A group of 10 people gathered around a large table at 4118 Kitchen and Bar on Friday afternoon to share a special lunch.
The guest of honor retold the story of his rise from struggling college student to successful wine maker and president of the Napa Vintners Association.
“Our family’s land is right in the middle of the Napa Valley, and it was my grandfather’s dream to operate a successful vineyard and winery,” Michael Honig, of Honig Vineyard and Winery, said. “Unfortunately, when the business first got off the ground, they decided to make Sauvignon Blanc, and there just wasn’t much of a market for that at the time.”
With the business treading water in the mid-1980’s, Honig’s father sought advice from one of the biggest names in the wine industry.
“My dad ran into Robert Mondavi Sr. at an event and kind of laid out what was going wrong,” Honig said. “Mr. Mondavi gave him some advice and said, ‘If you can’t get family involved in a winery then you won’t make it. Keep the land, but do something else with it.’”
Honig’s father took Mondavi’s advice to heart and approached Michael about taking over the family business.
“He told me, ‘You aren’t very good at college, and honestly things can’t get much worse for the winery,’” Honig said. “And he was right. I was going to graduate, but I was no scholar.”
At just 22 years old, turning around a winery seemed like a tall task but Honig decided to try his hand at running the operation.
“I would literally take the built up stock and put it in the back of a pickup truck and go sell it wherever I could,” Honig said. “I was able to get the inventory sold down and from there the task became reorganizing the entire business.”
Honig Vineyard and Winery started producing Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that quickly became popular and revitalized the operation. Today, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are the only two varietals of wine that Honig produces.
“Over time, people began to come around to Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon has long been a favorite of many wine drinkers,” Honig said. “We decided to make those two varietals, make them well, and stick to them. It turned out to be a good decision.”
Honig’s visit to Highlands was part of an effort by Highlands Wine Shoppe and the Highlands Chamber of Commerce to increase the town’s profile with wine enthusiasts. During the luncheon, guests were served Honig wines along with each course of a specially prepared meal by 4118 chef Adam Bresnahan.
“Michael isn’t just a great guy, but he is a great advocate for the wine industry and his story of perseverance is incredible,” Highlands Wine Shoppe managing partner Davis Picklesimer said. “As we try to elevate Highlands’ profile as a wine destination, it’s events like this and support from people like Michael that can help us do that.”
Following lunch, Honig made a stop Highlands Wine Shoppe and offered further insights into the industry for those in attendance.
“To have someone with Michael’s first-hand knowledge and experience, who is willing to share their story because they love wine and they enjoy talking to wine drinkers, is special,” Picklesimer said. “We hope he comes back, and often.”