Meet the Maker
Gianna Fugazi: Crafting Worldly Wines for the Wandering Soul
Exotic grapes. Tiny vineyards. Big Ideas. Gianna of Wander-Must Wines is a lifelong explorer with a passion for experimental wines that connect people with the world.
By Logan Davis
December 28, 2021
Meeting Gianna Fugazi
If Gianna wasn’t a winemaker, she’d be an archeologist. No, really — she was torn between the two, and the vast difference between the paths was intriguing to us: how could winemaking and archeology be similar?
Having always been obsessed with the human experience — from why we became sedentary beings, how we evolved culturally, and what makes us, well us — the relationship between the two is obvious to Gianna. To her, wine is a modern day study of culture. She’s a constant researcher and experimenter wanting to engage with global varietals and learn what kind of wine brings people together. And as a committed foodie, making wine that can be shared among strangers at a table makes her privy to conversations with people from all over the world, simply united by a common desire to taste something that represents a place.
In sum: she’s so cool. Here’s the story of how she applies her love of the world and contagious curiosity of human nature to wine.
From Chocolatier to Wine Marketer
At age 18, Gianna got her first job working as a chocolate consultant (ok, sign me up for that job) and found herself behind a chocolate booth at various wine events around Northern California. Naturally, she became a quick study on which wines paired with which chocolates, and was intrigued by all the complexities that could change the tasting experience for someone. So, she chose to go to Sonoma state to double major in winemaking and archeology, where she had the experience of studying ancient alcohol excavation and even got to go on a trip to do so in Italy.
Delighted by the history of cultures — and the craft of wine — she was at a fork in the road: get her PhD in archeology, or work a harvest. She opted for the latter and never looked back.
Her first harvest was in 2012, which was notorious in the wine world for being one of the toughest. While many of her fellow workers were exhausted and turned off by winemaking afterwards, Gianna fell for the fast pace, passion-driven community, and experimentation involved. She went on to work harvests in Chile and throughout California, and eventually earned her chops at Flowers, becoming the assistant winemaker and working with some of the best in the biz.
Gianna doing punchdowns as a harvest intern.
After climbing the ranks in the corporate wine world, she was ready to branch out on her own to create a brand for her fellow wanderers, all about people and experiences.
The Story of Wander-Must
In 2015, Gianna's winery Wander-Must was born. The name speaks to her winemaking approach as well as the brand she’s trying to build: it’s a nod to both wandering and craving new experiences, and also to the fermentation process — or must — of wine.
“I make wine with a sense of wander. It shouldn’t taste the same way every year, and I want to always open myself up to making wine that isn’t formulaic or expected.”
Deeply curious, every wine Gianna makes stems from wanting to learn about a new varietal or educate people about a different culture behind wine. She’s known for working with unique grapes from all over the world, and for minimal intervention so people can experience the truth of the wine. Moreover, she leads with intuition and an experimental mindset.
“Wander-Must will always be a kitchen, in a way, of trying different ways of winemaking, and an education-based brand.”
Because of this, Gianna isn’t about a stuffy tasting room. Instead, Wander-Must is a brand dedicated to wine experiences. From hosting wine and food pairings on Airbnb Experiences, to building a wine and food getaway in Occidental, California, her goal is to bring wanderers together to indulge in wine and learn about its history.
“I like the habits of wanderers. A strange group of people around a table talking about all the things and sharing wine is one of my favorite things. Wine is about the experience for me.”
A proud Gianna Fugazi on canning day in front of her pallet of Verdelho. Photo credit: Wander-Must Wine
Since the first vintage in 2015, Wander-Must has grown in a variety of ways. Gianna’s built a reputation for crafting beautiful wines from rare grapes, and many of her wines have won awards and been served at prestigious Bay Area restaurants. But for her, that’s just a bonus. Her goal is to not repeat the same kick-ass wine each year, but to constantly be bringing new ways of experiencing wine to consumers. One day she hopes to create a wine from Australia, Chile, or Spain.
“I could see myself going down the path of working with historical wine or spirits, like vermouth, because I’m constantly wanting to push and learn how wine can expand and evolve.”
On a personal note, wine also brought Gianna and her husband, Alejandro, together. They met across a parking lot while she was working a wine event and were friends for years until Gianna finally realized he was worth a shot.
"We went out on a date and it was a done deal. I’m so lucky! He does the logistics and owns the execution, whereas I come up with a new approach and vision for a wine.”
They live in Healdsburg with their two daughters, ages 3 and 10, who know more winemaking lingo than most of us do at 50.
“I think every kid is so special, I love them. There are these little lives that are individual and need to be uniquely nurtured.”
We can’t help but see how this translates to Gianna’s approach to wine, too. Curious and celebratory about everything, she wants to embrace all the different ways our human experience — or wines — can present.
The Maker x Wander-Must Verdelho
Early on in her wine career, Gianna went on a trip to Portugal and was struck by their approach to wine. People seemed to really value the land and people behind the wines, and it didn’t need to be fancy.
“Portuguese grapes taste most similar to American grapes from a taste profile, and I’ve always been curious about our native grapes, because they’re actually quite different than what we’re used to drinking.”
She immersed herself in learning about these grapes, like Souzao and Verdelho, and eventually found a vineyard to work with in the heart of Lodi wine country — which is no small thing, seeing as there are only 300 acres of Verdelho planted in all of California.
“When I first tasted their wines it was an incredible expression of fruit. The Verdelho, especially, was so aromatic and beautiful.”
Wander-Must x Maker
So, she began making her own Verdelho with the grapes from the family-owned, Vierra Familia Estate. When our team tasted it, we were truly blown away. The sustainably farmed wine is grown next to a river in fertile ground, making it ripe and well balanced. Gianna’s approach is to make white wine with red wine practices, so she blends practices that keep it aromatic and refreshing — like stainless steel aging — with tannin extraction to give it depth and structure.
“Everyone tastes tannin differently, so it gives someone something to connect to. Tannins are like binders that help you really taste and experience the wine, not just the acid or sugar.”
When asked for a word to describe her Verdelho, Gianna is reminded of her time in Portugal.
“I love Portuguese fado music, it feels nostalgic and longing. There’s a word for that feeling in Portuguese that roughly translates to “a nostalgic longing that you can’t have again”. That’s the Verdelho, because that’s the energy. It gives a fleeting feeling.”
Hence, the tile print on the Maker can, based off of an actual tile she saw in Portugal, as a nod to her love of archeology, culture, and art. And while we’re on the topic of the can, Gianna couldn’t have been a more wonderful winemaker to partner with. Because of her inherent love of experimentation and sustainability, the cans were an obvious move for her:
“You guys are trying to bring good, small production wine to consumers, and actually tell the stories of the winemakers. I think so many small wine brands are ruined because of the competition with large corporate brands, so I just saw Maker as supporting a long term relationship with a maker and educating people about the human behind a brand or wine. Which is what I’m all about. It feels like the right thing as well as the next frontier of wine.
With notes of bright lemon and juicy pear, the aromatic white is an easy pairing with lots of grub. Gianna’s favorite suggestions are to drink it alongside a poke bowl, creamy corn dish, or our personal fave: a big bowl of popcorn.