It happened at 6:30 a.m. on a brisk October morning in 2002, a day that would radically change my life.
The film industry Unions were on strike, so instead of spending one more free-lance day on a dark stage eternally waiting for a director to yell “Action,” I headed out the door to a winery where I’d picked up hours as a cellar worker. An opportunity offered by an old friend, it was my first harvest at 39 years old. I was green as the early grapes, stiff, sore and tired to the bone… yet I felt so very lucky.
Soaking up the snap in the air and Napa’s colors as I drove that early Fall morning, I was suddenly struck by just how alive I felt. Everything I was doing fascinated me. The sheer scope of what I was learning was daunting, but I was fully engaged by what I was learning, drawn into it as I hadn’t been to anything in a very long time, if ever.
I was incredibly fortunate to land under the tutelage of one Chris Carpenter of the Lokoya Vineyards, an uncommonly generous teacher who both encouraged and challenged me. Our relationship went decades back to when the two of us worked in the Chicago bar and restaurant scene together post-college and created a lasting friendship.
Rambling down “The Trail” that day, I made a pact with myself that if, when the harvest was over in December, I still felt the way I did right at that moment, I would forego all else, make the commitment to move to Northern California and dive deeply into the world of wine.
Suffice it to say, I'm still in Napa ...
I spent the next seven years with Chris, helping craft the wines of Cardinale, Lokoya and LaJota, soaking in all the knowledge I could about the art of winemaking from this incredibly talented winemaker. In fact, for four seasons I lived in the LaJota winery full time, practically breathing, sleeping, dreaming the wine we were producing. I was grateful for every opportunity as I steadily worked my way up through the ranks.
I’ve been making wine for over 20 years now. As I’ve grown, I’ve kept in regular contact with Chris. His friendship and mentoring means the world to me, especially as I explore the production of 'High End' Cabernet. It was through Chris that I got to know and partner with Mariano Navarro (Cardinale/Lokoya’s former vineyard manager), whose skill with the vines gives me huge confidence in the fruit I have available to me.
I have a deep love and respect for wine and food, and its fundamental role in bringing people together, sharing through cooking, eating, drinking, laughing, storytelling and memory making. 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!