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New Winemakers Join Four California Wineries


Dana Nigro
Posted: January 7, 2000

Four California wineries -- Leducq and Voss in Napa Valley, Laetitia in San Luis Obispo County and Barnwood in Santa Barbara County -- wrapped up the millennium by hiring new winemakers.

Leducq Vineyards hired Napa veteran Nils Venge as its consulting winemaker; he started in December and will oversee the production of the 1999 vintage. Venge owns and operates Saddleback Cellars in Oakville, best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, and consults for other clients, including PlumpJack, Del Dotto, Moss Creek and Keenan. Prior to Saddleback, Venge made wine at Villa Mt. Eden for 10 years and at Groth for 11 years.

"We were looking for a well-respected California winemaker who has worked with red Bordeaux varietals from the Napa Valley," said Leducq general manager Pete Balbirnie. Leducq makes a Bordeaux-style blend from its 35-acre estate in St. Helena, which is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Its annual production is less than 5,000 cases.

Voss Vineyards, which owns 50 acres in Rutherford, hired Steve Fennell to oversee all winemaking efforts. Fennell, who joined the winery in time to wrap up the 1999 harvest, had been assistant winemaker at Trefethen Vineyards, also in Napa Valley. Voss, best known for its Sauvignon Blanc, makes Shiraz and Merlot as well.

Louis Mitjavile of Bordeaux was named head winemaker at Laetitia and at Barnwood Vineyards -- both owned by Nebil Zarif -- after consulting for the two wineries for the past year and a half. Mitjavile, the son of Frangois Mitjavile of Chbteau Le Tertre Roteboeuf in St.-Emilion, has also worked in Australia and Washington and was most recently the director of Chbteau Bellefont-Belcier in St.-Emilion.

Laetitia's other French winemaking consultant, Michele Pignarre Le Danois, will continue at the winery. Jonathan Avila, who has worked with Laetitia's vineyards for more than 12 years, was also appointed as winemaker. Laetitia and Barnwood's former winemaker, John Clark, left to pursue other vinicultural interests.

Laetitita, formerly the Maison Deutz property, produces Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and sparkling wine. Barnwood makes Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah, plus a Bordeaux-style blend.

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Check out recent ratings of Leducq, Saddleback, PlumpJack, Del Dotto, Moss Creek and Keenan.And see tasting notes for Voss, Laetitia, Barnwood and Le Terte Roteboeuf.

To learn more about the winemakers and wineries:

  • June 30, 1999
    Zinfandel's Big Easy (Moss Creek)

  • June 15, 1999
    Sauvignon's New Style (Voss)

  • Aug. 5, 1998
    Former Maison Deutz Sold Again

  • Dec. 15, 1997
    An Undiscovered Dozen (Del Dotto)

  • Aug. 13, 1997
    California's Maison Deutz Cuts Bubbly, Plans Still Wine

  • Oct. 31, 1996
    A New Start for Virginia-Napa Wine (Leducq)

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