Winemaker Giovani “Gio” Verdejo grew up in Napa Valley in a family of wine lovers – so it’s only fitting that his winemaking career brought him full circle as he heads the team at Rutherford’s Foley Johnson. Learn more about his experience in this installment of Winemaker Q&A.
WHAT DREW YOU TO THE WINE INDUSTRY? AT WHAT POINT DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU WANTED TO GET INTO WINEMAKING, AND WHAT ABOUT THE PROFESSION INTERESTED YOU?
I grew up in a family of wine drinkers and was exposed to it at a very young age; I honestly can’t remember the first time I tried my first wine. My family worked for years for Clos du Val, so wine has always been part of my life since always.
When I was in high school, I helped to bottle at Regusci Winery for a summer and it was then when I realized I wanted to stay in the wine industry. The passion all winemakers have about wines is what really interested me the most about the industry.
YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER AT KULETO ESTATE, ANOTHER FOLEY FAMILY WINES PROPERTY. WHAT ROLE DID YOU HAVE THERE WHEN YOU STARTED?
I started at Kuleto doing construction; I laid all the sheetrock in the tasting room and upstairs Royal Suite, along with some carpentry as well. It was then when I met Dave Lattin and he offered me a cellar job. I took it and my first task was sterilizing barrels and tanks.
YOU’VE SPENT TIME AT OTHER FFW PROPERTIES AS WELL (MERUS, LANGTRY). ANY BIG DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THEM FROM A WINEMAKING PERSPECTIVE? ANY SIMILARITIES?
I think there’s a lot of similarities in the fact that we have always tried to make the best wine possible with what we had. Merus, being one of the best Napa Cabernets, took a lot of attention to detail and constantly doing barrel tastings; we try to reach that same level of excellence here at Foley Johnson as well. Langtry was unique in that we hand-crafted the small Langtry label but also had the large Guenoc California label, where consistency was key.
HOW DO YOU FEEL BEING BACK IN NAPA VALLEY WITH FOLEY JOHNSON?
I’m in cloud nine! My goal as a winemaker was always to make high-end Napa Valley wine. I’m also honored to continue Pat Foley’s path on making FJ a premium Rutherford winery.
WHAT’S THE TYPICAL DAY LIKE FOR A WINEMAKER?
There’s no such thing as a typical day in a small winery. One day I may be doing office work and I could be tasting barrels or working in the cellar the next.
WHAT’S A COMMON MISCONCEPTION ABOUT YOUR ROLE?
That all we do is taste wine. There’s a lot more office work than anyone imagines!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT WORKING AT FOLEY JOHNSON?
It’s hard to point to just one thing – I love the wines, the people I work with, the vineyards, and the location. Pretty much everything about this place.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FOLEY JOHNSON WINE CURRENTLY?
I love Meritage. I’ve always been a big fan of blends as there’s almost no limit on what you can do to make an amazing wine.
IS THERE AN UPCOMING FJ WINE THAT YOU’RE EXCITED ABOUT RELEASING?
Cabernet Franc! It’s beautiful and unique and 2017 will be the debut vintage.