Building on his early career experience as a vineyard manager, Chris Russi takes a vineyard-first approach to his role as the winemaker for Thomas George Estates. “The idea of winemaking shouldn’t be about the winemaker,” says Chris. “It should be about the vineyard, the quality of each block, and the character of the vintage.” Reflecting this philosophy, Chris applies a gentle, small-lot approach to winemaking at Thomas George Estates, fermenting as many as 50 individual lots of wine in a given vintage, with techniques tailored to subtly accentuate the best natural attributes of each. Combining both traditional and modern methods, as well as a belief in the importance of experimentation, Chris works closely with Jeremy Baker and Vineyard Manager Ulises Valdez to create wines that achieve the full potential of Thomas George’s estate program. Though each wine is made to be unique and complex, Chris has helped to define a bright, balanced house style that emphasizes lower alcohols, excellent acidity and the modest use of new oak.Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris first began making wines with his grandfather, who had come from Italy with a knowledge of winemaking and an old Italian basket press. From him, Chris learned not only the process and importance of making wine by hand; he also earned an appreciation for the results of the labor, often raiding the barrels of finished wine with his friends when his parents’ backs were turned.
After graduating from Santa Clara University with a degree in combined sciences, Chris spent a year working as an environmental biologist in Carmel Valley. Between weeks in the field, Chris explored his passion for wine with trips to the tasting rooms of Monterey County, where he gained an appreciation for cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Eager to focus on wine, he took a position at Orsi/Kimelis Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley, where he ultimately became ranch and vineyard manager. After accepting a position in the lab and cellar of Geyser Peak Winery, Chris met winemaking legend Daryl Groom (of Penfolds Grange fame). Daryl mentored Chris in the practical side of winemaking and encouraged him to pursue winemaking as a career. He also helped Chris to expand his knowledge, recommending him for a job at Peter Lehmann in Australia’s Barossa Valley. When Chris returned from Australia, he was determined to make wine on his own, and enrolled in the UC Davis viticulture and enology program.
After earning his degree in 2000, Chris became the winemaker for Christopher Creek Winery in the Russian River Valley, where he remained until coming to Thomas George Estates in 2008. Since joining Thomas George Estates, Chris has established himself as one of the Russian River Valley’s rising stars. A true working winemaker, Chris loves the labor of winemaking, and does everything in the winery with the help of Cellarmaster Francisco Cardenas. He is also actively involved in all farming decisions, and works alongside Ulises in a constant effort to enhance Thomas George’s acclaimed estate program. In keeping with his love of growing grapes, Chris is the proud owner of a small, 100-year-old Zinfandel vineyard, which he farms himself. This exceptional fruit is used to craft a vineyard-designate Zinfandel for Thomas George Estates.
Clay Mauritson - Winemaker Mauritson Wines
Up and coming young winemaker, Clay Mauritson, is the sixth generation in a family of grape growers. Born and raised in the Dry Creek Valley, Clay was destined for the wine business.
In college Clay exhibited his prowess on the gridiron, playing outside linebacker for the University of Oregon Ducks in the 1995 Rose Bowl and the 1996 Cotton Bowl. Clay graduated in 1997 with a degree in Business Administration, with an emphasis in Marketing and a minor in Economics. Armed with his new degree he came back to Sonoma County to officially enter the wine industry.
Clay worked for 5 years at Kenwood Vineyards in the Sales & Marketing Department (starting even before he graduated from college), spending much of his time traveling and making sales contacts as Assistant National Sales Manager. After leaving Kenwood, Clay had the opportunity to work with the winemakers at Taft Street Vineyards and Dry Creek Vineyards, allowing him to hone his winemaking skills and gain additional knowledge of winery operations. From the 1998 vintage Clay produced his first bottling of Dry Creek Zinfandel under the Mauritson label, and in 2002 he began devoting his efforts full-time to the Mauritson Family Winery project.
Clay's winemaking philosophy is simple…you need exceptional fruit to make exceptional wine. This is where the advantage of having a family heritage of grape growers becomes obvious…270 acres of family vineyard and strong relationships built over the years with other growers have given Clay access to some of the best fruit that Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile have to offer. Devoted to making exceptional wines, Clay is on his way to becoming one of California's foremost young winemakers.