Living the Ultimate Dreams of California Winemakers and Consumers

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

My approach and experiences with the expansive and ever-expanding world of wine has changed over the years. Early on, I drank to fit my budget. My palate was inexperienced and my wallet was thin. The wines I consumed were rather vapid. I purchased them as much for the benefits of the alcohol content (as a social lubricant) as for their quality. There were fine wines on retail shelves, but I never took the time to explore. Cost was my guideline.

As I and my palate matured, my appreciation of better wines grew. I discovered new wines and experimented with those from California and a smattering of Western European offerings. My budget increased and I abandoned the wines of my youth.

These days I have found wine nirvana. As my budget continues to increase, my palate has become quite refined. My focus is on wine regions around the world, not the California-centric choices of earlier years. I can enjoy this lifestyle into the sunset of my years.

Or so I thought. Ever the explorer, I decided in the last year to embark on a journey to seek out small California producers who are living their dream, ones I’ve been overlooking or weren’t on my radar screen.

So, with my wine region app downloaded to my smartphone, my Waze app fired up and my credit card having ample capacity, my wife and I explored northern California over the past year, seeking out new winemakers and their wines.

In the last few columns I provided my road map and game plan for finding and purchasing new California wines made by artisans pursing their winemaking dreams. Several are living their childhood dream, others are living their adult dreams, while a few are content living someone else’s dream.

Here is a summary of our discoveries. In order to gain a meaningful perspective of my goal and the current state of California wine sales, please refer to my previous columns, available at the

Living a Childhood Dream. When Grant Long Jr. was growing up in Napa Valley, he was captivated by his father’s wine collection and the allure of those fine wines. He bided his time and began producing his own wines from purchased grapes a dozen years ago. He learned much of his skill by trial and error, developing his winemaking philosophy along the way. Three years ago, he further realized his childhood dream; he and his wife Megan purchased a vineyard and home/winemaking facility.

From this winery, he produces 4,500 cases per year, all through an exclusive buying club. His wines, primarily a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bordeaux-style blend, are bold and well-balanced, redolent of black fruit. Last year, he realized another dream. In memory of his father he planted a small hillside plot of Cabernet Sauvignon. I am now a member of the AonAir Portfolio Club.

Living an Adult Dream. Phil Steinschriber has been in the wine industry for over three decades and the winemaker at prestigious Diamond Creek Vineyards in Napa Valley since 1991. In 2003 he decided to live his dream of making wine on his own. Not giving up his day job, instead levering off it, he sought out grapes from local Napa Valley growers and produced his private label wine at the winery.

Today, he produces about 500 cases from several vineyards as the WaterMark brand. We tasted Phil’s wines, with his wife Diane (the marketing and sales manager), in the dining room of their home on Howell Mountain. This was a dream come true for me: sampling big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon wines, sourced from Napa Valley, as a guest of the winemaker and his wife in their own home. Phil’s dream is about to embark on a new chapter. He has purchased land just outside his front door, and will be growing his own Cabernet Sauvignon soon.

Next week: Additional portraits of those living their dreams in California.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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