If you are of a “certain age,” you undoubtedly recall watching Mario Andretti driving fast cars, often on ABC-TV’s “Wide World of Sports.”
These days, Andretti is living life in the slow lane – or, at least, a slower lane – as the owner of Andretti Winery in the world-famous Napa Valley. And although Highway 29 is a far cry from “The Brickyard,” he has settled into his second profession quite nicely.
Andretti says he doesn’t actually remember the moment he fell in love with wine; it just happened over a period of time. It no doubt began while growing up in Italy, where wine is a part of everyday life.
But when he was 15 years old, his family immigrated to the United States. There was a dirt track near his home in Nazareth, Pa., and his interests almost immediately turned exclusively to racing.
He ended up racing for parts of five decades, winning just about everything – the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the Formula One World Championship and the Pike’s Peak Hillclimb. He won the Champ Car National Championship four times and was a three-time winner at Sebring. He was the National Dirt Track Champion. He won races in sports cars, sprint cars and stock cars… on ovals, road courses, drag strips… on dirt and on pavement.
In his quest for these various championships, he traveled the world. His travels to exotic places – combining great dining with fine wine – led to his ultimate appreciation of wine as one of life’s pleasures.
The Andretti Winery’s 42-acre vineyard is situated in the heart of Napa’s Oak Knoll District, toward the southern end of the valley. This exceptional location – benefiting from the climate-moderating breezes and fog from San Pablo Bay – makes for superior slow ripening of the grapes, often extending a growing season to nearly eight months.
The area is ideally suited for growing world-class Chardonnay and Merlot, for which Andretti dedicates much of his Oak Knoll District estate.
Andretti understands the importance of a good winemaker, too, and Bob Pepi has been with the winery since its founding, and was involved in the decision to purchase the property and its vineyard.
Bob has been growing grapes and making wine for a long time. He and his father started the Robert Pepi Family Winery in Oakville as a natural extension of owning vineyards in the Napa Valley for 15 years. There, he pioneered the Sangiovese grape in California and making fine wine from that variety.
Bob’s philosophy is that great wines are made in the vineyards. As winemaker, he gently guides their development through the fermentation and aging processes until the wines are ready for release.
Andretti Winery offers three series of wines, each occupying a unique niche in the marketplace.
The Montona Reserve Series is named in honor of Andretti’s childhood home of Montona, Italy. These are ultra-premium wines crafted exclusively from estate-grown grapes and other stellar Napa Valley vineyards.
In each vintage, Pepi takes the finest hand-selected fruit to create the Montona wines: an Estate Reserve Chardonnay, an Estate Reserve Merlot and a Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Napa Valley Series is crafted principally from prized Napa Valley fruit. The series includes an array of popular, food-friendly varietals: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a unique Zinfandel-Primitivo blend.
The California Selections Series was inspired by its Italian heritage and “La Dolce Vita” principle. These wines are made with the belief that good wine should be enjoyed daily with meals, as part of a fine lifestyle. Sonoma and other North Coast fruit is used to create enticing renditions of Fume Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
With virtually every one of its bottlings – from the Montona Reserve Series to the California Selections Series – the Andretti Winery takes the checkered flag.
4162 Big Ranch Road, Napa, CA 94558
Tasting Room Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
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