A Wine Breakfast with David Mirassou: What's it like to be part of America's oldest winemaking family?

Hannah E Williams

School's in session, on your terms: We're asking the Valley's top wine gurus to answer all your wine-related queries, tackling them one at a time each Wednesday, so we can all stress less and pour more. Today's guest teacher: David Mirassou of Mirassou Winery.

UNCORK THE ISSUE: We meet David Mirassou who's in town from his family's winery in California for breakfast and an early morning wine tasting at Vincent's Market Bistro and ask him, "What's it like to be part of America's oldest winemaking family?" School's so much more fun with food and wine involved...

SPILL THE JUICE: "It's tough because I have some big shoes to fill," Mirassou says. "Each generation before me has accomplished some huge feat. The first brought the vine cuttings from their nursery in France and started the vineyard. The second and third outlasted prohibition and the fourth and the fifth introduced mechanized processed to California winemaking. The Pinot Noir is my baby and my contribution. Hopefully, one day, I'll be able to fill those shoes completely."

NOTE THE COMPLEXITIES: Mirassou says he always knew he wanted to be part of the family business. On the winery's 125th anniversary, a news crew asked him at age 7 and his two older siblings if they would continue the family tradition.

"My older sister and brother said, 'Maybe,' they weren't sure, but I said, 'Yes! Of course!'" Mirassou explains, beaming. "My sister now raises goats and cattle, and my brother is in the electronics business."

Click through for more stories from Mirassou and his tips for holiday wine serving and giving. Plus, the Million Can Crusade ends today!

Mirassou's chores were a bit different, growing up on the vineyard. He says, "I told my dad, 'If you just teach me how to drive, I can drive the tractor for free so you don't have to pay anyone.'" At age 14, Mirassou got his wish.

"I was driving the tractor with my tape player on and my headphones in, and I started to feel some jerking," Mirassou explains. "I saw my dad waving his arms and motioning for me to take the headphones out. Turns out I had taken out about 30 vines."

Mirassou's father made him stop wearing the headphones and start paying more attention to what he was hearing and feeling as he rode the tractor. "It's not as much fun when you have to do it," Mirassou recalls telling him after that summer.

Mirassou, now the sixth generation front man for the family winery, keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground, and recalls the mud squishing between his toes running around the vineyard barefoot as a child. "I like the squishy feeling," he says. "I want my son to feel that too."

Mirassou's nine-year-old Tristan has told his dad he wants to be just like him when he grows up. Either that or the first astronaut to walk on Mars, but the six-year trek to Mars has him leaning toward the former, Mirassou says.

TAP INTO THE GRAPEVINE: "I want to demystify wine," Mirassou says. "The conversation at my table is always about wine." Mirassou recommends breaking the ice on the topic by having fun with it.

Take Mirassou Wine Personality Quiz about you or a friend to determine what to drink or gift. "It's easy, fun and a great way to give a gift," Mirassou says. "What's more fun than being able to personalize a bottle of wine? 'Here's a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon because you're adventurous.' Or 'I brought you a Riesling because you're such a sweetheart.' Or 'I think you'd like Pinot Noir becase you're such a perfectionist.'"

Need some more wine tips? Check out his holiday tip sheet here.

Mirassou says his favorite wine resource is watching old family videos, like one VHS he pulled out from the early '80s the other day. "It was an event with my grandfather, Robert Mondavi, Ernest Gallo and everyone, just talking about wine," Mirassou says. "It was great."

SWALLOW THIS: "Wine anchors great memories," Mirassou says, "Every day is an occasion. Wine goes great with food, family and friends. By the middle or end of a wine dinner, everyone's talking and in a liberal spirit."

In the holiday spirit of giving, Mirassou is joining in the Million Can Crusade to raise funds and canned food donations for St. Vincent de Paul to feed those in need. The drive's last big push is today! Drop by any Arizona Safeway location to make your donation and help reach the million-can mark before Thanksgiving. Check out KNIX for more information.

Come back for class next Wednesday when Christine Wisniewski shares her advice for planning your own wine tour - a perfect holiday getaway. Leave your questions for our wine gurus in the comments below, no hand-raising necessary.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Hannah E Williams