Brian was born and raised on Howell Mountain at Summit Lake Vineyards, a boutique family winery famous for its Zinfandel. Working alongside his parents and siblings, Brian developed an appreciation for the art and culture of winemaking, learning every step of the process from vine to bottle.
To formalize his education, Brian studied agricultural engineering at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Here, he learned of his exceptional aptitude for identifying the intricate details of wine composition and terrior, and further developed his intuitive grasp of the elements essential to winemaking.
After graduation, Brian spent a year traveling the world to broaden and develop his knowledge of wine, stopping for a season of wine and rugby in New Zealand. Wanderlust abated, and palate for worldly wines temporarily satiated, Brian returned home to Napa Valley. He immediately began working with acclaimed consulting winemaker John Gibson, formally of Stags Leap Wine Cellars and Vine Cliff Winery. Here, Brian helped John make wines for celebrated clients including Snowden Vineyards, Andrew Geoffrey, and Salexis.
After apprenticing with Gibson for 3 years, Brian became the Assistant Winemaker for Duckhorn Wine Company's Paraduxx Winery. Under famed winemaker Bill Nancarrow’s tutelage, Brian learned to balance the complexities of large-scale winemaking with the high standards and intricacies associated with top-notch, legacy brands.
4 years later, Brian was hungry to run the show and accepted the Winemaker position at Ledson Winery in Sonoma. Employing the skills and unique enological insights developed over his lifetime, Brian made over 82 wines per vintage from a catalog of diverse growing regions over his 4-year tenure at Ledson, and significantly elevated the quality of wines and brand. .
Today Brian is the Winemaker at Summit Lake Vineyards & Winery, Consulting Winemaker, Owner at burgeoning Red Thread Wine Company, and lives with his wife and children just around the corner from his family winery on Howell Mountain.
ROBIN KELLEY O'CONNOR - WINE EDUCATOR, INTERNATIONAL WINE JUDGE, WINE WRITER, AND SOMMELIER
He was Head of Wine & Lead Specialist, Americas, for Christie’s Auction House. In his role at Christie’s, Robin was responsible for wine auctions and private sales of fine and rare wines for the Americas, and had the role as the department's lead business-getter in securing consignments for sale. Mr. O’Connor is a Christie’s trained charity auctioneer. Prior to Christie’s, he was Director of Sales and Education for Manhattan wine and spirits retailer Sherry-Lehmann, winner of Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 2010 Wine Retailer of the Year Award. Preceding Sherry-Lehmann, he was Trade Liaison and director of trade and consumer education in the Americas for the Bordeaux Wine Bureau (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux) for 20 years. As a Bordeaux International Educator he remains very active in teaching Bordeaux.
A native of Maryland, Mr. O’Connor began studying wine while still a student at the University of Maryland. He started his wine career in London as sommelier at Le Chateaubriand Restaurant in the prestigious May Fair Hotel and went on to earn a diploma from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (DWS). He holds Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Certified Wine Educator (CWE) certifications from the Society of Wine Educators and passed the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Certified Sommelier exam. As a popular wine educator and spokesperson, he has conducted over 2500 seminars around the world on a variety of topics within the world of wine. He has written for the Trenton Times, Santé Magazine, Wine & Spirit Magazine and was senior editor for Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course 25th Anniversary Edition. For over a year during 2008-2009 he traveled around the world with Kevin visiting over 20 Countries, 80 wine regions, and 500 appellations and tasted more than 7,000 wines.
O'Connor served as president of the Society of Wine Educators from 2003-2007, is on the board of directors of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food, and has been a regular panelist at the Food and Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen for 20 years. He has put his palate to test as an International Wine Judge in Australia, Chile, France, and Italy. For many years he judged at the prestigious Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition; San Francisco International Wine Competition and The Dallas Morning News Competition among countless others. For the past 16 years he has been a frequent lecturer on Crystal Cruises sharing his passion about wine and food. For the last four years he has been coaching DeVinimus-Columbia University Law School Wine Club competition team for international contests. In addition he is a regular lecturer at the International Culinary Center (formerly known as the French Culinary Institute). Among his many professional honors, Mr. O’Connor bears the distinction of having been inducted into the wine world’s most prestigious institutions, including the Commanderie du Bontemps de Médoc- des Graves et de Sauternes-Barsac, the Jurade de Saint-Emilion and Les Hospitaliers de Pomerol.