Pride, Legacy and Fine Wine from the Santa Cruz Mountains: An interview with John Bargetto, BARGETTO Winery’s Director of Winemaking
Along with his sister Loretta and his brother Martin, John Bargetto has dedicated his life to honoring and advancing the Bargetto Family winemaking tradition, one which began 300 years ago in Castelnuovo Don Bosco, in the Piemonte region of Italy. When not directing the BARGETTO winemaking team, John is busy overseeing the Regan Vineyards estate, managing BARGETTO brand sales, supervising ongoing construction projects at the winery and acting as the company’s primary spokesperson and historian.
Of the approximate 5,000 wineries in California, BARGETTO Winery is considered to be the 10th most historic winery in the state according to Wines and Vines Directory. You’ve documented much of the Bargetto family’s rich wine tradition in your book “Vintage Bargetto”. What inspired you to chronicle your family’s history and what are a couple of interesting things you have learned about the Bargetto family in the process?
In life we never know when a seed once planted may germinate. At UC Davis, while I was studying Winemaking, I minored in European History. Thus, the interest in history was there. Years later, for the winery, I started archiving our winery history. The first step towards the book was actually a Prohibition story that eventually led to a full book (Vintage Bargetto, released in 2013). The Prohibition short story (The Great Prohibition Caper) was just released in our retail rooms, in time for the 100th anniversary of start of Prohibition. As one of the founding wineries of the California wine industry, I felt it was important to record our history before it got lost. Two interesting facts: Our great-grandfather sailed out of La Harve Port in northern France in 1890, which turned out to be same port that our Uncle Ralph sailed into for WWII. I discovered that our father, Lawrence, had ambitious plans for major winery renovation and new vineyard way back in the 1960s…only thing missing was capital!
Not only are you responsible for ensuring the grapes grown at Regan Vineyards are of the highest quality, you are also the BARGETTO brand manager and Director of Winemaking. How did you first become interested in wine and more specifically winemaking?
I grew up working in the cellars in high school and the sales room on weekends (first job was digging ditches for 50 cents an hour in 4th grade). I found it fun and adventurous. Although giving winery tours as an 8th grader was scary, it was one way to get over my fear of public speaking. Then it was onto UC Davis to study the science of winemaking and to learn just how global the wine industry is.
Can you tell me about your winemaking style or philosophy?
90 percent of the quality of the wine comes from the vineyard. And that’s why Regan Vineyards was such a transformational project for our winery. It’s also why I pay such close attention to what happens in the estate vineyard. We grow super premium grapes to produce super premium wines. The other core style aspect is that we use high quality oak barrels, but use oak judiciously to create wines of balance. Our winemakers, Bobby and Keegan, are also highly critical to our success in producing wonderful wines. They work with great dedication and that’s why I allow them to play ping pong on breaks, too!
What sets BARGETTO wine apart from other Santa Cruz Mountains wines?
Regan Vineyards is large and diverse, and this allows us to produce a wide range of wines. Our mantra “We are Pinot”, illustrates our focus on Pinot Noirs. In addition to our rich history, our commitment to sustainable winegrowing and customer service are key.
Moving forward, what is it about wine that continues to inspire your enjoyment of winemaking and grape growing?
Every year is a new vintage with a fresh start to create wine, yet challenges always remain. Wine, as the beverage of moderation, health and inspiration keeps me going. We perspire so our customers will relax and enjoy life a bit more. The modern world is full of anxiety and I see wine as the antidote to some degree. Every day I see how much our customers love the wine.
Which of your current BARGETTO wines are you most excited about?
La Vita inspires me because it is challenging each year. I am traveling to Piemonte, Italy in June to study Dolcetto and Nebbiolo (2 of the 3 Italian varietals found in La Vita). Learning never ends if we stay open and curious.
You recently worked with the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance in effort to gain a “Certified Sustainable” certification for both the Winery and Regan Vineyards (BARGETTO Winery is the only Certified Sustainable winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains). Why did you feel this was important to do?
Sustainability has been a core BARGETTO value even before the word become so en vogue. As a farmer we have a deeper responsibility and unique opportunity to improve water, soil and air while protecting our workers and neighbors. I’m so proud that, in time for our 85th anniversary, we were able to get both BARGETTO Winery and Regan Vineyards certified sustainable. We all have a part to improve or worsen our environment. We chose the former with gusto.
What is the strength of the BARGETTO brand today?
I think when people see the brand they see the devotion of our family for four generations in the Santa Cruz Mountains to fine winemaking, wines of quality and of value, too. They see our contribution to our community and that resonates. Now if I could only find a new distributor in Chicago!
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
This is the easiest question….I would be a university professor in history, engaging bright young adults on the value of understanding history and why it’s so important. I tell my kids if you want to be people of the world you have to understand history, otherwise when you bump into history and you don’t pay attention, it all becomes like water flowing down the Soquel Creek and you are unable to put things together.