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OUTSIDE THE OFFICE: From Columbus to Carneros


Miguel Delgado, MD

My interest in winemaking stems from my interest in moving to California from cold and blustery Columbus, Ohio. My brother and I wanted to end up in California to work, raise our families and enjoy the ocean. Boating was to be our hobby. In the late 1980s, he moved to Half Moon Bay, and I moved to Marin. He worked at Kaiser as an anesthesiologist and quickly purchased a 50-foot boat. We had made our dream come true.

The big day arrived. I brought the champagne, and we headed out to sea in my brother’s boat as fast and crazy as we could. All of a sudden I became dizzy, nauseated, pale and sick as a dog. After repeating this many times and becoming known as “chum,” I decided to find a new hobby. Winemaking sounded great.

My winemaking began in 1990, shortly after I started my plastic surgery practice in Novato. I joined a winemaking club in San Rafael, where we would purchase our grapes, crush them and start the fermentation process. I did this for two years, and the wine was undrinkable. In fact, it was absolutely horrid. I had a storm drain behind my house, so I decided to store the wine in there to keep it dark and cool. I would take off the steel grate over the storm drain and hop down into the hole and work on the wine. Wine needs a clean, almost sterile environment. My storm drain was far from it, and all the wine was both oxidized and contaminated. I remember the time I added sugar to the chardonnay to improve the favor. NOT. My romantic hobby was a labor of love, with nothing to show for it.

I gave winemaking a rest for five years and worked hard in my practice. During this time I married my lovely wife, Becky, who shared my enthusiasm for making wine. We started making wine again with Kian Tavikoli, a friend’s son who had graduated from UC Davis. He was working at Opus One as a chemist.

I wanted to be involved in picking the grapes and watching a winemaker through the early steps. Kian found good grapes from vineyards as a second pick after they have done their harvesting--almost like picking up the scraps. We called the wine Kian, and our first vintage was a 1995 cabernet/cabernet franc blend. The wine was never that good, but it was palatable, and it has held up over the years. The color is ruby red and the nose is earthy, but there is a bitterness that the palate cannot get past to want another sip. Aging can improve good wine, but aging poor wine is an uphill battle. After this project, I just didn’t want to make wine the following year. I was becoming seasick with failure again.

In 2006, I got the bug again. I wanted to enrich my life so that when I slowed down from work or retired I would have something I loved to do on a daily basis. Winemaking was the obvious choice. This time we wanted to start from the ground up and control all that we could. We were “all in.”

Making wine starts at the vineyard, so Becky and I purchased a 23-acre planted vineyard parcel in the Carneros appellation of Sonoma County. This region is cool, hilly and open, with near-constant wind. Carneros is perfectly suited for pinot and chardonnay. Owning the vineyard was great because all the grapes were on contract to be sold to various wineries. We produce about 100 to 120 tons of fruit each year, depending on the weather pattern.

We started making our own wine about four years ago, beginning with 25 cases of pinot noir and 25 of chardonnay. Each year we learn from the previous year. We are slowly developing our Delgado Family Vineyard brand and find it is something fun to do. Our wine is currently available only to family and friends, but we hope to offer it for sale sometime soon.

Our vineyard is farmed by La Prenda, a professional farming company, and our wine is made at Crushpad, a custom crush facility located at Sebastiani Winery in Sonoma. Our old friend Kian is the head winemaker there. He has become a superb winemaker over the years, and he produces consistently fantastic wines.

We have not entered our wine in any competitions, but our last vintage may be worthy. Making good wine is difficult. We have learned that it truly starts in the vineyard with the soil type, weather pattern, varietal, pruning, thinning the vines, and the brix or sugar content at harvest. Our vineyard is only 20 minutes away from our home, and I visit frequently to watch the grapes develop over the growing season.

We continue to focus on pinot noir and chardonnay. Our 2010 pinot is earthy, with hints of cherry and strawberry, and is well balanced because of the abundance of fruit and acidity. It is an unusually bold pinot for the Carneros region, but it has a silky finish that lingers on the palate. The 2010 chardonnay is typical of the Carneros. It is crisp, with good acidity, and it offers light apple, citrus and caramel flavors. The color is golden and clean with beautiful legs. The mid-palate is solid, and the finish is soft, silky and smooth.

Both wines undergo malolactic fermentation and are stirred in the lees (sediment) multiple times, which develops a creamy texture and silky feel to the palate. In addition, the wines are stored in one-year-old oak barrels, which develops depth and complexity and layers the flavors in the wine. Nonetheless, the wines are not over-oaked. In the early days I would use oak chips or extract, and I could always taste the oak, which can easily overpower a wine. The art is to use oak to help develop character, depth and layers.

Winemaking is my out of the office passion. We all need one. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy kite flying, fly fishing, travel or golf--you need something to stimulate your mind, just as medicine has done for all of our lives.

My younger brother who loved the ocean died in his forties of an aggressive type of bladder cancer that spread to his kidneys and metastasized. He lived and loved his hobbies. I learned from him that it is never too early to find a passionate hobby that will stimulate your mind and satisfy your spirit.

Cheers to you, brother!


Dr. Delgado is a plastic surgeon with offices in Novato and San Francisco.

Email: miguel@delgado.com