Winemaker recognized for making great wine and training others
Tony Biagi is not only the brains behind some pretty great wine, but he’s also the brains behind some pretty great winemakers.
A consulting winemaker at Alma Rosa Winery in Buellton, Mr. Biagi was named 2020 Winemaker of the Year by Antonio Galloni, the founder of Vinous Media, for his gifted winemaking and his talent for mentoring young, emerging winemakers.
However, for Mr. Biagi, the latter is what means the most to him.
“I’m very excited about it,” he told the News-Press. “I’ve always felt that when I’m hired by a company, it’s basically to build the brand. We all work together. If they’re successful, I’m successful.
“It was nice to be acknowledged, but capturing how I like to work — that was the most rewarding.”
The seasoned winemaker graduated with a degree in fermentation science from UC Davis in 1995 and immediately hopped on as the winemaker for Duckhorn’s new Paraduxx Winery in Napa. He then joined the Plumpjack Group for nearly 10 years as the winemaker and made wine for Cade.
Now he has his own wine brand, Patria, and makes wine for Hourglass Winery, along with consulting Alma Rosa winemaker Samra Morris.
The Sta. Rita Hills region provides potential for chardonnay, pinot and rhone varietals with its unique climate.
Richard Sanford planted the first pinot noir vineyard in the Central Coast in 1971, and he and his wife Thekla launched Alma Rosa in 2005, practicing organic farming and sustainable business practices.
As the first Bosnian American winemaker in California, Samra Morris is a rising star in the winemaking industry, and with Mr. Biagi’s consulting, the team is setting a new standard for quality in the Sta. Rita Hills. Ms. Morris joined the winery in 2018.
“When Samra came on board, that really allowed us a clean slate to build upon what Richard started at Alma Rosa,” Mr. Biagi said.
He said he enjoys getting to be a “fly on the wall” at Alma Rosa, and he aims to educate his winemakers on the business side of winemaking just as much as the creative process by bringing them into the vineyard every day.
“I really try to listen to her (Ms. Morris’) voice, bring that out in making quality decisions and allow her a net to make these decisions,” Mr. Biagi said. “I’m never going to let you fail, but you have to make decisions.
“How do you evaluate someone if you don’t see their decision-making process? You can’t evaluate if that person is right or wrong for the job,” he said. “I don’t ever want her to say, ‘I’m only doing this because my consultant told me to do this.’”
Through his trusting consulting method, Ms. Morris has been able to produce distinctive wines that defy expectations.
“She believes and buys into these wines,” Mr. Biagi said. “You can really feel the passion Samra has for these wines because they’re hers. My job is to help nurture her and help her get there.”
He added that at Alma Rosa, Ms. Morris “drives the bus” and he’s just along for the ride.
“Being a young winemaker during harvest builds up a lot of pressure and he’s there for me on the days I want to quit,” Ms. Morris told the News-Press. “He’s there for me to help me out, to build more and more confidence and to help me feel comfortable with decisions I’ve never made before.”
She said her personality and the personality of Mr. Biagi go well together, which makes their teamwork easygoing.
“It’s very exciting to have somebody that matches who I am,” she said. “I’m so lucky to have Tony as a consultant … It’s a big deal, and it’s very exciting for him to be recognized.”