Brandi Greene Crushes it at Burnsini Vineyards
By Jon Lewis
Story and photos by Jon Lewis
IT WAS THE SECOND DAY of harvest in 2017 when Brandi Greene realized she truly was seeing her dream come true. The epiphany, of sorts, arrived when her Burnsini Vineyards co-workers and field hands started calling her “Forklift.”
The nickname (which was later changed to the more flattering “Junior”) meant Greene, Burnsini’s new managing partner and winemaker, had established herself in the eyes of those who put more stock in capable, hands-on involvement than they do in labels and fancy business cards.
Greene came by the moniker honestly. Operating the forklift is a critical skill at a winery – mistakes when handling 60-gallon oak barrels full of Cabernet Sauvignon can be very costly. It was the first thing Tom Burnham taught Greene while handing over the keys to Burnsini.
Burnham and his wife, Joy, joined Jim and Deanna Tomasini to establish Burnsini Vineyards in 2000 and carefully grew the hobby-turned-profession until it came time to sell last year. The transaction became a reality when Greene joined with partners James and Casey Rickert (all three are active in Catalyst Redding Young Professionals) and Beth Lemke, who owns a wine bar in Pacifica, to purchase Burnsini.
Owning and operating a winery has been a dream of Greene’s for years, dating back to before she graduated Oregon State University in 2005 with a degree in food and fermentation science. She actually worked at four different wineries, but left the industry as a 23-year-old “and I said I’d never come back until I owned a winery. I changed career paths because I had no idea how to make my dream come true.”
Greene used her degree, and a postbaccalaureate certificate in environmental science, to work as an environmental chemist. She started in the field of decommissioning chemical weapon manufacturers and for the past 11 years has worked for an engineering firm that focuses on Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites and burned areas, including the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa.
Greene works as a chemist two or three days a week to allow her time to focus on the winery. She cherishes the opportunity to run a winery and is committed to protecting Burnsini’s legacy. “It has a long history already and it’s important to me that it continues on,” Greene says.
Some three-quarters of the 10-acre vineyard are in production, with the first vines taking root in 1998. A boutique winery, Bursini produces between 2,000 and 2,500 cases a year. Varietals currently offered include Sangiovese, a Sangiovese-based Rose, Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Two blends – Ms. Tehama and Friends – also are popular.
Hearty reds and Spanish and Italian varietals bear up well during Cottonwood’s hot summer days, Greene says. “This is a climate built for Zinfandels,” the winemaker adds. “The key to growing grapes is picking varietals that do well, and not just what you want to grow.”
Greene says she has a particular fondness for Sangiovese, a varietal she fell in love with after touring Tuscany. “I never had a Sangiovese I liked until then. When I purchased Burnsini and found out there was a Sangiovese planting, I was so excited about it. I worked on it to make it one of our best.”
In the near future, Greene says she’d like to introduce Barbera and Nebbiolo vines since they’re both hearty vines that can get through the North State’s hot days.
“The reality is I farm grapes,” Greene says with a laugh. “We can grow certain great grapes, but we’re not trying to be Napa Valley. I’m proud of the wine I make and I’d never put it in the bottle if I can’t stand behind it.”
Many of Burnsini’s offerings can be cellared, but Greene leans toward a philosophy that the fruits of one’s labors should be celebrated posthaste. “I’m happy to produce wines that people enjoy, not wines to put away and never drink. Tom (Burnham) and I both don’t hold to strict schedules, like 36 months in the barrel for Merlot. We bottle it when it’s ready.”
Greene is also working to continue Burnsini’s status as a popular meeting spot for weddings, parties and other events. The vineyard recently hosted a farm-to-fork event with Tehama Together (a four-course meal where everything except the sale and pepper was sourced from Tehama County) as well as a Shasta Land Trust dinner in the vineyard.
One of Greene’s greatest accomplishments, says Rachel Hatch, her friend and fellow Catalyst Redding co-facilitator, is simply being a homegrown professional who opted to return and direct her talents toward helping the North State.
“One of the things I appreciate about Brandi is the way she is capable of both being an individual contributor and building the entire system,” Hatch says. “For example, she not only is a woman in science, but she also has helped power the local STEM activities for kids; she is not only a winemaker herself, but she has also grown the whole ecosystem of local beer and wine through her efforts to grow Redding Beer Week over the years. She embodies the Catalyst Young Professionals mission of enhancing the vibe of Redding.” •
Burnsini Vineyards • 19535 Hammers Lane, Cottonwood
Tasting room hours: Thursday-Sunday, noon to 5 pm • www.burnsini.com