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a diamond is forever Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Diamond Creek's Three VineyardsPR: (con'd)  After Al got advice from André Tchelistcheff, Louis Martini, and a few other folks, he decided to purchase this property.  In doing so, he felt that he'd found what could be the best site for Cabernet in the Napa Valley.   And what he wanted to do was create a world-class wine to compete with Bordeaux.   But there wasn't a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the state [of California] at the time and he wasn't happy with the clones that were available.  So, in his mind, the best thing to do was to go talk with the French, because that's who he wanted to emulate.  And that's exactly what he did: he went to Bordeaux and, with his fluent French, talked to the workers in the fields of the top Chateaux.  And they were actually very willing to talk about what they were doing because they were so proud of it.  Once he felt he had gained enough knowledge from the vineyard workers, he went to the owners of three of the five First Growths and negotiated with them to get some of their vine cuttings.  But since he couldn't ship them directly to the States because of the [agricultural] quarantine, he had the cuttings sent to Mexico City and from there up to Rosarita Beach where he had his own airplane.  He then flew the cuttings himself up to vineyards here.  And this was all so innovative, to say the least — not to mention dicey— which shows you the type of man he was!

BB:  Not very many people would have taken the chance of smuggling cuttings into the country!  {laughing}

"Al went to Bordeaux and, with his fluent French, talked to the workers in the fields of the top Chateaux. Then he went to the owners of three of the five First Growths and negotiated with them to get some of their vine cuttings."

NM:  It was quite a risk, but clearly one that paid off!  Another risk that Al took, by virtue of its complete lack of precedence, was his choice to plant grapevines on Diamond Mountain.  Tell me about that decision and what it was that gave him to confidence to move forward with it.

PR:  First of all, Al knew he wanted mountain vineyards.  His first real experience of making wine involved hillside fruit because, after completing courses at UCLA on French wines, he went to work the harvests at Ridge Vineyards — and Ridge back then, as it is today, was making very good wines.  Now, with mountain fruit, as you know, you tend to have small berries with intense flavors and inherently low yields.  Secondly, Al was never shy about asking advice from anybody, though as an entrepreneur and risk-taker in his own rite, he would always make the final decision.  And he brought some very prominent people up here [to give him advice on the site] — André Tchelistcheff, Louis Martini, and Dick Steltzner, who was very well known in the valley as a fine vineyard manager, even back then.  These folks, amongst others, said that if it were them using their own money, they wouldn't feel badly about taking a chance on this property as a site for growing fine winegrapes.  They acknowledged that it was still a risk, but that there was no reason to think you couldn't make a world class wine here.  At the same time, other people — who weren't themselves risk-taking entrepreneurial types — told him they were not comfortable with the risk because nobody before had planted European varietals on Diamond Mountain.  Those people said, "We don't know how these plantings will do here; you'd better go over to Spring Mountain because there's been some history there already."  So, he had to weigh these considerations.

But the overriding factor helping him to decide on it was the beauty of this place.  He fell in love with it.  One thing that Al had was the ability to visualize.  We all lived in Los Angeles, and before he bought this property, he would often fly his airplane up here and all over the valley, Diamond Creek's Lagoonjust to look for property. And though this wasn't the only place he looked at, he knew what he had here: an amazing spot, one of the prettiest in the valley.  If he really felt strongly about something, he just did it.  Plus, keep in mind, André Tchelistcheff and Louis Martini were no lightweights in the wine industry — they, along with a few other very knowledgeable people told Al they thought he could make this work.  So, taking those things together, he finally pulled the trigger and bought the property.