David Castrucci of Castrucci Vineyards: Wise Words and Deeds from Dad
Interviewer & Writer:
Uncorked Monthly Contributing Writer, Kim Brittingham
All parents are teachers.
It’s inevitable. As children, we learn by watching the adults in our lives. We pick up on clues without realizing it’s happening.
We’re like blobs of Silly Putty being rolled over the funny pages and picking up images and dialogue along the way that get kneaded into the stuff we’re made of.
Sometimes history repeats itself as one generation internalizes the examples of the one before it. Sometimes parents are self-aware enough to show their children a better example than the one they got.
Put love and family first
After chatting with David Castrucci of Castrucci Vineyards in the Napa Valley, I got the feeling he was setting a pretty impressive example for his kids — teaching them, for instance, to follow their passions and not his. Showing them to put love and family first. In business, demonstrating what Lee Iacocca once said was a secret to his success: “I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.” (Or, stated similarly by Bill Gates, “I don’t hate people that are smarter, more creative, or have more imagination than me. I hire them.”)
Castrucci’s example is also one that balances a dose of risk-taking with hard, dogged work
He’s not afraid to break away from the pack and do something different, and both he and his wife Dawn are continually challenging themselves to be better, in some way, than they were the day before. Castrucci says he begins each new day asking himself, “How can I be a better person? How can I be a better businessman? How can I be better for our employees? How can I be better for my children? I enjoy the challenge that comes with it. It doesn’t have to be big stuff. It can be little things.”
Where were these people when I was growing up?
Castrucci was living in New England and working for a West Coast-based bicycle distributor. Eventually the company and the Castrucci family relocated to California.
It wasn’t a decision Castrucci took lightly, understanding how tough moving can be on kids. “When I was a kid, I moved around a lot,” he confesses. “My dad was in the military, so I know exactly what that means.”
But when it came to the big move for Castrucci’s kids, he says, “(They) were all for it. They were all getting ready to transition, either going from middle school to high school or from high school to college. And so the timing was going to be perfect.”
Castrucci’s adventures in the wine business weren’t necessarily something he foresaw when first relocating to California. “This stuff, the vineyard, that business, wasn’t the focus. It was really getting my family in a good place, because at the end of the day, I want them to be happy.”
But soon enough, the Castruccis and California wine country did meet, by way of entertaining visiting clients. Napa Valley was a natural choice. “By taking our clients and getting that initial exposure to the valley, it really just drew a lot of interest both from myself and my wife, and we just started coming over more and more…getting to experience that and see all the different wines that were available, the styles of wine that were being made by so many different winemakers and proprietors out here, it just really resonated with me.”
He adds that, “If you like something, you’re always going to ask more questions about it. So it became very personal for me…I loved coming over with my wife; met a lot of people in the industry…quietly going out to small wineries that we’ve never heard of before and trying the wine…you never knew what was around the corner.”
Being in the bicycle business, Castrucci knew little to nothing about viticulture. But that didn’t stop him from following his curiosity and getting into the wine business. “It’s an ongoing process, but like any good business, you have to have the right people around you to be successful,” Castrucci says.
Winemaker Steve Matthiasson
For him, one of those right people was winemaker Steve Matthiasson, Food & Wine Magazine’s Winemaker of the Year for 2012 and San Francisco Chronicle Winemaker of the Year for 2013. Castrucci and Matthiasson clicked, particularly when it came to what they liked in a wine. “For us, it was a matter of getting the right feel on that wine. It’s a little bit less alcohol. It’s very, very food-friendly, and that’s where the connections were.”
Says Castrucci of Matthiasson, “He’s just a fabulous person and very, very bright. He’s been awesome for us, really committed to our vineyard and into the process and our product, which has been huge.”
From the start, Castrucci veered away from the tried-and-true pathways to building a wine business. “I really wanted to do something different, and at the same time, give back,” he says. “We engaged graduate students to work on our project – people that didn’t have any experience in wine. They were business kids.”
Specifically, they were grad students from Castrucci’s alma mater, the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire. Castrucci made it a point to stay involved over the years, from contributing financially to the school, to participating in Senior Day as he did in 2012.
At the time, he was doing a lot of thinking about the property he’d recently purchased in American Canyon, California: “I’ve got this idea kicking around in my head. ‘What am I going to do with this property? Am I just going to farm? Do I want to farm? Do I want to make wine? I’ve got to make a decision here.’”
Then Castrucci got the glimmer of an idea – one that, from the outset, he wasn’t entirely sure would work. “Why would a guy from Napa be coming out to New Hampshire asking for help on a wine project?” he thought. “You wouldn’t think that would have made sense based on the proximity.”
Nevertheless, it worked. Castrucci cooperated with Nelson Barbara of the business school to give three students the unique opportunity to help launch a wine brand. Castrucci flew them out to the West Coast, put them up, and they eagerly jumped into an intensive six-week working project. He reasoned with his spouse that the worst thing that could happen was that they might have to say no to the students’ prescriptions, but “then we would go down that typical route and maybe start over and do something else. So that was a risk, and we took it.”
Castrucci says he wasn’t entirely hands-off, but, “I really allowed (the students) to try to learn, challenged them every day.” Castrucci kept them aligned with the overall vision of what he was trying to accomplish, but he made an effort at “really, truly hearing the feedback” and “engaging these kids.”
Some of the greatest ideas can get hidden
Castrucci is also quick to point out that he made plenty of room for open discussion. “I told them, ‘Look, I’m not always right…I may challenge you, but don’t be afraid to tell me what you think, because you know what? Some of the greatest ideas can get hidden sometimes because people don’t want to talk about them. They’re afraid they’ll offend somebody, or, you’re the boss.’ I tried to take that off the table.”
The students took that advice to heart, and when Castrucci shot down the idea of putting his own name on the label, they persisted. “I really fought that,” he remembers, “because it’s not just me. It’s my family. It’s my extended family. It’s my family back East, and it’s tough enough to make…the best product you can possibly make, and then you attach a name to it.”
But, he says of the students, “They kept coming back around…they would go out and do surveys. They finally wore me down. They said, ‘Look here, we’re telling you, of all the ideas that we’re working on, this is the one that’s resonating.’” Now Castrucci concedes, “It was absolutely the right decision.”
“They did a great job,” he adds. “Everyone that comments on the presentation of the product, the labels, they just absolutely love it.” It was a definite win-win. “The kids get credit for it, they get an experience that they’ll probably never forget, and I have an experience that I’ll never forget. I’ll remember them the rest of my life and be friends of theirs.”
Castrucci’s entry into the world of wine has been a lesson not just for the college students he recruited from New Hampshire, but also for his own children – a lesson in risk-taking, hard work, and pursing one’s true passions.
Says Castrucci, “Everything I do, professionally and personally, I try to do with my children in mind.” For one thing, he would “never drive them or push them to say, ‘Hey, look, you need to do this, you need to be a part of that.’ I think it needs to be organic. It needs to be something that they want to do, because they’re all different.”
Fatherhood for Castrucci has partly been about, “creating an environment for (my children) to say, ‘What does it mean to take a risk?’ I’ve been at this for a long time in business. We’ve taken some risk over time and there’s a risk reward, there’s failures…but there’s also success and…you can grow from that…I tell them all the time, ‘I make mistakes every day. But what do you learn from it?’”
Some may have looked upon the Castruccis’ wine venture and thought they were crazy, but as far as being an example to their children, they’ve demonstrated that hard work, persistence, and a commitment to quality relationships can make a dream come true. Says Castrucci, “They see me doing the work, they see Dawn doing the work…They’ve seen the interactions we’ve had with people we’ve met…and it really allows them to see the relationships that can grow and blossom from those. I think it’s a well-rounded thing for them to see it.”
They’re also seeing it work. In the most recent San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (2016), Castrucci’s 2013 Pinot Noir was awarded a bronze medal in the $40.00-$43.99 category. Its tasting notes from the Castrucci website describe it as a “feminine Pinot Noir, elegant and delicate. It is a beautiful pale garnet color with aromas of Bing Cherries, raspberries, forest floor and crushed rock…Despite the concentrated flavors it is feather light on the palate with a long and very clean finish. The wine truly represents the rocky volcanic soil and the foggy weather of the San Pablo Bay.”
By going online at www.CastrucciWines.com, you can purchase your own bottle of the 2013 Pinot Noir, as well as a 2014 Pinot Noir (“feminine…but striking and strong, not at all meek…intense aromas of wild blueberries and cassis with a hint of fresh tarragon”); a 2014 Chardonnay (“aromas of lemon oil, lemon curd, and fresh baked shortbread…refreshing and juicy apple/pear flavor…”); a 2013 Chardonnay (“a voluptuous wine…but never heavy…aromas of white peach, pineapple, lemon oil and hazelnuts balanced by a haunting stony minerality…”); a 2014 Rose of Pinot Noir (“springtime bliss in a bottle”); and a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, (“fine-grained, mouthwatering tannins beg for delicious food, with a long but very clean finish.”)
Order for yourself, and perhaps to thank someone who’s taught you to live your best life by fully living theirs.
THE NEW BOTTLE EXPERIENCE REVIEW & RATING
Once we’ve conducted the New Bottle Experience, we’ll post our review and rating here.