by Fred McMillin
for October 8, 1997

Dr. Staten in the Lion's Den

"My introduction to the wine business was sort of an initiation by fire. Suddenly, I was the first Presbyterian minister to manage a winery in California." ...Rev. Dr. John C. Staten, Professor of Religion and Chaplain, Mills College, Oakland, in 1979.

Here's How It Happened:

  • 1977—Former mayor of Berkeley, CA, Wallace Johnson has invented a system for picking, crushing and pressing grapes right in the vineyard. So he founds Field Stone Winery and Vineyard to field test his invention.

  • August, 1979—The development ends tragically when suddenly Wallace has a stroke and dies. His daughter, Katrina, and her husband, John Staten, abruptly become vintners.

  • 1980—The legendary Andre Tchelistcheff joins the team as consulting enologist. He notes the exceptional quality of the small Cabernet Sauvignon patch in the Alexander Valley and suggests expanding it. Good idea? Well, later the esteemed Robert Parker will write that Field Stone is "consistently producing opaque, burly, impressive Cabernets."
Master Sommelier Ronn Wiegand says the 1991 Alexander Valley Cab is a superstar in its $15 price range. My 15 tasters just checked the '92 and loved it... powerful but not harsh.

The Wine: 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
Field Stone Winery
Healdsburg, CA
Contact—Dr. Roger Hull, (707) 433-7266
Food Affinities—Robust beef and pasta dishes; assorted cheeses after the entree.
Price—$15 range

Postscript: We all know that Reverend Staten is one of a long line of clergy-vintners. For example, the black-robed Benedictine monks are credited with preserving the art of winemaking during the Dark Ages. However, the first monks to enjoy wine were in a location few would guess. It was not near Rome, but about 300 A.D. St. Anthony and his followers served their guests wine in Egypt!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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