This Cult Napa Valley Producer Simply Shocked the Trade by Promoting to the World’s Largest Vineyard
The wine world seemed to lose its mind, at least on social media, when it was announced that Gallo had acquired Napa Valley’s first, and to date, only, exclusively white-wine winery, Massican. The statement came at the end of August just days after the world had learned that Gallo had acquired Rombauer, producer of one of America’s favorite Chardonnays, which is also known for its Cabernet and recently launched a successful foray into Pinot Noir.
The two acquisitions have so little in common that it’s mind boggling that they were made by the same company. Rombauer, with more than 40 years of history, is a best-selling brand that makes 350,000 cases (4.2 million bottles) per year, and the sale includes vineyards, wineries, and two tasting rooms. Massican, on the other hand, has been a one man show since Dan Petroski (who refers to himself as a “solopreneur”) launched it in 2009. Petroski does not own any vineyards, produces his wine at several different facilities, and focuses on white Italian varieties in addition to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. His first vintage was a mere 400 cases (4,800 bottles) which by last year had increased to 7,500 cases (90,000 bottles). Since its founding, Massican has been a favorite among in-the-know wine lovers.
Although he’s very active on Instagram and produces a digital publication, Massican magazine, in partnership with creative arts publisher, Phaidon Press, Petroski seemed surprised to learn that his deal with Gallo had brought out the wine trolls elsewhere on social media. “I must be reading or listening to a different set of wine folks,” he tells Robb Report. “The feedback I have received directly and everything I’ve read has been positive! When I left a 10-year publishing career to live in Sicily and work in a vineyard, I gained the love and respect of my friends and peers, and they were rooting for me, living vicariously through me. After 10 years of Massican being a side hustle, Joe Gallo [Joe C. Gallo, vice president and general manager of Gallo Luxury Group] saw its potential, and moving Massican into the Gallo fine wine portfolio has only garnered favorable responses from my friends and peers in the wine industry.”
Massican’s current releases, all from the 2022 vintage, include Annia, a blend of Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, and Chardonnay that is named for Petroski’s mother; a second white blend, Gemina, made with Greco and Falanghina; a single varietal Chardonnay from Hyde Vineyard, and single varietal Sauvignon Blanc, which Petroski makes in a style reminiscent of those produced in Friuli, Italy. The winery is named after Monte Massico, or the Massican hills, just north of Naples, where Petroski’s great-grandparents hail from. He got the idea for a white wine-focused brand after his time in Sicily. “Napa Valley mirrors a dry, Mediterranean climate. I lived and worked in Sicily for a year, and … we drank more white wine than red wine. I wanted to bring that ethos to Napa,” he explains.
The Brooklyn, New York native studied history at Columbia University, worked as a journalist, and then in sales and finance at Time Inc. while simultaneously earning an MBA at New York University. At a pivotal juncture in his career, having delved deep into wine during client dinners at Manhattan’s finest restaurants, he went to Sicily and interned at a winery for a year. Having planned to return to New York, Petroski instead headed to California to work a grape harvest. He worked his way up at Larkmead, a Napa Valley winery that owes much of its reputation to Petroski, who started there in 2006 and was the head winemaker from 2012 until July 2021. While turning out highly rated Cabernet Sauvignon at Larkmead, he launched and successfully grew Massican, with the aim of producing Napa Valley white wines that his mother could afford, as the Larkmead Cabs were out of her reach.
Although no firm plans have been made yet, a proprietary Massican winery will most likely be constructed within the next several years. The brand is built on Petroski’s ability to source grapes from some of the best growers in Napa, and for the moment, at least, Petroski intends to continue with that model. “I would love to have Massican estate vineyards, but I have always been about collaborating with grape growers,” he says. “Not having an enology or viticulture degree, I have always said Larry Hyde is a better farmer than me; I will let him call the shots. But for example, two of my most significant sources for Ribolla Gialla for my Annia blend are farmed by two people in the wine industry that I respect second to none, Steve Matthiasson and Chris Bowland. I believe those relationships are the backbone of Massican and I look forward to continuing them.”
Petroski says that Joe Gallo approached him when he had his “…head down and was focused on sourcing more vineyards, making more wine, and creating content to support it.” However, he had always had a dream to scale, which generally means selling or partnering with a deep-pocketed investor. When he met Joe Gallo over a glass of wine, the two “…quickly connected and established a friendship.” He further states, “This just happened to be the right relationship, at the right time, with the right partner.”
Petroski hopes to introduce Pinot Grigio to his lineup, explaining, “Pinot Grigio has become synonymous with Italian white wines. The reason for this is that Pinot Grigio is delicious and food friendly. Massican, since day one, has been about deliciousness and food friendliness. I am excited to introduce a Pinot Grigio from California into the Massican Cal-Ital portfolio.”
Massican’s founder’s biggest hope for the brand is to “put more delicious wine under cork.” He likes the idea of wine lovers being able to reconnect with the type of wines they may have encountered in Rome or the Amalfi Coast but that are made in California. He points out, “I want Massican to be a bridge to that experience, and what I have found in the multiple terroirs of California is that we can provide those fresh, citrusy, floral white wines that touch on those communal experiences. California is an agricultural wonderland. From a white wine perspective, the opportunities are endless.”
He also would love for Napa afficionados to explore the bounty of white wines made there in addition to the valley’s highly coveted reds. “White wine pairs with food on many levels; you can change your eating experience by leaning into white wine,” Petroski says. “I am committed to working with the team at Gallo to continue making delicious wines and making Massican one of, if not the greatest, white wine winery in the history of California wine.”
Source: Robb Report