Tuesday, December 18, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 41
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Winemaker Marc Piro quietly makes a name for himself in Santa Maria

REBECCA ROSE

You won’t find Piro Wine Company among the sprawling properties that line Foxen Canyon where tourists flock to gather up logo-stamped merchandise and Instagram themselves lounging on luxurious patio furniture. And for now, Marc Piro is happy with that.

Inside Au Bon Climat, a short turnoff from Santa Maria Mesa Road, wine barrels are stacked high. The kitchen, where the winemakers and crew prepare their daily lunches, is overflowing with olive oils, seasonings, empty wine bottles, and more. A warm, lived-in feeling permeates the atmosphere.


GROWING INTO SOMETHING BIG
Don’t expect to find Marc Piro sitting behind a desk. The Santa Maria winemaker said he prefers working with his hands and spending his days in the field.
PHOTO BY REBECCA ROSE

Piro, shaggy-haired and comfortably dirty from a long day, is letting me sample some of his hard work, something I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I was originally introduced to Piro Wines at an event at Presqu’ile Winery, where Piro buys some of his grapes. His wine was instantly buzzworthy, unique, and distinct from an already crowded field of excellent high-caliber pinot noirs.

Climbing to the top of a stack of barrels that almost reaches the ceiling to get me a sample, Piro looks completely at home. When he’s not racking wines or inspecting fermenters, Piro likes to spend time at his Los Alamos home, practicing on a brand new drum kit miles away from the nearest neighbor. To introduce his 2015 Points West pinot noir, Piro jumped into a cage in the shark infested waters of the aptly named Shark Alley in South Africa, bottle in hand.

He’s the perfect embodiment of a true California winemaker—worldly, wild at heart, yet firmly planted in the religion of soil and vine.

“When I was younger I was so eager to learn, I wasn’t afraid to ask questions,” he said. “I was always there to learn. You’re not going to learn if you don’t ask questions. I realized the whole time it was a learning process. I wasn’t shy about picking people’s brains.”

Born in San Rafael, Calif., Piro grew up a stone’s throw from Napa’s wine country. He said the aesthetic appeal of growing up in wine country and the allure of the vintner life had a pull on him early on.

“I just recognized the lifestyle looked really great,” he said. “Going around Sonoma County with my parents who liked wine, I would see nice vineyards and beautiful homes. I was interested in cooking, even in grammar school. I always had an affinity for flavors and smells.”

Piro considered attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and studying viticulture and enology, but when he was accepted to the University of San Diego, he thought it was a better fit. The business major dabbled in beer making when he was in college but was quick to realize what his true calling was.

“I still had the desire to do wine,” he said. “In college I got into brewing, so it was either going to be beer making or winemaking. Then I had the grand epiphany that I’d rather live at a winery than at a brewery.”


SKY HIGH DREAMS
Marc Piro, 31, owner and winemaker at Piro Wines learned winemaking all over the world, including New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina. Today, he works at Au Bon Climat winery in Santa Maria, producing about 500 cases a year of pinot noir.
PHOTO BY REBECCA ROSE

After graduation, Piro embarked on a worldwide jaunt that took him just about everywhere wine grows, including Argentina and New Zealand. In New Zealand, he worked a graveyard shift just so he could claim his first job title in the winemaking business.

The work in New Zealand involved cranking out a lot of sauvignon blanc, a wine popular on the global market.

“It was an unglamorous place,” he said. “Everywhere required experience but that place didn’t. It wasn’t a lot of fine-tuned winemaking. It was just about having fun and making the best of it. You’re a zombie. But the people—the people that you work with—are the best part.”

Gigs in New Zealand eventually brought Piro back to the U.S., where he took a job at Thacher Winery. It was there that he met legendary winemaker Santiago Achával, founder of the Achával-Ferrer Winery, who offered him a job in Argentina.

“The wine community worldwide is pretty close knit,” Piro said. “I remember in New Zealand my favorite winery was Fromm and it turned out that the guy who started Fromm worked at Au Bon Climat. In Argentina, Roberto Cipresso was best friends with one of Jim Clendenen’s best friends. There’s so much overlap within the communities.”

A 2012 Jimmy Mancbach Memorial Scholarship brought him again back to the U.S., where he landed at Au Bon Climat and Qupé for the first time, doing harvest work.

Something about the up-and-coming winemaker must have stuck because after Piro had left (to work at a winery in Australia), he reached out to General Manager Jim Adelman for help tracking down another potential job.

Boutique bottles
To contact Marc Piro or purchase Piro Wines, visit pirowinecompany.com.

Adelman had a better idea. He offered Piro a job back on the Central Coast, and he’s been at Au Bon Climat ever since.

“When I first came down [to the Central Coast], I was really surprised by the quality of the wine,” he said. “I was impressed by the world caliber wines they were producing. Here, everything is the creme de la creme. We sit down and have lunch, with really good food, every day with a lot of wines from here and all around the world.”

Piro is an old soul winemaker, with his heart firmly planted in the soils of Burgundy, France. It’s this fondness for the classics that steers his winemaking instincts. All of the grapes used to make Piro Wines come either from Runway Vineyards (former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado’s vineyard) or from Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria.

“The ultimate inspiration for most pinot noir producers is Burgundy,” he said. “They’re wines that have brighter acidity ... the grapes are not overripe. They really showcase where it’s grown.”

By 2014, Piro decided it was time to do what he’d set out to do years ago and launch his own label. Armed with confidence in his winemaking skills and the savings to invest in the project, he released his first 100 cases of pinot noir.

“I felt like it was time,” he said. “Before I knew how to make wine, but I hadn’t really fallen into my own style. I didn’t realize what I liked and the kind of finer aspects that are involved.”

Just three short years after the initial 100-case run, Piro is up to about 500 cases a year, and still expanding. Along with an online shop and collaborations with some local retailers locally and in Los Angeles, Piro’s wines are also now served at Barbareño in Santa Barbara, where he also recently participated in his first ever winemakers’ dinner.

As for the future, Piro has an eye on the possibility of opening a tasting room. But for the time being, he’s perfectly happy roaming the halls of Au Bon Climat, where he serves as a “jack of all trades,” for the winemaker.

“I really enjoy working here,” he said. “I don’t feel like leaving anytime soon. It’s healthy, they let me make my wine here, and it inspires me to do a good job with making their wine.

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose does not go where there are sharks. Contact her at rrose@santamariasun.com.

 


Paella is the summer special at Scratch Kitchen in Lompoc.
PHOTO BY REBECCA ROSE

Bacon & Brine has a new cotton candy collaboration with California Spun, a Central Coast company, crafting organic, artisan cotton candy. Right now they have two signature flavors available for sale, “Bacon” and “Salted Caramel Bacon.” Sample both flavors at 1618 Copenhagen Dr., Solvang.

Scratch Kitchen is serving paella (paella) for a limited time to celebrate the summer (and because paella is awesome). It’s hard to imagine eating anything better than freshly prepared paella made by Chef Augusto Caudillo, so get it while you can at 610 N. H St., Lompoc.




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