Sonny Martin - General Manager
Sonny Martin is a Renaissance Man in the food and beverage industry with his broad experience, finely honed skills and depth of knowledge. This unique combination earned him the respect and patronage of connoisseurs across the country. Sonny has worked as a chef and as a rare wine importer and wholesaler, founded Urban Gourmet, a specialty food and wine shop with a gourmet deli and founded Tesoro, a wine making operation, based on the Central Coast, that specialized in single vineyard Viognier and Syrah. When the boutique wine industry needed help to develop a direct to consumer business model Sonny was there, founding two companies that specialized in providing that help to wineries who prospered greatly. He has tasted wine professionally for the Beverage Tasting Institute, appeared on radio and TV shows and performed cooking demonstrations at major events. Sonny is a speaker, writer, panelist and teacher in a variety of food and beverage industry settings.
A distinguished career. Accolades. Recognition. Yet, Sonny says, quoting Albert Einstein, "If I have seen far, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants." He is referring to mentors, wise men who were generous with their knowledge, & their cellars. They never let me do anything to thank them, Sonny says. I want to do my job in a way that offers guests an opportunity to enhance the quality of their lives and learn at the same time. Wine can intimidate many people and Sonny loves to reduce the intimidation factor. Achieving that goal, passing on the knowledge that was handed down to me, is the best way I can thank my teachers.
Sonny joined the Bravante Vineyard's team with the goal of instilling very simple principles: "Every guest should leave our winery feeling recognized, special and, that we exceeded their expectations!" In his role as General Manager he oversees the training and performance of the winery staff and works hard to create an environment of professionalism and passion for service to enhance the already delicious wines.
Duane Dappen - Winemaker
Duane Dappen moved to Eldorado County at the age of nine. Growing up in Gold Country, he participated in 4-H throughout high school. Duane raised steers, bees and even worked on a home wine making 4-H project in his senior year. In his spare time, Duane began assisting his father with beekeeping duties - moving and checking bee hives and running the ‘Honey House.’ With a mixed background in science and agriculture, he decided that UC Davis' Enology program might be a logical choice of study.
After graduating from UC Davis, Duane secured a job as a Cellar Worker at Grgich Hills. There, alongside four other UC Davis graduates and Mike Grgich, he learned about the critically important winery production process - cleaning barrels, pump overs, lugging scores of hosing, racking wine and the multitude of additional chores that must be done to produce a fine wine. Grgich Hills was a solid place to begin a winemaking career because he was surrounded by passionate, innovative peers and a strong mentor who showed him what it takes to build a great wine.
In 1989, Duane became Cellar Master at Jerry Seps's Storybook Mountain Vineyard. He oversaw nearly all production aspects at the winery and started to realize the unique potential of a small estate-grown winery.
In 1993, Duane moved to Rombauer Vineyards and Frank Family Vineyards where he began as Cellar Master but quickly rose to the Assistant Winemaker position. Because Rombauer also functioned as a custom crush facility, it was a unique opportunity to work with a wide spectrum of varietals, winemaking styles and a multitude of respected winemakers.
In 1998, he became Head Winemaker at Frank Family Vineyard. Here Duane produced an amazing array of wine brands, including Frank Family still and sparkling wines, and many other different wines from some of the area's wineries.
During these years, Duane founded his own wine brand: D-cubed Cellars, producing Howell Mountain Zinfandel. In 1999, George Bravante brought his grapes to Frank Family Vineyards to make wine. Since Duane was already producing his own wine from Howell Mountain, George entrusted him to oversee the production of Bravante Vineyards wine. Duane started winemaking for Bravante Vineyards in 2000 with the first vintage from the Stone Ridge Vineyard. With these grapes, he developed the complex and elegant style which we produce to this day.
Thomas Klafke - Hospitality Manager
A career wine professional, Thomas has touched multiple sides of the wine industry including independent wine retail, on and off-premise wholesale wine sales, fine dining, and now winery hospitality. Highlights of his career include directing the wine program for award winning Forbes 5 Star and AAA 5 Diamond KAI restaurant in Chandler Arizona, as well as directing the wine program for Michelin Star Chef Michael Mina at Bourbon Steak at the Scottsdale Fairmont Princess. His Napa Valley winery experience includes stints at Turnbull Wine Cellars in Oakville, and Chappellet Vineyard on Pritchard Hill. He is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and CSW with the Society of Wine Educators. Working for a Family owned Estate winery on Howell Mountain is something Thomas considers to be a dream fulfilled.
Michelle Hunt - Wholesale Manager
Michelle is a seasoned industry veteran with a background in all 3 tiers of the wine business; first in fine wine retail in Charleston, SC, then with a distributor in South Carolina, and finally on the supplier side with wineries in Napa & Walla Walla. She loves the wine business and especially the “herding cats” aspect of wine sales - she loves a good challenge! Michelle's been with Bravante Vineyards since 2005, first as General Manger and now as National Sales Manager, based on the east coast. Besides working with our distributor and wholesale partners across the US, she is also the occasional winery “rep” at fundraisers, dinners and educational events, and she loves being there for the “a-ha!” moment when someone falls in love with wine. When she’s not out on the road hustling vino, you’ll find her in her expansive garden (her form of therapy), testing new tomato recipes in the kitchen, or deep in the woods, camping with her trusty canine and human companions.
Stephen Sichel - Private Client Services
Steve moved onto Howell Mountain in 2009 after selling his company in Los Angeles in 2006. He had visited with his wife in 1997 and knew Napa Valley offered a lifestyle which would be a refreshing change after manufacturing Costumes in Hollywood for almost 30 years. The Sichel Family has a long history in the Wine Industry and fulfilling his dream of a vineyard lifestyle seemed like a natural progression!
Growing Cabernet from his tiny 300 vine vineyard and producing 10 cases/year provides a unique perspective. The entire experience has been wonderful and joining the Bravante Team is the culmination of my past decade in Napa Valley. “This small boutique winery offers an old world experience that is unequalled. To work among such passionate folks such as George, Nancy, Thomas, Duane and Sonny is truly a winery Dreamteam! Small lots of wines that have been gently hand processed and the bottles held back for release until they're ready to be enjoyed is rare these days.”
As they say... “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life!”