Kevin Healey and Sherman Smoot
Some would say "Bella Luna Winery" started some 38 or so years ago in the hearts and minds of its founders, Kevin Healey and Sherman Smoot. Kevin just returned from honorably serving his country in Viet Nam and Sherm was training as a Navy fighter pilot preparing to go to Viet Nam. Having grown up together as best friends in the Paso Robles AVA, both developed a real passion for wine.
In 1970, Kevin decided he needed a sabbatical from "civilization", so he took up residence on a large vineyard in the hills of Adelaida to, "reflect," as he puts it. There he learned all the aspects of viticulture from seasoned dry farmer, Mr. Mel Casteel. Kevin developed a real love and respect for the way this immigrant nurtured his head-pruned vineyard. He spent about 10 years there honing his skills as an organic viticulturist. This is where Kevin also started making wine. He would make table wines, fruit wines, desert wines - Just about anything worth fermenting, Kevin was compelled to master.
Later, Kevin was offered a position with family owned Pesenti Vineyard and Winery. There he gained more knowledge in the head-training and maintenance of mature Zinfandel vines from one of the founders of Pesenti Winery, patriarch Frank Pesenti. While working there, he developed a long-lasting friendship with Frank Nerelli, Pesenti's winemaker. As their mutual respect grew, they worked closely marrying vineyard and winery techniques, producing some of the most sought after wines in California - All coming from dry farmed, head trained vines!
Kevin worked as Pesenti's vineyard manager and assistant winemaker for some 19 years until the winery was sold in 2000. Now, Kevin devotes most of his time to Bella Luna Winery and the estate vineyard. He continues to be one of the most sought after consultants specializing in the art of dry farm viticulture.
After Viet Nam, Sherm, on the other hand, continued to pursue a career in commercial aviation. Traveling the globe for more than 30 years, he has had the envious opportunity to sample wines from nearly every country in the free world. As a result, Sherm developed a palate for unique wines. Sherm's degree in Biological Sciences from Washington State University helped him tremendously as he began reading all the text books, reference books, and articles he could gather on Enology and Viticulture. As a self taught winemaker, Sherm works with and assists Kevin by bouncing ideas and new techniques off of Kevin. "The artisan way versus the science sometimes result in great spirited debate in the winery, but that's how we achieve what we truly enjoy," chuckles Sherm.
His wine appreciation actually started back in the late sixties when he came home often to visit his mom and stepfather, Dominic Marietta. This Italian, along with his family made wine every year since, "I could stomp," as Dominic would say. He instilled in Sherm a respect for the Italian style wine they produced.
Just before Dominic passed away in 1979, Sherm flew him and his mother, Sherlie, to San Diego where they drove to Ensenada, Mexico. Dom had never been to Mexico and he was very thrilled. Sherm took them to the finest (at the time) restaurant named Casa Mar. Dinner was ordered - Of course it was Lobster for all! As the host, Sherm looked at the Wine list and obediently ordered the most expensive bottle of white wine on the list to impress his stepfather. After all, seafood used to equal white wine, right? Sherm still smiles fondly when explaining what happened next.
"The sommelier did his stuff and I tasted the wine to make sure it was acceptable. It was. When he went to fill Dominic's glass, Dom put his hand on top of the glass and said he didn't want any. Being totally embarrassed, I asked if there was a problem. Dominic looked me straight in the eye and said, "Son, white wine to an Italian is like skim milk to a farm boy!" After that I told myself to concentrate on the red wines of the world!"
Maybe as a result of the above story, Sherm's passion revolves around the Italian varietals, and particularly Sangiovese. Why? "Well, first and foremost, it's a real challenge to do the varietal justice," says Sherm. "Secondly, nobody dry farms this enchanting grape the way we do, to allow the fruit forward characteristics to develop. The key here is Kevin. He is an absolute genius in the vineyard and in the winery." When Sherm approached Kevin with the idea of planting most of their estate vineyard in Sangiovese, Kevin said, "That grape's going be difficult, so let's treat it like a Zinfandel and see what happens!"
The result of that passion is now available to tantalize your palate. We know you will enjoy!