Local couple realizes dream of making wine in California's Napa Valley | Phil Your Glass
I cautiously maneuvered my red Kia SUV rental along the winding and hilly Soda Canyon Road, dodging a furious barrage of raindrops along the way.
Massillon native Julian Christian and his wife, Kathryn Siegfried of Cleveland, were eagerly waiting outside The Caves at Soda Canyon in Napa Valley with a welcoming glass of their new rosé and a comforting umbrella. The two had met years earlier at a party with friends when Christian was working as an assistant manager of fine dining at Bender’s Tavern in Canton.
Christian was enthusiastic about sharing the story of their journey from Canton to Napa Valley's wine country . He was quick to credit his father, David Christian, who retired from the U.S. Navy as director of food and beverage of the USS Kitty Hawk, and his stepfather, Ken Bucholtz, executive chef at Brookside Country Club in Canton, for his successful leap to the California wine and hospitality scene.
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“I started learning about Napa Valley while I was in Ohio,” said Christian. I wanted to grow my ability to share the best wines with the people who trusted me the most.”
As the wine began to flow, so did the wonderful story of their journey.
Steelers running back Franco Harris helped start owner's wine journey
While working as a server at Peter Shear’s in downtown Canton, Christian remembers waiting on Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris who happened to be wearing his gold HOF jacket.
“He loved Cakebread chardonnay,” said Christian, who waited on Harris’ table one night in 2004. “He insisted that I try it since I had never had it before.”
“That was my first moment engaging with someone on wine, on another level, realizing that wine was more than a drink.”
A few nights later, Christian’s table of two was looking for a bottle of chardonnay. “I just leaned over and said, 'Franco Harris loves the Cakebread chardonnay. He shared it with me, and it’s delicious.' I made more money that night than I ever had waiting tables.”
From then on, Christian would sell many bottles of Cakebread chardonnay after telling customers it was a favorite of Harris. “Franco gave me the power to connect with people.”
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The newfound success eventually landed Christian his assistant manager position at Bender’s Tavern. His passion for wine took him on several trips to Napa Valley while taking courses and completing the Level 2 certified sommelier program. Harvest internships with Cakebread Cellars , Hourglass winery and Buccella with renowned winemaker Tony Biagi gave Christian the confidence to chase his dream of making wine in Napa Valley.
Christian’s relationship with Siegfried was blossoming into something permanent. The couple got married in 2016 and discussed moving to California. “My 'aha' moment was much less poetic,” said Siegfried. “We had been discussing moving out here and starting a business. We were making plans for our life.”
During their planning and discussions, Siegfried mentioned that she had never been to Napa, even though Christian couldn’t stop singing its praises. “I was getting more and more into wine, and Julian was already a lover of it.”
She said, “We should just go out there and check it out before we move our entire life across the country.”
The couple decided to take a short trip to California wine country and visit a few tasting rooms. They arrived in the dark of night. The next morning, a few minutes into the drive to their first tasting, Siegfried was smitten.
“ ‘This is good. That’s enough.’ It was an easy yes,” said Siegfried as she took in the vineyards and mountains along the drive. In summer 2017, four months after they were married, they moved to Napa after Christian secured a harvest internship with Biagi at Hourglass Cellars.
Unlike Don Quixote, the hapless wanderer chasing an elusive dream, this Canton couple is now making wine for their own company, Greater Fool Wine , and raising their two children, 5-year-old J.P. and 3-year-old Jane.
"Entering the wine industry as producers is a dream for us and one we intend to keep pursuing, no matter the odds,” said Christian, who now works full time as the director of hospitality at Blankiet Estate winery in Yountville, California. Siegfried is the sole full-time employee of the company after finishing an internship with famed winemaker Thomas Brown at his Rivers-Marie winery.
Greater Fool Wine produces seven wines: a rosé, two whites and four reds. They make their wine in a custom crush facility called The Caves at Soda Canyon halfway up the Vaca Mountains range above Stags Leap. The grapes are purchased through business relationships with local growers. White grapes come from the historic Frediani Ranch in Calistoga where three generations have been farming. Cabernet grapes for their current wines and a new venture that will be bottled in 2024, come from an entire small family vineyard in Coombsville.
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Greater Fool Wine is a family affair
Christian and Siegfried bring their children to the vineyards three or four times a week leading up to harvest.
"The four of us load up in the truck, we have snacks, we walk the vineyard and check the fruit. It’s great that we get to work together and drag our kids along,” said Siegfried, who insisted they aren’t grooming their children to be in the wine business.
“I will add that they know all the planets and the names of 20 dinosaurs. They are bright,” she was quick to add. “They know grape varietals and the names of extinct animals.”
At this stage, the couple is happy working together in a family business.
“Our feet are in the dirt. Our hands are on the grapes, and I have touched every bottle of every wine,” said Siegfried, who places a wax signet on top of each bottle after corking.
Paddington Down, the name of their two red wines, carries a special meaning.
“It’s where we lived in Jackson Township. We sold our home on Paddington Down Road, packed up all of our things, and moved to Napa Valley,” said Christian.
They currently do not own any vineyards or a winery. “I would love to own property, for sure,” said Christian.
“We are making wine that we love and want to share,” he said. “We keep looking to the sky and don’t want to lose faith. You’ve got to be a little lucky.”
How to purchase Greater Fool Winery's wines
A few bottles of the $28.99 2019 Elaborate Truths white wine, the couple's first release, are available at Beau’s Market in Copley. It will also be available at Fisher's on Fulton Drive in Canton. This wine is 51% viognier, 42% sauvignon blanc and 7% chardonnay co-fermented in neutral French oak. My first sip of this white wine is what led to this story.
The remainder of their wines can be purchased on their website, greaterfoolwines.com . Readers of this article can enter coupon code “friendly10” for a 10% discount off any purchase.
I tasted all seven of their wines. The Paddington Down reds are a wonderful expression of Sonoma and Napa, and a bargain at $45 and $49. I was super impressed with the quality.
The passion of this young couple shines through in every glass of their wine.
Send me an email at email@example.com with any wine questions and follow me on Instagram @pmasturzo_philyourglass