People get into winemaking in a variety of ways. For John Giannini, it was through the kitchen.

The Bay Area native grew up surrounded by the sights, tastes, and smells of a vibrant, Italian-American culture. From the stories he heard during childhood of his family’s earlier time in San Francisco, when one neighbor would make olive oil, while another raised rabbits in their garden, and yet another (his grandfather, in fact) was known for being a basement winemaker, to his college days in Santa Rosa collecting first paychecks as a waiter in a local Italian restaurant, the crossover cultures of food, wine, and hospitality left an indelible mark on what would become his professional identity. But first came cooking.

In two separate periods of his life, before the vineyards and cellars called to him, John cooked under the celebrated chef Hiro Sone at his renowned restaurant in St. Helena, Terra. The first of these, in the mid-90s, was a combination testing ground and trial-by-fire that saw him work long, hard hours as a line cook on Chef Hiro’s team. Of course, Terra wasn’t his first job in a kitchen. He’d already honed some skills and, at the same time, developed a deep love for cooking, at a pair of restaurants owned by San Francisco’s iconic Kimpton Group. By the time John’s second act at Terra ended in 2006, he'd ascended to the role of Chef de Cuisine. But a chance introduction to a winemaker named Thomas Brown a few years earlier had already changed everything.

Working a pair of harvests as an intern under Thomas in 2003 and ’04 was all it took to open John’s eyes to the worlds of winemaking and viticulture. He missed out on the acclaimed 2005 harvest—“the turning point of my career,” as he describes the transition from kitchen to cellar. “I did '03 and '04, and I had one foot in both worlds, really enjoying learning how to make wine, being outside, and being in vineyards.” Vowing to never let another harvest pass him by, he quickly honed a new set of skills at Outpost Winery. As with cooking, he embraced the challenges and moved up from cellar master to Outpost’s Assistant Winemaker. The career shift even enabled him to create his own wine brand, Cresta Velia, that honors his Italian heritage and evokes a time in his life when, he remembers, “there was always wine at the table.” Today, crafting his own wines, John is happy that the situation hasn’t really changed.