Kosta Browne Winery

Clay Gantz and the Joys of Tractor Therapy

Clay and Celeste Gantz

Clay and Celeste Gantz

Clay was recently asked to submit a bio for his company newsletter that focused on him as a winegrower. The rest of us loved this snapshot of him, so we voted to post it here. Enjoy!

My interest in wine began during my freshman year in the dorms at UCSB, where our standing Friday night jam sessions were enlivened by Gallo Hearty Burgundy. I later learned that Gallo Hearty Burgundy had, in fact, nothing to do with Burgundy, but I did like it anyway.

It never occurred to me that one could make wine at home until I ran into a guy pressing grapes in his driveway to make wine for his restaurant while walking my dog in the Berkeley Hills. Celeste and I later wandered down to the local winemaking supply store (there are such things) and left with a five gallon carboy. One thing led to another and after about ten years of making wine successfully (believe it or not I won a silver medal at an international wine competition), I found myself enrolled in a UC Davis three year, science-oriented enology program for individuals employed in the wine industry, which I finished in 2010.

In the Fall of 2009, on a lark, Celeste and I drove up to Sonoma County to meet a broker specializing in rural properties. We bought the first property he showed us, four days later. It felt right, and it has turned out to be right for us. With the help of one of my Davis professors, we assembled a team and planted a vineyard to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. One step at a time, and we are now in our ninth year of farming. We have sold each crop to Kosta Browne Winery. For those who aren't familiar with the wine industry, they are among the top two or three Pinot Noir producers in the Russian River Valley, which (in my opinion) makes them among the top Pinot Noir producers in the world. I tell people who don't know the business that our journey is like graduating from high school and becoming the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees. No pressure! But, it keeps us on our toes.

You can’t rush things, and you can’t slow them down—not at all like practicing law.


Along the way, I was privileged to be elected to be the president of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers, which is our association of winemakers and grape growers. It was a crash course on the wine industry and very challenging. Having served as managing shareholder of the Steefel firm during the period culminating with our combination with Manatt, I think I am in a unique position to compare the legal world with the wine world. Believe it or not, I think lawyers are probably easier to manage (though they talk a lot more than farmers or winemakers, as a rule)!

These days, as far as my wine industry life is concerned, I really consider myself a farmer. My winemaking is limited to small batches for our friends and my family that I make in my well equipped home winery and lab. As strange as it may sound, it really is a way for me to communicate my love for all of them and it also satisfies some of my creative urges. Working in the vineyard gives me peace, and there is something humbling about farming--mother nature sets the schedule, and you have to take it as it comes. You can't rush things, and you can't slow them down--not at all like practicing law. I call it "tractor therapy."

Harvest 2017 at Gantz Family Vineyards

VineyardWorkers_GantzFamilyVineyards.jpg

Gantz Family Vineyards measures itself on quality and not quantity, but after last week's harvest, we were pleased with the results. As a relatively young and small vineyard experiencing only its fifth harvest, the main thing we want to see is improvement year over year. We were pleased to see growth in 2017, with an abundant amount of Pinot Noir fruit harvested and delivered to winemaker Kosta Browne Winery.

As it goes with farming, it was down to the last minute before we were absolutely confirmed on the picking date/time. It was supposed to be at 2 a.m., Wednesday morning (September 13), so Celeste figured she had time to rehearse with her a cappella group Tuesday evening, come home for a nap, and start fresh. No such luck! Our vineyard manager, Jim Pratt of Cornerstone Certified Vineyard, announced that picking would start at 10 p.m., Tuesday night (September 12). So Celeste left rehearsal early and hit the ground running! We like to provide lots of "fortifications" for the crew; Clay made sure the crew knew where the snacks were and proceeded to make pot after pot of coffee.  

Both of us help with the "sweep" harvest, picking up the grapes that the crews drop or miss. But later in the evening, it became apparent that because of our new leafing strategy, it was hard for the guys to find and pick the fruit, particularly in the Pommard and Calera blocks. So Celeste decided to go out and pull leaves away, just ahead of the crews; it's a task she's planning on taking on again next year. She can't do it all, but it certainly helps.  

The crew started at 10 p.m. and finished at 6 a.m., working through the mild, 61-degree night. Just as the last crew member emptied his tub into the bin, a few raindrops began to fall. As the last bin was fork-lifted onto the truck, the rain started to pour in earnest, complete with lightning and thunder. We couldn't believe our luck! 

Delivery at Kosta Browne Winery

Delivery at Kosta Browne Winery

The Mariafeld 23 clone, which we introduced into the vineyard last year, performed better than expected and Sam Ausburn, Kosta Browne's viticulturist, was pleased about the quality. It was a nice result, especially because deciding to replace some of our Calera with the 23 wasn't an easy decision. We do feel like the results validate (at least initially) some of the steps we took for the first time this year:

  • The fourth cane in the Calera calmed the vines and resulted in better set.

  • A new leafing strategy helped protect the grapes when we had the Labor Day heat spike.

  • The grapes seemed to respond well to a regulated deficit irrigation strategy.

Because it is farming, we have to give a big nod of thanks to Lady Luck. Our row orientation (E-W) combined with our leafing strategy helped to protect the clusters from the hot weather. An E-W row orientation is unorthodox, but we picked it (with counsel from our former vineyard manager Ulises Valdez and Kris Lowe) because of the way our site was laid out and because, in our spot in the Russian River Valley, we were not too worried about sunburn. This year was not ideal for growers by any stretch -- with heat spikes, wide temp fluctuations and rain during harvest -- so we feel like we were very fortunate.

WineGrapes_GantzFamilyVineyards.jpg

Missed the 2017 growing season?

stay up to date on what's happening at Gantz Family Vineyards

Sign up for our newsletter and receive occasional (VERY OCCASIONAL) emails about the latest events at the vineyard.

Third Harvest at Gantz Family Vineyards

Third Harvest at Gantz Family Vineyards

Gantz Family Vineyards’ third harvest got under way early Saturday morning at 2:30 a.m. when three crews from Cornerstone Certified Vineyard – 26 very hardworking people – showed up to begin snipping our fruit off the vines. Seven hours later, the crew had seven tons of Pinot Noir fruit to deliver to Kosta Browne Winery.

Bird Problems in the Vineyard

it seems that our love and attention has caused havoc in the vineyard. By making sure there is food and water for our feathered friends, they have decided that this is the place to be. And just about the time Kosta Browne wants our fruit, when the grapes are ripe with sugars, the birds have decided they want our grapes, too.

Exploring differences in Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Are there distinguishing factors between wines produced in one Russian River Valley neighborhood versus another? On Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, a panel featuring winemaking luminaries welcomed participants to help answer those questions.

Flowering at Gantz Family Vineyards

We have flowering in Block 4 here at Gantz Family Vineyards. Block 4 was the home of an overgrown kiwi patch when we bought the property. Now, it seems to be our most vigorous block – perhaps because it’s at the highest peak of our property – so we’re not surprised to see it blooming first.

Watching Every Drop: Irrigation on Gantz Family Vineyards

The pressure bomb is one of the tools I'm using to develop a more complete understanding of how our vineyard responds to water stress and irrigations. Our foliage was abundant last year, and this year we're seeking a better balance between our fruit and leaves. Monitoring the water is a good way to do that.