Central Coast AVA
A remarkable new winery on California's Central Coast
The odyssey that would become the basis for Martellotto (pronounced Mar-tel-la-toe) Cellars first began when owner Greg Martellotto was still a student at Jesuit High School in Dallas. The young man was drawn to cooking and food and even produced dinner parties while still a student. Martellotto had always planned to become a medical doctor and his further education took him to California. At Palo Alto’s renowned Stanford University, he received a biology degree and managed a restaurant. The combination of food and wine was simply too much for him and the graduate took a three year world excursion before finally returning to California.
During his hiatus, he managed to taste many of the world’s great wines and sample a number of the planet’s leading cuisines. He was now 27, and the ten year prospect of medical school seemed implausible. He turned instead to the wine industry and concentrated his efforts in founding a wine entity that covered his varying expertise. One of the resultant companies is Martellotto Cellars, our Pinot Noir Wine Club Series selected feature of the month.
Martellotto Cellars first saw the light of day in 2005 with a limited release of only 2,000 cases. It has since grown to around 6,000 cases with the prospect of becoming a good deal larger in the future. “I am proudest of having survived the recession,” remarked Greg Martellotto during a recent interview. “The business has been quite difficult of late, and many, many small wineries have had to fold up and quit the business. I was quite fortunate to have other wine interests to stabilize Martellotto Cellars. My export business and some of my imports (Bordeaux and Burgundy) helped me during the really difficult times. I still must work incredibly hard but I feel the really tough times are probably behind me.
”Martellotto Cellars and its incredibly unique label are a story unto itself. The label was designed by none other than Professor John Langdon of Drexel University in Pennsylvania. For you Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, The Lost Symbol and others) readers, the name Professor Robert Langdon should be familiar as the protagonist of these novels. It seems Brown was a student of Langdon’s at Drexel and used some of Langdon’s designs and theories in his works.
Martellotto also explained that his back label is basically an ambigram (a symbolic representation when viewed from a different direction, perspective or orientation). “It is intended to mirror the art of science and wine,” added Martellotto. “It was thoughtfully designed and was intended to be easily distinguished. In other words, we wanted something completely unique, a real jump off visual.”
In addition to owner, Greg is also the main winemaker for his operation and credits his degrees in biology and chemistry for helping him produce such excellent results in his wines. He is present whenever his grapes are harvested and during any bottling process. "Those times are absolutely critical and I wouldn't want to miss any of them for any reason. It is too important to our end product to miss being there in person."
Greg has also maintained the ties with his old Jesuit education. Profits from the sales of some of Martellotto's wines go directly to a charity project called Learn Belize that benefits an elementary school in Belize's third largest city of Dangriga. It is a rewarding experience and Greg is proud to be a part of it. Another important aspect of Martellotto Cellars' upcoming advantage will be the opening of a new winery that has just been leased in Buellton, along US HWY 101 as the coastal highway turns northward.
“This acquisition will help us tremendously,” Greg Martellotto theorized. “We will be able to produce our wines under our own roof and that in itself will be a big benefit. We will also have a tasting facility for the first time that will give our customers more accessibility. It is a win-win scenario for everyone involved.”
The outlook seems extremely bright for Greg Martellotto and his portfolio of fine wines. He brings a unique approach and great vitality to a traditional and time honored business and it is a pleasure to introduce his winery to our Pinot Noir Series Wine Club members.
About the Vineyard
First planted in 1971, Santa Barbara County's Sierra Madre Vineyard has long been recognized as one of the state's finest cool-climate vineyards. The 173-acre site is located in northern Santa Barbara County, near the western edge of the Santa Maria Valley. Here, at just 15 miles from the coast, it benefits greatly from its unique marine influence.
The Santa Maria Valley is actually one of the coldest growing regions, due to its rare west-east running valley (most of the valleys and mountain ranges in the state run north to south). This phenomenon allows for ample flow of fog and cool breezes to be funneled in straight off the ocean, keeping the vines consistently cool. The climate here is perfect for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir because it gives the grapes a long growing season and allows time for complexity to develop. Sierra Madre Vineyard is thus mostly planted to these varietals and the wines made from these grapes are consistently awarded and noted for their distinctive characteristics.
Greg Martellotto & Mike Ross - Winemakers
As in many one-man winery operations, Greg Martellotto serves as his company’s winemaker. He also uses consulting winemaker Mike Ross whose resume is legendary along the Central Coast. Ross worked for both Mike Grgich (Grgich Hills Estate) and Nils Venge (Saddleback Cellars) in Napa Valley before heading south to Santa Barbara County more than 10 years ago.
His Central Coast experience includes the likes of Demetria Estate Winery (considered among the best wineries in the county), Koehler Winery and a number other quality wineries including Martian Ranch and Vineyard. Ross’s wines have always achieved superior scores and numerous accolades for his efforts. He has recently planted his first vineyards and intends to produce his own label that will be called Lo-Fi when the vines reach production.
Greg Martellotto - A True Renaissance Man
Even at the tender young age of 40, Greg Martellotto fancies himself a something of a true renaissance man. He has managed to travel extensively during his formative years and he has put what he has observed to excellent use in his current business.
“My wine business has many different aspects,” he observed. “I deal in highest quality wines from Europe and California and also with some basic wines that I produce for international customers. It’s all part of this wine business concept that I have developed throughout the years.”
The Dallas native is not at all surprised that his efforts have been successful. “Success in the wine business is relative. Where I live in San Francisco, you can find a number of 30-year-old billionaires. For my part, the wine business has been one long struggle just to survive, and for that I am most thankful. It has taught me a number of life lessons and I won’t forget them.”
He also calls his decision to locate in Santa Barbara County one of the smartest decisions he has ever made. “I had all these wonderful connections in Santa Barbara so I hoped they would be put to good use in making better wines. That’s the secret, making your wines better as you go along.”
Martellotto has always been drawn to the wine and food culture and admits it has had a hand in sculpturing his life. “I’ve always been concerned about exactly what goes into food and wine. I’ve been on the edge of biodynamic farming for some time and I intend to continue in that direction. I want to one day be able to plant a small vineyard of my own to allow me to produce some estate wines. I will then feel I have come the full circle with my dreams.”
Greg Martellotto is also still single, and considers that something of an advantage in the highly competitive wine industry. “Being single gives me more flexibility with my time and allows me to travel whenever I need to. Take this week. I must go to a number of cities and call on numerous shops and restaurants. I will be gone for more than two and one-half weeks. If I was married and had kids, that would be very difficult to do. Being single gives me an advantage over some of my competitors.”
Greg is also the main winemaker for his operation and credits his degrees in biology and chemistry for helping him produce such excellent results in his wines. He is present whenever his grapes are harvested and during any bottling process. “Those times are absolutely critical and I wouldn’t want to miss any of them for any reason. It is too important to our end product to be there in person."
Greg has also maintained the ties with his old Jesuit education. He has become close with Fr. Jeff Dillon, S.J., his old principal at Jesuit High School in Dallas. Dillon is now active in the San Francisco area and has founded a charity Project Learn Belize (LearnBelize.org), that operates a school (Sacred Heart Elementary School) in Belize’s third largest city of Dangriga. Profits from the sales of some of Martellotto’s wines go directly to the charity, which enablers the school to buy supplies, books and technology. “It’s a great project,” informed Martellotto. “It has practically no overhead so the money goes directly to the school and the children. It has been quite rewarding to have been involved to this point.”
The future seems extremely bright for Greg Martellotto and his portfolio of fine wines. He is enthusiastic about his new winery sire in Buellton and the ability to finally have a tasting facility to be able to showcase his wine portfolio. He has survived the perilous time that accompanied the recession of a few years ago and is planning on his own vineyards for the foreseeable future.
There should be more individuals like Greg Martellotto in the wine business. He brings a unique approach and great vitality to a traditional and time honored business. You will hear more of him in the future.