winemaking

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."

Bottling the 2013 Wines at Gantz Family Vineyards

This morning Celeste and I bottled our 2013 wines. I’ve been making wine for a long time for my family and friends, but the whole texture of it has changed since we planted our vineyard and moved to the Russian River Valley.

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.

What's Happening in the Winery at Gantz Family Vineyards

Currently, we have three wines percolating at Gantz Family Vineyards: a Thorn Ridge Pinot Noir, a Charles Smith Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and a Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay. While we do not sell our wines, winemaking is what led me to become a vineyard grower, and I enjoy continuing to practice and perfect this art in our recently renovated winery.

Winemaker Lessons: 3 Ways to a Better Pinot Noir

So, This year, I’m back to a winemaking style that I am familiar with from my studies at UC Davis and that I have employed with great success in the past. I am going to emphasize “clean” winemaking over “natural” winemaking, in the hopes that I can better capture that beautiful fruit in the bottle.

New Vineyard Expansion = More Quality Fruit

When we originally planted the back block on the vineyard (Block 5), Celeste was adamant about the balance between grape rows and open space. But after a few not-so-subtle hints from me, a few carefully-chosen words from our social media manager and the promise of a larger supply of quality Pinot Noir fruit (which appealed to her bookkeeping nature), Celeste relented. We've just finished planting a small addition to our Block 5 vineyard.

How We Make Wine: The Bottling

Last fall, we had the incredible opportunity to pick Pommard Pinot Noir fruit from Ted Klopp's Thorn Ridge Ranch, the same Russian River Valley vineyard where Inman Family Wines, Freeman Winery and buyers of our fruit, Kosta Browne Winery, get their grapes. We've tracked the winemaking of this fruit through the crushing, fermentation, pressing and malolactic fermentation process. Finally, last weekend, Clay was ready to do the bottling.