Wednesdays with Winemakers – Brooks Painter 5 min read
Brooks Painter has been called “the winemaker’s winemaker” because of his extensive expertise and prominence as a wine industry leader among his peers. He has been the Director of Winemaking at Castello di Amorosa since 2005 and is responsible for the winery’s portfolio of more than 60 different wines. He also oversees viticultural and grape growing operations, supervising nearly 300 acres of estate vineyards as well as contracts and relationships with outside growers. Castello di Amorosa’s steady stream of accolades substantiates his expertise with awards including “Winemaker of the Year 2015” from the American Fine Wine Competition, and “Winemaker of the Year 2013” at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Born in San Francisco, Brooks grew up in Northern California. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a double major in Chemistry and Biology. He went on to complete additional coursework and seminars in viticulture and winemaking.
Before coming to V. Sattui Winery, Brooks was a winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa, Leeward Winery in Ventura, CA, and Felton-Empire Vineyards in Felton, CA. Brooks has served as President and Board Member for the Napa Valley Wine Technical Group and has been a technical reviewer for enology research proposals submitted to the American Vineyard Foundations, a non-profit organization funded by the wine industry to provide grant money for research and development projects. His research on biochemistry and sensory evaluation of wine has been published in The American Journal of Viticulture and Enology, Biochemistry, Practical Winery & Vineyard and Wines & Vines. Brooks is a member of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture and a former chair of the Microbiology Committee for C.E.R.A. (California Enological Research Association).
Brooks and his wife Beth have lived in Napa for the past twenty years. Their two grown children, Miles and Emily, are now enjoying the wine tasting and winery visits that used to bore them to tears! Brooks and Beth are involved in charitable organizations in Napa Valley as well as being active in local community and public planning issues. As a family, they enjoy traveling, skiing/snowboarding, sailing, hiking and cooking.
Why did you become a winemaker?
I was a pre-med student majoring in biology and chemistry at UCSC. I was looking for part time work and heard that a small local winery had some bottling line work available. I didn’t know anything about wine at the time and I was even under age (I think I was 20) but I started working on the bottling line and became fascinated with the whole process. Then I was offered the opportunity to work in the cellar and the vineyard; I became intrigued. What appealed to me was the variety of work and the blend of disciplines, from science to art to marketing to agriculture.
If you weren’t a winemaker what would you be and why?
I had been pre-med; I probably would have stayed on that track and become a physician. Most doctors are inspired by the opportunity to help people with complex issues and health problems, and I was also.
What is your greatest strength as a winemaker?
Most winemakers have to rely on a lot of skills; as a blender of fine wine, that is the talent I have really focused on in developing my career-We look for complementary wines, with apparent flavors and structures so that when you put them together they are greater than the sum of the parts.
What is your biggest weakness as a winemaker?
It may also be a strength! I’m very meticulous and anal about my wines. I’m not satisfied until everything’s perfect.
What’s the one mistake you made in the cellar you would never repeat?
Hiring someone who was not willing to learn our systems and procedures.
What is your proudest achievement?
Being selected as Winemaker of the Year at The San Francisco International Wine Competition in 2013 (there were 4,539 wines, 1400 wineries, 30 countries, 29 states competing, to put it in perspective). I was also honored by being named Winemaker of the Year at The American Fine Wine Competition in 2015 (there were over 1,000 wines in contention).
What was your scariest vintage to date?
1989, the so-called “Vintage from Hell”: there were fall rains that just wouldn’t stop. In September over five inches of rain fell in two weeks.
What is your favorite word or saying?
“Have mercy,” in ZZ Top’s song La Grange. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vppbdf-qtGU ).
What is your most prized possession?
My Grandfather’s gold watch.
What’s the oddest thing about you?
I love to sail and scuba dive, but not at the same time.
What song best sums you up?
La Bohème (Quando me’n vo’) by Puccini. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1_BKpgUG4I)
What is your favorite memory?
Last summer: I was fly fishing thirty feet from an Alaskan brown bear in Alaska. The guide I was with had a huge revolver: he said, “keep fishing, ignore the bear!”
Which of the five senses is your strongest?
Sense of smell.
What is your biggest motivation?
To provide enjoyment and satisfaction through my wines.
Which bottle of wine would choose to be stranded with on a deserted island?
An old bottle of Madeira.
What is the difference between a good and great wine?
Name three individuals you would like to have dinner with.
Groucho Marx, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy.
Who is your winemaking hero?
What does the concept of “balance” mean to you?
Balance provides harmony of the individual components.
What is the one thing you want people to remember about your wines?
Where to buy it! (Assuming that they enjoyed it and want to get another bottle!)
Best comment made about your wine? Was it by a consumer, trade or press?
“Brooks Painter does it again,” a comment made by Catherine Bugue, a local wine writer and teacher at The Napa Valley Wine Academy, in reference to how my wines did during a year’s worth of St. Helena Star tastings.