United States editor W. Blake Gray remembers a giant of the Napa red wine market.
© Mike Martini|Martini’s passions were for white wine and conviviality instead of the minutiae of service accounting.
When I consider Mike Martini, I hear his hearty laughter.
Mike was a big, gregarious guy who enjoyed wine and liked life, and he was a joy to have a meal with. No Gucci for him: he wore Hawaiian shirts to wine events. He liked a great hamburger and a huge glass of Cabernet, and you might as well join him since he was going to buy the bottle anyway and spend for it.
Martini, 73, passed away last week of lung cancer. I’m pleased he was sick for just a short time: his cancer medical diagnosis came December 23, and he was gone within 3 weeks. A lot of his legions of pals will regret not having one last go to with him however, understanding Mike, I make certain he was pleased to not difficulty them.
Many people are formed in their childhood to be the opposite of their parents. That was partially real of Mike. Mike’s dad Louis P. Martini was famously all service; an excellent innovator in the winery, however quiet and simple. Something they shared was their lowliness. That was commonplace in Louis P.’s day, but Mike was in the peak of his career in the 1990s when Napa Valley became glitzy and winemakers ended up being rock stars, yet he never let it impact him (though he did become an actual rock star on an extremely regional level– see listed below.)
Mike was the last of three Martinis who formed modern Napa Valley. His grandpa established the eponymous Louis M. Martini winery in 1933. Surprisingly, although Restriction had simply ended, there would not be another new winery founded in Napa Valley until Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966. Louis P. ended up being the wine maker in 1954 and took over running the winery in 1974 when his father died. Mike went to UC Davis to learn winemaking and as soon as he finished in 1977, his daddy put him in charge of winemaking at just 27 years of ages.
Mike took over running the winery when his daddy passed away in 1998, but business wasn’t his love, and within 4 years he surprised Napa Valley by selling to E. & & J. Gallo Winery. It’s hard to explain today how unanticipated– and unwelcome by lots of– that this was. Gallo dominated the cheap-wine market, and had operations in Sonoma County, however absolutely nothing in Napa Valley. The business’s reputation was for ruthless performance, ruthless competitiveness and clannish operations; it worked with PR individuals and paid them well to address every press inquiry with “Sorry, no remark.” Napa was completely Rodeo Drive-fashionable already and there was some concern that the Central Valley-based Gallos would be available in and bring the whole thing downmarket.
Mike, though, informed everybody that he felt comfortable with the Gallos due to the fact that they were a multigenerational household organization like his. He remained on nominally as winemaker and worked as the Gallos’ entry into Napa society. Everyone liked and trusted Mike; when he stated the Gallos were good employers, who invested in much needed equipment upgrades and treated longstanding staff members well, individuals believed him. Gallo’s ascension into the high end of Napa wines was probably inevitable, but Mike Martini smoothed the way.
Mike had impact due to the fact that he was a genuine pillar of the Napa Valley neighborhood. Beginning in 1995, Martini held a fireworks reveal every year on July 4th that ended up being a major attraction. There was a matching celebration at the winery that became so popular that you required a booking and after that tickets eventually ended up being costly. However anybody could– and did– watch the fireworks from anywhere close-by, totally free. The fireworks lasted until 2013, and now the idea is a non-starter since of the increased fire risk in the location.
When people speak about Napa in the excellent ole days, they generally speak about economical white wines and no tasting charges, and both of these are things Martini winery used, since that was how both Mike and his father thought: red wine for the people. However let’s not forget the totally free fireworks that brought the neighborhood together.
In his spare time, Mike was the lead guitar player for Private Reserve, a rock band comprised of a rotating cast of winemakers. They sounded a lot much better when you got some Cabernet in you, and they would normally attempt to ensure that happened.
However Mike did some serious management also. He spent a stint as president of Napa Valley Vintners, which is most likely the most reliable wine consortium worldwide; his grandfather was among the 7 founding vintners. He served on the board of the Red wine Institute and the American Society for Viticulture and Enology.
In 2010, the Vintners Hall of Fame held a tasting of wines made by conscripts. Louis P. was an inductee, and Mike brought a bottle of 1956 Pinot Noir his daddy made: the very first time he had made Pinot Noir. Louis P. developed the Martini clone of Pinot Noir that is still planted all over the state. Mike stated that he had actually kept three bottles of the inaugural vintage and he consumed one on the night his dad passed away, since he had the blues. He brought the 2nd to show colleagues at this tasting. I do not understand what ended up being of the 3rd, however I hope Mike consumed it.
I have a bottle of 2001 Louis M. Martini Cabernet that Mike provided me that day, that he signed. It is a treasure and it is irreplaceable however I understand the right thing to do with it is beverage it, preferably while listening to some joyful guitar-based rock and roll. And laughing. I know Mike will be laughing with me.
To sign up with the discussion, discuss our social media channels.