The Label-Makers

December 2012

Fools can be parted from their money in so many ways, but declaring oneself a vintner is right up there with top-fuel drag-racing and responding to emails with “Nigerian fund transfer” in the subject line. The wide-eyed often succumb to the same fantasy as hitting the lottery, except a lottery ticket only costs a buck.

And yet, some of Orange County’s most interesting people are plowing their hard-earned fortunes into the earth, seduced by the magic of turning dirt, water, and vines into, for example, Hundred Acre’s 2010 Cherry Pie Pinot Noir. In doing so, they confront impossible California real estate costs, stiff competition, and the vagaries of weather—just to gamble on the agricultural equivalent of roulette. We applaud them not only for their derring-do, but because the results are sometimes thrilling.

This month, we tell their stories [“The Coppola Effect,” by Anne Valdespino] and celebrate their accomplishments. Honestly, when we set out to report this story, we expected to find a bunch of late-life dilettantes making wine as a hobby. Instead, we found local vintners from a surprisingly wide swath of life, including doctors, restaurateurs, real estate and healthcare entrepreneurs, even a former NFL quarterback. We simply followed our noses, and were happy to learn their wines already were among our favorites.

Of course, we think this story is a perfect complement to our “Ultimate Seafood Guide” cover feature, and it’s timed to coincide with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian Christmas Eve tradition. But this is Orange County, not Italy, so why stop at seven? We asked restaurant critic Gretchen Kurz to identify the county’s 10 best seafood dishes, as well as the finest examples of other classic seafood entrees from local chefs. Overachiever that she is, Kurz also found the best seafood markets and raw bars, sat down with the man who built a fishy local empire, and delved into the enduring mystery that is Chilean sea bass.

Think of this issue as our holiday gift to you. It comes with our sincere wish for a delicious 2013.

Martin J. Smith

Illustration by John Ueland

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