incredibly fortunate to have landed under the tutelage of one Chris Carpenter, of the Lokoya Vineyards, who was uncommonly generous in his teaching. Chris and my relationship goes back 30-some years, when the two of us, post college, worked in the Bar and Restaurant scene together in Chicago, beginning the friendship that continues even now.
Rambling down “The Trail” that day I made a pact with myself that if, in December when the harvest was over, I still felt the way I did right at that moment, I would commit to bailing on all else, and make the move to Northern Cal to truly dig into this world of wine. Suffice it to say, I'm still in Napa ...
After that first harvest experience, I spent the next seven years working with Chris, helping craft the wines of Cardinale, Lokoya and LaJota, taking every advantage of the opportunity to be in the cellars as much as possible, working my way up through the ranks, and inhaling all the knowledge I could about the art of winemaking from an incredibly talented winemaker. For four seasons, I actually lived in the LaJota winery full time, practically sleeping on top of the wines we were producing.
One way or another, I've been making wine ever since. Been over 16 years now …
I keep in regular contact with Chris, as his mentor/friendship means the world to me, especially now, as I explore the production of 'High End' Cabernet. (I'm not at all above 'picking his palate' for advice when I need it!) And it was through Chris that I got to know and team up with Mariano Navarro (the former vineyard manager of Cardinale and Lokoya), whose skill with the vines gives me huge confidence in the fruit I have available to me.
I have a deep love for, and respect of wine and food, and the fundamental humanitarian importance of people being with people and SHARING! Cooking, eating, drinking, and carrying on … my childhood was literally focused around it, that sharing of food and drink, and whatever else created the experience. In hindsight, I suppose it was almost inevitable that I've ended up here … doing this.
I hope you enjoy the wine.
Please let me introduce you to Mariano ...
The Vine Master
Mariano Navarro Jr. began his career in winegrapes at the age of 17 at a small winery/vineyard in the San Pasqual Valley near San Diego County in 1985. His father, Mariano Sr., who grew sweet potatoes and citrus, taught him the fundamentals of agriculture, before suggesting that he go work at a local winery.
While honing his early skills in both the winery and vineyard, Mariano attended community college before transferring after 3 years of working/studying to Fresno State University.
At Fresno, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Plant Science with an emphasis in Viticulture. He spent a summer working an internship in Spain in the Catalonia Region working in the dry farmed vineyards of Raimat, near Lerida, for Bodegas de Codorniu.
After graduation, he was hired by Gallo Vineyards in the Central Valley of California in 1993. He met and married his wife Denise while at Livingston and then moved to Northern CA, where he continued to work for Gallo Sonoma. There, they raised their two boys.
In 1999, he interviewed with Jess Jackson, owner of Jackson Family Wines, and was subsequently hired to farm Jess’s Knights Valley (345 acre vineyard) where Mariano (along with his longtime farming partner: Godofredo Ceja) improved the grape quality of the Estate and subsequently became one of the grape sources for Anakota and Verite wines. Verite winemaker Pierre Siellan and his wines received a number of 100-pt scores from Robert Parker.
In 2004, Mariano moved to the Napa Valley and teamed up with Chicago native and Cardinale and Lokoya winemaker Chris Carpenter, where they both worked together to evaluate each mountain vineyard, block by block, row by row and created a “Best Vineyard Practices” formula to improve both vine health and grape quality. Chris also received multiple 100-pt scores from Robert Parker from grapes grown off Mariano’s farmed vineyards.
In 2016, Mariano finally left the corporate world, and together with his wife Denise, and sons Alejandro and Alonzo, started their own company called: Dos Vinas Vineyard Management LLC. He reunited with Godofredo, and now farm vineyards throughout the Napa Valley and Mountain regions.
Mariano and his passion for the vines are what drives his family’s business, and he continues to learn and expand his winegrape knowledge each and every day!