by Tricia H.Conover, C.W.P.
Initially, Chanticleer’s founder George Grodahl and his wife Caddy were just going to grow grapes to supply other vineyards. “Then we got serious and partnered with Chris Dearden, a veteran winemaker and consultant,” he says. Grodahl successfully made the transition from investment banker to boutique winemaker, recovering his start-up costs following his first vintage, a tribute to his business acumen in a valley where profitability is hard won. “Chanticleer was the proud rooster who used wit and cunning to succeed in the story ‘The Nun’s Priest Tale’ from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales,” Grodahl explains the winery’s name. “The rooster is also a nod to the Italian Gallo Nero, of Chianti designation.”
Dearden, a California native who studied winemaking in college, has worked for several wineries. During 14 years at Benessere Winery in Saint Helena, he produced many award-winning wines. Chanticleer’s signature Super Tuscan–style wines have consistently won gold medals at several California wine competitions.
My interview with Chris Deaden follows:
How did you decide what kind of grapes to plant for Chanticleer?
The vineyard has sloped, well-drained, and rocky soils, well suited for both Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. George selected the varietals and hired vineyard management experts to plant the hills. I have a background in winemaking using Italian varietals from my days at Napa’s Benessere Vineyards.
What Tuscan winemakers have influenced you?
Italian winemakers who influenced me most are Dr. Alberto Antonini and Attilio Pagli. I met them through a Tim Mondavi consultant and friend, Jim Moore. Antonini was the former head winemaker for the Marchesi Antinori responsible for the famous Super Tuscans, Tignanello and Solaia wines. Pagli is a consulting oenologist for more than a dozen of Italy’s top Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti properties.
How do you see your wines in comparison?
We’re not trying to emulate Tuscany. That would be tilting at windmills. Our Super Tuscan–style wines are the best California expression of these varietals, more opulent and generous, perhaps. We are not trying to produce a Brunello di Montalcino. It’s all about the terroir, soil, and climate. Napa Valley has some of the best in the world.
How do you think you differ as a winemaker compared to those in Tuscany?
Well, my shoes are not nearly as stylish as theirs! With our global economy, though, much of the equipment and winemaking techniques are the same.
What trends are you seeing in California in making Italian varietals?
There is a micro movement. We are now planting high-quality, prized clones that produce fewer grapes with greater quality traits, contrasting the high-yield grapes of the ’90s "Cal-Ital" craze.
Tell us about some of your wines.
Our inaugural Super Tuscan–style Riserva consists of 48 percent Cabernet and 52 percent Sangiovese. This is a substantial, age-worthy wine. It is our Wine Club exclusive. Last year we produced a Pinot Grigio that sold out. We’ll produce another this year.
What do you do for fun when you are not making wine?
I’m coaching my daughter’s lacrosse team and raising funds to build a stadium for my son’s baseball team. I stay extremely busy.
Chanticleer Winery Morningside Vineyard 4 Vineyard View Drive Yountville, Calif. 707-945-0566
About the Author: Tricia Conover is a C.W. P., Certified Wine Professional, from the Culinary Institute of America, Napa Valley. She is the founder of GrapeStone Concepts, and is a wine and travel writer. Tricia currently serves as a Vice President of a California-based software firm.