[ PORTRAIT ]
United States // Winemaker
Talk with Dan Petroski
"The Napa climate is very southern Italian-Mediterranean."
Dan Petroski has undeniably made an impact on Napa’s viticultural scene. In a land where Cabernet Sauvignon has long reigned king, Petroski let his love for Italian white varieties lead the way—ultimately culminating in one of the region’s largest wine acquisitions to date.
However, Petroski’s interests go far beyond just wine. From vermouth and craft beer to magazines, NFTs, and the Metaverse, Petroski’s long list of impending projects promises to keep him busy (and those of us who follow him on our toes!).
Learn more about what’s next for this revered California winemaking icon in this exclusive interview.
How did you get into wine? Where did your interest start?
My interest started when I was working at TIME magazine. I had the good fortune to have a “corporate credit card” and clients who liked to dine out at some of NYC's best restaurants. In order to extend my T&E budget, I decided to learn about the most expensive things on the menu—wine. So, I purchased a couple of books, subscribed to Wine Spectator, and visited the nearest wine shop to my office, Morrell's, and became a regular at their Rockefeller Center wine bar. After a couple of years of enthusiastic reading and drinking, I started to become the person my friends looked to for wine advice. I got so many calls from my friends on Wall St. to help navigate a wine list at a NYC restaurant that they started to invite me to dinner. My steak was paid for because of the money I saved them on the wine list!
I decided to learn about the most expensive things on the menu—wine.
You founded Massican back in 2009 with a sole focus on white wines—in the land of Cabernet fame, no less. What was the inspiration for that decision?
Leaving NYC in 2005, I was going on a sabbatical from publishing to work on a vineyard for a year. I lived in Sicily and helped out on the vineyard owned by Valle dell'Acate winery. I left that experience not really knowing how to make wine, but how Italians appreciated it. When I returned to the US, I headed straight to California to work a dual harvest at DuMOL (in Russian River) and Larkmead (in Napa). Following that harvest, I was fortunate to get hired to grow and manage the Larkmead winemaking operations. I dove deep into Napa and Sonoma wine culture during that time, and I drank a lot of Russian River Pinot Noir and Napa Cabernet, but what I was missing was the fresh, bright, and salty white wines of Italy. The Napa climate is very southern Italian-Mediterranean, but our eating and drinking culture wasn't the same. Massican was created as an opportunity to introduce fresher white wines to my eating and drinking scene in Napa and Sonoma. What we now know is that the concept kind of caught on.
I was missing was the fresh, bright, and salty white wines of Italy.
Which winemakers have inspired you most?
There are truly too many to name. If I had to limit it to wines that have inspired Massican, I would say the following: Vie di Romans Flors di Uis, a white wine blend from Friuli, Venica Ronco delle Mele Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli, Marisa Cuomo Fiorduva, white wine blend from Amalfi Coast, and Benanti Pietramarina from Sicily's Mt. Etna.
Massican has also added vermouth, beer, and other products to its lineup. Why did you choose to expand production beyond wine?
The Massican wines, Annia and Gemina, are, respectively, blends of northern and Italian white wine grapes — and when selling a Tocai Friulano or a Greco blend to a restaurant, there aren't many places where the wine can slip into the wine list. So, Massican got relegated to a random “aromatic white wines” section. A few years into my Massican endeavors, I decided to start producing a commercial vermouth. Harkening back to my time in Sicily, every meal finished with a bitter drink (an Amaro), and most meals started with a refreshingly bitter aperitivo (a Campari and soda). I was already home crafting amaro and vermouth back in 2006, so I thought it would be fun to “commercialize” it and lean into the “aromatic” category of beverages (vermouth is a TTB designated as an aromatized wine). Then, around 2014, I met Edward Westbrook from Westbrook Brewing Company, and he made some of the best beers in South Carolina, especially a Belgian Witbier called White Thai that blew my mind as a food pairing beer. We hit it off and started collaborating on Massican's Birra Bianca, a Belgian-style witbeir born in Massican white wine barrels.
Tell us a bit about the NFT / virtual vineyard component of the brand.
The whole digital side of Massican is about customer service, utility, and access. Think about ordering online today. You purchase, and then, weather-dependent, you receive your wine in seven to 10 days or even a couple of months. My vision for building NFTs and an artist series into the Massican brand was to say, “Hey, thanks for purchasing some wine. You are not going to receive the wine for a few, but I am gifting you this digital collectible as a thank-you. It's in your account on our website. This artist is super cool, and we appreciate you. Thank you”. Massican in the Metaverse (coming soon) is a similar concept. It will be open 7/24/365 and available for any of the Massican customers to schedule and maintain their own experiences in the space. I am going to be present to create tasting experiences, and my goal is to create an AI version of “Dan” as a bartender in the bar when I can't be hanging there in real time—and we all know having a bartender or a somm who is a friend is the best beverage experience when hanging out socially. Dan and “Bar Massican” will eventually be the “Cheers” of the Metaverse.
My goal is to create an AI version of "Dan" as a bartender in the metaverse.
Last year, you launched a lifestyle / wine-focused magazine at Massican. Tell us a bit about this endeavor.
During the pandemic, we all needed an escape. I started asking myself, where do I want to be drinking a glass of wine right now? That spiraled very quickly into an editorial relationship with Phaidon Press, who was willing to be a passenger on my journey, and we partnered on something that hadn't been done before: we published words on Instagram—up to 2,000 of them at a time. Instagram became our vehicle to escape our quarantine, with a glass of wine in hand. During that process, I was experiencing a time with my “pandemic pod”, and I realized that everything we talked about during that time was impacting our current social and cultural existence, so I started year two of the Massican “magazine” on Instagram as a reflection of those conversations, and that became a news magazine—a small winery in Napa published stories about voting rights, transgender, homelessness, climate change, parenting during a pandemic, and more. Honestly, publishing those articles was probably the most satisfying thing I have done to date with my voice and vehicle called Massican. Fast-forward, and I realized that all these conversations during the pandemic were created at the table. And so the current year, year 3 of the “magazine”, is Massican writing a cookbook. I have a Bravo Top Chef creating recipes and videos and James Beard award-winning writer Jordan MacKay, writing regional Italian food and wine histories that we explore every month in our dinner party menus.
Clearly, creativity and arts play a huge role in your life. In which ways do you find that these two spheres collide in your world?
For me, all I truly care about is being across the table from someone I love and appreciate; we're eating and drinking and talking about what the potential and the opportunities the future may bring, we're dreaming out loud.
For me, all I truly care about is being across the table from someone I love and appreciate; we're eating, drinking and dreaming out loud.
And now, to the big news… you recently announced the sale of Massican to Gallo. Congratulations! What made you decide to sell?
All these years, I have dreamt big for Massican, but I realized that I couldn't do it alone, and with the food and beverage business built on relationships, it was literally a spark that brought so much clarity during the time I spent with Joe Gallo. We had a shared commitment to vision and goals; they supported my brand identity, and I appreciated their deep market expertise. As we discussed how we would work together, we emphasized the importance of a balanced partnership, where I have creative and operational control and responsibility for the integrity of the wine. They would provide the highest quality wine operations and sales professionals in the business, but beyond logistics, the conversation was always about an idea of what white wine can be in America.
So, what's next for Dan Petroski? We can't wait to see what you do next!
I am all-in on Massican! Joe Gallo said he wouldn't do it without me, and I couldn't imagine working on any other project than Massican. I left my day job to pursue that vision I had back in 2006 and 2007 to bring Mediterranean white wines to the dinner table. I couldn't be more energized and supported by the support that the Gallo family has for this vision as well.
I left my day job to pursue that vision I had back in 2006 and 2007 to bring Mediterranean white wines to the dinner table.
Article - Vicki Denig
Vicki Denig is a wine and travel journalist based between New York and Paris. Her wine industry career began at Sud de France Développement in Manhattan, followed by a Wine Consultant/Buyer position at Quality House Wines. Since 2017, Vicki has worked as a freelance journalist and content creation full time. Her work regularly appears in Decanter, Food & Wine, Wine-Searcher, Wine Enthusiast, and more. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine.
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