Winemaker Gus Vizgirda
2004 first harvest year as winemaker for Maurice Car'rie and Van Roekel wineries.
My family immigrated to Aurora, Illinois, from Lithuania in 1949. As was the family custom, fruit trees, a large garden, and hops for beer making were planted. One year my father decided to plant Concord grapes and try his hand in winemaking. I remember him, in the basement, working with the beer and wine and the smell of sweetness mixed with a hoppiness filling my nose. The beer was always good, but the wine … well it wasn’t very good. While working in Germany from 1980 to 82 for the U.S. Air Force Weather Service (upper air aviation weather, not TV) wine once again intrigued me. Those two years I spent tasting and learning about German wine.
I moved to Temecula in the early '80s and by some luck became involved in wine. I started by “helping out” at Culbertson Winery, then under the direction of winemaker Jon Mc Pherson, and then later became more serious when I was hired at Temecula Crest Winery to manage the tasting room and maintain the wine cellar. Winemaking education was done the hard, old fashioned way, hard work and apprenticing. I trained under Joe Chirpin, a Temecula Valley winemaker pioneer, Steven Hagata, Faulkner Winery, and Mike Tingley, Maurice Car'rie Winery. 2004 marks my first year as the winemaker for both Maurice Car'rie and Van Roekel wineries.
Gus Vizgirda and Assistant Winemaker
After “retiring” from his previous life as a manufacturing manager, Jim continued to pursue his love of wine and winemaking.
Living in Fallbrook and growing Sangiovese and Merlot grapes on his property allowed him to make wine during his previous career, and to become more involved in the industry. During that period, he took classes in winemaking and vineyard management in order to hone his skills, winning many ribbons in various wine tasting competitions in San Diego County. He is involved with both the San Diego International Wine Competition and the Critics Challenge International Wine Competition. He is a judge at a number of competitions in both San Diego and Orange Counties.
As Assistant Winemaker, Jim is involved in making all the wines for the three brands at Maurice Car'rie, but he won’t be found meeting the public or signing wine bottles. He does the unglamorous part of the winemaking, including the work in the laboratory, and the control and reporting of the inventory. During the harvest he can be found, sometimes seven days a week, at the crush pad dumping grapes from the gondolas, or in the cellar hauling or clamping hoses. He was responsible for making the Gold Medal winning Heather’s Mist for the past two years. In addition to his winemaking duties, he is the contact for all the wine competitions as well as all government compliance activities for the wineries, such as label approvals, monthly reports to the Federal Government and excise tax reports.