Star American Winemakers
"I give the wine the freedom to do its own thing," Andrew Mariani says. Part of this includes allowing the wild yeasts that live on the grapes to start the fermentation process, instead of adding commercial yeasts: "There are something like 300 strains of yeast in a fermentation vat as soon as you put the grapes in."
Bottle to seek out: Silky 2007 Scribe Cabernet Sauvignon
Pairing: Grilled Lamb Shwarma
Ames Morison, a sciencey sort who gets excited about numbers and soil types, oversees the winemaking and manages the vineyards of Medlock Ames. He has become such an expert in beneficial insects that he's participating in a study on them with the Environmental Science department at the University of California, Berkeley.
Bottle to seek out: Rich and vibrant 2007 Medlock Ames Bell Mountain Ranch Red
Pairing: Barbecue-Glazed Turkey Burgers
Photo © Ingalls Photography
Thomas Rivers Brown
Thomas Rivers Brown has become one of the most sought-after consulting winemakers in Napa Valley, making high-end Cabernet for 15 different labels at the Black Sears and Outpost wineries on Howell Mountain, with clients like Schrader and Maybach. There is even a Thomas Rivers Brown method—a non-interventionist style that eschews technology and, he says, "all those elements that contribute to sameness."
Bottle to seek out: Luscious 2009 Maybach Materium Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
Pairing: Grilled Texas Rib Eye
In 2000, California native, Charles Smith, was managing a rock band in Copenhagen when he made an unusual career shift to winemaking. Smith taught himself how to make wine by creating minuscule lots of Syrah for his own K brand. Now his wines are some of Washington's most sought-after.
Bottle to seek out: Powerful and big 2011 Boom Boom! Syrah
Pairing: Sausage–and–Pepper Heros
Although Celia Masyczek makes some of the most sought-after wines in Napa Valley—her client list includes small-estate, ultra-high-end Cabernet producers DR Stephens, Keever, Cornerstone and Scarecrow (which has a waiting list for the waiting list), as well as Lindstrom, Husic, Kelly Fleming and Hollywood & Vine—she never imagined she would become a winemaker. But one tour through the enology classrooms at UC Davis in the late 1970s convinced her otherwise.
Bottle to seek out: 2009 Corra Cabernet Sauvignon
Jamey Whetstone of Whetstone Wine Cellars is one of Napa Valley's biggest up-and-coming talents. But when the recession hit in 2008, he realized that in order to keep his business alive, he would have to essentially reinvent what it means to be a modern winemaker. So he added the titles of sales guy, tour guide and maître d' to his list of responsibilities and began pouring wines for customers at picnic lunches in the vineyards that provide his grapes.
Bottle to seek out: Rich 2010 Whetstone El Pajaro Chardonnay
Pairing: Crab Rolls with Lemon Aioli
A lot has changed in Robert Foley's life since the heady days of the late 1960s, when he and his friends played in a band. Today, Foley, makes an incredibly sought-after Charbono at his Robert Foley Vineyards on Napa Valley's Howell Mountain, as well as highly acclaimed Bordeaux-style reds at Napa's Pride Mountain Vineyards, Switchback Ridge and Hourglass. They all share the trademark Foley style: big flavors, aromatic density and balance.
Bottle to seek out: 2009 Robert Foley Vineyards Charbono
By experimenting with novel techniques—like making wine using grapes growing wild on abandoned vineyard land—Tracey Brandt, 40, and her husband, Jared, are helping to change the way wine is made. They're also changing where it's made: They produce their distinctive Rhône-style bottlings in a warehouse in downtown Berkeley, California, in the heart of fast-growing urban-winemaking country.
Bottle to seek out: Floral, spicy 2010 Stone Crusher Roussanne
Sashi Moorman (pouring, left) wound a trail through New York state, first at Vassar College and then as a chef in Manhattan, before moving on to California and a five-year stint as assistant winemaker at the Ojai Vineyard. These days, he operates out of a warehouse park in the Central Coast city of Lompoc, serving as winemaker for a wide range of small, highly acclaimed labels.
Bottle to seek out: Ripe 2006 Piedrasassi California Syrah