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Daydream Believer, Vintner
Rob Sinskey is an atypical vintner. He is a native Californian and a wine guy who did not attend wine school. Instead, Rob received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Parsons School of Design in New York City, where the only thing happening in agriculture was conducted in apartment closets. Over the past twenty-five years he has grown his 100% organic and Biodynamic certified winegrowing operation to over 200 acres of premium vineyards in the Carneros and Stags Leap districts of Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
It all began when a six-month assignment assisting his father turned into a twenty-five year obsession. “After a stint in advertising, I was looking for something real where I could, excuse the pun, put down roots. Then, my father called for help. His avocation in wine growing had developed into a fledgling business and he needed assistance. I think a week had passed before I discovered that his avocation had become my obsession.”
Rob’s philosophy that “Wine is not an athletic event,” still holds true to this day. The goal is to make “pure wines of character that pair well with cuisine.” Rob believes that wine should not be a “quick study,” but rather, sneak up on you, seduce you, and evolve in the glass and in the bottle.
With a solid belief that artisanal winemaking begins with the care of the land, Rob, along with winemaker Jeff Virnig, quietly converted their vineyards to organics beginning in 1991. As they honed their craft, they slowly and methodically developed biodynamic “whole farm” practices. Rob and Jeff adopted methods that not only produced wines of individuality, but also left a minimal footprint on the land. They believed in developing vineyard ecosystems with the utilization of farm animals, the development of beneficial predatory bird and animal habitat and fish friendly farming practices. Equally important, though less obvious, has been their development of a living soil system by establishing farm methods that encourage vigorous populations of microorganisms through the use of cover crops, composts, biodynamic preparations and the utilization of low impact farm implements.
Looking beyond the vineyard, Rob Sinskey and the crew of RSV have taken a leadership role in reducing their carbon footprint by generating 75% of the energy used at the winery through solar photovoltaic installations and the brewing of bio-diesel, made from used restaurant oil, to power their trucks and tractors.
Rob Sinskey believes that the goals of making luxuriously elegant wines and farming with earth friendly methods are not mutually exclusive. Rather, he has found that caring for the land and conscientious business practices have helped to define the well-crafted wines of RSV.
Chief Cook & Bottle Washer, Culinary Director
Maria Helm Sinskey was born and raised in upstate New York. In 1983 she graduated from Union College in Schenectady, NY. A degree in English proved invaluable in her chosen career as a chef. She quickly gained a reputation for spouting sonnets on the line.
After college came a short career in advertising combined with night-time backstage catering for bands that were touring Boston. In a move designed to breakup her long- term relationship with a musician, her parents convinced her to attend culinary school in the great city of San Francisco. The rocker-chef romance soon dissolved and Maria emerged in 1987 as a graduate of the California Culinary Academy.
She attended pastry school in Denmark to hone her sweet tooth and then returned to San Francisco to work as Chef at several noteworthy restaurants: Boz Scagg’s Blue Light Café, the venerable Sherman House – a Relais & Chateaux Hotel, and Plumpjack Café, which she left in 1999 to pursue a life combining family, food and wine in the Napa Valley.
Along the way Maria worked in France at several Michelin starred restaurants, toured Italy and realized that life was good, very good. After returning stateside, Maria garnered many accolades: 1996 Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef, SF Magazine Rising Star Chef, SF Chronicle Rising Star chef and appeared on many PBS and Food Network Shows.
Nowadays, you will find her cooking at her husband’s winery, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, laying out plots for her organic gardens, teaching, writing and raising two children.
Her first cookbook, “The Vineyard Kitchen: Menus Inspired by the Season”, published by HarperCollins was released in September 2003. "Family Meals: Creating Traditions in the Kitchen", published by Oxmore House, followed in November 2008. Her mantra is, “Eat seasonally, drink good wine and live a long and prosperous life.”
Bob Sinskey had a simple idea. Starting in the mid-sixties, he began to theorize that the American diet would soon be changing. He foresaw the move away from saturated fats and the integration of international ingredients into American cuisine. And with that change would come a desire for lighter-bodied red wines...and thus his passion for Pinot Noir was born.
In the late seventies, anticipating retirement from medicine, Bob decided that he would become a grape grower and embarked on a journey to find that "perfect" Pinot land. The Napa side of Carneros became the center of his attention as he purchased a small fifteen acre farm on Las Amigas Road. There he met the founders of the Acacia Winery and, since they were looking to expand their vineyard designated wine program, Bob became a limited partner in the Acacia project. The Acacia alliance seemed perfect: Bob just wanted to grow grapes and Acacia wanted to buy them. So Bob bought more land. By 1985, he had 115 acres entering production when Acacia stumbled and sold to the Chalone group. With no home for his grapes, Bob hired one of the ex- Acacia winemakers and went into the business of making wine. But he hadn't yet retired from medicine. During the time he was developing his vineyard land, an invention of his went big-time. He created what is now known as the "Sinskey modified J loop intra-ocular lens." His new design for an artificial human lens revolutionized cataract eye surgery. Suddenly, artificial lens implantation went from being experimental to status-quo and Bob became a teacher, lecturer, and a much in-demand surgeon. Needless to say, he was not going to retire anytime soon.
The doors to the winery opened in 1988 and Bob convinced his son to take over the management of the winery while he continued to oversee the vineyards and to tend his thriving medical practice. It wasn't until 1996 that the reins to the vineyards were handed over to Rob as well.
Bob Sinskey officially retired from medicine in 2000, but those who know him realize that he will never truly retire. He is still RSV's number one consultant.
Jeff became one of the youngest winemakers in Napa Valley when he was promoted in 1991. He consistently improves wine quality by helping the vine achieve a natural balance through soil building and sustainable farming methods.
Jeff graduated in 1984 from Cal Poly with a BS in agriculture business management. From there he attended the school of hard knocks, gaining valuable hands-on viticultural experience working amongst vines at the Mayacamas vineyard and winery. In 1988, he joined RSV as an assistant winemaker and became one of the youngest winemakers in Napa Valley when he was promoted to winemaker in 1991.
Over the past decade, Jeff has been instrumental in developing the Los Carneros of Napa Valley vineyards owned by RSV. His emphasis has been on improving wine quality by helping the vine achieve a natural balance through soil building and sustainable farming methods. He has sought to keep the various lots and ranches separate so that they may be evaluated for their individual qualities. The separate lots allow for total flexibility in the wine making process. Jeff can apply different fermentation techniques to each lot to accentuate that lot's inherent character. His attention to detail has greatly contributed to the quality and consistency of RSV wines.
“There’s always great wine coming out of the cellar and wonderful aromas wafting from the Vineyard Kitchen. It’s the perfect place to work—a winery that brings wine, food and good living experiences together.”
Tiffany began her love affair with wine as many people do, by way of white zinfandel… she was eight years old. Her parents let her have a tiny glass of wine at holidays and special occasions. Luckily, her mother’s palate soon began to gravitate toward Sancerre and Côtes du Rhône. After a brief, painful regression with Boone’s Farm during her freshman year in college at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Tiffany soon realized that Strawberry Hill did not pair well with food and resulted in a wicked hangover.
Tiffany’s true epiphany with wine & food occurred during a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. She dined in local trattorias drinking Antinori Tignanello back when the exchange rate made it affordable, and she spent her free time roaming the Mercato Centrale, fascinated by the butcher shops, handmade pasta, and local, seasonal produce. “I’d never seen a baby artichoke, and I remember peeling an orange during my first week. It was the most beautiful red I’d ever seen, but I thought there was something wrong with it because it wasn’t orange—so I threw it away.” She doesn’t throw away blood oranges any more.
After graduating with a degree in Cultural Anthropology, she headed to Providence, RI, and put herself through culinary school while waiting tables at Al Forno. “I knew I didn’t want to be a chef, but I wanted to do something with food and wine. I was hoping that culinary school would help me find that focus.” Next, she moved to San Francisco and soon landed in Napa where she found the place she had been looking for—RSV.
Token Southerner, Tasting Room Manager
"I made a deal with myself. If I didn’t find the perfect job and a great place to live I would just go home. Luckily, I found both.I had been a fan of RSV for years and after visiting the winery I knew I had a new home. “All those old world philosophies come together here: great wine, amazing food and that important sense of family.”
Jennifer’s first trip to California sealed the deal. Immediately, she knew where she needed to be. Unfortunately, it would take 20 years to get there.
Jen first started drinking and collecting wine at 18. Working in a small bottle shop/deli during college exposed her to classic Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the newly minted and acclaimed regions of California. It was then that she realized there was more to wine than her mother’s Riunite Lambrusco. “ My Mom would have a glass of Riunite and listen to Islands in the Stream. I didn’t think it got any better than that.” While traveling in Europe, seeking out those places she had come to love through wine, it became clear that wine would be a part of her life, all of her life. By the way, Jen’s taste in music has improved greatly.
After college and a stint in the corporate world, Jennifer decided to go to nursing school. While in nursing school, she went back to work for that small, now large, bottle shop/deli and became reacquainted with the wine world. As her knowledge grew, so did her passion. After spending 6 years as a neonatal nurse, she had an opportunity to go into the restaurant business with her Chef brother and willing mother. After 5 years of running the restaurant, she came to Napa on vacation and never left.
National Sales Rep
Elizabeth “Beth” Gustafson is a Seattleite with a self-admitted “slight midwestern accent” that she has acquired since residing in Chicago for the past seven years. While attending the University of Washington, Beth spent the summer of her sophomore year of college (see also: glory days) working at the Barking Frog restaurant in the middle of Woodinville wine country. It was here that Beth was allowed to sit in on her first wine tasting and, being underage at the time, she was thrilled. However, those exhilarating feelings of rebellion were suddenly trumped by sheer intrigue over the complexity of well made wine with a sense of place. And so begins her love interest with all things food and wine related.
In search of a new adventure, Beth moved to Chicago after graduation with a dream and two suitcases, where she pursued a career that was more in line with her economics degree. Over the next year, Beth continued to explore wine as a hobby, learning everything she could and eventually married her sensible numbers side and her love for wine by joining a preeminent Illinois distributor as a brand manager.
Before joining Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Beth represented Richard Betts’ wines where she acquired her zest for meeting fellow wine geeks on the road and sharing thoughtfully farmed wines with restraint. She spends more than a normal amount of time thinking about what she will have for her next meal and thinks she has come full circle at RSV where the passion for eating and drinking well is shared by all. When not meeting Pinot lovers across the US, you can find Beth nurturing her love for tacos, making fun travel plans, or working on the perfect running playlist. You can follow Beth’s adventures on twitter @bethgus
Having worked as a naturalist, botanist and horticulturalist, Debby developed a love and appreciation of environmental conservation. She is right at home at RSV – where farming practices are organic and biodynamic.
Raised in the urban jungles of Southern California, Debby often found herself looking for the dirt between the cracks in the cement. Much to her parents’ consternation, she would bring home cups of soil filled with worms she’d saved from puddles. Little did she know she’d manage acres of good worm habitat when she grew up to be a dirt farmer for RSV.
Debby’s lifelong fascination with creeping, crawling, flying, walking, running and rooting things inspired her to pursue a career as a conservationist. After earning a degree in 1995 in Biology and Women’s Studies at Scripps College, which included a stint in the Australian rainforest, she planned to become a tropical ecologist. Appropriately, she worked in the verdant jungles of Costa Rica, where she saw shade grown coffee, banana and pineapple plantations and witnessed the beginnings of the global organic movement.
Tantalized by the idea of growing things for a living, Debby returned stateside to serve as a horticulturist at an established Southern California botanic garden devoted to the conservation of California native plants.
Still looking for more dirt and less cement than the Los Angeles area had to offer, Debby moved to Northern California in 2001. She soon discovered a job posting for a viticultural position at RSV. Organic and Biodynamic viticulture seemed a wonderful way to blend her myriad horticulture and management skills. Working the dirt seemed to be the right way to go. Debby believes environmental conservation begins with the food we eat and the wine we drink.
Chris, a native of Great Britain, emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area at a such tender age that he barely remembers his parents driving on the wrong side of the road. Then, as an almost legal teenager, Chris received his first lesson in wine by keeping the car on the right side of the road as the designated driver for family jaunts through Napa Valley. Little did he realize this osmotic experience would spur an early interest in wine and lead to an avocation as a tour guide for collegiate friends. But the motherland beckoned... armed only with a tent, a backpack and a pocketful of change, the twenty-five year old O’Hearn learned to appreciate the European “joie de vivre” by acquiring fresh produce from open air markets, imbibing at tiny roadside wineries and pubs, and crafting meals by lantern light.
Upon his return stateside, this Anglophilic California boy stumbled into the wine profession in, of all places, Utah! He first landed at the Sundance Resort managing restaurants before joining the beverage team and becoming irretrievably lost in the fine dining and wine world. Soon, Chris was recruited by a local distributor to sell fine wine in the Salt Lake and Park City markets for two years before returning home to California and Robert Sinskey Vineyards. Besides wine, Chris enjoys playing guitar, traveling, snowboarding, surfing and has a slightly unhealthy fixation with cars that leak oil, particularly those from his homeland. And yes, he does occasionally sport a pair of green wellies. Follow Chris on Twitter @RSVrover
Assistant Wine Maker
Zach, a Central California native from the small town of Arroyo Grande, was mostly interested in surfing the prestine waters of the central coast, fishing and hunting. As a kid, he was only vaguely aware of the burgeoning wine community triangulating around him with a backyard at the southern end of the Edna Valley, he was a stone's throw from the Foxen Canyon Trail and a hop, skip and a jump from the Santa Ynez Valley. Zach was destined for life in wine. However, he didn't know a good thing when he first saw it. Instead he tried to become a semi-pro golfer while making a living as a videographer until a friend invited him to his winery for a visit. Recognizing the art of wine and how personal expression can craft it, he was forever inspired by this visit and only then did obsession take hold. He needed to work in wine.
After a brief stint at the previously mentioned Santa Maria winery, he knew he needed to pursue the dream by fishing where the fish were. Napa was calling; however, Zach had no connections. Not one to be deterred by the unknown, he packed up his camping gear, threw a change of clothes into his truck and set out to chart his own course. Home became the Calistoga campground and his bedroom, the back of his pickup. Thankfully, the campground had fifty-cent warm showers, so he could at least show up for his new found job as a harvest intern clean and shaven. However, it wasn't quite what he envisioned. After 5 months of shoveling and cleaning on a hellaciously hot crush pad, he had a good mind to return to the comforts of home. However, he was past the point of no return. He had a goal to achieve. He could no longer look back. The next two and a half years were spent honing his craft as a Master Cellar worker at Robert Mondavi's Oakville facility. Then fate, also known as Jeff Virnig, came calling. Zach could not resist the opportunity to be involved in a vertically integrated, organic and Biodynamic winegrowing operation. Zach is now the assistant winemaker and is an integral member of the RSV winemaking team.
Paolo’s parents were discovered at the Nantucket Wine Festival stealing a bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy and a terrine of foie gras from celebrity chef Ming Tsai. In an act of desperation, the conniving canine duo surreptitiously deposited their ten-week-old offspring into empty cases of wine in hopes that their scion might find a better life. Paolo ended up in the cellars of RSV, slaving away as a living dust mop, removing cobwebs and debris that accumulate on the barrels in the caves. It has been noted that the barrels he spends the most time “dusting” tend to find their way into the most prized bottles of RSV wine.