George Unti of Unti Vineyards *looks* like a farmer. He's got a purposeful gait, weathered features and the firm handshake of someone who digs in the dirt. In the winery, he comes across quiet, like someone who prefers the silence of the vineyard, at least at first. Once you get him going, you quickly realize that this unassuming man, who spent 39 years managing Safeway supermarkets, is also whip smart and incredibly personable. His son, Mick, who handles all of the marketing and a large chunk of the winemaking (with Sebastien Pochan) will be pouring the winery's lineup, including a tank-sample of the winery's highly-anticipated 2010 rosé, at K&L San Francisco this Thursday night from 5-6:30 p.m. ($5), follows in his father's footsteps: always quick to smile, and wonderfully enthusiastic when he talks about his vines and his wines.
We recently caught up with Mick to ask him a few questions in anticipation for this week's tasting. This is what he had to say:
K&L: How did you get into the wine business?
Mick Unti: Went wine tasting in Hecker Pass region, near Gilroy, one day when it was too cloudy to go to Santa Cruz. Watched Thomas Kruse get off his tractor to pour us some wines and was infatuated with small wineries. Then worked in wine departments in Safeway while I was attending University of Washington. I last worked for Jess Jackson doing National Sales for Artisan and Estates in 1996 before starting Unti Vineyards with my dad, George.
K&L: What’s your winemaking philosophy?
MU: Grow varietals that are well-suited to your climate. Use farming methods that encourage healthy vines naturally (organic, biodynamic, etc.). Maintain moderate to low-yields. Have a very good understanding of the world’s best versions of these wines (that means blowing a bunch of money at K & L on European wines). Study the various methods used by artisan wineries, and if financially possible, apply some of those methods when making your wine. Learn from your own experience to make the wines that are true to your sites. Stay true to your own ideals regarding wine.
What are some of your favorite restaurants?
Delfina in SF, Farmhouse in Forestville, Boulevard in SF
What did you drink last night? (Or the last time you had a glass of wine that wasn’t your own?)
Cascina Ca Rossa 2007 Barbera d’Alba Mulassa, Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg 2009 Kabinett.
What’s your position on wine-pairing and what do you like to pair your wines with?
I’m not that formal. Our wines are made from grapes that are native to the Mediterranean. As such they are moderate-to-low in tannin, fruity and have nice acidity. As such, they are versatile. You can serve our wine with simply seasoned grilled meats or spicy ethnic dishes. Amazing how easy this process is when you drink balanced wines.
What advice do you have to offer people just getting into wine?
As Al Davis might say, “Just drink a wide variety, baby.”
If you could have dinner with any three people in history, who would you invite and what would you serve them?
Do they have to be dead? If so, John Lennon, Bill King (sportscaster) and Esther Peaker (my grandmother) or Dick Unti (my uncle). Awesome micro-brew Champagne (Pierre Gimonnet) with oysters, Comte de Vogue Musigny with grilled Hawaiian fish. I’m sure we’d break out a few other great wines. Siro Pacenti Brunello, JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenurhr, you get the idea.
Don't live in San Francisco? Can't make the tasting? Set up your own Unti tasting at home with these three in-stock beauties:
2007 Unti Vineyards Dry Creek Grenache ($26.99) This has intense raspberry, blackberry, tar, pepper, licorice, and dried herbs aromas that are evocative of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Full of fruit on the palate, with an earthy, licorice-tinged undercurrent, this captures the Dry Creek landscape and still maintains the balance we've grown to expect from Unti. An ager.
2007 Unti Vineyards Dry Creek Zinfandel ($24.99) It's no coincidence that the Dry Creek Valley has become synonymous with Zinfandel, and of the region's and varietal's best characteristics are packed into this bottle. Briar fruit and black pepper aromas and flavors are accented by subtle floral tones. There's plenty of structure, and the wine is completely dry, with the signature ripeness of the vintage and the balancing acidity that marks all of Unti's wines.
2008 Unti Vineyards "Petite Frere" Dry Creek Rhône Blend ($16.99) Unti's version of a Côte du Rhône, this is Grenache-dominated blend with small amounts of Syrah and Mourvedre. Full of ripe Dry Creek fruit with firmer tannins than previous vintages, this is like some of the CdR's from France in 2007, blessed with juicy red fruit, but needing a little time to integrate.