Kevin Furtado to make wine in California
Vail CO, Colorado
Kevin Furtado has been telling people what to drink for years. The sommelier and director of the wine program at Larkspur restaurant in Golden Peak, Furtado was bitten by the vino bug a decade ago while waiting tables at Sweet Basil. What started as a job to pay the bills has snowballed into a passion for all things grape-related.
Furtado’s making the leap from wine lover to winemaker. He’s 10 days from heading west to make the first official batch of K. Furtado wines. Richard Purkiss, his friend and fellow Larkspur compadre is his business partner.
“I wake up, make a cup of coffee, and then turn on the computer and I’ll either read about wine or blog about it,” he said.
From there he heads into the restaurant, meets with wine sellers, leads his staff through tastings and helps diners navigate Larkspur’s extensive wine list.
“I’m glad it’s wine,” he said about his passion. “I’m glad wine can be such a part of my life. I’m still enamored by it.”
Furtado became the beverage director at Larkspur in 2002, but the trouble began in earnest in ’03 when he became a camper” an Oregon Pinot Camper. Each June, winemakers and vineyard owners host a group of pinot fanatics for a week.
Seminars, discussions, tours and lots and lots of tastings make up the bulk of the experience. “It really solidified my love of that grape,” said Furtado. But it also revealed a world of winemaking ” and winemakers ” to the sommelier.
It wasn’t long after pinot camp that he began thinking about being a winemaker.
“For a long time it just seemed like a pipe dream,” he said.
Well, he’s smoking the pipe now. For the second year in a row he’s heading to California’s Central Coast to live at a vineyard, work at a winery and make his own wine. He’ll stay with Noel Johnson at her Quatro Vientos Vineyard. He pays minimal rent and maximum labor, helping her harvest her grapes. His day job is down the road at a rather large winery.
When Furtado first arrived at the Santa Maria Central Coast Wine Services complex, he was dejected. This was no poetic villa made of stone and sweat, but a full-scale industrial complex with cement floors and vats holding 10,000 pounds of grapes at a time.
“It’s a gigantical operation,” exclaimed Furtado. “They produce the wine for 30 independent wineries ” really good ones like Arcadia and Summerland.”
It turns out he was in a prime position to watch a lot of people make a lot of wine, concrete floor or no. And he learned a heap about it.
“There’s no one way to make wine,” he said. “There are different takes and philosophies.”
So far, Furtado’s philosophy has been to watch everyone and everything he can, and try to synthesize it all inside him.
“You’re bound to grow if you work hard and take chances,” he said.
Road to the vine
In his former life Furtado studied history. “I wanted to be in academia,” he said. “I wanted to be the smart guy, maybe a researcher for a politician.” But he impulsively followed his girlfriend back to Colorado, and eventually wound up in Vail looking for a job. He ended up working as a lunch waiter at Sweet Basil, along with a whole slew of folks who were excited about food and wine. “The fall of ’96 ” those were the formative years,” he said. “There were eight of us on staff really crazy about wines. We’d brown bag them, do tastings, geek out … drive our girlfriends crazy.”
It was clearly a good group of foodies, because the core of that group has gone on to jump into their own projects: chef Thomas Salamunovich opened Larkspur and Larkburger and has two more restaurants in the pipeline; sommelier Pollyanna Forster created a cheese and wine Mecca with Eat! and Drink!, and a fun dining experience with Dish; Mike Irwin and Doug Abel opened one of Edwards’ most popular restaurants, Juniper; Mickey Werner owns his own beverage shop, Alpine Wine and Spirits; and Mike Dennis serves three squares a day at his restaurant Westside Cafe. And now Furtado is making his own wine.
“My ability to succeed with my dream is due to Thomas’ success,” he said. “He and (his wife) Nancy gave me their blessing, and are letting me take the time to go try this.”
He’ll be back sometime in December, ready for the restaurant’s holiday rush. While he’s away from California his friend and mentor, Seth Kunin, will be watching over his wine for him. Kunin, an established winemaker for Westerly Vineyards and the owner of Kunin Wines, has helped Furtado buy grapes from Westerly. He’ll also help Furtado make 180 cases of wine; in return, Furtado will help Kunin make 10,000 cases of wine (and be an all-around harvest slave).
He’d love to attempt a batch of pinot noir, but with the recent popularity of that wine there’s not a single affordable grape unaccounted for. So he’s diving into syrah.
“There are actually a lot of similarities between the two grapes,” he said. “Both are food-friendly,” he said. “They’re chameleons, depending on the winemaker’s style and where they’re grown.”
Furtado has helped make Larkspur a wine destination restaurant. Now the trick will be making his wine the kind he’d want to serve at Larkspur.
“I’ve been on the front line for six years, figuring out what people like to drink with food,” he said. “I think I’m ready for this next step.”