By Karen Billing
Rancho Santa Fe resident Tim Bacino produces 1,200 cases of wine a year, but he doesn’t have a winery and he doesn’t own a vineyard.
With his Gen 7 Wine label he is part of a growing trend of “virtual winemakers” — they are winemakers who don’t own their own equipment or facilities but instead rent them. He makes award-winning wine from grapes out of several different vineyards in spots such as Napa, Santa Barbara, Lodi, Hollister and Temecula. In that way he gets to make wines in all different regions where he feels he can get the best varietal and the best bottle.
He drives up and down the state to oversee the processes and, if needed, they are aged and bottled on site. His bottles are then sent to San Diego and Temecula warehouses for keeping and Bacino goes to work selling “one bottle at a time” — hopefully making “customers for life.”
The Gen 7 name on the bottle reflects seven generations of winemaking (he counts his daughter Gabriella as a Generation 7 winemaker as she helped punch down the grapes on his 2008 Road to Zanzibar zinfandel blend) and a revival of his family’s Brookside Winery, which produced wine for over 150 years in California.
“It made sense for me to focus on the next generation,” Bacino said. “I’m not doing this just to sell wine but to continue our legacy, I want to pass it on to the next generation.”
7 Gen Wines have been on the market for the last two and a half years. Bacino has been hand-selling his wines to restaurants, stores and wine bars. Currently Gen 7 is carried in Whole Foods Encinitas, Wine Connection in Del Mar, and all three San Diego Wine Steals locations. He is carried in some Orange County and Palm Desert restaurants and stores, and his sparkling wine is featured in a fresh cocktail at the new Morada restaurant at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe
He hopes by the end of the year to be in all San Diego-area Whole Foods Markets. He is also in the process of establishing a tasting room in the North County coastal area.
A San Diego native, Bacino lived in Solana Beach for 10 years before moving to Rancho Santa Fe in 2006, custom building his dream house with his wife, Susanné, an interior designer. A self-described “serial entrepreneur” he has been involved in several small companies and still sells real estate but winemaking was a family tradition he could no longer ignore.
As a youngster, Bacino remembers spending summers at his uncle’s winery in Rancho Cucamonga.
“I have fond memories of running around the vineyards and the fermenting rooms and seeing the tanks,” Bacino said. “As a kid it was larger than life, the tanks were so big, the perfume of the wine in the air is burned into my brain. I always knew I was going to make wine and be a winemaker someday, but I just thought it would be when I was retired.”
Bacino’s family history begins in France, where his great-great-great-great uncle Theophile Vaché had perfected the craft of producing brandy and wine. He came to America in 1832 “with a bundle of vines under his arms” and purchased 250 acres in San Benito, planting one of the first commercial vineyards in California.
By the 1950s, with Brookside Wineries, the family had become the sixth largest wine producer in the United States and the largest in California. They owned over 6,000 acres of vineyards in Southern California and had 36 retail stores and 140 different labels — they even produced vinegar for Regina Vinegar and kosher wine for Manishewitz.
In 1972, Beatrice Foods purchased Brookside Wineries while Bacino’s uncles continued to operate the vineyards. Unfortunately, the vineyards became the victim of “urban creep”—Beatrice couldn’t resist selling the valuable land to developers in the 1980s.
For the next 30 years, the family vines were quiet.
“In 2008 a switch turned on in me, that I needed to continue our legacy and make wine,” said Bacino, who is the youngest of 18 siblings and cousins in Generation 6. “I didn’t want our story to die.”
Bacino went to his uncle René and told him his plans. René told him he needed to cut his teeth and make one batch of wine to make sure he really wanted to do this.
Through some calls and connections, Bacino hooked up with Alex McGeary, the owner and winemaker of Shadow Mountain Vineyards in Warner Springs. McGeary loved the idea of reviving Brookside and helped him put together a game plan to make his first batch of wine, using the varietal of carignan grapes.
Bacino gathered up oak barrels and food grade bins, and rented a large truck. He used the winery’s gravity floor crusher and carried one ton of crushed grape must in his food safe bins back home to Rancho Santa Fe. Using the methods of generations before him, he checked temperatures, watched the fermentation, every six hours tamped and pressed the grapes until they were ready to be pumped back into barrels.
Pumping the wine into barrels in his wine cellar 10 feet away was a momentous event attended by several members of his family — they even had a priest come to bless the wine.
“It was a fun time,” Bacino said. “We did spill a lot of wine but it was a lot of fun.”
He watched over the wine for many months to let it age and develop flavors. After about a year, he bottled the wine and brought it to his uncle.
“He was pleasantly surprised,” Bacino said. “From that point, I haven’t looked back.”
He released his first wine at the end of 2009, a 2008 vintage red blend that sold 140 cases in less than six months. Since then his uncle and the rest of his family have served as mentors and support for his venture.
He now has several Gen 7 wines for sale, including a 2005 cabernet sauvignon, described as having “bright notes of Bing cherry with subtle hints of dark chocolate and coffee,” a crisp citrus 2009 chardonnay and some sparkling wines. including his new Ibiza pomegranate sparkling wine.
One of the most popular questions a winemaker fields is, “So what’s your favorite wine?” To this Bacino answers, “Well what am I eating?”
Typically he loves his whites because they are a great way to start a dinner. If he’s eating something spicy, he’ll have viognier. His 2009 Viognier is a multiple gold medal award winner and is bright and well balanced, with fresh stone fruit and honeysuckle aromas with a sweet melon and orange blossom finish.
He’ll roll into his reds if he’s eating burgers, pizza or ribs — his Zinfandel or cab blend. His 100 percent cab will do if he’s going big and bold with juicy steak or short ribs.
“My newest favorite is my 2010 Zinfandel that I haven’t released yet,” Bacino said.
This zinfandel is particularly special as it is made with grapes from his uncle Theophile’s original vineyard, now under its seventh owners, plantings that are over 100 years old.
Bacino has a lot of plans for his company — he’d like to create a TV show in the vein of chef Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel where he would travel the world to small boutique wineries and tell the stories of the people behind them.
He said someday he might like to own his own vineyard. And, most definitely, he would like to write a book to capture his family’s legacy.
For now he is content letting his wines tell their story.
“I’m blessed that I found my passion and I can’t wait to wake up in the morning,” Bacino said.
Gen 7’s next release party will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 3. The location will be posted on the website. To purchase wines or find out more information, visit gen7wines.com or call (619) 540-1986.