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Spring 2010

A Taste of History

Martin Estate expresses itself through more than its wines.

By Michaela Jarvis

From the time he was a boy, growing up in a sleepy town near Morgan Hill, Greg Martin was an unusual sort. Unlike boys who play with trucks or baseballs, Martin, an only child, liked to make wine, assembling mismatched crocks and pots, and learning through trial and error the "certain absolute steps you have to take" so you end up with wine, and not a disgusting mess.

"I had a lot of exciting happenings," Martin says now, his eyes twinkling. He adds that he also made gunpowder, and, at age 12, he bought an old gun for $10, cleaned it up, and then found out it was worth $125. He later became a world authority on antique arms and armaments, the president of an international auction house, and a Napa gentleman farmer, with his own winery and museumlike chateau.

"It was the first taste of blood," Martin says of his gun purchase. "Since then, I';ve always been with it."

In 1996, Martin and his wife, Petra, bought a Rutherford winery that had not been operational since 1909, when Georges de Latour, founder of Beaulieu Vineyard (BV), used the stone structure to make the first wine sold under the BV name. The Martins worked to restore the winery and its adjoining chateau's 18th and 19th century feel. One of the contractors they employed stayed on the property for more than seven years, living in the guesthouse and working for the Martins full-time.

About 50 years before the Martins bought the estate, it became the party pad of San Francisco socialite Katherine Cebrian. On July 4, 1970, the property made the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, when a wayward bottle rocket from a party's fireworks display caused the roof to catch on fire. Today, rust-colored stains on the floor of the dining room attest to the event. Water used to put out the fire turned rusty from the roof's nails and was absorbed by the marble floor. Martin says the stains will remain; he likes them because they tell a story.

These days, the Martin Estate is like a mini San Simeon, complete with Belgian tapestries from the 1600s, big-game trophies, a huge collection of Western paintings by A.D.M. Cooper and Charles Nahl, Gene Autry's stagecoach and stuffed horses, and, of course, 400 years' worth of armaments, including swords from the Napoleonic Wars. Like San Simeon, the estate has hosted its share of celebrities, including Sarah Chang, Andrew von Oeyen, and Conrad Tao—all musicians who have played at Napa's Festival del Sole. This year, the Martins will host pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Tao, inviting them to enjoy the 130-foot-long pool and Martin Estate Cabernet, and to practice on a 1910 Bechstein piano in an uncluttered music room that takes up the chateau';s entire third floor.

All in all, Martin Estate feels as if it's from another era. As a wine connoisseur said about the Martins' highly esteemed Cabernet, "This is what Rutherford used to taste like."

Martin Estate offers tasting and tours by appointment. Visit martinestate.com.

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