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2017 has officially begun and, to ring in the New Year, I’m going to help you get to know the folks at Vino Noceto. My name is Ginger Budrick and I’ll be interviewing multiple staff members at Vino Noceto over the coming months. Then, I’ll write about the interviews, so that you can read them and get to know the people behind your favorite wines.
I wanted to start with a bang, so I interviewed Lindy Gullett. I should be honest and tell you a few important things about Lindy up front: she is the only daughter of the winery’s owners, Jim and Suzy Gullett; this interview series was her idea; and, she also happens to be my little brother’s girlfriend. So, I know her pretty well. In fact, a lot of people who are reading this might know her pretty well, or at least know of her. However, I still thought that she was the most fitting person to interview to launch the series. Why? Because she is a force to be reckoned with. She is geared up to do big things for Vino Noceto in the next few years, and her passion for wine and her family’s winery can be felt in every single conversation she has.
Even though I have dinner with Lindy a couple of times a week, I treated this the same as I would any interview. I scheduled a time to meet with her; I drove out to the Vino Noceto estate; and we sat down in the sun and had a legit interview. I learned things about her that I didn’t know, and I hope you do, too.
During the interview, Lindy told me a lot of wonderful stories — stories of the winery at the beginning, stories about Sacramento connoisseur Darrell Corti convincing her parents to plant Sangiovese grapes; about Scott Harvey being their first winemaker; about how the tasting room used to be open only when her parents happened to be in town and they’d pour wine on a bar made of a piece of wood placed on top of two barrels. There also were stories of her and her brothers playing on the property and of her parents figuring it all out. With every story she told, I imagined the little girl version of Lindy, with her big blue eyes, intently listening to her parents tell the stories over dinner and hanging on every detail. She obviously cares immensely for her parents and their wine. She re-tells these stories beautifully. I will share as many of her stories as I can in one interview, but I also want to save some for when I have the opportunity to interview Jim and Suzy.
For now, let’s start at the beginning (of Lindy’s life, that is). Lindy was born in Lafayette, California, in 1987 and would visit Amador almost every weekend, because her family had purchased the property that would become Vino Noceto in 1984. “In 1987, when they first started planting, they took pictures of my mom planting the grapes and we know that I helped plant them, because she was pregnant with me. So, I was there for our very first planting,” says Lindy.
When I asked Lindy what her first memory of Vino Noceto was, she said, “There used to be two oak trees on Dos Oakies, the first plot we planted. My first memory here is swinging on a tire hanging off one of the oak trees. I was probably 6 or 7 and I remember the tire swing spinning around with me and my brothers on it.”
In 1995, the Gulletts moved to Amador full-time and Lindy started going to Plymouth Elementary. Lindy recalled, “I loved coming up here for the weekends, but when we moved here, I threw a hissy fit. I cried every night for two years, really loudly, just to put on a show. I’m talking about the dramatic crying, where you’re not actually crying, but you’re crying to be heard.”
Lindy eventually recovered from the childhood pain of moving and learned to love Amador County. “So many people in Amador work in the hospitality industry that you learn to socialize and get along with anyone growing up here. It really teaches you social skills, teaches you customer service. It teaches you how to think about what other people are thinking and what they really want,” says Lindy.
At this point in the interview, the subject of cancer came up. I knew that Lindy’s mom had battled cancer in the past, so I asked her if she would be comfortable talking about that experience for a bit. She told me that her mom was first diagnosed with cancer when Lindy was eight years old, right around the time that they moved to Amador. That first bout of cancer was stage one breast cancer and Suzy only had to do radiation. Lindy says to her eight-year-old brain, it just seemed like a really prolonged flu.
Unfortunately, a few years after that, when Lindy was 13, her mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “That was a much bigger deal. She was told that she had a life expectancy of about two years. We had to come to grips with the idea of living without my mom. I’ve always been really, really close to my mom, so it was like, ‘Oh, my God, this person who I’m so close to suddenly might not be around.’ It felt so young to not have my mom around,” says Lindy.
Luckily, Suzy lived much longer than two years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “She was on a really heavy cocktail of chemo and sometimes it would knock her out and there would be a week of lost time. She got really lucky. She has a body that responds really well to chemo. She was on chemo probably 75% of the time for 15 years. Sometimes she would get a 6-month break. But, now she hasn’t had to do chemo for two-and-a-half years. She feels great now! This is the happiest and healthiest and most mentally aware I’ve seen my mom since I was 12 years old,” says Lindy.
Lindy spoke a bit more about her mom’s cancer struggle by saying, “Not only did she get pulled away from us, she also got pulled away from all the things she loved. She couldn’t come to work every day like she had before. She couldn’t do all the things she was doing before. Up until then, she had been so involved. It’s crazy thinking what Vino Noceto would be today if my mom hadn’t been sick. For 15 years, she was only half of herself. It’s not even all of her. She’s a marketing genius. She’s never let anything that wasn’t up to really high standards come out; she’s always held our wine up to really high standards; she always made sure our labels were printed well, that our printed materials were really high quality; she made sure that everything that came out was something that she was proud of. The fact that she was able to do that even when she was so sick is just amazing to me. She never let the fear of death control her life.”
Lindy and I talked at length about the early days of the winery. “My parents first bought this parcel in 1984, so I wasn’t even born yet. Then, they took my brothers to Italy because they thought, ‘the weather here has that sunshine of Italy,’ and they thought Italian grapes would do really well here. They spent three weeks traveling around Italy, tasting different wines and trying to decide exactly what to plant. They did it in the direction that I think you’re actually supposed to. They got their land and then thought, ‘What varietal should be planted here?’ instead of deciding what varietal they wanted to do and then finding land for it. They said, ‘What is perfectly suited for this spot we have? What would grow the best here? Oh, and they had wine every night with dinner for a year. So, they really tried to pick something that went with food.”
In 2005, Lindy graduated from Amador High School and went to Pomona College, where her father, aunt and brother had gone before her. After college, Lindy worked in Burlingame for a year and then moved to New York to work toward a Ph.D in Social Psychology at NYU. “I loved my undergrad degree in psychology, even when I got my job in Burlingame I knew that I was going to go back and get a grad degree in psychology. I love research; I love science; I love designing and experimenting; I love analyzing data,” says Lindy of her schooling.
When I asked Lindy how she chose New York, she said, “The things that excited me about New York were the people and the food. There was just so much going on. People wanted to talk about things and people were excited about things. Almost every social situation was a lot like being in the tasting room, where you get a variety of really interesting people who are excited to see you and excited to talk to you. New York is really unique for having that social atmosphere. I don’t feel like I’ve found that anywhere else I’ve lived.”
As you’ve probably gathered, Lindy didn’t stay in New York forever. When I asked her why she wanted to leave New York and move back to California, she said, “I was just so burnt out. I missed the outdoors. I missed having land, and having a farm, and being able to see the sky. It was nature. It’s so beautiful here. You have rolling hills and the colors are changing throughout the year. You have actual plants living and growing. That’s what I missed. As much as I loved about New York, I couldn’t keep living without having an outdoor space to connect to.”
In January of 2016, Lindy and her shiny new Ph.D moved back to Amador and became the tasting room manager of Vino Noceto, with the long-term plan being for Lindy to take over the winery and let her parents retire. I asked Lindy how her parents took the news and she said, “They were thrilled! Me coming back meant that they get to keep the business. Having someone else run your business isn’t the same as having a family member run the business, they don’t have the same feelings, the same connection, the same values.”
At this point, I asked Lindy what was behind her decision to come home and eventually take over her family’s business and she said, “I just missed everything about it. I missed talking to people. I missed caring about the earth. I missed seeing how things grow and watching the cycle as a grape grows on a vine and then is crushed and turned into wine. I missed my family. To me, this winery and this tasting room are my family. The tasting room is more my home than my parents’ house is.”
As of now, Lindy is the Director of Sales for Vino Noceto and is fully aware that her title could change at any moment. I get the impression that she’s up for any change her parents might throw her way. “It feels like I’m back home in a really great way and I feel like my skills and my experiences let me do something that other people can’t do. It feels really right,” says Lindy.
I asked Lindy what was in store for the future. “The thing that people don’t talk about enough, in my opinion, is that grapes are grown. Growing the grapes is 90% of winemaking — what earth they are on, how they’re taken care of, how they’re pruned, how many canes you leave on a vine … taking care of the grapes is 90% of what makes a good wine. My vision is to have a Tasting Room that demonstrates that 90% in depth, getting visitors excited about and invested in the creation process. My vision is also to turn Vino Noceto into a community hub, a place where people can come hang out and connect and meet all kinds of people. I want to make it somewhere that hums with vitality and creativity.”
In closing, Lindy had nothing but good things to say about Amador County wine country. “There’s so much variety and openness to experimentation here. I think that’s a lot of what we’re about. We like innovating and experimenting and trying new things and making new wines that we’ve never made before. That’s kinda the fun,” says Lindy. “I think Amador is about to explode in a really great way that is still true to who Amador is. It’s still like you’re going into someone’s home when you go into a tasting room here, and I don’t think that’s going to change. Everyone’s welcome over for dinner here!”
I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Lindy Gullett a little better than you did before. Do you have an idea of who I should interview next? Please send your suggestions of staff members or long-time wine club members to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harvest is around the corner, with our first load of Moscato Bianco due to arrive on the crush pad any moment. Our winemaker and his team have been readying harvest equipment to prep for 2015's harvest. We caught up with Winemaker Rusty Folena, Owner Jim Gullett, and Vineyard Manager Dave Brown for a progress report on the vineyard and winery.
AK: So what are the most important things being done in the vineyard right now?
JG: The grapes are already starting to go through véraison, or "the onset of ripening." We have recently sprayed the vines with Surround (a clay type product similar to Kaopectate which serves as a natural sunscreen on the grapes), and will soon be spraying the olive trees with it as well. While the olive trees don't need it for sunscreen purposes, the spray doubles as an olive fly deterrent.
AK: Is there anything else you'll be doing on the vineyard leading up to harvest?
RF: We will go through the vineyards and roll the canes from the right side of the vine to the left on all our rows that run North to South. This allows the grapes to get gentle morning sun and afternoon shade. Sangiovese grapes tend to be delicate, so we want to do what we can to avoid having them hit by the intense afternoon sun.
AK: I know that last time we spoke, bunch counts seemed to be a bit down from previous years, but you were in the process of re-counting and evaluating the vineyard for signs it needed to be irrigated. What were the results, and did you have to start irrigating?
JG: With last year being a bumper crop, bunch counts are down this year, as expected. While we will continue to watch the vines for signs of stress, at this point we have not needed to irrigate.
AK: On the winery side, what is being done in order to help prep for harvest?
DB: Our crew is currently going through and making sure all of the harvest equipment is repaired and serviced, bins are being cleaned, and barrels prepped. The 2014 vintage wines are also being racked their final time until after harvest is complete.
AK: If guests want to come see harvest in action, when would you recommend visiting Noceto?
JG: With harvest expected to be slightly earlier than last year, I would encourage guests to come up in August or September. Harvest is a great time of year to take a Farm-to-Glass tour, and there is plenty to see both in the vineyard, and in the winery.
AK: Thank you gentlemen. We'll be sure and check in soon, as Harvest 2015 gets underway. Make sure and check us out on Facebook for updates on harvest!