Interview: Topanga Vineyards winemaker Sandy Garber

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Winemaker Los Angeles

Sandy Garber started Topanga Vineyards with husband Ralph Meyer. They both worked as sommeliers at top-flight L.A. restaurants in the ’80s and Sandy was the sales and marketing director for The Chalone Wine Group until 1998. They planted the first ninety vines in Topanga – “where the ocean meets the mountains” – over a dozen years ago. Now Topanga Vineyards has flourished to the point that the couple sources grapes from Edna Valley, Clarksburg and the Napa Valley.

What’s your first wine memory?

** That is funny — is it drinking Lancer’s rose at the college pizzeria for what seemed like a romantic and extravagant dinner? Or was it drinking Dom Perignon, in college, with my best friend, who was a cook at the local Best Western, where I worked as a waitress and then a bartender, followed by boeuf bourguignon – oh so elegant. Or moving to Napa Valley after graduating from college and tasting wine at the old Inglenook Estate and the Oakville Winery when Napa had only 50 wineries — hard to say!

When and why did you make your first wine?

I made my first wine as I was getting ready to exit my job wit the Chalone Wine Group — it was time. I had spent 15 years helping this company develop wines and labels and ideas for marketing, and now it was time to do it for myself. Syrah was one of my favorite grapes, so that seemed like the way to go. Cabernet seemed like everybody else’s favorite wine, so a good wine to make to help subsidize syrah.

Do you have a wine mentors or heroes? If so, what did you learn from them?

Mike Richmond, who was the founder of Acacia Winery and my first “wine teacher”, Robert Mondavi, who I worked for as a tour guide in the Napa Valley and spent many Sunday mornings with, sitting around a table with lots of wines with brown paper bags covering them up, learning about the true world of wine, and maybe Zelma Long, who was the winemaker there and made me realize that women have amazing palates.

Should wines be rated on a 100-point scale? Why or why not?

No – I think they should be rated on a much simpler scale — hate it, like it, love it, takes my breath away……

Who’s another local vintner you respect and why?

Too many to count…

If you could only drink one more bottle of wine, what would it be?

Probably a La Tache from a great vintage.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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