Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Charlottesville News & Arts Celebrates Virginia Winemaker Brad McCarthy

Don't call it a comeback
The rise and fall and rise of Brad McCarthy
Charlottesville Arts & News
Issue #20.49 :: 12/02/2008 - 12/08/2008

Brad McCarthy’s current state is what you might call scattered. He’s a hard man to keep on topic sometimes, one of those hyperactive types who tend to talk with the rhythm of a pinball machine. On top of which right now he’s driving his white BMW at a fairly high rate of speed from one corner of Albemarle County to another, checking on his far-flung wines. McCarthy is making his new wine, called Bradford Reed, at three different wineries, begging and borrowing to get the operation off the ground. “Do you have any idea,” he asks me, “of the economics of my plan?”

McCarthy’s life plays kind of like a rap song.

Part I: Local boy uses skills to get out of the projects. MC McCarthy moved here at the age of 2 and was working in a restaurant at 21 when he fell in love with wine. An ad in The Daily Progress led to a job helping in the cellar at now dead Montdomaine, one of the

Crash into success: Brad McCarthy’s career got
a boost when in 1991 he was asked by his old friend Dave Matthews to be the winemaker/part owner of his new business, Blenheim Vineyards.

area’s top wineries in the ’80s. He worked a year at Acacia Vineyard in California before coming back to Virginia and scoring a gig as the first winemaker at White Hall Vineyards. Medals were won, a career was launched.

Part II: Local boy becomes a star. In 1999, his old friend Dave Matthews asked McCarthy to be the winemaker/part owner of his new business, Blenheim Vineyards. Success ensued—write-ups in major magazines, his name on the label.

Part III: Creative differences (and a settlement stipulating that he and they cannot talk about those differences). The star (winemaker) parts ways with his record label (winery) and brings it all back home with nothing but his BMW and his love of music. “I was 40 years old and feeling burnt out,” McCarthy says of his time at Blenheim.

Part IV: Here we go again.

McCarthy is driving around in his sedan/coupe/convertible checking on his wine. Here are what he calls the economics of his plan. First to Virginia Wineworks to pick up some cases of the 2006 Merlot and Meritage he made at Michael Shaps’ rent-a-winery, the sale of which will help pay for the 2008 Riesling and Chardonnay he has fermenting in borrowed tanks at First Colony Winery. Then it’s over to the new Montfair winery where his Cab Franc sits in barrels. It’s all done through favors and trade. “My landlord is a de facto investor,” he says, which I take to mean he’s been a little late with the rent.

Brad McCarthy is a winemaker without a winery and that fact seems to scare him and excite him simultaneously. “I put my heart into it,” he says one night, smoking American Spirits and pouring his own Merlot. “I’m not just going up to a cubicle every day. Every moment I spend, every vintage I spend, is very precious. I’m 42. I don’t have that many left in me.” Spoken like a true rap star, albeit one whose hair is mad scientist messy and whose demeanor is more manic indie rock star than smooth hip-hop artist.

McCarthy pulls the bimmer into Jefferson Vineyards, where he’s been helping out winemaker Andy Reagan for a little pocket money. Dragging hoses, fetching supplies, etc. There is a lot of good-natured ribbing of the guy with 21 years winemaking experience doing the jobs he used to pawn off to assistants. “You guys just come in and see me working and say, ‘Oh, how the mighty has fallen,’” McCarthy says, acknowledging in the same breath that he is both destitute and a star.

“Fetch me a paper towel,” Reagan replies.

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