Massican was founded by owner and winemaker Dan Petroski in 2009. Dan grew up in Brooklyn in an American Italian family. Wine for him, as a commercial venture did not happen right away. Dan remembers being attracted to magazines from an early age. He recalls signing up for a subscription to Condé Naste Traveler when was merely 9 years of age (one of their earliest subscribers). He continued his interest in magazines by spending nine years working for Sports Illustrated and Time Magazine.
After deciding to return to school, Dan enrolled in business school through New York University. While there he met a friend whose family was living in rural Italy. To celebrate their graduation they took a trip to Italy where Dan was wowed by the local community’s welcoming attitude and hospitality. He was impressed with Italy’s diversity of culture, food, wine and history. Dan told us that at the age of 23 he was thinking, “I could spend the rest of my life traveling through Italy and never be bored.”
A number of years later he returned to Italy where he helped during harvest at Valle dell’Acate, a Sicilian winery and then spent six months exploring the countries’ various wine regions. Returning to a sickly job market in New York he headed west where he interned for several Sonoma County wineries before moving to Larkmead Vineyards in Napa (where he currently oversees their winemaking team).
Massican brought together a number of Dan’s talents and interests: his love for north eastern Italy, his business acumen and his new found talents as a winemaker.
His timing for starting Massican was very good in that a rare Napa planting of Ribolla Gialla became available in 2009 and formed part of Massican’s first vintage. This small planting was at George Vare’s Vineyard off of Dry Creek Road near the city of Napa (Vare was one of the founder’s of Luna Vineyards – we first met with George years ago when he was running his own wine label). Dan’s plan was originally to create one wine each year – a blend of the blocks from his source vineyards. However after fermenting each varietal on its own (all his fermentation is done in barrel) he realized he had the components to produce several wines.
In a valley known for its red wines, the focus of Massican is *extremely unique* by Napa standards – Dan’s entire production is white wines, producing from a number of varieties not often seen in Napa. While Dan does make a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, his is also making wine from varieties such as Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano.
Oak is merely one “ingredient” in his wines rather than, to borrow from a culinary dictionary, the entire “sauce”. He uses both new and French oak, limits the amount of aging in oak and typically uses barrels with a lighter toast. Or simply uses stainless steel barrels. None of the wines go through malolactic fermentation. His wines are about the varietal, the acidity, and lower alcohol. These are not the “stereotyped” Napa oaky, oily, buttery white wines.
A nice aspect about making white only wines in Napa is that the weather is generally not a factor in harvest decisions. Dan picks these varieties at lower sugars – starting his harvest sometimes as early as mid August continuing through the latter part of September.
The 2019 Massican Sauvignon Blanc is 100% varietal sourced from two Napa Valley vineyards. This wine was fermented and aged in 75% stainless steel barrels. Smells lively and bright with aromatics of lime, lemon zest, slate, green apple, dried hay sitting out in hot sun, hints of wintergreen and lemongrass. As the wine breathes shows more fruit including hints of white peach and apricot. The texture is surprisingly supple and even a bit creamy in feel and is complemented by a refreshing acidity that dances across the palate from start to finish. Its verve is carried by it’s acidity. Finishes clean with notes of lime and some mineral nuances.
The 2011 Massican Annia is a unique blend of Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Chardonnay. The Tocai Friulano is from old head pruned vines that were planted in 1947. This wine is edgy on the palate, always reminding you of its fresh and lively acidity. The alcohol is low – 12.4% (the year prior it was barely 12%). The wine initially shows aromas of pencil shavings, and as it breathes it becomes more floral including notes of jasmine as well as citrus blossom and lemon peel. The finish is lively with an earthiness showing – Dan compares the palate as tasting lemon lime on a dusty rock – the terroir characteristics if you will.
The 2011 Massican Gemina is 100% varietal Chardonnay from one of Napa’s most sought after vineyards for this varietal – the Hyde Vineyard in Carneros. A tiny amount was produced – only 85 cases. This wine initially shows aromas of stone fruit but becomes more floral as it opens. On the palate it is lean, steely with mineralities, briny and expresses tart tones of lemon lime, with a finish that keeps you salivating.
The 2011 Massican Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from a vineyard that produces only 3 tons per acre (low for this varietal). The clusters are small as are the berries. The juice to skin ratio is low – stylistically this wine walks the line between some of the grassy characteristics that you often find in wines from Marlborough in New Zealand and the much rich, riper California Sauvignon Blancs. Initially the pretty bouquet shows notes of stone fruit and melon on the bouquet. The initial entry is soft and the mouth feel is rounded and slightly viscous. This wine has a neat savory component to the mid palate through to the finish with notes of thyme and other savory spices.
The name Massican was chosen to honor Dan’s heritage in Italy. His great grandfather grew up in the foothills of the Monte Massico mountain range north of Naples in the Campania region. For Dan’s flagship wine Annia, he chose another name that is a tribute to his heritage; it is the name for a DOC (appellation) in Fruili Italy as well the name of an old Roman family. Annia was also his mother’s name.
And what is highly unusual for a Napa Valley vintner, Dan also produces a Vermouth under his Massican label (we are aware of only two other Napa producers making Vermouth).
Dan has entered into partnerships for producing two other brands. Gaspare is a white wine collaboration (Tocai, Ribolla and Chardonnay blend) with Ronco del Gnemiz Winery (located in far eastern Italy near the Slovenian border). The first vintage of this wine was 2015. And Birra Bianca is a Belgian style beer made in conjunction with Dan’s friend, Edward Westbrook at Westbrook Brewing Co. in Charleston, South Carolina (founded in 2011). Westbrook Brewing maintains a tap room open to the public. The beers produced for Massican are aged in former Massican white wine barrels.
Dan told us he enjoys drinking his own beer in wine glasses and recommend pouring half a beer can into a wine glass, putting the rest of the can back in the refrigerator to keep it cold before finishing the other half. The rationale is this beer shows best when served very cold; Dan suggests a serving temperature of between 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit. The Birra Bianca is a Belgian styled beer that is highly refreshing to drink on a warm summer’s evening (based on personal experience).
In 2017 Dan was awarded the San Francisco Chronicle’s winemaker of the year.
Much of their distribution is direct to consumer via their mailing list but they are selectively distributed in fine wine shops and restaurants in California, Florida, New York and Texas. For a number of years, total production was typically under 1,000 cases per year, although in recent years this has increased significantly. Locally one may sometimes find some of their wines at Backroom wines in the city of Napa. For more information and to join the members list, visit: www.massican.com