What is the definition of being successful? Is it making more money than you know what to do with? Is it having letters after your name that people aren’t even sure what they mean? Or is it simply being happy? When Mike and I decided to enter the wine business, we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road. We were realistic. We understood that we would neither be an overnight sensation, nor ever be as recognized as Robert Mondavi. That’s not why we entered the business. We entered the wine industry because we love wine and it was our dream to own a winery. We chose to not just wish or dream about it, we made a conscious decision to make it happen.We chose to Pursue Our Passion.
It’s a scary thing chasing down your dreams, but if you don’t enter the race you are never going to win. One of my favorite sayings about Pursuing Your Passion was made by “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky. He very eloquently stated, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” He knows you need to take risks. You need to leave the safety net that tethers you to your comfort zone so that you can experience what happens next.
In this, what has become a monthly tradition, a guest blogger will tell you their story of how they pursued their passion in the wine industry. These people understood what Van Gogh meant by “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”
I am believer in fate. I don’t believe that you are a puppet for your destiny, but I do think that there is some force that helps guide you in your decisions. Although, I can’t give credit to the poet who wrote it, one of my favorite sayings is: “People enter your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” With that concept, I always enjoy thinking back on how people have entered my life.
Cindy Cosco, the owner/winemaker at Passaggio Wines, entered my life because of a wine label. Mike and I were having dinner with some friends and I posted a picture of the wine we were drinking. Cindy being a friend of our friends commented “that’s an interesting label.” At first, I didn’t get it until I looked at her website. Then I got it. And as they say, the rest is history. I was immediately intrigued by her story. Cindy was in law enforcement and decided to change career path in order to pursue her passion. We followed each other on twitter and facebook and stayed in touch. When Mike and I visited Napa/Sonoma this past November, we contacted her and she was nice enough to schedule a tasting with us in her beautiful tasting room. (located at 25 East Napa St, Suite C in Sonoma.) We spent the better half of the afternoon tasting through her wonderful wines. It was the first time we met Cindy in person, but I know it won’t be the last.
“I believe something magical happens
when you bring wonderful friends, awesome food,
and great wines together.”
My Passion – Wonderful Friends, Great Food, Awesome Wines
What is it about wine that intrigues me so much? Maybe because it captivates so many of my senses. Maybe because it is so connected to the culture and geography. Maybe because the process is so interesting. Maybe because there are so many varieties. Maybe because I just like the taste of it. Maybe it stirs up my soul.
May 20, 2007. Entering an urban warehouse, I confirmed through the spectacular sights and smells that I was inside the “open-house” of a custom crush winery. Immediately, I knew this spot was home; this was where I intended to make my first wine…this was why I came to California! I searched for the head winemaker and, finding him, saw a long line of people ahead of me. Determined, I waited until I had my turn.
Finally, the long line subsided. I stepped up and told my story, revealing what I wanted to do. I wanted to make an unoaked chardonnay. Listening to those words come out of my mouth, I felt my dream become a reality. I was going to make my own wine. I was actually talking about it…out loud.
After a bit, the winemaker asked me if I would be interested in working at the winery. That’s when my winemaking career all began…or was it?
At a young age, I watched my Italian grandfather make wine in his basement. I loved the smells in the single room where he created his magic. I was fascinated with each bottle, marked with masking tape telling the holder of the varietal. What is known as “tape wine” became treasured gifts to family and friends, gifts crafted with loving hands in the old world way. Visitors coming to this house were greeted at the kitchen table with wine and great Italian food.
It was this life of hospitality that shaped me. The passion of making wine, community, and great Italian cooking was instilled in me at that kitchen table. It was there where I learned that growing, making and sharing from my abundance of blessings was what life was all about.
Let’s say we are sitting here in my house and I am showing you how to blend wine. I have a 100 ml graduated cylinder and pipette. There are 5 wines in front us. ok class…let’s begin!
Wine is an intriguing liquid to say the least. What I want to talk about today is the art of blending. One of my favorite parts of winemaking. Blending is used to maximize the expression of a wine. It can enhance aromas, color, texture, body and finish, making it a more well rounded and complex wine. The idea is to highlight each grape’s strength and compliment the other grapes being used in the blend.
For example: Merlot
Merlot can be used to give the wine a better aroma and make it seem fresher or smoother. Cab Franc or Cab Sauv are often added for structure or tannin to make a more powerful wine.
A Bordeaux blend (which you might be more familiar with) is often a blend of all or some of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Cab Sauv adds intense aromatics and tannins. Merlot adds fruitiness and roundness. Cab Franc may add some herbal notes. Malbec may add a darker color or smoother palate. Petit Verdot may add structure. When one base wine is enhanced with other great wines, it enhances the base wine to make it a better wine than it was by itself.
There are times in our lives when we have tasted that perfectly balanced wine. We sit up and take notice right away as it crosses our taste buds – all is well with the world. Then there are those times when we pour a glass of wine that lacks balance, or integration. Much like our lives at times when we are bogged down with pressures at work, deadlines to meet, children’s activities we can’t keep up with, having to answer one more email, grocery shopping on our way home from work on Monday because we didn’t have time on Saturday – these are the things fill our lives leaving us no room for what may enhance our lives.
I believe an integrated life is more of a blend than a balance. Blending occurs when we understand that all aspects of what I refer to as vocation, family, professional community, and church – are equally important.
I moved to CA in 2004. I left a 15 year law enforcement career to follow my passion for winemaking. I found myself, at the age of 43, changing my career…changing my life. The challenges ahead were great but this was something I yearned for in my life.
My journey these past 12 years has been one that I would refer to as a “wonderful blending”. When I arrived in California, I had no job and no way of knowing how to get into the wine industry. I thought, maybe, if I start working at BevMo, I would run into someone who could point me in the right direction.
Every Saturday, at BevMo, in the back of the store, they would have wine tastings for a dollar. Hal Hanifl conducted these tastings. Of course, I had to work on Saturdays so I would always look forward to Hal’s tastings and conversations. During one of our conversations, Hal told me that he worked at Chateau St Jean during the week. He told me he could probably get me a temp job for harvest 2004. I was so excited!! I did get the job!!!
(this is where we add 70 mls of Cabernet to the cylinder)
As it turns out they put me in the cellar. I was doing pump-overs, filling barrels, etc. About two weeks into harvest, the lab manager, Kathy Moeller, asked me if I would mind moving into the lab for the rest of harvest. Talk about an opportunity!! The ladies in the lab took me under their wings and showed me everything they knew about lab work, chemistry, etc.
After harvest, I was hired on full time. Chateau St Jean sent me to Napa Valley College for their enology program.
(we add another 20mls of Merlot to the cylinder)
Fast forward to 2007. I had heard of this place called Crushpad, a custom crush facility in San Francisco. I decided to attend their open house in May of 2007. I met with the head winemaker, Michael Zitzlaff. I told him I wanted to make an unoaked chardonnay. Now it was not very popular at the time but he encouraged me to follow that passion. Not only did he encourage me to do just that, he offered me a job as Lab Manager.
(add 5mls of Cab Franc to the cylinder)
I made those stainless drums of Chardonnay in 2007 and launched Passaggio Wines. In 2010, when Crushpad moved to Napa, I was promoted to winemaker for the white wine program. In 2011, when Crushpad moved to Sonoma, I decided to branch out on my own. I left Crushpad in May of 2011 and I called my friend, Elizabeth Vianna, winemaker for Chimney Rock. I asked Elizabeth if she was hiring for harvest 2011. She politely said yes. Elizabeth Vianna, one of the best winemakers I know in Napa Valley, let me work along side her for harvest 2011.
(add 3mls of Malbec to the cylinder)
After harvest of 2011 I needed a place to make Passaggio Wines because Crushpad did end up folding. I called my friend Dave Gifford. Dave Gifford used to work for Crushpad but left them in 2010 and started his own crush facility back in San Francisco. Dave let me bring my barrels of Pinot Noir over to his facility. – I could keep adding great Bordeaux varietals to this blend but I think you get the picture.
(add 2 mls of Petit Verdot)
Fast forward to 2016. I have opened a tasting room on the Sonoma Square, in Sonoma, California. I am about to open my own production facility…whew! What a journey!!
As I have always said “Success can be ever changing.” It can change from day to day by following your passion and loving every minute of it. I don’t think you can measure it by the amount of money you make. I am not even sure you can measure it all. It comes from within. When you are sitting around the table with great friends, wonderful family, awesome food, and great wine, what could be better? That’s success…”
Follow your passion – whatever it may be. Let it be something you can share with others to create a better place for everyone…
(pour out the 100 mls into a glass)
We all can be blenders in someone’s life making their life and their journey a better one.