The Family & the Winemakers
Dancing Crow Vineyards is the culmination of multiple generations of wine experience and the collective energies of the Cartlidge-Forni clan. Husband and wife winemakers, David and Katharine DeSante contribute their unique collaboration.
Over-the-hill Benign Dictator
Tony grew up in Hampstead, London England and is the offspring of an anarchist orphaned father and a German-Jewish, refugee, artist mother. His father, Derrick, abandoned on the steps of a London orphanage as a baby, was a suitably Dickensian figure of great warmth and wit, with a spectacular distain for authority. Barbara, his mother, was a leading jewelry designer and gallery owner in London.
During his early years, Tony attended a free expression school called Burgess Hill. After leaving school at 16 he worked in Paris, North Africa, and the Soviet Union before a brief sojourn at the Architectural Association in London. Turning west, more particularly northwest, he came to America with somewhat typical immigrant aspirations. He worked in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska driving logging trucks and cement mixers. A chance gift of a wine book led him 750 miles south in search of an opening in the alluring wine renaissance happening in Napa County.
After a flurry of cold calling, fate led him to Helen Niemi, who provided him with a hat-trick of lucky introductions leading to a job as a guide at Rutherford Hill winery, then to Glenn Browne who became his partner in the Cartlidge & Browne Winery, and thirdly to his wife Sarah, Helen’s daughter. All these events contributed to Tony setting down roots in the Napa Valley. Tony grew Cartlidge & Browne into a 120,000 case winery – sourcing fruit for a single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from the Dancing Crow property – before selling the company in 2011. Fortuitously, the opportunity to buy the Dancing Crow vineyard presented itself and Tony could not pass up the opportunity to bring his family together in this new and exciting wine endeavor.
Dr. Adam Forni
Director of Authenticity
Dancing Crow Vineyards represents both a new direction and a return to deep family roots in the wine business for Adam. Born and raised in Rutherford and St. Helena, he brings with him a rich tradition of four generations of Fornis involved in the wine industry. In addition, on his mother Sarah’s side, three generations of Niemis, have also left an indelible mark on Napa Valley architecture and wine culture.
Adam’s paternal great-grandfather, Charles Forni, was one of the early Italian pioneers of the Napa Valley. A vineyard and winery owner (Napa Valley Cooperative Winery & Sunny St. Helena), Charles was one of the four original founding members of the Napa Valley Vintners Association. Charles worked the land with his sons Carlo (Adam’s grandfather) and Alfred, at one point accumulating over 500 acres of Napa Valley vineyards before selling to Christian Bros. in 1956. Adam’s father, Michael, continued the family tradition becoming both partner and winemaker at Cassayre-Forni Cellars in Rutherford, where Adam spent his formative years climbing wind machines and helping out on the bottling line.
Adam’s education led him down another path, as he graduated from Sonoma State University with a degree in psychology and then continued on to obtain a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology from John F. Kennedy University in 2007. After five years as a Forensic Psychologist, Dancing Crow Vineyards became a tangible reality and Adam heeded the inevitable call of dirt and vines, joining his stepfather, Tony Cartlidge, as part of the formidable Dancing Crow ownership and sales team, along with his brother Stefan.
Ambassadress & Special Events Coordinator
Sarah arrived in the Napa Valley in 1960, and grew up with the children of Napa Valley winemaking families such as Robert Mondavi, Charles Carpy of Freemark Abbey, and the Heitz Cellars family. Her father, Les Niemi, an architect, worked on many Napa Valley wineries, and residences such as Robert Mondavi, Burgess Cellars, Heitz Cellars, and Caymus Vineyards.
Her mother, Helen Niemi, applied her business degree in the area of hospitality and public relations for Freemark Abbey and Rutherford Hill winery. In 1963, Helen helped to reorganize the Napa Valley Wine Library Association, becoming their secretary. Sarah’s father provided architectural services for the new St. Helena Library, which now archives the history of the Napa Valley wine industry. Sarah’s parents would often recount dinners they enjoyed with M.F.K. Fisher, and of Helen’s friendship with Julia Child, whom she assisted to learn about the post-prohibition Napa Valley wine country.
Soon after graduating from St. Helena High School, Sarah became a member of the Forni family, one of Napa’s Valley’s earliest winemaking families, gaining hands-on experience at the family’s Cassayre-Forni Cellars. Sarah is involved in special events and projects for Dancing Crow Vineyards. Dancing Crow Vineyards seems to her “the perfect opportunity to bring family and history together–with an eye to the next generation.”
Stefan Cartlidge comes from British and American ‘root stock.’ His father, Tony, a Londoner, arrived in the Napa Valley in 1979, with high hopes of becoming part of the second wave of new wine producers in the Napa Valley. His mother, Sarah, grew up in the Napa Valley during the 1960s when walnuts and grapes were harvested on the valley floor. His early days were typical of a country upbringing; playing in creeks and participating in the Calistoga Fourth of July Parade.
After Napa Valley Schools, he headed East to embark on his Higher Education journey, graduating from Oberlin College in 2015. He studied English Literature with a focus on early British Post-Modernism. While at school and since graduating, Stefan has maintained a strong interest in theater and circus arts, working as an improv teacher at Camp Winnarainbow in Laytonville in the summer as his schedule permits.
After several years in Northern California helping start Dancing Crow, he has decided to make New York his home base from where he will represent the family’s wines on the East Coast. Working with Dancing Crow has given Stefan an appreciation of the exhilarating beauty of Lake County. The region’s secluded nature and wildlife appealed to him, and the chance to undertake a viticultural adventure with his family promised, if anything, some novel experiences and writing material
David and Katharine DeSante
David was born in Erie, Pennsylvania and one day, when he was 10, he decided that he would become a winemaker. After some experimentation, the mess was cleaned up and some years passed. It was then that David met his wife-to-be Katharine, and they were married after the usual type of romantic love story. Katharine encouraged his vision (some say delusion) and they relocated to California where David completed his degree in Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis.
David’s winemaking escapades have included three continents; with experiences in the US, France and Australia’s Margaret River – a region known for Sauvignon Blanc. David and Katharine have completed 6 harvests now, and are amazed how the Dancing Crow Sauvignon Blanc vineyard allows them to pick at 21 brix, while showing full fruit intensity and flavors, as well as great acidity. The addition of Old Stake 1901 Vineyard to the Dancing Crow portfolio has brought this historic field blend into their repertoire and fruit from the Red Hills AVA creates the DCV Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Katharine, a former baker turned “yeast whisperer,” has helped to ensure depth and definition during fermentation. David and Katharine, have their own label and are strongly-influenced by French-styled wines.
David and Katharine are excited by the rare natural fruit/acidity balance provided by the Dancing Crow Vineyards’ “Diablo clay soil” and unique, mountain microclimate – which cools the grapes each evening, after 100 degree days. For David and Katharine, the Dancing Crow property underscores their belief that delicious things come from beautiful places.
Photo by Sam Aslanian