September 22, 2021
The Napa Valley wine industry is rich with winemakers producing premium Cabernet Sauvignon as economics continue to drive the prominence of the variety. So, it was a thrill to sit down (via Google Meet) with winemaker Dan Petroski as he pushes the pendulum of Napa Valley wines toward white wines that combine the sunny Mediterranean with an intellectual appeal.
Petroski is the founder and owner of Massican, which serves as an ode to Mediterranean wines. Massican's name comes from the coastal mountain range in Southern Italy. His entire production is white wines (and vermouth), producing several distinctive Italian varietals like Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano that don't often get the attention they deserve and are seldom seen in Napa. His focus on white wines makes Massican the only all-white wine project in the Napa Valley.
Petroski came to wine somewhat unconventionally after a successful career in publishing. In 2005, he traded in New York publishing expense accounts and power lunches to serve as an intern with the Valle dell' Acate winery in Sicily — a move driven by his Italian heritage and affinity for Italian wines. Petroski explained that his time in Italy was, in essence, his second act in life (following the first of business and marketing) focused entirely on creativity and the art of learning a craft. He returned to the States to work in the wine industry, serving as a harvest intern and eventually landing the coveted spot as winemaker for Larkmead Vineyards in Calistoga.
While at Larkmead, he began his personal label, inspired by his time in Sicily and the beautiful, local white wines he would enjoy while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Petroski is now in his self-described third act, having left Larkmead recently and focusing solely on Massican.
The 2020 Massican portfolio consists of “Annia,” named for Petroski’s mother, a blend of 61% Tocai Friulano, 27% Ribolla Gialla and 12% Chardonnay and “Gemina,” a blend of 75% Pinot Bianco and 25% Greco. Petroski also makes a 100% Sauvignon Blanc, a 100% Chardonnay, and dry and sweet vermouth, inspired by a love of Italy’s aperitivio drinks. All of the Massican wines are piercingly pure, refreshingly crisp, and easy-drinking.
Sadly, the wines from Massican are not so easy to obtain, as currently only 3,000 cases are produced. The wines are primarily distributed directly to consumers via the Massican mailing list, and they are also distributed to select retail shops across 14 markets. However, the shortage is slowly easing as Petroski seeks to increase production. As a first step, he will soon release a Whole Foods exclusive white blend named Emilia Bianca after his grandmother. It will ring up for $22, making it slightly more accessible than his other $30 bottlings.
Petroski doesn’t shy away from political discourse, which with him is as refreshing as his wines. His Instagram magazine tackles topical issues like fighting voter suppression. He’s also long been at the forefront of the climate crisis discussion in Napa. In response to my question asking if Napa has focused too much on Cabernet production and not on what the ground can best yield, he noted that the Cabernet phenomenon is relatively new, a direction Napa went in part after Robert Parker advanced the scoring system. Accordingly, he remarked that Napa vintners could pivot again to confront climate change by planting different grape varieties akin to Bordeaux, which has now expanded its list of permitted varieties. However, he emphasized that many in Napa remain short-sighted in their Cabernet reliance, given it is what fetches the highest price. Petroski noted it wouldn't be until a Napa Touriga Nacional garners 100 points that the tide will turn. So, for now, Napa continues to plant more and make more Cabernet.
Petroski is also passionate about changing the perception of white wine in the U.S. and exposing those interested in something new to his wines. To do so, he is dipping his toes into myriad modern marketing approaches, including the Instagram magazine mentioned earlier and the introduction of a non-fungible token (NFT) – digital certificates of ownership and authenticity that can be applied to wine among other things. He has also recently launched an app with a white-wine emoji.
It's the rare winemaker who modernizes white winemaking, tackles vital social issues, and introduces an endless array of innovative marketing approaches. Thus, it's no surprise that he and his wines have a loyal following. I hope after reading this, you will seek out a bottle and join the growing legion of Massican enthusiasts.
September 16, 2021
It is with great pleasure that I write to welcome Christy Frank to the ranks of WRO wine columnists. As you’ll learn, Christy is an outstanding writer – quick, clear, and funny, but also deeply knowledgeable.
The attributes on either side of that last comma – funny and deeply knowledgeable – don’t often go together. Lots and lots of serious education tends to “beat the funny” out of many people, and those who dodge that beating often just start taking themselves too seriously to stay funny. There’s no doubting the depth and extent of Christy’s education, which has yielded a B.A. from Cornell, a Master of Economics in Accounting and Finance from the London School of Economics, and an MBA from Columbia, plus a Diploma from WSET and certification as an Advanced Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Book learnin’ is what my old friends on pipeline crews back in Chicago would have called all of that, but they wouldn’t have been able to dismiss Christy on that score, as her education has been leavened by lots of practical experience in the wine trade. She started in retail in a wine shop in Boston, then shifted to high-level work as a senior brand manager with Möet Hennessy USA and one of its superb earlier incarnations, Schieffelin & Somerset, which was a phenomenal company when I was breaking into wine writing. She worked on both wine and spirits brands in those years…some of the world’s most famous and successful.
Enviable as that job was, Christy had been envisioning a wine shop in her mind for years, refining the concept during visits to vast numbers of shops as a trade member and avid consumer and learner. The evolved idea took shape in Frankly Wines, a shop in lower Manhattan that she opened in 2007 with a strong focus on wines from the Southern Hemisphere. It earned recognition as one of New York’s best shops by publications including the Financial Times, GrubStreet, Wine-Searcher and the New York Times.
Christy sold that shop in 2017, shifting to work on behalf of DNS wines, an importing company focused predominantly on European wines (especially Greek ones) while also devoting time to her own consulting venture, Glass Half Full Consulting. She undertook a wide range of tasks in this latter capacity, assisting wine shops during their launch phase or revivifying established ones, but also working for restaurants on their wine lists and staff training. Christy also developed marketing plans for entities as dissimilar as a luxury goods company and a natural wine newsletter, and somehow found time to begin launching a canned cocktail brand, Hamlet Hound, during all of this. Oh, and she worked for Wine Australia for three years as Education Development Manager, which shows how comprehensively she has been engaged with almost every facet of the global wine trade from production through importation, distribution and sales (both on- and off-premise), and extending to the cultivation and education of consumers.
But there’s more. Christy was writing and tasting during all of this, contributing pieces for multiple outlets as and participating on the tasting panels for the New York Times and Wine & Spirits Magazine. She also began work back in 2015 (before she sold Frankly Wines) as the consulting wine buyer and marketing director for yet another retail shop, Copake Wine Works up in the Hudson Valley / Berkshires area, and remains heavily engaged in that venture though she still lives in New York City, while raising three kids.
Sheer exhaustion can “beat the funny” out of someone just as surely as loads of serious education or the pretentiousness that often accompanies accomplishment. For these reasons, it isn’t easy to understand how Christy has maintained the humor you’ll find in her first column for WRO this week, or how she manages to interweave so much information with so much fun.
Those who know me on the professor side of my life are aware that I’ve got a theory about everything, at least provisionally, so let me try this one on you: I know lots of really smart people who aren’t funny, but I don’t know anybody who is really funny who isn’t also smart. My guess about Christy is that her light and funny side is part of her foundation, a part that has simply proved too resilient for any of her educational or occupational attainments to weigh down.
I believe her first column will corroborate my hypothesis, but please have a look for yourself. Roughly half of her future columns will offer insights for consumers into the workings of the wine trade, with the other half likely being dispersed across her very wide range of interests.
Welcome aboard, Christy…all of us at WRO look forward to the ride ahead!