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Phil Titus, Titus Winery

– Guam, US Naval Base 08:00 hours
100 feet below the water’s surface and near the abyss of the Marianas Trench, the deepest area in the world, Eric Titus meticulously pulls core samples from the ocean floor. In 5 minutes he must begin his ascent to the surface to avoid the dangers of decompression illness. The porous limestone that comprises this island, in the heart of the Micronesian South Pacific ocean, is leaking possible toxins. The US Navy has once again called upon his expertise in an effort to determine the impact that a seaside landfill has had on the local marine life.

This is Eric’s day job.

His other job is vineyard manager/marketing director, for family-owned winery, Titus. He works hand-in-hand with his brother Philip who is chief winemaker for Chappellet by day and Titus winemaker by night. Together they are carving a niche as up and coming California wine stars.

It all started with their father, Dr. Lee Titus, who moved out to California from the Midwest during the Depression. After World War II, Lee attended medical school, became a successful radiologist, and met his wife, Ruth.

In the late 60’s, four brawny baby boys later, the Titus family bought nearly 50 acres in Napa Valley, just north of St. Helena. At the time, the land was producing a plethora of crops - walnuts, prunes, hay, and some all but forgotten grape varietals, such as Mondeuce, Burger, and Golden Chasselas. “My Dad wanted to grow all five Bordeaux varietals on the land," says Eric, “we asked him why and he said because Bordeaux does it. They are the best wine region in the world and we should do it too.” And that set Titus on a path to creating beautifully blended Bordeaux wines as well as a little Zin.

Although Eric worked in the vineyards while growing up, he was drawn to the world of marine science and earned a doctorate in biology. In his ten years as a marine biology environmental consultant, Eric has worked on projects in Pearl Harbor, Midway and the atoll of Wake Island. An upcoming trip to Guam will be his third. When Lee decided 80 was just too old to be driving around in tractors and tending the vines every day, Eric jumped in to help his father. Now and for the last 10 years, Philip makes the wine and Eric grows the vines. The brothers work closely with one another, in a symbiotic relationship that demonstrates how interwoven and vitally important the two areas of winemaking are to each other.

The Titus vineyards are all on the Napa Valley floor, but in contrast to the more common deep, rich soil, theirs is sandy and well-drained. This stresses the vines to create intense and complex fruit. “I let the land do its thing,” says Eric. This is where his science background comes in handy. “Many growers hire consultants who analyze soil composition and suggest methods of growing based on general theories. Because of my own experience, I know this land and know what it is destined to produce. I take the path of least resistance." This is key. Figure out what the land wants to produce, and let it.

This kind of terrior farming is one of the reasons why Eric and Philip won’t be making a white wine anytime soon. “We don’t really have the climate for it up here.” says Eric. He also admitted as a side line that he and his brother cannot agree on which white and, on top of that, don’t have a great passion for any white. However, they are tossing around the idea of a small dessert muscat bottling... maybe.

As we concluded our visit with Eric, we couldn’t help but notice the stacks of National Geographic magazines piled throughout the Titus country cottage. Eric is a true adventurer and lover of nature – both above and below the water. In that way, he sees himself not in the role of the “manager” of the vineyard, but in the far more humble role as its caretaker.

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