Lasseter winery coming into its own
Nancy Lasseter was a single mom with a 5-year-old son and was putting herself through school when she met John Lasseter at a computer graphics trade show in San Francisco in 1985.
John, today a two-time Academy Award-winning director and chief creative officer for Walt Disney Animation and Pixar Animation Studios, was at Lucasfilm working on "Young Sherlock Holmes" at the time, while Nancy needed to get back to Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh to finish her degree in design.
By 1986, she was in California full-time, doing interface design with the advanced futures group at Apple Computer, experimenting with some of the first 3-D animation on the Macintosh computer.
The Lasseters share a love of storytelling through animation, and they would soon nurture a mutual interest in wine as well. Nancy joined a tasting group in Cupertino as a way to meet people and she and her now-husband John would often escape up to Wine Country for romantic getaways, including a honeymoon trip through the Alexander Valley, Mendocino and the Napa Valley.
It wasn't until the couple had three more sons and decided to move to Sonoma in 1993 that the wine bug really bit hard — Nancy in particular.
"My cleaning lady, Susan Blue, was there on a Friday and I said, &‘what are you doing this weekend?'" Nancy recalled. "And she said, &‘we're going picking and crushing,' and I went, &‘ah, I've been wanting to do that. Can I come?'"
"We didn't have the concept of people doing this amateurishly, as a hobby," added John. "It was such a cool concept. Friends get together and form this co-op, make wine together and all share it."
Nancy remembers the joyful, back-breaking work as if it were yesterday — the shoveling of zinfandel bunches into the back of a truck, the hand pressing, the bees.
"I'll never forget her coming home completely splattered with red wine and the look on her face," John said. "She was so excited. Wow, okay, I thought, now I want to do this."
By 1997, they bottled up enough zinfandel and a Bordeaux blend to print out Lasseter Family Winery labels to give out as Christmas gifts and that was that — a new family business was born.
In 2000, they bought 50 bare acres on Dunbar Road in Glen Ellen, planted syrah, grenache and mourvedre and started making wine at friends Tom and Marcy Smothers' winery just up the hill.
They bought an adjoining 35-acre property in 2002 with merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes and a winery on it, previously used by Carmenet Winery. There, they quickly set about adding malbec and cabernet franc grapes as well.
"We started thinking about what we want our wine to be," John said. "We knew this was going to be a long-term development plan. We were looking for a new winemaker and we found Julia Iantosca."
Iantosca, who came on board at Lasseter in 2005, has been making wine for three decades. She spent time as the winemaker at Stevenot Vineyards in Murphys, William Wheeler Winery and Lambert Bridge Winery, both in Healdsburg, and worked closely with consulting winemaker Merry Edwards, who helped inspire Iantosca's love of blended wines.
"When John and Nancy explained that their goal was to make French-style blends, that really was my favorite thing at Wheeler and Lambert Bridge," Iantosca said. "And I've always liked the fruit from Sonoma Valley. I've always felt it was a really good place to be growing grapes."