Family and Friends

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."

The loss of Ulises Valdez


All of us were saddened to hear that Ulises Valdez passed yesterday.

Ulises was one of the first people I met in the wine industry and he had a huge impact on me. When we were doing preliminary soils testing in our vineyard in 2009, our soil scientist rented a backhoe to dig pits. As we were in the field digging, a guy in jeans and a straw cowboy hat walked up and introduced himself—it was Ulises. Turns out we had rented the backhoe from him (unbeknownst to me) and he was curious as to what the heck we were up to! Coincidentally, my teacher and mentor Kristin Lowe had, the day before, mentioned Ulises’ name as one of the top farmers in the Russian River Valley and someone we should seek out if we went forward to develop our vineyard. The next day, there he was standing in front of me. Some things are meant to be, I guess.

Ulises’ story has been told many times and by many people. What strikes me is that it is, in my view, a uniquely American story. No Mayflower involved--Ulises immigrated here from Mexico, raised himself up, became a citizen, and started a family and a farming business which now employs over 100 people. His Chardonnay was served at the White House to the Presidents of the United States and Mexico, which always struck me as fitting. When we were last in DC visiting our daughter we were pleased to see he was featured in a Smithsonian exhibit on Hispanic winemakers. Though hard work, determination and the opportunity that America offered, he had made the leap from farm laborer to a winemaker whose wine was served in the White House.


From that first meeting, Ulises went on to become our advisor and mentor. He helped us develop our vineyard, was our first vineyard manager and, I’m sure, his involvement in our little vineyard gave our customers the confidence to give us a shot. Along the way, he transferred some of his passion for quality and exacting farming standards to us through his example.

My “Ulises” story is this: One day, I was irrigating the vines and I noticed that an animal had chewed through the drip line along Laguna Road, creating a “geyser.” I saw it, grumbled and started walking back to the barn to get the supplies to fix it, turned around and walked back. I arrived in time to see Ulises’ truck pulling away. In the time it had taken me, he spotted the problem while driving by at 45 miles per hour, jumped out, fixed it and was off about his day.

I’m grateful to have known Ulises, and all of us here in the Russian River Valley will miss him. He was a true icon. Our hearts go out to his wife and kids.

Ulises with Celeste and Clay after our first harvest in 2013.

Ulises with Celeste and Clay after our first harvest in 2013.

The Boys of D.C.

Recently, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to take care of my teenage grandsons and their two friends while the parents got to play. I was so completely knocked out by how great these four teenagers were that I wrote a note to their parents. And sure, everyone thinks their grandkids are great. But keep reading and you'll find out why this was such a special weekend:

A Summer Party on Gantz Family Vineyards

On a perfect-blue-sky day in August, we celebrated a special family birthday on Gantz Family Vineyards. Friends and family who traveled from near and far made the party spectacular.  And it never would have been so carefree and fun without the incredible skills of the professionals we hired to help us with this event. They include...

Cook the Shrimp

A couple of weeks ago, I’d been invited to a luncheon of the Russian River Valley Girls, a group of women who are active participants in grape growing and winemaking. I was excited and nervous, hoping I would make a good impression and not make a fool out of myself. Unfortunately, that was not to be.