Nothing is better than just setting aside some time to share with your father for his special day. After all, that’s what Father's Day should be about: Taking time from busy schedules, slowing down, and spending some time together just hanging out.
It’s no surprise that wine will enter into my Father’s Day plans. Which wine is yet to be seen, as I’m going to let my Dad decide (it is his day), but if you’re looking for a great choice, consider a wine from Don & Sons -- that's Don as in Don Sebastiani (and sons Donny and August), from one of California’s historic wine families. I recently had the chance to interview Don and Donny, and to learn a bit about what keeps a family wine business motivated. More apropos, I found out what allows a father and son to work together and still want to celebrate Father’s Day!
So, when you think of chilling with Dad, think of how the Sebastiani’s make time for each other -- as Donny said, “Dinner at Mom and Dad’s house ... that is how we spend every Sunday evening!” And, if you want to win $1000 towards that Father's Day gift -- and who doesn't? -- enter the Don & Sons contest that’s looking for your favorite plans for chilling, bonding, or playing with Dad.
Don & SonsDon Sebastiani & Sons is one of California's newest wine companies, brought to you by one of California's oldest wine families. With literally decades of family winemaking history behind them, the Sebastiani's founded Don & Sons in order to offer their consumers great wines from all over California -- and the world, for that matter. They have been pioneers in bringing innovation to the wine industry, and are pushing new boundaries every year. Read about one of their latest projects -- a Chardonnay-based "orange" wine -- in our featured interview.
Don: This is one of those things which if I have to explain it, then I probably can’t. It was just the right thing to do for every reason. It’s what we do.
Snooth: Donny, you briefly worked outside of the family properties. What was it like not working with your father and how did he get you to come back into the family business? An offer you couldn't refuse?
Donny: When I graduated from Santa Clara University, I went to work for Sebastiani Vineyards. My time there was short, we were just about to downsize the old family business by selling our value brands and our two Lodi wineries to Canandaigua (now Constellation). The winery’s volume went from 8 million cases to 200,000 cases overnight. At that time, my Dad stepped down as CEO and I went to work for my Uncle Roy at Cecchetti Sebastiani Cellar. I was there for about a year and then we started Don Sebastiani & Sons.
Snooth: Don, what was it like having Donny working with you? How's your business relationship, and is it tough keeping the personal aspect out of it?
Don: The thing that strikes me most about it is that it’s fun.
Donny: I am sure he finds it rewarding and fulfilling.
Snooth: I've worked with siblings before, never parents though, and I certainly remember be driven crazy by my brother at work. How do you guys keep the peace? Anything you do in your downtime to help make working together easier?
Don: My wife and I have been blessed with kids whose capabilities and accomplishments are balanced with circumspection. They have all learned that “giving a break” to someone who may not deserve it, is actually not so much an obligation as a privilege.
Snooth: Do you guys share the same vision for the company and the wines you produce? What are your favorite wines, both yours and in general.
Donny: Yes, our vision is to grow and make great wines. We are looking to build a business that is sustainable for future generations and able to deal with change and unexpected circumstances in the future. My favorite wines in general are medium-bodied wines that show character…wines that say something. Right now, our Aquinas 07 Napa Valley Cab Sauv is one of my favorites. Also our Smoking Loon zinfandel. In general, I like white burgundies and also northern Italian reds and Bordeaux reds.
Don: We agree on company vision to a large extent. But I see the disagreements as being even more valuable. They present opportunity for challenge and debate, both of which promote healthy growth. On wine preferences we differ some and overlap a lot. Personally, I’m generally not a fan of New World wines with food. I prefer lighter, less extracted wines with complex earthy flavors. For me, for instance, the greatest red wines in the world have many things in common, and one thing is that they’re generally light to medium in body.
Snooth: Who comes up with the names for the wines? What about Used Automobile Parts? I love that name and have heard a few stories about the origin of the name, but would love to be able to set the record straight!
Donny: Every name has a different history. When the family winery was sold at the end of 2008, we were contractually unable to say “Sebastiani” on the front label…that has become a blessing and a curse. The great part about it is that it challenges us to promote our wines creatively, in a meaningful, impactful, relevant, memorable style… Sometimes it is an idea from Dad, or Aug, or every once in a while its mine…but we have found the best success is listening to others in the company for inspiration…“The Crusher” reflects our focus on growing techniques in the vineyard, winemaking skills at the crusher, and blending at the winery – not just buying and blending bulk wine in the traditional California negociant model. Screw Kappa Napa (s|k|n) is pretty straightforward…I have always loved brand names that are explanatory. It is a bit unexpected and irreverent and we have a bit of that too. “B Side” comes from the unheralded, lesser known Napa sub-appellations, where you van pay relatively reasonable (still very expensive) prices for a ton of cabernet sauvignon. We wanted something that conveyed “underground hip”…close to the original, but slightly different and only those in-the-know would know about it…
Snooth: Don & Sons is carrying on a family tradition, and it is obviously important to keep the family involved in this business. I wonder if you both can share the lessons you learned from your father, and the lessons you hope you've passed along to your children.
Snooth: Can you each share your favorite memories of your fathers, some time that you spent together, or bottle of wine that you shared that sticks with you.
Donny: Too many to name. We live and work closely, so we have to opportunity to spend much time and drink much wine together.
Snooth: How are you guys going to be spending this Father's day?
Donny: Usually, Sundays are pretty relaxed around our family. The day concludes with a trip to Train Town with my two boys and Dad and then we head to Mom and Dad’s for dinner. Doesn’t make for a good story, but this year I will be traveling home from a work event in Colorado. The last couple of Fathers’ Days have been spent at the Infineon race track here in Southern Sonoma. Each year the NASCAR Sprint Cup series has their race on Fathers’ Day and my oldest son is six and he is a NASCAR fanatic. It is great father-son time and I will be sorry to miss it. As usual, that is followed by dinner at Mom and Dad’s house – that is how we spend every Sunday evening!
Snooth: What are some of your favorite food and wine pairings that we can share with our readers? Any suggestions for a father's day feast?
Snooth: What's the most exciting wine release coming up from the Don and Sons portfolio?
Donny: The most controversial release is our “orange wine”; we call it “The Unusual”. We vinified a chardonnay with extended skin contact this year from Clarksburg-on-the-Delta. Think…pink/roses are red grapes made in a white-wine style; this is white grapes made in a red style. This wine was inspired by amazing wines grown high in the Italian Alps along the Italian/Austrian border. The wine is actually translucent orange in color and it is certainly its own thing…elegant and citrusy like a white wine, but tannic with powerful mouthfeel like a medium-bodied red. The ultimate “discovery” wine for the wine aficionado! It is super-small (less than 500 cases) but it is a truly unique offering.
The less-whacked-out new release that excites me is our B Side 2007 cabernet sauvignon. At times the wine has the nose of an exotic super-Tuscan red; it almost smells like a great Italian restaurant…salame and roasted garlic…but it has the structure of a great Napa cab – without the over-ripe mouthfeel. It is elegant and drinkable. The 2007 vintage for us (and I should say throughout the North Coast) was really amazing. We have made the best wines in the company’s history in that vintage. Our 2005 scored 91 points; our 2006 was declassified in to other programs because it did not make the cut. I am very excited for the 07 wine to mature.
Two Wines to Share this Father's DaySmoking Loon Cabernet Sauvignon
For people who appreciate wine without the pretense, Smoking Loon is a full-bodied California varietal wine that celebrates independent character and a Bohemian personality by going beyond a single plot of land or château to explore the best vineyards in each vintage through their négociant relationships.
The Crusher Petite Sirah
Sourced from the upcoming Clarksburg appellation, The Crusher is a tribute to the fundamental relationship between the grower and the winemaker. From the vineyard to the crusher to your table, The Crusher captures the freshness of this world-class growing region, which is just beginning to emerge on the wine scene.