Napa Valley AVA
The Oakville Contrada — Napa Valley wines inspired by culinary traditions and celebrations of Italy!
“The Contrada name and label was inspired by a trip I took to my Italian homeland,” reveals winery owner, Michael Pozzan. “My wife and I are always so impressed with the local wines that are rustic, yet flavorful and uncomplicated,” he continued. “These are wines you don’t have to over-analyze, just sit down and enjoy them with your favorite food.”
Contradas are actually districts or neighborhoods within the city of Siena, Italy. The city is divided into 17 Contradas, each having their own government as well as social and cultural activities focusing on local games and festivals. The Palio, patron saint's days and other festivities are celebrated with banquets and parades, traditional costumes and decorative lanterns and Contrada colors.
Festivities for the Palio are elaborate, from the rehearsal dinner the night before the race to the victory banquet; the Palio is a celebration of what it means to be a "Contradaiolo" (Contrada member). Nothing means more to a "Contradaiolo" than to win the Palio. The Palio horse race is run twice a year, on July 2nd and August 16th, but there is much preparation leading up to the big day. This unique event combines the best of Tuscan wines and food.
Thus, Contrada becomes the latest addition to the expanding portfolio of wines produced by Michael Pozzan. The first Michael Poznan Wines actually reached the general public in mid-1995, when owner Michael Pozzan, 48, and his wife Mary Ann, 45, released their first wines. Michael Pozzan Winery initially produced a thousand cases each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, made mostly from grapes sourced in both Napa and Sonoma counties in Northern California.
The winery had actually had its beginnings almost three years earlier when Pozzan began his business as a negociant under the Deer Springs label. The business progressed slowly until it reached around 3,000 cases and Pozzan decided on a slightly different direction for his fledgling enterprise.
Pozzan related that when he first began, he sold his first wines by hand out of his car to restaurants and small wine stores that he had known from his days as a winery representative for a Santa Clara winery. That particular form of selling was very laborious and Pozzan feels he was extremely lucky to have even survived.
“Some very nice people in the restaurant world took to our wines and a few wine stores gave me the chance to stay in business,” he explained. “At that time I did business mostly in the East Bay, in smaller places that I knew well. At that point, there were no reviews, and practically no one who really knew about my wines.”
After three years, a decision was made to produce the wines under the Michael Pozzan label and a strategic alliance was made with the successful Girard Winery of Napa Valley. Girard would house and also produce the new Michael Pozzan brand. The elevated volume of cases also allowed the winery to send its wines for review, a fact that netted Michael Pozzan wines a great deal of critical acclaim. Bolstered by this added momentum, the small winery was able to secure a strategic foothold among Napa Valley’s many prestigious wineries.
Michael Pozzan Winery is proud of the fact that it buys grapes from a number of sources. In the exact words of Michael Pozzan, “I am prepared to buy my grapes from anyone who continually grows excellent, ripened fruit.”
Several years passed and the winery continued to grow and prosper. Pozzan’s operations were next moved to Rutherford’s St. Supéry Winery and finally to one of Napa’s premier winemaking facilities, a place that could easily handle the winery’s continued growth. Michael Pozzan Winery’s new home was within Oakville’s Napa Wine Company, which now serves as the production facility for Michael Pozzan Winery. The fresh association delights Pozzan who also credits his winemaker, John McKay, a multi-year Napa veteran of such wineries as Vichon and others, with the sustained improvement of quality within his winery.
Current production levels for all wines have reached upwards of 50,000 cases, but Pozzan sees another 10 - 15% growth ahead as still plausible. “As long as I can source from growers who grow really good grapes and we can continue to produce top level wines, I can see some additional growth,” he related. “But we are getting close to our limits.”
All this has been accomplished with but three full time employees. The Pozzans’ sons, Danny, 21, and Matthew, 19, work part time and summers and have both indicated an interest in working for the winery on a permanent basis. Danny is already enrolled in Cal Poly’s Business/Agriculture program while Matthew is attending St. Mary’s college in Moraga.
Michael Pozzan Winery has exceeded its founder’s wildest expectations and could easily serve as the perfect role model for both the small business entrepreneur and the most dedicated wine enthusiast. The business shows what a few dedicated individuals with limited resources can do with a directed business plan and a keen sense of practicality.
Michael Pozzan - Owner & Winemaker
‘My grandfather was basically a bootlegger,” quips Michael Pozzan. ‘In the 1950’s and ‘60’s he made wine for his friends and went around town delivering his latest batch.” Michael’s grandfather emigrated from Italy in 1910. Entering through Ellis Island, he was part of the huge wave that came to America searching for a better way of life. He ventured into Wisconsin shortly after arriving, where he tried his hand at coal mining. Soon he traveled to California to meet up with other family members who had settled in the San Francisco area. Not being fond of the big city, he moved to Sonoma county where he was able to buy a 35 acre parcel. The property was already planted partially to Zinfandel vines, so he decided to plant even more vines and become a grape farmer.
‘As a kid I used to spend my summers up there on the vineyard,” Michael remembers. ‘And it was there that I eventually learned the art of making and caring for wine,” he adds. But it took a rather circuitous path to eventually land Michael back to grapes and winemaking.
Michael grew up in Berkeley, California. His Dad’s background was as a merchant marine and then as an engineer on a commercial ship. His Mom ran a small grocery where Michael worked as a teenager and into his early 20’s. There was little exposure to wine as he grew up, except for the occasional hearty Burgundy that appeared at the table every now and then.
He attended nearby St. Mary’s College graduating with a degree in Business. At the age of 23 he landed a job with United Grocers where he worked as a sales representative until one of the stores he was selling to hired him away. At his new job he met his wife to be, Mary Ann, who happened also to be the boss’ daughter! The two married and decided to buy her father’s deli and catering business which operated within the grocery store.
For the next two years they built up the business until the wine bug got Michael. As a consequence of running the catering business, he became intrigued with learning about wine. First French Burgundy and Bordeaux, then Italian wines, and finally California wines. Soon he was reading, learning and tasting his way out of the deli business and into the wine business.
In 1990, they sold the deli and Michael went to work as a winery rep for a small winery in Morgan Hill. He was finally in the wine business. However, the wine bug bit Michael a bit harder than it does most people, and he quickly realized in order to really make a go at it, he had to do it on his own. After a year as a winery sales rep, Michael started his own business by making 500 cases of wine. From that small beginning he has parlayed Michael Pozzan Winery into a 25,000 case operation today, with sights set at 50,000 cases by the year 2000.
John McKay — Winemaker
John McKay came to the Napa Valley in 1968 after having graduated from the University of Oregon in the biological sciences. While working as a chemical research assistant at Sonoma State Hospital he met the renowned winemaker Brad Webb of Hanzell Vineyards. Brad’s enthusiasm for the industry sparked an interest that resulted in John’s joining the production staff of Charles Krug Winery in 1972. There, under the tutelage of Peter Mondavi he spent eight years learning the craft of fine winemaking, eventually becoming the production manager and winemaker. Use black and white and colorize is necessary John McKay, a resident and winemaker in Napa for over 30 years, keeps perfecting his craft.
In 1980 John left Krug to become the winemaker for the newly organized Vichon Winery. Over the next five years the staff of Vichon implemented many new winemaking techniques that were heretofore unknown in California. They pioneered the now common practice of sur lie aging of barrel fermented white wines. They were the first to use Semillon as a blending component with Sauvignon Blanc to make wines of more complexity and distinction. In red wine production, they instituted the use of extended maceration during fermentation for more suppleness and depth of character, notably in Cabernet Sauvignon.
In 1985 upon the sale of Vichon Winery to Robert Mondavi Enterprises, John and George Vierra, the ex-managing general partner of Vichon started Merlion Winery. There, along with the duties of winemaker for Merlion, John also began consulting for the other wineries to help them achieve their goals. Among those clients were Swanson Vineyards and Pahlmeyer Winery.
Beginning with the 1993 harvest John joined the staff of Monticello Cellars as winemaker. As a producer of Estate Bottled wines, Monticello provided the opportunity to achieve a long sought after goal of being able to control the winemaking process from the field to the consumer. Monticello also provided winemaking services for several crush clients.
The year 1998 marked another change as John moved to the Napa Wine Company, a large facility that focused on entirely on custom crushing. As the winemaker for the facility it provided the opportunity to work with some of California’s most influential consulting winemakers. Helen Turley, Heidi Peterson Barrett, Paul Hobbs, and Merry Edwards are among those that were in daily contact. In 2001 he was made Director of Winemaking to focus more on special project and strategic planning. Along with those duties he also took charge of the winemaking responsibility for the Marilyn Merlot, Volker Eisele Estates, and Michael Pozzan labels, plus all clients of the Napa Wine Company.