When you visit the Wine Road, do you ever wonder what are some of the winemakers’ favorite haunts? Where do they like to eat, listen to music, watch the sunset, or take out of town guests?

You’re about to find out about five favorites from five local winemakers. Before they share their favorites, here is a little information about each of the Q&A participants.

Meet the Winemakers

Brandon Lapides, Armida Winery in a vineyard

Brandon Lapides, Armida Winery

Brandon Lapides, winemaker at Armida Winery, can be found in the tasting room talking to visitors when he isn’t in the cellar making wine. Brandon enjoys all things wine so much, he is currently doing research on Sonoma County during Prohibition. Sounds more like a school assignment to me, but Brandon is loving this project and might even share some of his findings in an upcoming guest blog.

Brandon also enjoys cooking meals for his wife and their children, and loves to garden.

John Pepe, a Los Angeles native, moved from New York City to Sonoma County in 1977 with his wife and two children. Finding himself drawn to the agricultural aspects of the county, he abandoned his career as a hospital medical technologist to study viticulture and eventually moved from the vineyards into winemaking. In addition to his career in the wine industry, John loves fireworks and had a thirty year career as a state licensed pyrotechnician, displaying his handiwork during the 4th of July celebration at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, and also at games for the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco 49ers.

John is the winemaker at Pech Merle in Geyserville.

Ryan Schmaltz is the new guy on the block, having moved to Sonoma County in 2012. Prior to his career in the wine industry, Ryan, an Ohio native, earned a PhD in Chemistry, and was focused on doing cancer research. His post-doctoral work led him to San Diego, where wine tasting was a great weekend adventure for him and his wife. After two years of wine tasting and reading the textbooks used in the UC Davis enology courses, Ryan moved to Sonoma County for an internship and the wine bug took a firm and permanent hold.

Ryan is the winemaker at Trattore Farms, and enjoys spending time with his wife, three-year old son, and their new Doberman puppy exploring Sonoma County, especially the sandy coastal beaches.

Ryan Schmaltz, Trattore Farms and John Viszlay, Viszlay Vineyards

Ryan Schmaltz, Trattore Farms and John Viszlay, Viszlay Vineyards

John Viszlay, a Pittsburg native and die-hard Steelers fan, is the owner, winegrower, and winemaker of Viszlay Vineyards in the Russian River Valley, just south of Healdsburg. Viszlay is a family business, with John’s son and partner, Tony handling the financial side, and daughter Abby working along side him in the tasting room and office. John was deep into his former career in Chicago when one day he said he said was ready for a change and wanted to own a winery and become a winemaker. Just six months later his vision was reality.

Viszlay is a small, family run business. When you visit for a tasting appointment or special event, either John or Abby will be pouring their wines for you. When not enmeshed with work, John enjoys pheasant hunting, along with music, good company and a great cigar all accompanied by a glass or two of wine.

One of the pioneer women in the California wine industry, Phyllis Zouzounis didn’t start out in the wine business. This San Francisco native’s first career was as a co-owner of a jewelry store in the Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa. She’s always had a passion for wine, so when the large corporate jewelry chains started to change the business, she looked around for a new career and landed on winemaking.

Phyllis, owner and winemaker for Deux Amis and Zouzounis Wines, loves wine so much you might see her out at wine and food events with friends or her twin sister.

John Pepe (l.), Pech Merle and Phyllis Zouzounis (r.), Deux Amis

John Pepe (l.), Pech Merle and Phyllis Zouzounis (r.), Deux Amis

 Winemakers’ Favorites

Here are five questions about things these winemakers like to do when they aren’t making or pouring their wines.

Favorite spot for a quick lunch? 

Lapides: The Wurst. A great quick bite, with no frills, but can be customized any way you want. (I’m secretly hoping that they sponsor me this harvest.)

Pepe: Alioto’s Healdsburger or Pic’s Drive In Cloverdale (same ownership, whichever one I am closest to at the time.)

Schmaltz: The Parish—I think their Po Boys are as close to the perfect sandwich as I have found. Hard crunch on the bread but soft interior and a great fry on the shrimp and oysters. I think I will go on Thursday.

Viszlay: Superburger – Windsor

Zouzounis: Taqueria Guadalajara, Healdsburg. The best carnitas tacos ever!

Hamburger with all the trimmings

Favorite place for after-hours music?

Lapides: Bergamot Alley. I love the owners, and their selections of beer and wine. There always seems to be a couple of musicians playing various instruments in there…very casual.

Pepe: KRSH Backyard Concerts

Schmaltz: Friday Night Live in Cloverdale. A Farmer’s Market to load up on goods for the weekend, cold beers, and good music. Nothing says small town Sonoma County to me like Cloverdale’s Friday Night Live!

Viszlay: My CD collection at home

Zouzounis: Bergamot Alley, Healdsburg

Bergmot Alley is a favorite after-hours music spot.

Bergmot Alley is a favorite after-hours music spot.

Favorite place to watch the sunset?

Lapides: Balletto Vineyards. I spent many a late harvest night there and it’s beautiful when the sun goes down over their pond, baseball field and hundreds of acres of grapes.

Pepe: Bodega Head for sure. Great for Moon-set, also.

Schmaltz: Trattore Farms’ Patio after a good day of Harvest. The views of Dry Creek are magnificent and there is nowhere else on the planet I would rather spend my days than in this valley with the smells of fermentation in the air.

Viszlay: The desert

Zouzounis: River’s End! Goat Rock

Sunset along the Wine Road

Favorite place to take an out-of- town guest?

Lapides: I love taking guests to the Russian River during the warmer months. Nice beaches and wonderful scenery make it a must-see.

Pepe: Armstrong Woods – Guerneville – Duncan’s Mills – Goat Rock – Bodega Bay—all one trip of course! On Fridays, the Bodega Marine Lab is open to the public free of charge, 2-4pm, very cool.

Schmaltz: We like to take our guests up to hike in Rockpile. The views of the lake (Lake Sonoma) are fantastic and there is hardly ever anyone there so you really feel like you’re getting away without traveling far (which is important with a 3-year-old).

Viszlay: Baci in Healdsburg for dinner and Armstrong woods for local wonder.

Zouzounis: Armstrong Woods. Dry Creek Valley. Deux Amis’ tasting room in Windsor.

Armstrong Woods

Enjoy a stroll among the redwood trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.

Favorite county-wide event?

Lapides: I love the Santa Rosa Rose Parade, which sometimes is in conjunction with the Amgen Bike Tour of California. The parade is very festive and the bike race shows how beautiful Sonoma County can be on the “international stage.”

Pepe: Geyserville Christmas Tree Lighting followed by the Geyserville Lighted Tractor Parade.

Schmaltz: Back to Lake Sonoma for this one. The Steelhead Festival there is fantastic. A great education on the fisheries and there is a place there that channels the steelhead so you can watch them jump upstream. A great family outing!

Viszlay: Definitely the FFA parade!

Zouzounis: Artisan Cheese Festival, FFA Parade in Healdsburg.

Geyserville Annual Tree Lighting & Tractor Parade

Geyserville Annual Tree Lighting & Tractor Parade


Now you have deeper glimpse into the lives for five local winemakers. If you’ve enjoyed getting to know them better, come by and taste the wines they make the next time you find yourself along the Wine Road.

Also, if you’d like more Q&A segments from other winemakers, winery owners, or tasting room manager, leave us a comment and we’ll see what we can do.

Happy Sipping!

#wineroad #alongthewineroad #meetthewinemakers

Posted by Rebecca Germolus

Rebecca Germolus, co-owner of Maximum Value Marketing, loves Sonoma County and playing along the Wine Road. Rebecca daily immerses herself in wine country by providing cost-effective marketing and writing solutions to wineries and restaurants.

One Comment

  1. Great piece, highlighting some great winemakers, and places.

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