A New Harvest: Winemaker John Falcone Moves to Gainey

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on May 3, 2012)

John and Helen Falcone
John Falcone, a high-profile Santa Barbara County winemaker who’s been garnering accolades for more than a decade as head winemaker for Rusack Vineyards, is now calling Gainey home.

“This move for me is good timing in that Santa Barbara County is more recognized nationally now,” says Falcone, 55, whose first day at Gainey was May 1st.  “And I’m moving to a bigger brand and a bigger picture position, since I’ll be overseeing everything.”

Falcone’s new title – General Manager and Director of Winemaking for Gainey Vineyard – will have him overseeing all aspects of wine production, which currently clocks in at a yearly 25,000 cases.  It will encompass two brands: Gainey, with an estate vineyard along Highway 246 in Santa Ynez and a portfolio that includes award-winning sauvignon blanc and merlot, and Evan’s Ranch, which sources chardonnay and pinot noir from its estate in the Santa Rita Hills winegrowing region near Lompoc.  “The Gaineys also recently leased land at Esperanza Vineyard off Highway 246, across from Melville and Babcock, which has spectacular hillside pinot noir,” says Falcone.

John Lebard will continue as Gainey’s winemaker and Napa stalwart John Enkelskirger will remain as consultant on the brand’s Bordeaux program.

Falcone describes his move from Rusack to Gainey as a “natural next step” in his professional development.  “The Rusacks always treated us like gold,” he says.  “It just felt like it was time to move on.”  He adds, “Before Rusack, the longest I stayed at any one winery was seven years.”

Falcone’s 11-year tenure at Rusack Vineyards in Ballard Canyon, which followed stints over more than 20 years as winemaker in Monterey County and the Napa Valley, was marked by significant milestones.  “We did really well with chardonnay,” recalls Falcone, “and we did get a lot of attention for our syrah.”  Rusack’s 2008 syrah, in fact, made the latest Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines list, a coveted yearly publication, at #27.  Falcone also made the wines that, late last year, launched Rusack’s uber-exclusive Santa Catalina Island Vineyards line; the label features limited amounts of chardonnay, pinot noir and zinfandel made from grapes grown on Alison and Geoff Rusack’s historic family estate on the popular isle.  At Rusack, Falcone oversaw a yearly production of about 7000 cases.

A focus on syrah, chardonnay and pinot noir will continue for Falcone at Gainey.  He’s also excited, though, about ramping up his work with Bordeaux red grapes, like merlot and cabernet franc, and about working with all-estate fruit.  “That gives you so much more control over things,” he says.

Falcone’s move also involves his wife, Helen, who held assistant winemaker and enologist duties at Rusack.  She’ll now be spearheading the Falcones’ own label, Falcone Family Vineyards, which has been producing remarkable syrah and cabernet sauvignon from their proprietary Paso Robles vineyard since 2002; the portfolio just expanded to include a Santa Barbara County chardonnay.  The Falcones also have a daughter, Mia, age 13.

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