There is no formula to making great wine. No instruction manual or secret recipe. Because great wine is not an exact science—it’s an art form. The only guideline a vintner can follow is to give his or her winery the best chance to fulfill the artistic vision behind the process. And to do that, as Materra | Cunat Family Vineyards founder and owner Brian Cunat says, “You need good grapes.” It’s a simple, yet effective philosophy that has guided the Cunat family and the rest of the team at Materra in their early years. “The most important thing is that we continue to make wines that we, as the Cunat family, enjoy. We got into this because we’re really passionate about good tasting wines, and that’s what our goal is.” Speaking with Brian and his daughter Neena, who handles the winery’s operations, you’ll find that while winemaking is artistic by nature, there is a unique science behind growing award-winning grapes. And in order to do that, the Cunat family needed to bring in the right pieces to put it all together.
With their mission and vision in place—and a 50-acre vineyard in need of a massive repositioning and replanting project—it was time to bring in some of those pieces. Aiming to start with an excellent staff, in 2008 Brian hired Madrigal Vineyard Management to give the land a serious facelift by tearing out the back 25 acres of the property and gearing up for the massive project that was still to come. “We had viticulturists from UC Davis come out before we selected which clones to plant the vineyard with,” Neena says. “They took hundreds of core and soil samples on the property.” The results were pretty incredible. If you were to look at a map of the vineyard these days, each row has been planted in coherence with the extensive planning and research that went into the team’s vision. Using an impressive system of irrigation lines, the vineyard crew is able to identify the dozens of different clones, navigating the complex vineyard map during each harvest.
The most important thing is that we continue to make wines that we, as the Cunat family, enjoy. We got into this because we’re really passionate about good tasting wines, and that’s what our goal is.
Working with a cleaner slate now, it was time to bring in the winemakers. Brian ended up choosing two consulting winemakers: Bruce Regalia and Michael Trujillo. “They both bring certain talents to the table,” Brian says, referring to Bruce’s passion for deep-structured wines and Michael’s extensive experience working with industry legacies, like Andre Tchelistcheff, Tony Soter and Jim Allen. Upon hiring these talented winemakers, Brian gave Bruce and Michael the freedom and resources to do what they do best: make award-winning wine.
Having such a blank canvas and freedom as a winemaker is hard to come by these days. “Mike and I had a free hand,” Bruce says, “so that’s a luxury—and most people don’t afford you that opportunity.” Another luxury they have is access to state-of-the-art equipment, which not only minimizes Materra’s potential labor costs, but also maximizes the winery’s efficiency and control over the entire process. One piece of equipment in particular, the Gen II Super Control device, monitors each winery tank on site and grants the winemakers complete regulation over the wine. Ensuring quality with a smaller staff can be quite difficult, which might explain why Materra has the most Gen II Super Control devices under one roof in the United States.
But there’s more to Materra’s mission than just making great wine. Inspired by Neena’s passion for the environment, it has been their goal from the beginning to preserve and improve their natural surroundings. Starting with an enormous project of removing all non-native plant species from the property and replanting native and drought tolerant species, the Materra team has not only improved the quality of the land’s natural habitat and grapes, but also expelled hazardous pests and insects. And considering the region’s water shortage, Materra irrigates their land using their own water without any runoff whatsoever, recycling their resources back into the site. They also have their permits submitted to construct a solar field covering the septic area of the property, using the land twice while generating a projected 110% of the vineyard’s electric needs.
While Materra | Cunat Family Vineyards is a younger winery, it already has the makings of a role model in the industry. Having set out on a mission to make great wine without leaving a footprint behind, the Cunat family has paved a beautiful path leading to this winery’s future by bringing in the right people and doing it all for the right reasons.
The wine industry: It’s part farming, part chemistry, part branding, and entirely art. Producing and selling wine is a process we think we know, but beyond the glass lies the real story of a winery and its winemakers. The Napa Valley Film Festival team is proud to share the inspirational behind-the-vines stories we’ve had the pleasure of learning from our Vintner Circle members with you.