The past century has brought myriad incarnations of what we’ve come to call the Proust Questionnaire. Based on the late-nineteenth-century contemplations of French writer, Marcel Proust—subsequent adaptations have been issued by French journalist, Bernard Pivot, Inside the Actor’s Studio host, James Lipton, and Vanity Fair, which has been revealing the intimacies of cultural figures for more than two-decades. Given the singular nature of our community, we felt it was high time to shed some light on our own icons. With a humble tip of the hat to those who’ve come before us, please meet Dan Petroski.
Dan Petroski is on a very short list of highly influential winemakers in the Napa Valley today, and while it’s nearly impossible to imagine that he got his start here as a cellar-rat, little more than a decade ago—that’s exactly what happened. Having jettisoned from a successful career in publishing, the native New Yorker spent a year in Sicily at Valle dell’Acate winery, where he developed an affinity for the wines of Friuli. Upon returning to the states, he took a harvest intern position at DuMOL with winemaker Andy Smith, who brought him over to Larkmead, which he joined full-time in 2007 and assumed the helm of five years later. The Larkmead wines, of course, speak for themselves; but in the midst of this decidedly transformative period, Dan also managed to launch his own project, Massican, in 2009. While his Larkmead wines are among the most sought-after in the Napa Valley, Massican is shaped by Dan’s unique ethos—from biodynamic calendars and the descending moon’s gravitational pull water tables in various root zones, to the prowess of bâtonnage—he always prefers to sacrifice sugar for acidity, which results in clean, vibrant wines of stunning purity and balance.
Massican shares its name with Monte Massico—a coastal mountain range on the southern Italian peninsula in Campania, where Dan’s great-grandfather was born—though its winemaking inspiration is taken from the great iconoclasts of the country’s northern regions, Jermann and Miani, among them. Strictly dedicated to white grape varieties—Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc—Massican produces small-batch Friulian-style wines made from unique sites in the Napa Valley. We have followed these wines closely since their inaugural vintage—and we’re not alone: they’re poured by-the-glass at The French Laundry and Le Bernardin, among others—and they’ve helped chart a course for the New California, which is ironic, considering that the grapes he’s sourcing were originally brought to the valley by Italian immigrants in the 1800s. Massican’s Tocai Friulano hails from the dry-farmed Nichelini Vineyard in Chiles Valley, most of which was planted in 1946, and—as with all of these scarce grapes—Dan views them as living artifacts from ethnic communities that helped shape the valley.
Ah-ha moment: what bottle changed your life?
It was 1999, dinner in New York City at Le Bernardin and a friend ordered a bottle of Sean Thackerey’s Pleiades. I had never tasted anything like it and the story of the Wine’s name, its seven grape varieties and the singular, unique man who made this wine, it hooked me.
What you’re drinking right now?
I have the residual memory and taste of the 2006 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo from magnum I drank with friends last night. Two thousand six in Piemonte made incredibly floral wines with great palate weight and structure. I love this vintage of Piemonte more than any other modern Barolo vintage.
Your most memorable pairing?
I had the good fortune of being part of a winemaker dinner at Meadowood and my Sauvignon Blanc was paired with the first course. The wine was served at room temperature and I panicked. A few moments later the first course was dropped and it was a seafood granita. The shelled shellfish was served on a bed of crushed ice. The pairing of the two temperatures was mind blowing. A genius move.
Who are you @following (wine or otherwise)?
I don’t really do Twitter. But I love Instagram. I have four different accounts for wine, art, fashion and sports. But if I had to follow only one account, one person it would probably be Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan.
What you’re listening to right now?
My taste in music hasn’t changed in fifteen years! I am still listening to LCD Soundsystem.
Favorite book and/or Movie; and why?
How about my favorite wine book? The Secret of Santa Vittoria. It’s about a small Italian wine producing town that has to hide its wine from the invading German army during WWII. It is fiction, and it was made into a movie starring Anthony Quinn, but as we always say, the book is better than the movie. Seriously, a must read for any wine nut.
Author (wine or otherwise), and why?
Too many to list! But if I had to read one person for the remainder of my life it would have to be Hunter Thompson. From his political commentary to his social satire, every sentence is a roller coaster ride unto itself.
What must you always have at arms-length?
Sadly, my phone. It’s a content aggregator and a business tool. It’s not a phone. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t talk on the phone.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend?
The Sunday Times and Meet the Press. And a New York Bagel.
What wines you’re drinking?
My tasting group just ran through an incredible lineup of Sherries. Equipo Navazos—from Fino to Oloroso, each bottle was enlightening. I’ll be drinking more Sherry this year.
Wine figure you most admire (living or otherwise)?
Sommeliers! Their dedication to knowledge, their enthusiasm for wine, and their ability to pour a glass on a crowded table without spilling (please note, you won’t find a table cloth in my house!).
If you didn’t do what you did, what would you do?
I’d still be working in publishing. I quit my job at TIME and turned down a job at the Wall Street Journal to pursue my career in wine.
Who are your favorite collaborators?
My current collaborators–my tasting group (Band of Vintners), my brewer (Westbrook), my Italian family (Ronco del Gnemiz).
Favorite wine list in the world?
Maialino in New York. Champagne and old Nebbiolo is all I need.
Barrel-list: the remaining must-do(s) on your list
What is your desert-island wine?
Giuseppe Mascarello Monprivato.
If you were to be buried anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Near where I grew up in Brooklyn, the Green-Wood Cemetery.
What is your most unlikely food and wine pairing?
I think everyone already knows that potato chips and Champagne go great together.
What do you drink after a long day of harvest/work, that is not your product?
During harvest, after the cellar team goes home and I write the work orders for the next day, I am always drinking a beer. I stock up on Westbrook White Thai, Two Claw and IPA before harvest starts.
What varietal have you never worked with that you would like to before you retire?
Nebbiolo. In Piemonte. If I don’t make a Nebbiolo in Piemonte before I die, I will not have achieved my winemaking goals.