Meet Seth Cripe, owner/ winemaker of LOLA Wines
Photographed by Ian Flanigan
Editor’s Note: Seth lives between his home in Napa Valley, his native Anna Maria Island and his Venice Beach apartment.
By Frank Lutz
Wine making is not an easy craft to learn, it’s part science and part art, with passion and instinct all combined with hard work. Many great wines come from family businesses that have been making them for generations, but once in a while a bright new star starts to shine in the industry, someone who has been graced with a lot of innate winemaking talent. Such is the case with the Venice Beach vintner, Seth Cripe, whose winery, grape vines and headquarters/guest house are in Calistoga, Napa Valley.
Originally hailing from Anna Maria Island, in the Gulf of Mexico off the west coast of Florida, Cripe grew up with a family of fishermen/women—mom fished too! Just on that beautiful Island is a little historic fishing village founded in the early 1800’s named Cortez, where the Cripe family owns a fish company aptly named Cortez Bottarga. Bottarga is a fish that inhabits the Gulf of Mexico. But for Cripe, there was more to Cortez than just fish; as a young teen, he discovered the grapevines of Cortez and thus his passion for wine began.
At just 13 years old, Cripe took on the job as a dishwasher/busboy at a local, upscale restaurant called Beach Bistro just across the street from his parents’ house on the island. It was at that restaurant that Cripe discovered his love of fine wine. “They had a great wine list for the area and it was there that I started to taste wine and learn more about actual producers and their differences from all over the world.” Cripe’s early discovery of his wine palate was the beginning of great things, even at that young age. While working one night, he met Clarke Swanson (of the Swanson Food family) who had a winery in Oakville of Napa Valley.
“I was 15 when Mr. Swanson came into the restaurant. I was washing dishes that night and after his dinner as they were leaving, I went out to introduce myself. I told him that I was interested in pursuing a career in wine. He was very nice and gave me a business card, said to keep in touch for when I was old enough to come out and work a harvest with them in Napa Valley.” Cripe took Swanson up on his offer and, at just 17 years old with only $1200 in his pocket, he showed up at Swanson’s doorstep ready to embark on a career in wine.
“Swanson and their winemaker Marco Cappelli were tremendous influences on me. Marco was my mentor and had the most impact overall in my life. I lived with him from ages 17 to 21, and he really encouraged me to keep educating myself, learn different languages, and other life lessons.” After his stint with Swanson, Cripe began to work with Chuck Wagner and Caymus Vineyards. “Chuck Wagner had been like a father figure to me, teaching me a lot about farming and the importance of making high quality wine. I spent most of those years understanding the various nuances of terroir as well all the different clones and rootstocks, how they grow and what their end result is in the finished wine.” Through that relationship, Cripe was introduced to Robert Mondavi, founder of the world-renown Mondavi dynasty of winemakers. Cripe never worked for Mondavi, but it was Mondavi who also made an impact on Cripe in terms of sharing his passion for Napa Valley and great wine. “He always encouraged me to keep working and pushing for passion in the beautiful lifestyle of wine.”
While working for Chuck Wagner at the Caymus Vineyards, Cripe had many opportunities to go to Europe to further his wine education. “Looking back, I think that Europe and France taught me to really understand the nuance of finished wine and its connection to its natural surroundings throughout the growing season and the winemaking process. That’s the beauty of wine is in its differences from year to year, and the why’s and how’s of that, it’s never about the best. It’s the differences, and the reasons why, that make wine so fascinating.”
Working for the Caymus Vineyards for over 8 years gave Cripe not only the know-how, but the confidence to venture out on his own. It was 2008 when Cripe worked his last harvest for Caymus and began working on his own harvest to start LOLA wines.
Part 2 of this extraordinary story will continue next week.
Janice Bremec Blum, editor
Wine aficionado Frank Lutz lives in Venice Beach, CA. He was educated in universities in the USA and Europe, in philosophy and European languages. He has travelled the world, and holds a Commercial pilot’s license, as well as instructor’s ratings. Frank has been in the health and nutrition industry since 1980, and has a great appreciation for companies that make natural, unadulterated food and beverage products. You can email Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LOLA is distributed in 30 states throughout the U.S. It is sold in many prestigious and acclaimed restaurants and retail stores. Here are a few retail stores where you can find LOLA Wines in California:
- 55 Degree Wine
- All Things Olive
- California Wine and Cheese
- Cheese Cave
- Dan’s Wine Shop
- Silverlake Wine
- The Black Cat
- The Wine Bottega
- Wine Closet
- Los Angeles Wine Company
- Wally’s Wine Warehouse