An informal Q&A Chat with Michael Martini

The Louis Martini Winery is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Recently I caught up with winemaker, Michael Martini, to continue a conversation the two of us had over steaks and Martini Cabernet in Chicago last month. For those who have had their image of a winemaker created by TV or the movies, Michael Martini will likely break that mold. Mike is one of the most down-to-earth and authentic individuals that you could ever meet. Here is a portion of that conversation.

BevX – 75 years – that’s a long time and not so coincidently the number of years since the repeal of prohibition. Is this anniversary more significant or just another year at Martini?
Martini – 75 years was a significant anniversary for our whole nation. We actually started with Louis M Martini Grape Products in 1922 in Kingsburg California, but the significance of 1933 was the beginning of Louis M Martini Winery in the Napa Valley.

BevX – Growing up a Martini, was there ever any doubt that you would be doing what you are doing now?
Martini – Yes. The only rule my dad had was that if he turned 65 and none of us kids were in the business he would sell it. I finally decided to go into it when I was 25 years old. That was when I went back to Davis (University of California at Davis) and got my winemaking degree.

BevX – Napa Valley is more popular than ever. There have been so many changes in Napa and the California wine biz since your start at Martini in 1977. What change stands out the most?
Martini – The nature of the valley and the people went from an agrarian community where farming was the center of life, and activities, and the wine business was just that, a business; to a manicured upscale suburban neighborhood where wine is a hobby with lots of other money being dumped into it.

BevX – Describe the relationship with Gallo.
Martini – Very good. It is a synergy between the two families doing what we each do best. With our Napa Valley footprint and winemaking history and their sales and marketing prowess it has proven to be a very productive relationship.

BevX – How would you describe your style of winemaking?
Martini – On the fence between a European style with the leaner more delicate structure and the American style with the fatter, richer, and riper type wines. I believe wine should go with food and I think a little leanness helps that. Through years of experience I believe we bring you the best of both worlds.

BevX – Some make much of the rivalry between Napa and Sonoma. Your family has had important vineyards in both counties since the 1930s. How do you see it?
Martini – Both have great but different attributes. As a winemaker I like each in its place and can create wines of distinction from either. The marketing guys are the ones with the rivalry.

BevX – When you can sneak away for the winery, what do you like to do?
Martini – My wife and I love to cook thus we go around the world taking cooking classes. We have a beach house where I love spending time building sand castles with my daughter, beach golf and doggy tennis. I play Rock and Roll with my friends (Private Reserve) some nights and I’m a fair weather Harley Rider.

BevX – Tell me about “Private Reserve.”
Martini – Private Reserve has been together for about 20 years.  We (Ed Sbragia, Emeritus wine-maker for Beringer, who also has his own label Sbragia Family Vineyards in Geyserville; Mike Martini, Master Winemaker of Louis Martini in St. Helena and for his own label M Squared; and George Bursick, Owner of Bursick Wine Consulting.) started as a band to play for the American Society of Enology and Viticulture in 1988 at Balley’s, Reno. It was so much fun that we have been together playing ever since for wine industry events around the state.  We are all Wine Industry Experts, mostly winemakers of long standing, and enjoy the combination of Wine, Food and Music.

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