A cult winemaker in the making - that YOU rescued!
- When the Napa Earthquake struck Randy's barrel storage, he lost an unimaginable amount of wine. Angels rallied around this talented young winemaker and gave him the money he needed to make it to the next vintage and he is eternally grateful for your support!
- Randy spent years behind the curtain producing wine at some of the most enigmatic cult wineries in California that have people waiting in line for years to spend $100+ a bottle. Now he runs his own successful wine company, Lightning Wines, and splits his time between CA and his home state of Texas.
- He learned from legends of the wine world that the secret to producing great wines has much more to do with finding great fruit that can speak for itself than it does with the marketing hype.
Years Angel-funded: 2016-17
Randy Hester's Story
"At Nick’s Sports Bar in Houston, my friend Bill introduced me to wine tasting. It was the finest line up of grocery store Chianti that I had ever seen or tasted, and he kept the education simple. Bill's philosophy was you either like it, or you don’t. It’s that easy, and I still subscribe to that idea today.
Soon after, I started selling wine for Glazer’s Distributors. It was gratifying to me that I could help people find joy with a bottle of wine, but I started to want more out of it. Working in the fine wine division I had the time to get to know winemakers and winery owners from around the world. I realized that what I wanted to do was create. I wanted to make this thing with my bare hands that would be shared by so many people, in so many places that I could never know them all. It would be my way of helping the world smile. I wanted to learn how to make wine.
In 2006, my wife and I packed up everything we owned and moved to Napa Valley. We left behind our friends, our families, our careers, and everything that was familiar and safe to us. I started taking classes at Napa Valley College right away. Meanwhile, Cakebread Cellars offered me an internship making $12/hour, which I was ecstatic to accept. After that harvest, Cakebread hired me full time, and I remember feeling like a first round draft pick. I learned so much from that company and from the people there that I will never forget. They taught me what it takes to work in a winery.
My next big win came in 2008 when I accepted an internship with Colgin Cellars. If Cakebread taught me how to really make wine, Colgin took my skills and my knowledge to a whole other level. At Colgin I learned that everything matters. Every move you make in the winery can be detrimental to the final outcome. To this day, I plan, prepare, and execute my movements with that in mind. Like the guy who hired me there said, “Just make sure you don’t mess it up.” Enough said.
I worked at Caldwell Vineyard in 2009, and everyone there made me feel like I was part of the family. It was my first exposure to high-end custom crush, and I was in awe of the group of winemakers that I was working with. I just concentrated on everything I had learned at Cakebread and Colgin, and tried not to mess anything up.
One of the winemakers from Caldwell actually referred me to Mike Hirby, then the rock star winemaker at Realm Cellars, where I worked as his assistant. I worked for Realm in 2010, 2011, and the first half of 2012. While at Realm, I also had the opportunity to work with Michel Rolland, who is their blending consultant. The education and experience that I accumulated during those sessions is invaluable to me, and a highlight in my winemaking career. Mike left Realm in 2011, but not before helping me find my first ton of Grenache to start my personal label, Lightning.
For the 2012 harvest, an opportunity presented itself to work with Andy Erickson. Before I moved out to Napa, I made a list of 50 top winemakers and/or wineries that I wanted to work with. If I had the chance to work with any one of them I would feel validated in pursuing this path. At this point, I have had the good fortune to get to know and work with many of them, but Andy had always been at the top of my list. Needless to say, it has been enlightening and it has been a thrill."
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