Wednesdays with Winemakers – Regina Martinelli 7 min read

Why did you become a vintner and continue the family legacy?

I became a vintner due to my love of my family, the pride I have for my great grandfather’s legacy and simply because there is no better way to enjoy a bottle of wine than knowing what it took to make it. It’s a privileged obligation to be able to farm the same lands that 5 generations of Martinelli’s have farmed. Growing up on this land and working this land as a child have instilled a love of this land in me, so to continue the legacy is not a question, it’s really an honor. It’s a value that I cannot separate myself from, nor would I choose to try.


If you weren’t a vintner what would you be and why?

I would be a Broadway dancer. I’ve always loved to dance, I have taken a few classes in different styles of dance and it’s always been in my heart. It’s something that centers me and allows for my inner joy to come out when I need a mood change. I dance often by myself at home, alone…and never miss the opportunity when at a wine event where there is dancing. It’s a freedom that is playful, fun and in the moment. I love it.


What is your greatest strength?

I love people. I find them fascinating. I like knowing who they are, what they value and what makes them laugh. This is great because with my job I meet many different people, from so many different areas and backgrounds. It makes what I do easy because I enjoy all the people I meet. Some are easier than others to engage with, but I still like them all. You’d be amazed at what people want to share with someone they barely know, yet find a commonality with. It also gives me a chance to share who I am, authentically, beyond my family’s legacy. I really enjoy connecting with people.


What is your biggest weakness?

I love to take naps and I don’t eat red meat. This makes some aspects of my job hard because wine dinners and events always have lots of meat. And my being the face of the brand, I spend a lot of time socializing so I need a nap to recover…sometimes I don’t get to nap until I’m on the plane. I’m better after a nap…and a liquid salad.


What is your proudest achievement?

Helping to bring my family’s business into the modern age, i.e. bringing technology to our bi-annual releases, remodeling the tasting room, direct deposit, strategic vision, etc. As the youngest of the next generation, sometimes it’s hard to be seen as the age I am with the experience I have. So having my family trust me to make significant changes to our business is something I am proud of doing.


What is your favorite saying?

Change is always good, even when it’s challenging/painful.


What is your most prized possession?

The hope chest my great grandfather, James Hagadorn, made his only daughter, Martha, when she married George Charles. It spent many years of its life in our family’s horse barn on the coast until it was given to me. I refinished it; now it lives with me.


What’s the oddest thing about you?

I hum while I hand write notes or text. It’s how I think about what I’m saying…so instead of speaking out loud to myself, I hum my thoughts. Yes, sometimes without even realizing it until someone asks me why I’m humming. I’ve caught myself doing this in an airplane, at my desk and in line at the bank. It’s embarrassing and funny because people think I’m odd. I’m an extrovert, so it’s hard to be quiet.


What song best sums you up?

“Happy” by Pharrell Williams


What is your favorite memory?

Riding bareback  with my cousin Channa as a child on our coast ranch, while we made up songs to sing. She and I always found something to sing that made us laugh until we fell off our horses. There’s something about being on a horse as a child, finding adventures in the creeks and hillsides while singing silly songs, that makes my smile, still.


Which of the five senses is your strongest?

Sight. It’s how I remember how to spell or pronounce something, I have to see it.


What is your biggest motivation?

To be happy, by being true to who I am, what’s in my heart,and to always laugh.


Which bottle of wine would you choose to be stranded with on a deserted island?

Blue Slide Ridge Pinot Noir. When I open a bottle of this, I take the phone off the hook and lock the door. I don’t invite people over. So bringing it to a deserted island is ideal.


What is the difference between a good and a great wine?

The flavors it evokes in my mouth, emotions it stirs in my body and the joy it leaves behind.


Name three individuals you would like to have dinner with?

Giuseppe Martinelli (great grandfather on my dad’s side), James McKenna (great, great grandfather on mother’s side. He was a whaling captain with a great sense of humor for pranks.), and George Washington…I have a few questions for him.


Who is your viticultural or winemaking hero?

Most recently, Helen Turley. I say this because in April I had a 1994 Gauer vineyard chardonnay from Marcassin and it was gorgeous. It was bright, lively, flavorful without the caramelization that happens, and fresh – it had a gardenia nose that reminded me of our Three Sisters Chardonnay. I had not had a chardonnay this old with this much life from California. I was very impressed becasue I had no idea if it would stand up after 21 years.There are so many great winemakers, this is just the most recent moment I’ve had with an impressively old wine that tasted like a 2007 vintage.


What does the concept of “balance” mean to you?

It integrates flavor, acidity, ripeness, alcohol, site and tannins equally. Not one component is outshining the other. You can have balance in wine with a wide spectrum; it’s not based on numbers or confined parameters. There are over ripe wines, as well as under ripe wines, neither are enjoyable to drink to me. I believe the majority of good winemakers today are trying to make balanced wines and are doing a good job at it. This is a time when we have more great wines in the market than ever before, and they are only getting better. The fact that we can have this discussion says to me that there are so many different styles of wine being made thatpeople are trying to categorize them. I feel the majority of good wines are balanced, so there may be a better way to differentiate them than the easy, go-to alcohol percentage. Why judge a wine by its label, taste it for yourself.


What is the one thing you want people to remember about your wines?

Our wines are quality wines made by a family who’s been committed to farming the best they can for over 130 years. We love being farmers and cherish the land we farm, and we hope that shows through in our wines.


Favorite comment made about your wines? Was it by a family member, friend, consumer, trade or press?

There are a few:

Josh Raynolds said to me in August, “Your wines are the most misunderstood wines in California because people think you are this big, over the top, fruit bomb based on your time with Helen Turley…yet you are not. You have balanced, beautiful wines true to their place.” (I’m paraphrasing.) This speaks to the past perception we are trying to overcome because it’s an easy place to put us. Then when people taste our wines, they see how wrong that perception is.


Antonio Galloni said to my family a few years ago, “Tom Dehlinger said ‘I thought I had the cleanest vineyards, until I saw the Martinelli’s. They have the most meticulous vineyards I’ve ever seen.” This really speaks to our commitment to farming & taking care of our land.


Consumer in NYC: “What’s the alcohol in your wines?” Me: “Why do you ask?” Consumer: “Because I have found if it’s not over 15% there is not enough fruit for me to enjoy it.” Me: “I’ve got the wine for you.”

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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