ARIETTA WINES: A MUSICAL BEGINNING
GOTHAM EXPERIENCES returns on Monday, May 14th with a weeklong celebration of Arietta Winery. Guests will have two distinct opportunities to enjoy these extraordinary wines:
Four Course Dinner paired with Arietta Wines
Available Tuesday, May 15 – Saturday, May 19 | $250
Reserve Library Dinner hosted by Arietta Founder, Fritz Hatton
Thursday, May 17 | $325
A conversation with Arietta founder Fritz Hatton…
We are delighted to have Fritz Hatton and the Arietta wines back for a special evening.
Gotham is a special place. Your restaurant is one of our biggest supporter in New York City, so we’re thrilled to partner with you once again.
What made you want to create your own wine?
In college, actually, I worked in a wine shop in Michigan. I went to Yale hoping to study music — something I’ve always been quite passionate about — though when I got to school I quickly realized the piano performance track wasn’t a good fit for me. I studied English Literature instead, then returned to get my Master’s in Management. By the time I left school I was completely enamored with wine.
Is that how you wound up at Christie’s?
Correct. I joined the wine program there in 1980 and trained as an auctioneer before moving over to the management side.
You spent many years overseeing the Christie’s Wine Program, and now serve as the primary auctioneer at Zachy’s.
Yes. And I also serve as auctioneer for many charities around the country including the Napa Valley Wine Auction.
How long were you at Christie’s?
My first stint? I was there for twelve years — until 1992 — when I left, for what was originally intended to be a one-year sabbatical to study piano in the Bay Area.
Did you like it out there?
My one year sabbatical became three, so I resigned my position at Christie’s and started a new life out in California. About that time I got to know winemaker John Kongsgaard and his wife Maggy. In addition to our love of wine, we also shared a passion for classical music. I couldn’t have known it then, but that friendship would be the beginning of something really special.
Arietta, you mean?
Yes — but not quite yet — because in 1995 I decided to return to Christie’s in New York. Christie’s and Zachys had just entered into a new partnership, and Christies needed someone to run their department. Later, when Christie’s and Zachys separated in 2002, I joined Zachys as principal auctioneer. Zachys changed the often, stuffy atmosphere of wine auctions by seating bidders at tables, offering good food and great wine. That changed the whole dynamic of wine auctions.
When you returned to Christie’s–is that when John called?
Yes. John and Maggy had gained access to a small section of the now-famous “H Block” in Hudson Vineyards, and they asked if I wanted to join them in making some wine. The initial investment was $200 for the grapes; $600 for the one barrel. How could I say no? In the following year, 1996, we made a “commercial” quantity of wine—290 cases. But in 1997 grower Lee Hudson offered us the entire “H Block,” (Cabernet Franc) as well as some Merlot. That yielded about 650 cases of a “reverse” Saint-Emilion style blend, mostly Cabernet Franc with a smaller percentage of Merlot.
And the 1997 vintage was a big one for Arietta?
It was a turning point for all of Napa Valley, and we were certainly part of that. But in many ways Arietta was going against the grain. The wine critics were pushing people to make big, powerful reds, but Arietta has always been about making a more restrained style wine. Old world style with brighter acidity. We wanted to create a nuanced wine, not just big.
Twenty-two years later, how has the portfolio expanded?
In 2000 we renamed our signature wine “H Block, Hudson Vineyards” and added “Variation One,” which is a blend of Syrah and Merlot. Then we added a white called “On The White Keys,” and a left bank Bordeaux blend called “Quartet.” Now we regularly produce six different wines. The key to all of this is our winemaker, Andy Erickson, who came on board in 2005.
A man with quite a pedigree…
Andy is one of the most accomplished winemakers working in Napa right now. He earned his Master’s Degree in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California at Davis in 2000. Prior to joining Arietta, he worked for Harlan Estate and Staglin. He assumed complete control of winemaking at Arietta with the 2006 vintage, and we consider ourselves very lucky to have him.
Earlier you said that your friendship with John and Maggy Kongsgaard was the catalyst for your career as a vintner, but music was the real passion that brought you together.
And so it seemed inevitable that music would supply us with the name for our wine.
Do you remember who came up with it?
It was something we struggled with for a long time. But it was my wife, Caren, who said to us: “You two are so involved in classical music. Look in your music books, that is where you will find the name.” So I reached for a stack of piano music, and flipped open the Beethoven sonata book on top. It fell open to the Arietta movement from Beethoven’s last Piano Sonata, Opus 111. Written long after he’d lost his hearing, it is one of the most transporting and revolutionary pieces of music ever composed. Serene yet complex, rich yet ethereal, we couldn’t help but see it as an inspiration for great winemaking. Arietta was born.
What wouldn’t we know unless you told us?
Arietta is a family business. My wife and I are now the sole owners of the winery, and we make the kind of wines we want to drink. We set the course, and then Andy Erickson and his assistant, Patrick Nyeholt, find a way to navigate us to our destination. Fortunately we have found enough wine lovers who are willing to sail along with us.
Thanks so much for making time for us today.
The pleasure was all mine.