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Simon Family Estate Wines And The Transformative Power Of Immigrant Roots

Magazine, Making Money, Forbes Travel

An Iraqi Catholic and an Israeli Jew walk into a bar, maybe even a bar in the American viticultural capital, Napa — you see where this is going — but still, how in the world do they walk out with some of Napa’s most exciting Cabernet Sauvignon? The answer has something to do with the entrepreneurial spirit of two immigrants whose paths crossed by accident — or was it fate?

Though still young, winemaker Maayan Koschitzky is not a new kid on the block. So, when Sam Simon invited him out to dinner, without explanation, he was perplexed. But of course, Simon knew Koschitzky’s work at Screaming Eagle and Dalla Valle, and as Director of Winemaking for Atelier Philippe Melka, Koschitzky is one of the most highly regarded winemaking consultants in the valley. What Koschitzky didn’t know is that Simon was interested in starting a winery. After all, Simon was the founder of Atlas Oil, based in Michigan, and co-founder with his wife, Nada, of The Sam and Nada Simon Foundation, so, at first glance, these folks seemed like strange bedfellows.

But as their relationship quickly deepened, Koschitzky learned that Simon had joined The Napa Valley Reserve back in 2003 and had gotten Cabernet fever; now, he wanted to launch his own estate brand. The rest isn’t, as they say, history, but rather an ever-evolving present tense in the pursuit of the best quality wines they can possibly make. Simon Family Estate was born with this mission front and center.

The pair’s bond was solidified over a shared immigrant narrative. Simon’s family, originally from Armenia, was murdered in the genocide during World War I — except for his grandfather, who escaped to northern Iraq, where he began a new life and made his living manufacturing shoes. But of course, an Armenian Catholic was persona non grata in Iraq, and the family was eventually deported to Lebanon, where a church sent Simon’s family to Michigan with just $200 in their pockets.

Koschitzky’s story is both similar and different. His maternal Hungarian Jewish grandparents somehow escaped the train to Auschwitz, settling in Israel by way of Italy. On the paternal side, his Polish grandparents fled the Warsaw Ghetto, also for safety in Israel. (Koschitzky himself was a paratrooper in the Israeli military before going off to college to study mechanical engineering.)

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