Q&A with Carmen Policy
As a big football fan, I have always admired the San Francisco 49er’s team from the 80’s and 90’s. After all, who could ever forget Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Ronnie Lott, and of course “The Catch.” One man responsible for some of those great football years also owns one of the best vineyards in Napa valley named “Casa Piena.” That man happens to be Carmen Policy. Wine Spectator was so impressed with Carmen Policy’s “Casa Piena” they said, “it’s one of the three best up and coming wineries in Napa.” I was equally impressed, not only with the wine, but how warm, gracious and down to earth a person Carmen is. One quickly feels at ease, as if you have been friends for a lifetime! It was an absolute pleasure getting to know Carmen…I hope you will feel the same.
Without further ado, let’s chat with Carmen Policy.
Joseph & Curtis: Please tell us about your childhood in Ohio.
Carmen Policy: I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio and was raised by my grandmother because my parents died early. Attended undergraduate school at Youngstown State U.(Ron Jaworski and Jim Tressel territory) and then went onto Georgetown Law School. I shall always remember most of the men in the neighborhood sharing a few trucks and going to the Rail Road yards to buy crates of wine grapes that were shipped from the Calif. Central Valley and they would all make their version of the best wine in the neighborhood. We always had wine with the main meal on Sunday, even the kids.
Joseph & Curtis: Was your family in anyway instrumental in your love of football & wine?
Carmen Policy: The wine experiences mentioned above were part of growing up and wine was really viewed as part of the meals that were served. Drinking was considered to be the consumption of spirits or even beer but wine was another matter. The neighbors would brag that their wines were as good as Mr. Mondavi’s but they really were pretty bad.
Carmen Policy: I loved the idea of being an attorney and especially the drama of courtroom law. I knew that this was the profession for me from the time I was in the 6th grade. I also had the good fortune to be mentored by a bright and wonderful man who was an attorney and later I became his law partner. I left Washington DC to return to Ohio so that I could pursue trial work.
Joseph & Curtis: How did you begin w the 49ers?
Carmen Policy: I was a young trial lawyer in NE Ohio when I met and befriended Ed DeBartolo, JR. I became his personal lawyer and was invited to accompany him during his final interview of Bill Walsh. I was there the night he hired Bill and my first assignment for the 49ers was to negotiate and complete Bill’s first contract. The rest of the story is Hollywoodesque.
Joseph & Curtis: You were instrumental in several Superbowl’s with the 49ers (85,89,90,&95) which one if any stand out?
Carmen Policy: I was involved in the1981 season and the 1982 Super Bowl but the highest level of involvement was the 1994 year and Super Bowl 1995. That was Steve Young’s team and we were fighting for our very existence due to having lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Games two years in a row. We put everything into that season because we knew it was our last chance to win a championship that decade. I was totally in charge and the whole experience was one of the greatest and most challenging of my life.
Carmen Policy: We had great years with two Hall of Fame Quarterbacks, two Super Bowl Winning Coaches and two decades of being viewed as the most admired franchise in the NFL. Keeping everything together and moving forward after Bill Walsh retired was the key to establishing the Dynasty moniker.
Joseph & Curtis: Being a life long giants fan-I have to say the 10-0 Monday night game was the absolute best game I ever watched (non-giants Superbowl’s:) Ronnie Lott and Phil Simms jawwing back and forth, Bavaro etc how about you?
Carmen Policy: The build up to the Monday Night Game against the Giants in 1990 was unbelievable. Bill Parcells is a great coach and his decision relating to the passing on a field goal attempt became part of the legend of the game. The intensity of the verbal quarrel between Ronnie Lott and Phil Simms could have been cut with a knife. Mark Bavaro was incredible and later returned to do even more damage.
Joseph & Curtis: Many people love wine….what made you get into the business of making wine?
Carmen Policy: I started making many trips to San Francisco with Eddie De Bartolo in 1981. It is not only a great World Class city from a beauty and cultural standpoint but it is a Mecca for great food. Once you become part of the Northern Calif. Food Scene you can’t help but become enamored with the Wine World and the Wine Culture. Not only did we start to drink interesting wines with magnificent dinners but we began to have wine as the drink of choice instead of cocktails. We also started making many trips to the Wine Country and immediately fell in love with the Napa Valley. Gail and I had always planned to make Northern California our home even during our stay in Cleveland. We purchased our property and started enhancing and replanting the vineyard in 2003. This was really a life style decision rather than a business decision.
Joseph & Curtis: Are there any similarities between putting together a championship football team and a world class vineyard?
Carmen Policy: The overriding principals are the same. Start with the best facilities you can acquire (the land), develop them to the fullest capacity (cut no corners when installing drainage, preparing the soil and ultimately planting the vines) and then assemble the best team possible (vineyard manager, wine maker, etc.) and give them everything they need to be successful. Oversee the process but don’t get in the way.
Joseph & Curtis: Which is more fun?
Carmen Policy: Football was a huge rush and more exciting on a day to day basis but the Wine World is gratifying, romantic and wonderfully satisfying.
Joseph & Curtis: I read Andrew Groth say you are involved “dirt to shelf” at Casa Piena is that true?
Carmen Policy: Andrew Groth and his family own and operate Groth Vineyards and Winery in Oakville. He is my son-in-law and has been a great resource to Gail and myself in the wine experience. I do believe that I am involved from “dirt to shelf” because of my insatiable interest in the wine growing/making process. My team is very patient and actually enjoy their “educational role” when dealing with Gail and myself. Although we handle all the marketing, when it comes to producing the grapes or putting the wine in the bottle they know we are there to support them but not supplant their creative efforts.
Joseph & Curtis: Whats the meaning behind the name “Casa Piena?”
Carmen Policy: Casa Piena is Italian and translates to “Full House.” I have 3 sons and 2 daughters ( three of a kind and a pair ) plus we now have 6 grandchildren and 1 more on the way. Gail came up with the name and the idea and the house does get “Full” quite often.
Carmen Policy: We hired Jim Barbour as our vineyard manager before we picked the site. We wanted the best and it was between him and another great farmer in the Napa Valley. His personality worked perfectly with ours. He helped us evaluate the quality of the land and assured us that if we made the proper investment in the vineyard installation we would make “killer Cab.” We hired Thomas Brown as our winemaker early in 2006 so that he could participate in the ’06 growing season and harvest. It was to be the first vintage that we would release. He was one of 14 winemakers that we interviewed and we knew he was perfect for us immediately after we met him. We love these relationships.
Joseph & Curtis: What is the size of Casa Piena, both in terms of acres and case production?
Carmen Policy: Our home is located on the same site as the vineyard. We have 14 total acres and approximately 10 are planted to 4 different Cabernet Sauvignon clones. The rest of the property consists of the home site and landscaping.
Joseph & Curtis: What’s the philosophy behind Casa Piena?
Carmen Policy: Make the highest quality wine that the estate can produce and share it with people who will enjoy it with their friends. This product is intended to be an extension of ourselves as a family and as members of the Napa Valley Community.
Joseph and Curtis are proud to partner with Carmen Policy and Casa Piena. Carmen has agreed to autograph a very small amount of magnums which presently are not on the market…as well as allowing Joseph and Curtis to take orders for the 2007 Our Gang Cab .750 – which is not on the market either. These are amazing wines which we highly recommend to every collector and enthusiast. Joseph and Curtis Custom Wine Cellars and Casa Piena – almost as good as Montana to Rice!
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