Dante wines by Michael Pozzan Winery
Napa Valley AVA
Michael Pozzan wines have earned solid marks from day one.
About a year and a half ago we showcased two selections from Michael Pozzan Winery that turned out to be one of 1998’s most popular wines. Recently, Michael approached us with an opportunity to highlight two specialty wines from his other winery; a small-production label called Dante. One sip was all it took. We bought out his entire inventory to bring you an exclusive taste of two classic varietals from one of California’s best, hidden wineries.
“I basically turned a hobby into a profession,” says Michael Pozzan when asked how he started his winery. All of you winery-owner-wannabees, pay attention, because this is one way to do it. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of owning a winery? Or at least wanted to make wine? If you’re a true wine enthusiast—admit it—you’ve thought about it a lot. Michael Pozzan thought about it too, then went out and did it.
“I toyed with the idea for a long time,” says Michael. “The more I learned about wines, the more intrigued I became—until the proverbial wine-bug bit me.” Michael and his wife, Mary Ann owned a deli and catering company in the San Francisco Bay area at the time. In 1990, they sold the business and Michael went to work as a sales rep for a local winery. “I soon realized though that if I was going to be happy in the wine business, I needed to do something on my own,” Michael recalls.
By that time, wine was more than a hobby to Michael—he was immersed in the business. Working as a winery rep allowed Michael to establish the necessary connections within the wine industry. He used those connections to buy juice to begin crafting his own wines. He became what the wine industry calls a negociant. In 1991 he produced 500 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, under the Deer Springs label. Five hundred cases may not seem like a lot of wine, but when the only way to sell it is to literally knock on doors, it’s a huge amount.
Somewhat to his surprise the wine was a big success, and the wine shops and restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area had no trouble swallowing the entire batch. “Fortunately the quality was good and the price was right,” recounts Michael. After this successful debut, Michael knew he had something he could build upon.
Michael tripled the Deer Springs output the following year to 1,500 cases. Then by chance, a wine writer for the local newspaper bought the wines in a local store and wrote a favorable review in his column. The wine gods must have been smiling because Michael promptly got a call from a big chain store that bought virtually all the wine he had available.
As the business rapidly grew, he launched another label which he called, Lithos. Armed now with two wine brands, Michael began to market his wines to distributors outside of California for the first time. With a big boost in sales and confidence, Michael catapulted to 7,000 cases in 1994. He outgrew the tiny space he was leasing from Gerard Winery and landed at St. Supery Winery. At St. Supery they not only provided him more room but also catered to his operation by providing additional winemaking and bottling expertise.
By now, Michael knew his way around the block and was poised and ready for the next step. “My wife was the one who suggested I make a higher end wine and put my name on it,” recalls Michael. Production was up to 12,000 cases and it was getting tougher to buy ready-finished wine, so it made sense at that point to buy his own grapes and make his own wine. So why not make the best wine he could and put his own name on it?
In 1995, Michael enlisted the help of Bob Broman who was the winemaker at St. Supery, and the two sourced top quality grapes for their first vintage of ultra-premium wines. They secured enough grapes to craft 1,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay—and the Michael Pozzan line of wines was born.
Michael Pozzan wines have earned solid marks from day one. Proof of that is the multiple Gold and Silver medals won each year at the wine industry fairs and high ratings by the national reviewers. Michael has added Sangiovese and Merlot to the line recently but intends for production to remain relatively low. “We’re probably going to stay around 15,000 cases with the Michael Pozzan wines,” he predicts. The other brands will continue to grow though until we reach about 50,000 cases overall.”
Bob Broman jumped the St. Supery ship and is now Michael Pozzan’s winemaker for all brands, including a recent addition called Dante, named after Michael’s and Mary Ann’s son. When you own your own winery you can do that!
‘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.