Robert and Peter had it easy in the tasting room. Sons Tom and John had to work in the winery after finishing their homework. “One night, we were racking Cabernet and Chenin Blanc, transferring them from one container to another. I got an emergency call — torsion of the testicle — so I told the kids, ‘All you have to do is rack this wine from this container into that empty vat. I set it all up. I’ll be back in two hours.’ Two hours later, I walked in there, and you could hear a pin drop. Tom looked like he was about ready to cry.” The boys had racked the Cabernet right into the Chenin Blanc, creating about 2000 gallons of bright pink wine.
At the time, “we were losing money. I didn’t know how we were going to survive.” Still, “I wanted the whole thing to be fun, so I said, ‘Don’t worry. We’re all alive. Let’s see what we’ve got here.’ It looked just like a holly berry, it smelled like Chenin Blanc, and it tasted wonderful. I said, ‘It looks like Christmas. Why don’t we call it Christmas wine? I designed a green-and-white label, and it sold like hotcakes, all 2000 gallons. Saved the winery. The next year, I had a waiting list for 3000 gallons.” Another scene from a bygone era.
Today, Piconi makes olive oil from the trees on his property and wine from grapes grown all over California in a snug home winery dug into the side of a hill. “I buy from a lot of people who don’t usually cater to home winemakers, but they remember me. This year, I made my first Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia highlands and a Sangiovese from right here in Escondido. It’s not Chianti, but I think it tastes pretty good.”