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Companeros means “friends” in Spanish, so it’s an apt name for the amateur winery run by Antonio Gardella and his pals in Santa Barbara. Together the four compatriots — Gardella, Art Morel, Sid Ackert and Luis Goena — have won numerous awards and assembled an impressive array of equipment. “Everyone plays a role, from securing great grapes in the vineyard to getting them in the bottle,” says Gardella. Every year, they buy ripe fruit — in one-ton lots — from nearby California vineyards such as Buttonwood Farm and Thompson.
Greg Pollock has been making wine for 15 years and has been entering competitions for the last 10. He makes big reds, ports, sparkling wines and a few whites. The first project Greg planned when he bought his own house was a wine cellar. The front walls and bar are made of antique brick and the side walls use weathered barn siding. He built a wine rack of terra-cotta pipe that holds 230 bottles. A second-stage cellar holds another 280 bottles and his winemaking equipment and ribbons.
Daniel Pambianchi has been making wine with his father since an early age and became a serious home winemaker in 1992. He is intrigued — some would say obsessed — with making fine wines like those from Bordeaux and Tuscany. His love for both old and new winemaking technology (okay, toys!) have enabled him to acquire such skills as méthode traditionelle techniques for crafting sparkling wines. He is the technical editor of WineMaker and the author of “Techniques in Home Winemaking” (Véhicule Press, 2002).
Don Gauntner began making wine in 1979 while stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army. A few years later, he retired to rural Pennsylvania and planted two dozen grapevines on a five-acre lot. Today he has 3,600 vines, mostly Vitis vinifera varietals, thriving on the terraces of his LaRue Vineyard. Every fall, he sells his grapes and juice to 50-plus home winemakers. Don also makes 200 gallons of wine each year and competes (successfully!) in national, state and local competitions.
Richard Prenata has been making wine since 1989. He admits to having spent a fair amount of money on his hobby since then ... but in return, he’s won close to 60 medals at local and regional American Wine Society competitions. Despite his impressive home winery and high-tech equipment, he still prefers to foot-crush his grapes. “Not because I have to,” he says, “but because I want to. I truly believe it makes better wine — it’s more supple, with less tannin.”