Weekly Interview: Dan Petroski

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 02-17-2012

Each week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses questions to a winemaker. This week we a featuring Dan Petroski. At Larkmead, where he heads up winemaking, he makes rich, finesse-driven reds. Under his own label, Massican, Dan churns out small batches of Friulian-style whites from Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.  Both are from the great valley of Napa.

Dan Petroski, photo courtesy Liza Gershman

Born and raised a New Yorker, Dan moved to Italy in 2005 after nine years working in magazine publishing at Time Inc. While there, he lived in Catania, Sicily for one year working with the family that owns Valle dell’Acate.

In 2006, Dan came back to the States to find a job in wine sales and marketing in New York. Nothing was available; so he continued his wine apprecenticeship with Andy Smith at DuMOL who asked Dan to come on board full-time at Larkmead in late 2006. Dan has been working in the cellar at Larkmead ever since, and launched Massican with the 2009 vintage with the desire to make spirited white wines that reminded him of his time in Italy.

The Massican wines certainly charmed the pants off this Terroirist, a lover of all wines Italian. In addition to the dry whites, sweet Passito and Amarone style wines along with his own vermouth are on the docket for Dan as well. 2011 will mark the third vintage at Massican.

Check out our interview with Dan below the fold…

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

To make wines I like to drink.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

A completely stocked bar – bitters, vermouths, gins, cognacs, brandies, bourbons, rye and more. The bar is always open.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

Personally, I have had the good fortune to be mentored by Andy Smith (DuMOL and Larkmead).  As for a favorite winemaker in history, without a doubt that would be Bartolo Mascarello. His winemaking style was traditional and his wines are timeless.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a number of California winemakers who influence me on a daily basis. I’m nervous to leave someone out; so, I am going to travel 3,000 miles east and say if you are not familiar with what Christopher Tracy is doing at Channing Daughters on Long Island, you should be.

How do you spend your days off?

With my wife.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

The best wine?  This is a tough question because I truly believe wine is influenced by the circumstances in which you consume it – the who, where, when and why.  Because of this, the best wine for me may not be the best for another.  And that is the beauty of wine.  So, for me, probably the best wine I have ever tasted has to be a 1982 La Mission Haut-Brion.  It was beautiful.  Perfect.  It is said that wine needs words.  This wine stopped me in my tracks and shut me up.

As for most interesting wine – the hope is to find something interesting in every wine I drink.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

The oldest is a birth year wine – 1973 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon.  The most expensive is probably a bottle of Scarecrow that my wife received from a friend.  I am sure she will say that is in her cellar – not mine!

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

Certainly if isn’t Massican or Larkmead (see question #1 above); I would have to say the Champagne’s of Pascal Agrapart and the Cote-Rotie’s of Rene Rostaing.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Patience – in making wine and in drinking it.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?

That is tough because Italy has 20 regions to choose from! Contrary to popular belief I will not say Friuli in Italy’s Northeast, I will say Piemonte in Italy’s Northwest.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Yes, of course, on Super Bowl Sunday.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I played college football for Columbia University.  I was an Offensive Lineman.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

I would be publishing magazines.  Prior to my career in wine, I worked nine years for Time Inc. – for Sports Illustrated for Kids and Time magazine.

How do you define success?

My philosophy for creating a successful wine is simple – the last glass must be better than the first. That translates to success being a journey we take one step at a time.

Comments (1)

  1. Dan’s wines rock! Try any of the Massicans if you ever find one.