A Charmed Life

The book is full of stories like that; Terlato’s career tracking right along with the development of the American wine palate. But then, just when it seems he can do no wrong in the wine business, he starts buying wineries. The distributor becomes the owner. It begins with Rutherford Hill in 1996; renovations and upgrades, undertaken to burnish a faded brand, cost him $7 million. He pours $11 million more into Chimney Rock and another $5 million into Alderbrook. And on and on.

The work has brought success, and on his own terms. In a kind of homage to the Santa Margherita wine that brought him so much success, “I made this Pinot Grigio in the Russian River Valley for $22 a bottle, where I should be planting Pinot Noir that I could sell for $50.” (It became the first wine with his name on the label: Terlato Family Vineyards.) “So I said to my winemaker Doug Fletcher, ‘You’ve got to make me the best Pinot Grigio in America. Can you do it?’ He says, ‘I can. And if not, we can always blend it into something else.’ We just got an article — a journalist wrote, ‘It’s the best Pinot Grigio I ever tasted.’ I was kind of excited to see that.”

But he didn’t spend his millions for the sake of getting good press. Nor did he spend just to have his name on a great bottle of wine. Rather, he says, “I wanted to leave something concrete to my grandchildren. If I’m going to bring them into this business, I need to leave something concrete for them. When you’ve got children, you spend your whole life wanting to make their life good. If you haven’t, you’ve failed. I wanted them to have a good life.”

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