“If you remember 2008, not a lot of people were hiring,” says Keith Rolle. “I’ve got a masters in International Management, and that’s pretty soft. I needed to get some kind of trade. So I said, OK, I’ll be a winemaker. At least I’ll be able to make $10 an hour. I chose the one in Walla Walla, Washington. I had to go back and take organic chemistry at 47 years old.”
After graduating, Rolle, an O.B. native for 20 years, decided to open a small-dish urban winery on Newport Ave in February 2016. And now his $10/hour is all but guaranteed. Two of his wines just won double gold and bronze medals in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Covering both the Napa and Sonoma wine regions, the Chronicle knows a thing or two about good wines.
Rolle had never entered a competition before. It cost too much money for a small maker. He had to send too much wine for the judges to sample. But a friend convinced him to enter two wines. Both won, including a double gold (the second-highest award, only lower than Best of Class).
I always expect winemakers to be billionaires playing with, and drinking, their excess money. Not a terrible pursuit. Just lacks that scrappy, D.I.Y., artist vibe. When I first saw Gianni Buonomo pop up in O.B., I didn’t like the branding. It has a fedora as its logo. Fedoras are what rich men wear to theme parties. Figured this would be a rich dude making mediocre wine for his friends.
Finally, about a year ago, I ventured in and met Rolle. I tried his wines, and—holy god—they were excellent. Some of the best I’ve tasted in the city. When I heard he’d won these awards, I called to apologize for being the kind of journalist who waited for him to win awards to do a story on him. So I peppered him with some questions.
I founded the Baja California Language College in Ensenada, and had a good 20-year run with that. It’s still in operation, but then the drug violence turned it into a total shit show down there. I lived in O.B. for 20 years, so it was close to home. We’ve got a pretty good demographic in Sunset Cliffs. So, what the hell.
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SOURCE: (San Diego Magazine)