At first glance, Zane Katsikis doesn’t fit into one of the type of boxes we often like to lump people in. He has a long unbridled mane of black, grey and white hair that flows back from a face that clearly has seen more things than either you or I will likely ever get the chance to see in our lifetimes and square spectacles that sit on his face. Zane is my room-mate, and for the first four months I was here, I knew him simply as the unconventional gentleman that had the room upstairs drove a Mitsubishi Montero and was a picking expert/winemaker for Treasury Wine Estates.
But Zane is much more than that. For his winemaker profile, I sat him down and asked him the story of his life, and almost like Gandalf in the land of Hobbits, Zane told me a the story of a life that greatly surpassed any expectations I could have had walking into the interview.
Before I start however, a word on who Zane the winemaker is now and today. Zane is a winemaker for Treasury Wine Estate, an Australian wine company whose holdings in the United States include Beringer, Chateau Souverain and Chateau St. Jean among others. Zane is the winemaker who specializes in picking decisions for the company, especially picking decisions in regions outside of Napa and Sonoma in Northern California, in other words, his job is to evaluate and decide when to pick fruit in Lake County, Mendocino County, Lodi, Clarksburg and Solano County. These may not be rock-star districts such as Stag’s Leap District or Howell Mountain, but they are important in supplementing programs such as St. Jean and Souverain, and often drive programs such as Beringer’s Fouder’s Estate, and Sledgehammer. Zane evaluates and grades these blocks, often on a “A”, “B”, “C” rating system to slot each block of fruit to a program (read: wine label) such that the qualities of the fruit match what the consumer of said program is looking for. Coupled with this decision of evaluation and fitting fruit to consumer, he makes the picking decision to ideally get just the flavors the consumer is looking for out of the vineyard as the vintage allows.
However, how Zane is the true story. I always knew Zane was a dual citizen of the United States and Greece, and that he spoke French, so I always knew that there was much more to him than met the eye. Zane is first and foremost Greek, but he is also American, having received his first degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management in Cornell and getting his introduction into winemaking through the front of the house and service. His first working experiences in the wine industry were just a way for him to learn more about the product he sold. His first job was working in the vineyards for a summer in Alsace, which he chose because he spoke German and would be able to communicate with people in the French/German borderlands. “One thing led to another, man” Zane says of this experience and sure enough, he never turned back. For the next several years, Zane did exactly what you would expect a journey-man to do. He moved from place to place to place, every time taking on more and more responsibility and learning more and more; and while his travels and experiences were extensive, working in famed regions such as Bergerac, Cotes d’Or and Beaujolais, Zane returned after every harvest to his country of birth, where he would work on his numerous writings.
As I sat and listened to Zane speak about his numerous experiences, working in literally every hemisphere and most of the major winemaking continents, what surprised me the most wasn’t the places that he’d been, as impressive as they were, but rather his motivations. His winemaking education had clearly been in France, where attended a list of schools as diverse as the regions he worked, but he didn’t do it for a love of wine. He still remembers the front of house work fondly and thinks about going back. He did it for pride.
“No one wants to work for idiots, man” Zane says. Zane is clearly a brilliant man, and it makes sense for a man as intelligent and as independent as him to not want to work under middle-management. The years that followed would reflect the fact that Zane was indeed a wine-maker. He would work all over the world, after France it was largely in Australia, and accept many different positions, but no matter where he would go, he would always find a way to the top, taking on responsibility left and right, and always having something of a say in the final wine.
Over a good expanse of his career, he made wine in Australia, working many jobs, but as always, ending up being the man making the wine. His trip back to the United States was not planned. His employer at the time chose not to renew his visa and he was forced to move out of the country. Zane found himself back in France, on the outside of the industry, looking for a way back in. Zane called Treasury Wine Estates and quickly found himself with a new job; the job he has today.
Today, just like he always has, Zane travels and makes wine. He just finished his most recent stay in California and is headed back to France, before he is back in the United States once again. This year, like the next, and the one before it, Zane will continue to travel, for now with Treasury, broaden his horizons and travel more broadly through the world than most of us ever will. Zane is a worldly man, and even though his appearance tells of vast experience in life, it still belies the depth of the story the man has to tell.