The World according to Marc has many facets. In his cosmos, Marc Goldberg can be controversial and wise, a storyteller whose witty anecdotes come peppered with one-line zingers that take listeners off guard.
Co-founder of Windward Vineyards & Winery in the Templeton Gap District, Marc at age 90, sporting his signature irreverent spirit, is an active man both on social media and in person, a familiar face on Paso’s cultural circuit and at wine events.
Marc’s 90th birthday celebration was planned by his wife Maggie D’Ambrosia (the two have been together for 55 years and married for 50). Staged at their winery on November 5, 2023, the merry event was attended by some 50 well-wishers, both family and friends.
After attending the celebration, I decided to follow up with him reflecting on life. “Well, that means I’ve experienced 15 [US] Presidents and their administration in exercising the spirt of our constitution and the wisdom that I’ve garnered from that is certainly unique and of value,” Marc told me on a chilly December afternoon, seated fireside at their home, steps away from the winery. He continued: “As a child of immigrants from a troubled world my love for this nation is intense and a great part of what I am as a humanist.”
As a vintner, Marc is a Paso treasure and an anomaly. For more than three decades, he’s carried the Pinot Noir flag in Paso. This passion runs so deep that he has produced this varietal wine exclusively at Windward. His quixotic quest and dedication have sealed his identity as Paso’s Pinot Godfather. Perfectly balanced, Windward’s signature Pinot is a symphony of perfumed violets and ripe bing cherries layered with traces of earthy notes starting with a sensual mid-palate leading to a lush finish.
Marc has mentored many local winemakers and his advice is quite simple: “I suggest you develop a vision.” Start with a thorough 10-year plan, he counsels. “Put down on one sheet of paper where you would like your winery to be in 10 years. Are you focusing on many varieties? Have you purchased the land? You have to have a vision of where you want to be.”
Marc has followed that singular vision to make a “great American Burgundian style wine” ever since he was bitten by the Pinot Noir bug on travels to Burgundy. That vision involved sacrifices such as giving up a lucrative profession in the healthcare business as a hospital administrator. Marc and Maggie (also a hospital administrator) arrived in Paso circuitously by way of Louisville, Kentucky and Southern California.
“I had to give up 85% of my income,” Marc noted of his move to San Luis Obispo from Southern California in 1983, where he operated the Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital (since renamed the Grossman Burn Center) while Maggie worked at St. Francis Medical Center for the Daughters of Charity in Los Angeles. Previously in the early 1970s, the couple were living on a 300-acre horse and cattle farm in Louisville, Kentucky, where Marc was running a medical center.
The lure of California’s wine region was the impetus to leave Kentucky. “It was a fantasy at the time,” Maggie recalled, handing us a glass of chilled Italian Arneis. “But we thought it was the right thing to do.”
From Southern California, they got closer to Paso when Marc applied for the CEO position at the San Luis Obispo (SLO) County General Hospital in 1983. He was one of 450 applicants yet got the job. Maggie went on to establish the Goodwill Industries in SLO County.
While in SLO, the couple drove up and down the Coast on weekends searching for sites for possible Pinot plantings. On one such trip to Morro Bay, they stumbled upon Paso Robles and saw the region’s vineyardscape. Marc also took note of the calcareous soil. ”Hey, this could be for us,” he remarked to Maggie. “At the time there were only 12 wineries here.”
Nine years later, the fantasy took form when they were encouraged by a Santa Barbara dentist turned vintner. “If a dentist could do it why can’t we? Marc remarked.
In 1989, the couple found a 26-acre barley farm that came with a 70-year-old barn on Paso’s westside. The cool ocean breezes that blow through the Templeton Gap inspired the name Windward for their winery. “It’s a sense of place and geography, millions of years under the ocean at one point,” Marc noted on the terroir and its calcareous soil. “When we ripped the ground, whale bones came up out of the soil.”
There was much clearing to be done on the property which came with a 100-year-old house. At this point, they still considered it a hobby. “But when we saw how much money we were putting into it, we thought we had better take it seriously,” Maggie remembered.
The couple ignored the naysayers when they decided on planting Pinot, among them the late Robert Haas, co-founder of Tablas Creek Vineyard. “Bob said, ‘You should plant Rhônes’,” Marc recalled. Maggie remembered comments from local vintners to the effect that it’s going to be eight years before you turn around and earn a nickel.
It was a risk. Yet Marc and Maggie followed their vision. What had convinced Marc was the storied Pinot Noir planting in Paso at Hoffman Mountain Ranch (HMR) in the Adelaida district in the mid-1960s by former Beverly Hills cardiologist Dr. Stanley Hoffman and his consultant, the famed Napa-based viticulturist André Tchelistchef. Marc happened to taste the 1976 HMR Pinot Noir and was blown away. “If I can get close to making Pinot that’s this Burgundian,” Marc mused, “I’d be a happy guy.”
The confluence of unrelenting dedication, belief and commitment led to a 15-acre vineyard planted exclusively to Pinot Noir with cuttings from HMR vines by Jim Smoot in 1990. The first vintage of 1993 sold out immediately. Marc gained knowledge with trips to Burgundy and honed his skills working with such established winemakers as Ken Volk of Wild Horse Winery in Paso.
For Marc, the most important part of farming is the selection of a vineyard and the choice of the variety planted. “On top of that, you try to select the clones that would do well in the kind of soil and climate so the vineyard expresses itself.” And he takes the French approach of terroir — the convergence of soil, climate and variety — very seriously.
“We put in the bottle what the vineyard gives us so people know from year to year that they are getting grapes from the same place,” said Marc. His bottles, instead of being labeled “estate grown,” bear the word Monopole, a French designation that signifies sole ownership of a vineyard and wine made from grapes grown only in that vineyard.
Marc and Maggie’s commitment to Pinot inspired them to launch the Pinot and Paella festival in 2003 held at Windward. The annual June festival featuring Paso Pinot producers has grown and is now staged at Templeton Park raising funds to benefit the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation.
Reflecting on his lifetime commitment as a vintner, Marc is feeling good about his Pinot mission in Paso. Windward continues to produce small production currently at 1500 cases annually, focused exclusively on Point Noir.
“I’ve been here 30 years,” said Marc. “It’s more progressive now. People have come [to Paso] from different parts of the world, bringing their own experiences. I am part of the experience.”
2015: Marc Goldberg named San Luis Obispo County Winemaker of the Year in 2015 by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.
2012: Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Award as Wine Industry Person of the Year.
2011: Marc Goldberg and Maggie D’Ambrosia honored as the 2011 Paso Robles Wine Industry Persons of the Year by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.
2010: Windward receives award for Solar-Powered Winery, part of the California Initiative
2009: Windward receives Best of Appellation Award. Gold Medal 2006 Monopole Pinot Noir, Estate from Clark Smith, Director of the Best-of-Appellation Program, Appellation America. Inc.
2008: Marc Goldberg and Maggie D’Ambrosia chosen as the 2008 Central Coast Wine Classic honorees for San Luis Obispo at the 24th Annual Central Coast Wine Classic and celebrated for their efforts to produce the Great American Pinot Noir.
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