Marisa Finetti was born in Tokyo although raised in San Francisco, where she developed a career as a journalist and in the television industry before she quit the city lifestyle to become a grape grower in Sonoma for a decade. Today she is a wine writer and illustrator, based in Las Vegas. Amanda Barnes interviews Marisa for our Meet the Member feature and learns how sticky boots taught Marisa about terroir, which wines get her doodling and her surprising relaxation hobby.
How did you first get into wine?
I think it took a full life-cycle of the vineyard to really get into wine. In that first year as a grape grower in Dry Creek Valley, I learned the basics of viticulture, about clay soils (from my boots getting suctioned deep into the mud on rainy days), the influence of fog that rolled in every 10 days, how Zinfandel is notorious for uneven ripening, and how Brix has nothing to do with making walls.
Although my earliest memories of wine were hanging out in wineries with my parents. My dad enjoyed wines from all over the world, but because we lived in the San Francisco area, we took frequent road trips to Sonoma and Napa. While this took place long ago, they are key memories because, gosh, if dad only knew I actually work in this business today!
You moved from the film industry to grape growing… not the usual career shift! What made you want to become a grape grower in Sonoma and how would you describe the experience?
I wanted to leave the big city to start a new life with a slower pace and where my husband and I could start a family. So, we moved into a small ranch-style home in Geyserville, CA, that my parents had purchased in the late 1980s as a vacation home. I took a few jobs at the local paper and as an event producer of food and wine events, I started to learn about wine. Meanwhile, all our neighbors grew grapes, and frankly, we got tired of mowing acres of weeds on our barren land, so we eventually planted Zinfandel. Moving from Los Angeles to the wine country was a dramatic change. It was idyllic but it certainly wasn’t all relaxation. We did everything from laying down the irrigation lines to tending giant all-day brush burns, winter pruning while pushing our son in an all-terrain stroller… Farming is hard work! But, we learned a lot and immersed ourselves in the experience, and the appreciation carries on today.
As well as your wine writing, you are known for your creative ‘wine doodles’. What opportunities do you think we can explore more in terms of wine communication with illustration?
There is something about the artistic visual medium that brings us pleasure. It’s an ancient form of communication that still works like magic today. We have seen illustrations used across many industries because they have great story-telling capabilities. We can explore illustration in its uses in journalism; videos, as a foundation for animated stories; wine marketing, including social media and marketing collateral; design, such as its use in labels; and of course, education, which can be anything from sketches in wine lists, to friendly Instagram posts. My earliest doodles were my personal note-taking method during wine seminars and tastings. Now that they have evolved into Marisa’s Wine Doodles, the simple narrative is always the focus. My hope is to deliver memorable, fun, approachable, visual “stories.” I’d like to entice the casual wine lover, surprise a few, and if I could make a wine professional chuckle a bit, all the better!
Do you have any favourite subjects to doodle about?
I like to create doodles about Italian grapes and wine, but I am starting to explore wine growing regions as well. I would love to bring “doods” (people who follow my doodles) to the “place” through my illustrations.
What is on the horizon for you in 2022? Any interesting projects or upcoming trips to share?
I never imagined doodle-note-taking would turn into commissioned work and print sales. I owe my success to a small group of people who have pushed me and continue to inspire me to find new avenues for Marisa’s Wine Doodles. This year, I have retained a few winery clients who have commissioned me to create doodles for use in their marketing efforts. Given that I have a marketing background, I really enjoy doing this! I’m also developing video projects through my start-up media company, Deux Tell Media.
As for travel, I have an upcoming trip to Bordeaux to attend En Primeur and to visit producers. This is a winners’ trip for me and five others who won in other categories for wine communication awards sponsored by Millesima. I also have my sights on Germany and Sicily, with a hop-skip to Pantelleria later in the very near future.
Are there any wine regions or styles that are particularly close to your heart? Why?
I love the Italian wine region of Piedmont for the many interesting native grapes (Ruché, Timorasso, Grignolino, Erbaluce, Freisa, Dolcetto, etc.) and expressions of grapes, such as Nebbiolo – from the many Barolo crus to Carema, Gattinara, etc. Piedmont keeps me thirsty to learn more. Plus, I love the food in this region! Closer to home, I recently fell in love with the Santa Cruz Mountains. It straddles one of the world’s most famous faults, the San Andreas Fault – a total plus for a rock lover like myself. The cool climate mountain wines have this “energy” about them – crisp, clean, and delicious. And how lucky for the people in San Francisco bay area that it’s just a lunch hour away!
And tell us about what you do to unwind in your spare time?
I’m learning how to play the drums – yes, hardly the sound of “unwinding” but, it relaxes me. My family and I enjoy hiking nearby at Red Rock Canyon, just outside Las Vegas. There are colorful rocks and trails that take us through fascinating geologic history, so of course, I am always looking for rocks and fossils.