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Profiles,Winery

Miller Wine Works ~ Engineer Turned Chef & Chef Turned Winemaker ~ Gary Miller

Gary Miller is one of those individuals who’s dedicated to the axiom, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

He’s what I think of as an ambi-brained person. Gary’s right and left sides of his brains work in seamless unison. Neither side is stronger than the other; therefore, he can logically see what has to be done, and creatively pull it off.

This is why Gary could easily segue his engineering career to the Culinary Institute of America, where he graduated as a chef with honor (of course), to becoming a winemaker in Napa Valley, who’s crafting extraordinary wines. What follows is Gary Miller’s winemaking philosophies, in his own words… No word-smithing, here; just raw thoughts of why he does what he does… in good ‘ole Napa Valley!

GARY MILLER ~ Proprietor & Winemaker of Miller Wine Works:

For me, winemaking is cooking. This is something I’ve learned from years of professionally doing both; but, it doesn’t get any better than working with the incredible flavors, textures, and aromas of pristine grapes grown in the sun and the soil of the California coast. Winemaking is a tremendous challenge of the senses and demands three things from me: focus, focus, focus.

I grew up in rural, western New York where simple, fresh, homegrown food was an everyday experience. Our meats, milk, bread, fruit, and veggies were from local farms. Many of my earliest memories are the tastes and smells of my mother’s kitchen – bread, Christmas cookies, apple pies, smoked ham, and Thanksgiving turkey. Just-picked, juicy, finger-staining huckleberries were hard work, but memorable. When mom canned summer fruit for winter eating, the house would fill with the incredible smells of ripe peaches, tomatoes, strawberries, and pears.

Although my family didn’t succeed on our trips every year, hunting season in the community produced a steady supply of game; and, dad’s grill turned out some very tasty elk, moose and venison.

Home cooking for three growing boys made the Miller kitchen a busy place. Little did we know then that this kitchen was cutting a path – paving the road to Miller Wine Works.

The wonderful world of wine opened up to me when I went to college to study engineering, and simultaneously worked in a wine and spirits shop near Purdue University. As a wine buyer, I was exposed to wines from around the world, which got me to daydreaming about California.

Initially, my passion for cooking got a hold of me, and I found myself in my first cooking job – running a kitchen as a banquet chef in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Soon thereafter, I attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and was presented with the opportunity to apprentice at the Greenbrier, in West Virginia. Thereafter, I couldn’t resist the draw of helping to open Spruce in Chicago. This subsequently led to a position at The Little Nell in Aspen, and my westward progress was THEN finalized in the land of my dreams, Napa Valley.

Napa Valley is an amazing place, but not just for its history, natural beauty, and perfect conditions for wine. The people are tremendous and place a high value on food, family, friends, and farming. Two such people are Bill and Joan Smith, formerly of La Jota Vineyard Company, whom I not only worked for, but with whom I also became good friends, and they encouraged me to pursue making wine.

As a winemaker, it is my intent to make wines of the style that made me fall in love with wine – balanced, nuanced wines that speak clearly of their locations, and have affinity for carefully raised and prepared food. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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