Industry Insiders: Ray Signorello, Wining and Dining

Ray Signorello, the owner of Signorello Estate in Napa Valley, is one of the youngest winery owners in Napa and produces Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. He also holds partnerships in Edge and Fuse Wine and distributes wine in Canada through Seacove California Selections. Check out Ray’s advice for the amateur wino after the jump.

On getting from point A to point B: It was a hobby that turned into a lifestyle. I had a passion for wine, collecting and drinking. When I was out of school, first at the University of British Columbia and then at the University of San Francisco, I hadn’t planned to be in the wine industry. In 1985, I had an interest in wine and started making wines as a hobby. But then I built winery in 1988 and it became more serious, that’s where I started becoming more of a business.

On wine makers who do it right: Robert Mondavi was America’s wine icon; Angelo Gaja is the most famous owner of Italian wines. I feel most fortunate to have met both of them and collected both of their wines over the years in the cellar. They’re two great, charismatic ambassadors for the industry.

On wine becoming trendy: More people are enjoying the whole food and wine experience. Really high quality wines from all over the world are now being produced and distributed at price points that are within the reach of more consumers, and information is available both friendly and de-mystifying in an industry that was once intimidating. Wine has become so chichi. The truth is that we’ve all grown up eating steak, so we know what a good steak is, but wine? When somebody tells you it’s great, you might buy into that if you don’t have years and years of experience.

On buying the good stuff: The most expensive wines in the world are still French. The first growth Bordeaux is offered at $800 a bottle and they make 25,000 cases. We’ve got Screaming Eagle wines, but they only make 400 cases a year. Today, I just saw the U.S. consumption and it’s never been higher. It bodes well for our industry.

Pet peeves: I really, really dislike celebrity/rockstar winemakers and over marketing that has created expensive wines without substance in the bottle. That’s a terrible trend. Over-ripe over-oaked, low acid over alcoholic sweet wines made to impress critics ultimately don’t have mature character or lasting value for the long run. We try to offer great value with our wines, so they deliver at the price point, and there are a lot of wineries not doing that. That’s from the branding. When you become a famous brand, you’re not paying for the wine, but for the brand.

Extracurricular activities: I fly helicopters. Others don’t know that I have grown my personal wine cellar with over 8,000 bottles. Maybe one day, I’ll fly between vineyards in France.

Any non-industry projects in the works? Trying to find good real estate values during the economic downtown for an acquisition. I’m not just involved in the wine industry, and my background is in real estate. I’m trying to make sense of our economy these days. Ten years ago, we’d kick ourselves if we don’t take advantage of it. It’s always darkest before the dawn.

Go-to places: That’s easy: Mustards Grill in Napa Valley, Go Fish in St. Helena, Daniel in New York, Valentino in Los Angeles. Having a world class owner/chef is my approach to cuisine . We all know Daniel Boulud. He’s a chef I met in the ’80s at Le Cirque, and he turned that start into an empire. You can say the same for Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards which opened in 1984. Since then, she’s opened a number of others in Napa. And of course, Piero Selvaggio is one of the best there is.

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