Established in 2012, Maître de Chai was started by Marty Winters and Alex Pitts. They met in early 2010 while cooking at Sonoma’s Cyrus restaurant under chef Douglas Keane, and bonded over their mutual love of wine. Given the impecunious nature of working as a cook, Marty and Alex explored their nascent wine fascination by attending numerous (and most importantly, free) wine tastings.
In 2011, Marty decided to take a much needed break from the kitchen, and worked harvest at Stuhlmuller Vineyards. Afterwards, he left Cyrus and took a job as a sommelier in southern California to feed his burgeoning vinous obsession. Alex took a job at the French Laundry, and after about a year there, he worked his first harvest with Abe Schoener's Scholium Project (he's now Schoener's assistant winemaker).
Neither Alex nor Marty had formal winemaking backgrounds, but pulled from the multi-faceted nature of their learning in the kitchen. The mixture of learning history, geology, viticulture, and winemaking was very much similar. In Marty's words, "You pull from experience, your influences, the classic chefs and recipes, but you trust your palate and inevitably aim to create something new from these influences."
Maître de Chai translates to cellar master, or the person responsible for the development and aging of wine. The name is purposeful: the wines (and the winemakers) are meant to be vehicles that showcase the vineyard. Marty and Alex source from distinct vineyards in California; often they have close relationships with the growers and in some cases do the work themselves. Herron Vineyard is a 1.6-acre, cool-climate site in the Sonoma Mountain AVA with 65-year-old dry-farmed, organic vines; Stampede Vineyard, located in Lodi’s Clements Hills AVA, is an own-rooted, dry- farmed Zinfandel parcel planted in the 1940s.
The winemaking is hands-off – nothing added, nothing taken away. All fermentations are carried out with natural yeasts; sulfur is kept to a minimum; most wines are bottled without fining or filtering.
We're excited to offer these wines today, made by very talented up-and-coming winemakers from some extraordinary vineyards in California! Jonas Mendoza
Maître de Chai is the personal project of Marty Winters and Alex Pitts who met in the kitchen of the restaurant Cyrus in Sonoma, California. The Sauvignon Blanc comes from 65-year-old vines from the organically, dry-farmed Herron vineyard in the Sonoma Mountain AVA. The grapes are pressed whole-cluster and see some skin contact during fermentation. Just-ripe peach and nectarine aromas interweave with preserved lemon and white grapefruit flavors, finely grained tannins, and bright acidity. A quite stunning and culinarily versatile Sauvignon Blanc. Jonas Mendoza
Jeff and John Perlegos are the current stewards of the head-trained Zinfandel vines at Stampede Vineyard in Lodi's Clements Hills AVA. The vines were originally planted in the 1920s, with a second planting in the early 1940s. Marty Winters and Alex Pitts pick the grapes on the early side, producing Zinfandel of ethereal texture and perfumed intensity. The nose awakens with brambly blackberry aromas, leading into flavors of black tea, fresh blueberries, and a touch of dried black raisin. Very much in the style of Ridge's Zinfandels, there's a remarkable buildup of flavors but the wine still maintains a lithe texture without being weighty. Jonas Mendoza