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A Mighty Vineyard

Actor Emilio Estevez swapped a showpiece cellar to become a vintner

Robert Taylor
Posted: November 15, 2011

Emilio Estevez, 49, is perhaps still best known as the Brat Pack actor who starred in the hit 1980s films The Outsiders, Repo Man, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo's Fire and Young Guns (and as a member of the acting family that includes his father Martin Sheen and brother Charlie Sheen). Estevez continues to act, write and direct, but he has another passion, too, one that helps him escape from Hollywood without leaving Malibu. In 2004, Estevez ripped out his 1-acre lawn to plant Pinot Noir vines, and has been tending his vineyard ever since, largely only with the help of his fiancée, writer Sonja Magdevski.

In 2008, the Malibu vineyard yielded its first full crop, enough to make about two barrels of estate-grown wine for Estevez's Casa Dumetz label. Magdevski is now the full-time winemaker for the label, which also makes Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and still and sparkling Syrah rosés out of grapes from the Santa Ynez Valley. Wine Spectator most recently heard from Estevez in late August, when his Pinot Noir vineyard had just been picked and he had embarked on a cross-country bus tour with his father to promote The Way, a new film Estevez wrote and directed for Sheen about a wine-and-food journey along the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, pilgrimage in Spain.

Wine Spectator: How did you first get into wine?
Emilio Estevez: I got interested on a trip to Napa with some friends [around 1993 or 1994], and we ended up basically crashing David Arthur's, at the time a very small operation. If you're familiar with his wines, you know that one sip makes you an addict. [Laughing.] The way that he presented not only himself, but his wines—he was crawling over the barrels in a very small old barn they were using as an aging room, and I remember David thieving the wine for us and saying, "Isn't that fun wine?!" I'd never heard wine being described as fun, and I thought, "Wow, that's cool! This guy is an inspiration."

WS: What kind of wine cellar do you have?
EE: I used to have quite a collection. I began collecting a lot of the California cult Cabs. I got on a lot of the lists, like Harlan's. It became a collection of wine that I like to say owned me. It was stocked with '82 Bordeaux—Margaux and Latour—it was kind of silly and completely excessive. I really took great care of [my cellar]. It was a showpiece. I kept the wines in their wood cases, and when I would deplete a case and drink a bottle or two, I would run to a local retailer and replace it almost the next day. It was one of those silly obsessions. I eventually sold the cellar. It got a little out of hand. ... These days I'm joining the ranks of most wine drinkers in America, where the cellaring age is about 20 minutes.

WS: How did you go from giving up a wine collection to planting your own vineyard?
EE: I was living on the beach [at the time when I sold my cellar], so there was no land, and I had a fantasy of buying some property in the hills in Malibu, and this was before really anybody had planted out here, and I had this fantasy of buying 5 or 10 acres and giving planting grapes a shot. I moved to a flat acre, and I would look up into the hills and think, I'll live here and plant up in the hills. Meanwhile, I realized I had this enormous lawn and was getting these enormous water bills, and I thought, wait a minute, there's no reason to have this lawn. It's not producing anything except headaches and bills. Why not rip it up? I don't really have a view here, so I'll create one—I'll build a vineyard here. ... So I began to dig up the lawn with the help of my friends and family—the ones that didn't think I was insane, anyway.

I met [Sonja] in 2004 [when I was planting the vineyard] and at the time she was working at a flower shop, and I came into the flower shop horribly sunburned, and I had seen her around the neighborhood so I guess she felt comfortable enough to say, "Hey buddy, it's called sunscreen." I told her, "I know, but I'm outside endlessly putting this vineyard together at my house," and she said if I needed any help, she'd be glad to help me out. I said, "I have 400 vines coming in on Monday and yes, I need your help!" I thought that since she worked at a flower shop, she must know something about planting, and she thought that since I was planting a vineyard, I must know what I'm doing, and the two of us were truly a couple of rubes! I dug the holes and she planted the rootstock and then we just held our breath to see if it would grow!

WS: How did you decide what to plant on the Malibu coastline?
EE: We grow Pinot Noir on the property. We have Dijon clones 666, 667 and 115. Before deciding on planting here and ultimately choosing Pinot Noir, I wasn't familiar with the varietal—I had no Burgundies, no Pinots in my collection. It wasn't something I ever focused on on a wine menu. When we learned that the only red grape we could really grow here along the coast was Pinot Noir, I basically took a crash course in it—going out and trying a bunch of California Pinots and seeing what style I liked. Is it a Pinot that's trying to be something else, or a Burgundian Pinot with lower alcohol and more nuance? It was an interesting education as I retrained my palate for these subtle wines.

WS: You mentioned some people thought you were crazy to build a vineyard in your yard. Do they still?
EE: My father is sober—he hasn't had a drink in 20 years—and to him it was frivolous and he saw it as only leading to a downward spiral in my life, what the lifestyle would ultimately lead to. He has now joined us for harvests, pruning, bottling. He's really found that it's not about the alcohol at all. It's about the community.

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