Anthony Biagi on His Wine Career and the Importance of Mentorship
March 15, 2021
Written By Anthony Biagi on His Wine Career and the Importance of Mentorship
Anthony Biagi, a consulting winemaker for notable wineries like Amici Cellars, Lasseter Family Winery, Alma Rosa and others, received a huge honor in 2020 when he was named Winemaker of the Year by Antonio Galloni, founder of Vinous Media.
How did Anthony (referred to by his nickname, Tony, from here on out) get here? In a conversation with Coravin, Tony shared that he discovered the wine business at an early age. Growing up in California, his parents always had a bottle of wine on the table at dinner. “They weren’t necessarily collectors, they were simply wine lovers,” he shared.
Fast forward to college, Tony attended UC Davis – one of the top schools for wine makers with their program for viticulture and enology. After graduating and completing internships at Dry Creek Vineyards and Hess, he found his way to a full-time role at Duckhorn while it was still a relatively young, mom-and-pop operation. Many consulting roles later, Tony found himself in the position to not only consult in the winemaking process but also mentor young, emerging winemakers. Before we get into that, we take a step back to explore Tony’s career.
An exceptional career thus far
When we asked Tony how he got from Duckhorn back in 1995 to being acknowledged by Antonio as winemaker of the year he replied, “I got lucky.” Tony attributes a lot of his success to keeping his head down and working hard. “Everyone wants to be acknowledged for the quality of their wine but I always remained focussed on the work I was doing.” Here’s a timeline of Tony’s amazing career:
Tony joined the team at Duckhorn Vineyards in 1995 as an enologist under legendary winemaker Tom Rinaldi. During his time at Duckhorn, Tony was promoted to assistant winemaker, and promoted to founding winemaker at the company’s then-new Paraduxx Winery where he focused on Napa Valley blends.
- Founding winemaker and general manager, Neal Family Vineyards (2001-2003)
- Winemaker, The PlumpJack Group: Winemaker for PlumpJack (2003-2012), founding winemaker for Cade (2005-2012), consulting winemaker for Odette (2012-2014)
- Founding winemaker, Sinegal Estate Winery (2013-2016); Consulting winemaker (2017
- Consulting winemaker, Clos du Val (2015-2018)
- Winemaker and part-owner, Hourglass (since 2012)
- Launched Patria Wines (Tony’s brand) (2013)
- Winemaker, Amici Cellars (since 2015)
- Consulting winemaker, Lasseter Family Winery (since 2017)
- Consulting winemaker, Jada Winery (since 2017)
- Winemaker, The Vineyardist (since 2018)
- Consulting winemaker, Caliza Winery (since 2018)
- Consulting winemaker, Alma Rosa Winery (since 2019)
With all of this amazing experience, Tony is committed to sharing his expertise with as many young winemakers as possible through both consulting and mentorship.
Mentoring budding winemakers
Tony’s mentorship style is hands-off and he believes that one of the best ways to learn is by doing. “Some mentees want to be told what to do but it’s important to let them make mistakes and figure it out from there.” He added, “You don’t let your mentees fall down and crash, obviously, but you do want them to take the reins and steer forward.”
In his mentorship relationships with younger winemakers, Tony acknowledges that he’s not necessarily smarter, just older – and, at the same time, young enough to still relate. He also told Coravin that this “learn from your mistakes'' style – and mentorship, in general – isn’t for everyone. Tony admits that he himself was once a bit hot-headed but he learned to appreciate feedback and welcome the help. Good thing, too, because Tony suggests that this stubborn attitude can pigeonhole a winemaker or lead to Steve Jobs’s reality distortion field – a refusal to accept limitations that stand in the way of your own ideas or way of doing things.
We spoke to two of Tony’s mentees, Jesse Fox of Amici Cellars and Samra Morris of Alma Rosa Winery, both of whom spoke highly of Tony’s character and teaching style. Jesse met Tony once during Tony’s PlumpJack days but the pair didn’t start working together until 2015 as winemakers at Amici Cellars. “In my first conversation with Tony about his Amici project, he was already speaking collaboratively,” said Jesse. “You quickly feel the level of respect he has for you.”
Samra, who recently started working with Tony at Alma Rosa Winery, had similar things to say. “Tony guides me but also allows me to find my style,” she shared. “We work in a really collaborative way and, if something goes wrong, he doesn’t let me fail.”
Both Jesse and Samra gushed about Tony’s passion, commitment to his work, selflessness, and how his leadership style challenged them but also made them feel supported. It’s a relationship built on trust, mutual respect, and a shared love for their craft.
As many in the wine industry have discussed, millennials are just coming into their wine drinking age and contributing to the increase in US wine consumption* in a big way. But, different from Gen X and Boomer generations, this group values authenticity. For wineries and winemakers who want to succeed in the future, they must appeal to this generation's different sensibility and commitment to trustworthy, genuine brands. Even younger than millennials, Gen Z consumers want to engage with companies that feel like a mom-and-pop shop – not a major corporation.
When we asked Samra about this she shared, “At Alma Rosa we know that people want to see our passion and they want to hear all of the stories that go into a bottle – not just the winemakers’ stories, but all of the people behind the scenes from the growers all the way to marketing and distribution.” Jesse added that for wine brands to build trust, they must build relationships. “Amici Cellars has really put in the legwork to connect with our customers and meet them where they are – wine stores, restaurants, sipping rooms.”
In addition to telling their stories authentically and building trust with customers, Tony shared that he hopes that Napa Valley wineries are encouraged to bring in some of these younger winemakers to not only make good wine, but influence their brand in a positive way – and, importantly, in a way that inspires the younger generations to drink more wine. He told Coravin that a person’s credentials shouldn’t be the only aspect to drive hiring decisions. “Hire someone who wants to work hard and would sleep there if that’s what it took. Hire winemakers and wine consultants that want to visit often, taste often, and give honest feedback instead of hiring a superstar just to hire a superstar.”
Whether you’re a seasoned winemaker, newer winery, experienced sommelier, or someone just considering a career in wine, there’s a lot to learn from Tony Biagi, his amazing career, and his mentees. In short, work hard, learn as much as you can from others, and be authentic.
Are there other amazing winemaker stories we should tell? Send us a message over on social, @coravin.
*According to Wine Intelligence VinitracⓇ, in 2019 to August 2020, the US wine industry saw a 19% increase in the frequency of wine drinking across all populations. MIllennials saw a 28% increase and Gen Z saw a 25% increase. Worth noting, Gen X saw a 29% increase and Boomers saw a 4% increase.