Lawrence Cronin paid his dues: from bartending at an Irish bar to working reservations at a ‘clothing optional’ resort – the mind shudders. But wine making was always the end goal.
And he certainly achieved it, working at some of the best wineries all around the world in California, New Zealand, Australia and Chile.
But despite growing up in the States, the pull of the old world – and his Italian heritage – eventually won out.
In 2002, he was hired as the Winemaker for Tenuta di Arceno. With guidance from legendary vigneron Pierre Seillan, he has helped elevate this historic estate into the upper tier of Tuscan producers.
We caught up with Lawrence to find out more…
What was your first experience of wine?
My first wine memories are from family holidays in Staten Island, New York. I can still picture my Uncle Gus enjoying wine in his big lounge chair.
The first time I saw grapes growing on the vine was in Sicily, when I went to stay with my Grandmother there in Castellammare Del Golfo.
She bought some white grapes and we made two barrels. Surely, it did not turn out so well but that was my first experience in making wine.
What was the first label or grape you tasted which really caught your attention?
I still remember my first real ‘wine tasting’ experience in El Dorado County in California, while I was working as a chemist in the area. On the weekends, a group of us would drive around the Sierra Foothills wine country to drink wine and search for waterfalls and swimming holes.
I am sure the staff in the tasting rooms were not thrilled to see us, but it was a formative period early in my career. One of my favourites was a Barbera from Renwood Winery, so clearly, I have an affinity for Italian varietals.
You grew up in New York state. How did you get into wine making?
After years of enduring the cold winters at Syracuse University in upstate New York, I bought a Jeep and drove west to California, and it was while working as a chemist in the Sierra Foothills that I caught the ‘wine bug.’
With UC-Davis not far away, I started to think about the possibility of being a chemist at a winery. (It seemed safer than my role at the time which involved identifying ‘unknowns’!)
I started taking a few wine classes at UC-Davis, and at the same time my parents moved to Mendocino, California. Whenever I went to visit them, I’d drive through Anderson Valley and I fell in love with the region and the wines, so I packed my things and moved to Mendocino.
I took a temporary position as a bartender in an Irish pub and at the reservation desk of a non-traditional ‘clothing optional’ resort, but I found my big break in 1995, when I was hired as a harvest intern in Anderson Valley at Edmeades.
If I could go back in time, I’d go back to this moment – the early days of making wine and pouring Guinness in the evenings, with the keys in my pocket to the resort hot tubs in the Redwoods, under the stars.
You’ve worked in many wineries – where did you learn the most?
I’ve learned something everywhere, whether that has been ‘what to do’ or ‘what not to do’. My first real winemaking experience at Edmeades was purely wine centric. We were producing a range of varieties – pinot noir, chardonnay, zinfandel, petit sirah, grenache, mourvedre, sangiovese, and gewurztraminer – all from native yeast, without any sulfites, and punching-down by hand.
It was literal hands-on experience, mixing the grapes by hand from fruit to wine – all 240 one-ton bins. It put me in great shape and connected me to the basic origins of wine. It showed me the magic in coaxing the grapes to become wine. Looking back, it was all quite divine.
When did you go to Tuscany – and what made you decide to go at that particular point?
I arrived at Tenuta di Arceno in Tuscany’s Castelnuovo Berardenga from California with just two days’ notice. Originally, the position was for two months to set up the lab and put things in place for the harvest.
It was June 2002, and at the time my grandmother was still living in Sicily. I grew up spending summers there, so adapting to the culture in Tuscany was not a dramatic change for me.
As Summer quickly transitioned to Fall, the founding winemaker, Pierre Seillan, asked if I would stay for harvest and you can imagine how the rest of the story unfolds. I arrived on a Wednesday and never left!
What was it like working with the legendary Pierre Seillan?
Pierre has been an incredible influence in my approach to making wine. I still work with him and speak to him on a regular basis.
One of the strongest influences has been his approach to tannin structure in the wines during harvest. His focus to ‘create wine in the vineyard’ will always stay with me.
How was last year’s harvest for you? Is 2020 going to be a good vintage?
Yes, 2020 is a high-quality vintage. It was a goldilocks year that was not too hot, too cold, too dry, or too wet.
Budbreak was later this year, around mid-April, which was preferred to an earlier budbreak and the anxiety of potential frost. There was ample rainfall in the Spring, with flowering around the typical time towards the end of May and early June.
Overall, the growing season was quite warm, but the heat was tempered by beneficial breaks of rain that cooled the vines down. These rains were positive and arrived at opportune moments, and then breezes came through to keep clusters dry.
The vines were very happy through the season with a high-quality harvest that produced a medium-sized crop.
How has the industry changed since you started in it?
In general, the wines are better, and the competition is greater. It is much harder to find wines with obvious faults but still one must have full attention to detail to make great wine that shines.
If you could only drink one grape for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why?
This an impossible decision, but if I must, it would come down to either sangiovese or nebbiolo. The two are chameleon grapes that show remarkable evolution over time, and a pure ability to evoke sense of place in the glass.
What’s your deathrow bottle?
To make it a true full-circle moment, it would be Chateau Palmer 1983. When I was a young winemaker working harvest at Cape Mentelle in Western Australia, the owner offered me the chance to ‘pick something from the cellar’ and that is what I chose. The proverbial winemaking light shone down and cue the music – that is where it began and where it would appropriately end.
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