The most important driver of Puppione Family Wines may surprise you. It’s about Chris Puppione’s dream of becoming a dad and having a family. The story is about honoring and connecting family and creating family traditions.
Chris joked to me that it took him a long time to find his wife, Dee. A much longer time than his mom had hoped. But that search was well worth the wait, and they married in 2015. Originally, he had a plan to make a barrel or two in commemoration of their nuptials, but for several reasons, including the timing of their October wedding, it didn’t happen.
He had always been connected to the wine industry. I first met him when he was director of sales and hospitality at Passalacqua Winery. He stayed in that position until early 2021 and decided, based on having two young kids at home, that it was time for him to be more present.
Coravin offered him a great opportunity to work remotely, and he accepted a position for regional key account manager serving wineries. This flexibility allowed him to work for both Puppione Family Wines website and Coravin. “You can’t launch a wine brand called Puppione Family wines and not be engaged with your family,” he told me.
The support he’s received from his former employers has been impressive. Jason, the owner of Passalacqua, helped him truck grapes in for his 2020 wine. Greg Lambrecht, founder, and inventor of Coravin, is featured on his website tasting through some of his wines. It’s a testament to the kind of employee and person he is.
Early 2017, when Dee was pregnant with Ariya, the idea resurfaced. This time it was a December birthday, so things were a little more feasible. With the support of lots of industry friends especially Adrian Jewell Manspeaker, owner & winemaker of Joseph Jewell Wines, it became a reality. And Chris made a Syrah commemorating the birth of his daughter, but it did it as a surprise to his wife.
The big unveiling to his unsuspecting wife, came from on the day of picking the grapes for his wine, where he faked an auto emergency. He described, she was “quite pregnant and really encouraged him to call Triple A.” He convinced her to pick him up and surprised her not only with the news but a vineyard ready to pick. She ceremoniously clipped a cluster of grapes, put them in the bin and went back home to rest.
Chris and Dee didn’t originally set out to establish a wine brand, they just wanted to honor the milestone moments of the birth of their kids. But the wine was a success and they continued to make more in 2018 with great feedback. This time, they used 50 percent whole cluster Syrah grapes to give it added structure and depth. As Chris put it, giving it more “syrahness.” In 2019, they couldn’t get fruit and needed a plan B if this was going to continue, but they still hadn’t decided to start a commercial winery.
That changed when Dee became pregnant with their son, Soren, and told Chris that they couldn’t make a wine for one kid and not the other. Puppione Family Wines was made official shortly after. They were able to sign a long-term contract with Marimar’s Estate’s Don Miguel Vineyard and solved the longer-term sourcing problem.
The Ariya wines come from Odyssey Vineyard—a three-acre, organically farmed Syrah vineyard in the Russian River. The Soren wines come from Fiore Estate Vineyard in Alexander Valley. And in 2021, a new flagship wine is coming from the previously mentioned Don Miguel Vineyard in the Green Valley sub-AVA in the Russian River Valley. That wine is called “Intero” the Italian word for whole meaning the it’s the first year their family is complete and its meant to celebrate that completion.
Chris told me about the long connections his family has in the wine industry. His great grandfather Pietro Puppione would make his own wines at home with grapes he bought from a local grower who had a horse-drawn cart in Livermore. Clearly wine making has been a family tradition for many generations in his family and starting and building those traditions is important to him with his own family.
“Every family has own traditions — holidays, phrases, places you go, ways to celebrate – this is the way to build our own history through this wine,” he said. “We were very deliberate with the idea. Our kids’ names are on the bottles and it is mean to be a family experience where we have fun and pay for the next harvest making memories along the way.”
Chris gave me some words that brought me to tears about what it means to him to be a dad. He gave me permission to share them with you.
About 40 years ago…
A second-grade boy gets a homework assignment… “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The truth is, I have never had a dream job.
Most kids want to be doctors, astronauts, pro athletes—my brother wanted to be an orange fireman. The reality is however that most of them never grew up to be what they wrote about.
But I wanted to be a dad.
Fresh cut roses on the bed for my wife
Secret stops on our way home for root beer floats
Coaching sports teams and taking trips
Teaching my kids how to ride bikes or fix anything with shoe goo and duct tape
Always being there when needed, but also allowing us to pick ourselves up when we fell
Turned in the assignment, it was returned, and I was told to redo the assignment
I didn’t redo the assignment—and I almost didn’t fulfill my dream
For the longest time I couldn’t even get married—and if you ask my mom, it was not for a lack of trying.
In the end, it took the first 39 years of my life to find my wife, two more just to marry her, and it wasn’t until the year I turned 43 that I learned that I was going to be a dad.
It was finally happening I was finally grown up! And on the verge of being who I always wanted to be.
I was so thrilled, so taken with the moment, that I literally wanted to bottle it up so I could enjoy it for years to come.
So, without telling my wife, I bought one ton of grapes from a nearby vineyard in our home of the Russian River Valley and decided to make a wine.
And on the label of our family wine are two names—the one I inherited from the person who taught me what kind of man I wanted to be, and the other I gave to my baby girl who gave me the dream job I had always wanted in return.
— Chris Puppione
Personally, I’m glad he didn’t redo that assignment. On Father’s Day, what a gift Chris is to his family and our wine community. He exemplifies every quality you would describe in a good dad.
So how can you support the Puppione family? Production is small but growing. The Soren wines will be released in the Fall and the Ariya wines were released in March. Sign up on the mailing list at puppionefamilywines.com.
The wines were crafted with an “Old World’ hand with a subtlety not often found in California Syrah’s. It was interesting to see the difference that using whole cluster in the wines made year over year.
The wines are made with Native yeast fermentations, crushed by foot anytime, aged in neutral oak barrels and are unfined and unfiltered. The growers engage in sustainable and organic practices in the vineyard, we can employ these minimalist, old-school techniques.
- 2017 Puppione Family Wines “Ariya” Syrah– notes of black pepper, bacon, black olive, dark cherry, Asian spice, more fruit forward.
- 2018 Puppione Family Wines “Ariya”– this one tasted more traditional to me with the aromatics and texture I expect from Syrah. This one had more floral notes, black fruit, and pepper.
- 2020 Puppione Family Wines Soren Cuvée – this was a super drinkable wine with notes of violet, black pepper, black fruit, and a nice earthiness. It was changing in the glass and fun to see the flavors develop. It was a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Syrah
- 2020 Puppione Family Wines Soren Cabernet Sauvignon –there’s one barrel (25 cases) made of this special wine. It was an elegant and well-crafted Cabernet waiting to be discovered. I tasted notes of blackberry, black currant, chocolate, mocha, spice, herbs, and layers that continued to unwrap at every sip.
I talked with Chris further probing into the legacy he hoped to leave with the wines. He told me, “I’m trying to make this a family project, not a daddy project.” Dee is quoted on the website talking about how the wines and kids will grow together, “The wines inside their bottles will change alongside the kids, never outpacing them or falling behind. We will share them with each other and our community, and we will be able to celebrate together our greatest legacy glass after glass, year over year.”
It’s clear that togetherness—of family and wine will propel the tradition building at Puppione Family Wines.