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Pugilist Winery

Santa Barbara County region

One of newest and most exciting labels from the valley

Two men who crossed paths more than a dozen years ago have come together in a new winery project that is having its inaugural release through the Gold Medal Wine Club. The two principals are Greg Martellotto and Mike Roth. When they first met, Mike was the winemaker at Kohler Winery and Greg was associated with Kohler Winery’s California distributor.

The friendship grew over a period of years and each man achieved wine industry success on their own. Greg became the owner of Martellotto Winery and Mike worked as winemaker at a number of high quality California wineries.

“We continued to stay in touch over the years,” remarked Greg during recent interview. “It developed that we had a lot of similar ideas about wine type things, and Mike wound up making some wine for me along the way. The quality was really first rate and our friendship continued to grow. Everything finally reached fruition when we decided to start Pugilist Wines.”

The new venture will compete in the wine industry under the Pugilist label, in deference to a long-standing admiration of the boxing world by co-owner Mike Roth. “I’ve always been a really keen boxing fan and this is my chance to show my admiration for the sport,” related Roth. “And, we have been able to secure the talents of a top notch artist from New York, Hope Kroll, to do our label. I think her work will add a significant element to our wines. The original artwork she developed is absolutely amazing”

The initial release of Pugilist Wines will be followed by the company’s offering of the wines in a number of different states. “We intend to concentrate on mostly metropolitan areas in the beginning,” added Martellotto. “These include New York, Chicago, Washington D.C. and California to be sure.” The co-owner also stated that Pugilist Wines could easily grow to between 5 and 10,000 cases in the not-too distant future.

“We will see how our product is initially received and take it from there. We have some excellent fruit available and that is a real plus as far as filling future needs,” he informed. The wines will be made at a new winery facility in Buelton, the small Central Coast town that rose to fame in the movie Sideways. “We are not far from the Hitching Post Restaurant that was also prominently featured in the well-received film,” said Martellotto.

New ventures such as Pugilist Wines are incredibly important to the wine industry in that they offer the drinking public unique opportunities to sample innovative wines that reflect the ongoing tastes of a wide variety of consumers.

Gold Medal Wine Club is happy to welcome Pugilist Wines to our extensive portfolio of high caliber wineries.


Greg Martellotto & Mike Roth - Winemakers

Picture of Greg Martellotto & Mike Roth - Winemakers

As in numerous startup winery operations, the owners also serve as winemakers. In this case, both Greg Martellotto and Mike Roth are winemakers in their own right, but Roth takes the ultimate responsibility for the new releases of Pugilist Wines.

His resume is lengthy and includes a number of top wineries (see Spotlight for list) that has provided Roth with a plethora of winemaking experience. To have Napa Valley, Sonoma County and lately, Santa Ynez Valley, expertise is paramount in assuring the success of Pugilist Wines.

Mike Roth is also a winemaking realist. “I prefer really minimalist contact with the grapes and wine,” he declared. “I firmly believe that the winemaker should let the fruit speak for itself. I also realize that wine is made in the winery and not in the vineyards.”

Such a viewpoint is refreshing in the highly competitive winery business where small subtleties often dictate the characteristics of a wine. Mike Roth believes his fruit is exceptional and that he only enhances what nature has generously provided for him.

Roth is most certainly a happy winemaker, doing a job he truly cherishes and enjoys. This feeling is exemplified in the initial release of Pugilist Wines, and its celebrated winemaker.

Santa Barbara County

Picture of Santa Barbara County

The rapid ascent of fruit quality from California’s Santa Barbara County has been well documented for the past decade, with numerous wineries enjoying the benefits of the lower Central Coast’s varied growing areas. For Pugilist Wines, two specific sub-areas produce the grapes for their initial releases. These are Happy Canyon AVA and Santa Ynez Valley AVA.

Happy Canyon (the name was given back during Prohibition because of the illegal spirits and wines were stored there) AVA is nearly 24,000 acres located in the eastern part of Santa Ynez Valley. Its AVA status is recent, dating back to November, 2009. Happy Canyon possesses a warm climate and distinctive climactic and soil composition from other Santa Barbara wine regions. Most Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.) flourish here due to the longer hang time and extended growing season and have rivalled similar varietals grown in France.

The larger Santa Ynez valley AVA is home to the greatest concentration of wineries in Santa Barbara County. It contains more than 43,000 acres of planted vineyards and has been an AVA since 1983. The cooler western part of the valley is home to chardonnay and other Burgundian varietals that benefit from the cooling maritime influences. More than thirty different varietals can be found in Santa Ynez Valley AVA, making it one of the most broadly planted growing regions in California.

Mike Roth - Co-owner

Picture of Mike Roth - Co-owner

Anyone who has met Pugilist Wines’ co-owner Mike Roth will agree he is a most interesting fellow and a person with some specific ideas about his profession. Roth is a native of Lakewood, New Jersey and also a graduate of East Carolina University with Geology major. Roth, now 45, figured out early in his career that food would be an integral part of whatever path he chose to follow.

“I became quite interested in food, and even considered becoming a chef,” he recalled. “But, along with the food aspect I began to develop a deep interest in wine and its influence on and accompaniment with quality cuisine. Once I realized that, I knew it was the beginning of my career.”

Roth traveled west and enrolled in Fresno State University’s excellent enology and viticulture program and eventually received his degree. He then began a most interesting and well-traveled career with a number of prominent California wineries.

Included were stints at venerable Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley along with Napa’s Saddleback Cellars and its venerable owner Nils Venge. He became winemaker for Stonehedge Winery in St. Helena and also for high quality Ruts Cellars’ collection of excellent Sonoma Valley varietals. More recently he moved south to the Central Coast and to the Santa Ynez Valley where he was winemaker at Demetria Estate Winery. He next became winemaker at Kohler Winery in the heart of Santa Barbara County.

His friendship with Martellotto Winery’s Greg Martellotto resulted in the establishment of Pugilist Wines in late 2014. "We both wanted the same thing and it turned out that Pugilist became the correct vehicle,” Roth continued. “I was willing to try and make some specific wines that hit certain price points and utilized some of our local fruit. I was particularly pleased with the Happy Canyon fruit and its intensity. The canyon has ideal conditions for certain varietals and I wanted to make use of that quality.” While the winery plans to expand its operations, Roth is keenly aware of his limitations as a winemaker.

“I only want to make wines I can handle physically,” he explained further. “I don’t want to get so big that I have to give orders for someone else to produce the wine.” Roth is also a master of understated one-liners. “For instance, “Food tastes better with wine and people you share it with become more interesting as the meal progresses.” And, another of his favorite sayings is, “Wine is the ultimate compliment to food; one can’t be enjoyed without the other.”

Mike Roth also owns a small three acre vineyard in Los Alamos, slightly north and west from the new Pugilist Winery in Buellton. He hasn’t decided on what to do with the fruit but concedes the chance of some estate bottlings sometime in the future.

Mike Roth is the perfect fit for a venture like Pugilist. His work ethic and past performance results both point to the ultimate success of the new winery.

“We have to wait and see what the public thinks,” he offered. “In the end, the consumer is the final judge. I’ve always felt if you give the public a good tasting wine at a reasonable price, the chances are good that you will be successful.

Mike Fox is a no nonsense type of person that is incredibly serious about his work. He is joined at the winery by Craig Winchester, a friend (and political science major) from his college days. Both are dedicated to their present task of establishing Pugilist Wines as a permanent entity among the burgeoning colony of wineries that comprise the Central Coast Region.