Winemaking feels like somewhat of an innate practice for Marc Piro, the 30-year-old vintner who’s worked at Au Bon Climat and Qupé since 2012 but will be debuting his first self-made pinot noir to a Santa Barbara crowd this weekend.
Growing up in San Rafael, Piro loved to play amid the wine collection of his father. “It was my childhood fort,” Piro explained. “I’d go into the cellar and eat Fruit by the Foot.” He got into cooking early on and “learned how to waft in the 5th grade,” said Piro, whose mom would crack jokes about his smelling hobby.
He studied business at the University of San Diego (USD), where he started home-brewing and visiting breweries like Ballast Point, just three blocks down the street. After visiting his Bali-based brother for six months, he figured he’d return to Cali and be a brewer. But his USD friend, Andrew Mariani, who now runs Scribe Winery in Sonoma, suggested Piro work a grape harvest in the southern hemisphere instead.
Piro landed in Sydney without the correct paperwork, so he lived there for a year, spending every aussie he made working at Beach Burrito to live in a sweet surf pad across the street from Rupert Murdoch, overlooking Bronte Beach. Then, in a flurry of seasonal jobs, he worked the night shift at a custom crush facility in Gisborne, New Zealand; worked for Villa Maria on the South Island; went back to California for a stint at Thacher in Paso Robles, where he met Argentine winemaker Santiago Achával; and moved down to Argentina to work at Achával-Ferrer.
In 2012, Piro won the Jimmy Mancbach Memorial Scholarship, which set him up with an internship at Au Bon Climat. The next season, he landed at the pioneering winery Vasse Felix in Australia’s Margaret River region, where he slept at campgrounds on surfboard bags inside a Holden Commodore station wagon while his buddy slept outside on a hammock. But when the rains came, they were both crammed inside the car, so the Vasse Felix owners invited them into their home.
Piro next contacted Jim Adelman, the GM of Au Bon Climat and Qupé — two legendary wineries that share a facility in the middle of Bien Nacido Vineyard — asking for another winemaker’s email. “Why don’t you just work for us?” asked Adelman, and Piro still does today.
Both Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist, vintners of Au Bon Climat and Qupé, respectively, have been “super supportive” of Piro’s own brand, as they have for legions of former assistants in the past, from Paul Lato and Gary Burk to Gavin Chanin and Joshua Klapper. “It’s a breeding ground for winemakers,” said Piro, who uses their equipment to save a ton of money on his first harvests.
“I only want to do pinot noir,” he said of his Piro Wine Company vision, which is focused on lighter, energetic, Burgundian wines. “And I only want three SKUs.”
In 2014, he made 100 cases of pinot from Presqu’ile Vineyard, which is owned by the family of his girlfriend, Anna Murphy. “It can cut the fat of pork,” Piro said of his first vintage’s acidity, “but it’s bright, so it can go with fish.” That’s the plan for Sunday night at Barbareño in downtown Santa Barbara as part of a dinner he’s doing alongside Mikey Giugni and Mike Brughelli of Scar of the Sea.
In 2015, Piro upped production to 225 cases, making a single-vineyard Presqu’ile and a Santa Maria Valley blend. For 2016, he is aiming at 400 cases, with a single-vineyard expression of both Presqu’ile and Runway, which is Abel Maldonado’s property, as well as a Santa Maria Valley blend.
As for the deep future, Piro wants to stay close to the coast. He explained, “The dream is to have a winery near the beach.”
The Piro Wine Company and Scar of the Sea dinner at Barbareño (205 W. Canon Perdido St.,  963-9591; barbareno.com) is on Sunday, August 14; $100 tickets are available at tinyurl.com/piro-dinner. Piro’s first vintage ($44 retail) can be purchased at Les Marchands and is served at El Encanto, Barbareño, and Pico in Los Alamos. For those out of town, it can be found at High Times in Costa Mesa, Uncorked in Hermosa Beach, and through pirowinecompany.com.