Longtime Fetzer Vineyards winemaker Dennis Martin died Aug. 13, and I miss him already.
Denny, who succumbed to cancer at age 69, was a key cog in Fetzer’s winemaking machine for more than three decades, retiring in 2015 as vice president of winemaking. Remarkably delicious wines at prices most could afford … introducing Americans to the joys of off-dry Riesling and Gewurztraminer … organic grapegrowing … Dennis was at the center of it all. In later years of his Fetzer career, he produced lovely Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays for the higher-end Sanctuary label.
Denny and I grew up in California’s Central Valley, though we didn’t meet until years later. My sister worked with him at United Vintners in Madera, though it would take some 15 years for me to cross paths with Dennis, in Healdsburg, where his family and I live.
In addition to his winemaking expertise and achievements, I loved Denny for his gregarious nature, zero ego evident, and quiet patience. I never worked with him, though we judged competitions together many times and I learned so much from his palate interpretations. He was always the same: real, fun and funny (he and wife Carla named their kids Astin and Remy).
The last time I saw Dennis was a few months ago. He wore a broad smile and ballcap with a Fog Line Brewing logo, a dad very proud of Remy’s Santa Rosa beer business. Denny is probably still grinning now.