Wells Guthrie of Copain enjoys excitement of the harvest

  • Wells Guthrie, center, winemaker for Copain Wines, dines with employees, including assistant winemaker Mike Lucia, left, during a harvest lunch at the winery in Healdsburg, California on Tuesday, September 18, 2012. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

During harvest, Wells Guthrie of Copain Wines often works past midnight, processing a relentless avalanche of grapes flowing through his Eastside Road winery.

But the tall, lanky winemaker, who played water polo in college at Pepperdine University, doesn't mind the physical labor because it's balanced by the visceral excitement of the season.

"It's the culmination of all the work of the year," he said. "It's when you make or break what you're doing for the vintage."

Having trained in France, Guthrie learned how to balance his work day, and he always sits down with the workers to enjoy a relaxing lunch.

"We have someone who cooks for harvest, and we feed the entire staff," said Guthrie, 43. "We talk about what's going on."

Food is never far from the mind of this cult-status winemaker, who started making wine in a Santa Rosa warehouse in 1999, then built his own winery in 2007 on a rustic ridge overlooking the Russian River Valley.

This year, Guthrie invited top chefs from across the country to the winery to cook, including French Laundry alumnus Corey Lee of Benu in San Francisco.

Guthrie met Lee at Yountville's French Laundry in 2006, when its wine director, Paul Roberts, arranged for Guthrie to do a 10-day internship there.

"I've cooked a couple of dinners at the James Beard House," Guthrie said. "But I'm not crazy enough to open my own restaurant."

He did start his own winery, however, and that story offers its own crazy twists and turns.

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