Each week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses 16 questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Dennis Martin. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of him.
Several weeks ago, I was emailing back-and-forth with Jim Caudill, the PR Director for the Hess Collection and a living encyclopedia of the California wine scene. I had just written about how much I enjoyed the wines at WesMar, and he had just gotten back from the World of Pinot Noir.
“You should get to know Dennis Martin,” Jim wrote. “He’s the best winemaker you’ve never heard about.”
I had no reason to doubt Jim, as Martin didn’t work for a winery in the Hess portfolio. But nonetheless, it was a bold statement. So I did a little research, and discovered that Jim could be right.
Dennis Martin has been making wine in California since the 1970s and is well known among his peers. But not too many wine geeks get to know the winemaker behind Fetzer Vineyards, and that’s where Martin has been since 1985, managing the entire production since 1996.
Everyone has heard of Fetzer, of course. It’s one of the ten best-selling brands in the country, with sales of 2.2 million cases annually. Under the Bonterra label, Fetzer makes another 300,000 cases of organic wine each year.
If these case numbers seem huge, that’s because they are – most of the labels we obsess about at Terroirist produce fewer than 10,000 cases annually. Many of the wineries we write about regularly, like WesMar and Talty, produce under 1,000.
Martin has a label like that, too. Called Sanctuary, it was launched together with Martin’s longtime colleague, friend, and collaborator, Christian LeSommer, who had spent more than a dozen years at the famed Chateau Latour. Today, it’s an incredibly small, spare-no-expense facility where Martin crafts Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir – the three grapes he’s most passionate about turning into wine.
Earlier this month, the entire Fetzer line-up was purchased from Brown-Forman by Concha y Toro. My suspicion is that the Concha Y Toro takeover will be good news for Martin’s entire lineup, as it knows a thing or two about making tasty wines. Check out our interview below the fold… Read the rest of this entry »