‘Experience, travel – these are an education in themselves.’
It’s always easy to stay put, to do what those around you are doing, and to never question the norms that comfort you. Familiarity tastes good and traditions are well-trodden paths that leave little chance for getting lost. But what’s the point of life if it isn’t to learn, to explore, and to follow the path less traveled?
And so we have the story of wine-loving George Unti. Born in Fort Bragg, California, he spent his early years split between Fort Bragg and Madera, where his parents were farmers. After graduating high school he got his first job with Safeway, with whom he spent the next 39 (!!) years moving up the corporate ladder. But after a few too many years behind the desk, he yearned for something different - something more in tune with the land, like he had known as a child, and perhaps something more in line with his growing love for European wines.
In 1990 George purchased a property in the Dry Creek Valley of California - a region known primarily for Zinfandel. The idea wasn’t to create a business right away, but to learn about the region, experiment with the vineyards, and well, take a bit of a risk if he could afford to. Around the same time, he visited Italy to spend time with his cousins and drink as much of his favorite European wines as he could muster. What he couldn’t help but notice was how good grapes like Sangiovese tasted in Italy, and how far a cry they were from the cheap Chianti Classicos (ironically poured out of straw “fiasco” bottles in the US) you found at Italian restaurants in California. If grapes like Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Barbara could thrive in the warm Mediterranean climate of Italy, then why couldn’t they also be successful in California? Why should he limit himself to the grapes that his neighbors in California were growing when there was a chance to try something new? And furthermore, California’s cool evenings should allow for wines with at least as much balancing acidity and aging power as Italy, so what if he didn’t just match the great wines of Italy, but try to surpass them?
Perhaps fueled by the liquid courage of so many Italian wines, George returned home to California with a mission to do what no one around him was doing, what he’d never seen before, and what was unlikely to work at all - to plant Mediterranean grapes in California terroir, and simply see what would happen. His eyes had been opened and there was no looking back.