My romance with wine began many years ago on bicycle trips with Goldie and our family through the great wine regions of France, Italy and California. Those fabulous excursions through picturesque vineyards provided the opportunity to sample many terrific wines. “Sampling” might be putting it lightly, especially where Burgundy is concerned. Those wines didn’t just steal my palate, they stole my heart. It wasn’t long before the dream of creating beautiful wines of my own (specifically Pinot Noir) was born. The many treasured conversations I’ve shared with various winemakers and producers from Burgundy to Bordeaux and Tuscany to Napa served to fuel my dream to someday take the leap from fantasy to reality.
Years later, while filming Quentin Tarentino’s Death Proof in the Santa Rita Hills area in northern Santa Barbara County, I was amazed to discover award winning wines I felt rivaled the Burgundians I so loved. As luck would have it, an old friend of mine had been producing wines for quite awhile out of his rather large and beautiful vineyard just over the hill in Santa Ynez. So, I decided to drop in on him and kick around the idea of possibly getting started producing wine. That old friend was Fess Parker. Sitting outside on the patio of Fess’s place, sharing a bottle of wine, he said, “Kurt, you don’t just have a dream, you have a passion, and you should pursue it.”
Not long after that I was serendipitously nudged closer to taking the leap when another friend, noted photographer Greg Gorman, introduced me to Peter and Rebecca Work. They own and operate Ampelos Cellars in Santa Rita Hills where they make award winning wines from their triple certified vineyard. That is, organically and biodynamically farmed and sustainable in practice. Peter is an old school purist in the vineyard…no short cuts, no tricks, no fakin’ it.
Now, I’ve been on a lot of auditions in my life, and it didn’t take long for me to realize I was being gently “grilled” as to the level of my true desire to become involved in producing fine wine. They weren’t much interested in working with me if I just wanted to slap my name on a label. Turns out Peter and Rebecca rarely go to the movies or watch T.V. so all they really knew about me was that I was a friend of Greg’s who wanted to start “making wine.” I made it through the interview. Suddenly, quietly, and at the grassiest and greenest roots, GoGi Wines was born.
The process of learning about making and producing fine wine followed quickly. I was issued a pair of clippers and a bucket and pointed toward the vineyard. Filled with visions of creating the next “La Tache,” I promptly sliced my thumb cutting the very first cluster of grapes I ever harvested. Not one to invite humiliation, I stifled my yelp and hid the bleeding appendage until I could don a pair of field gloves and continued my….education.
Punch downs, general cellar ratting, working the bottling and labeling line, listening to Peter about the art of farming to attain the healthiest and tastiest grapes and of course, barrel selection (thank you, Rebecca) are all important pieces of the fascinating puzzle of the wine making process. (Waxing the bottle tops is just plain back breaking work. But I think it looks awesome!)
But, without question, my favorite endeavor is Blending Day. That’s when the rubber hits the road. The grapes that were nurtured on the vine, picked at the precise moment of maturity, binned, soaked, fermented, the juice extracted and barreled for 22 months (18 for the Chardonnay) are now ready for the “Grand Finale.” To make it truly my wine, I am entrusted to rely on my nose and palate to blend what I believe makes the best combination of Pinot Noir clones that will result in that year’s vintage of GoGi. When I find what I believe to be the perfect blend, that’s what goes in the bottle. That’s the final stroke on the painting, the last edited shot that completes the film. The journey is done. And there it is – a bottle of GoGi to be enjoyed some time, some place by someone I’ll probably never know. But I will most definitely be there sharing the experience. I am there because all of my senses are there pouring out of the bottle and into the glass.
While they may never show it, I know I must drive Peter and Rebecca a little crazy striving to find the ever elusive “perfect” blend, but they never quit. Blending GoGi Pinot Noir with the two of them is one of the greatest pleasures in my life. No matter how exasperating those days may get, they always end under the great Oak tree drinking wine together and watching the sun set over their striking Ampelos Vineyard in the heart of the Santa Rita Hills.
I do love it. And after all is said and done, like it says on the back label of each and every bottle, it’s meant to be….”for your pleasure.”