Few thrills can equal starting the Indianapolis 500 as one of its 33 drivers. But former Indy car racer turned winemaker Randy Lewis, who was a part of the Indy 500 starting grid five times from 1987 to 1991, got a big thrill recently when his 2013 cabernet sauvignon earned Wine Spectator magazine’s top award.
The prestigious magazine’s editors named the Lewis Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2013 its 2016 Wine of the Year (the magazine's top-10 list is available here). It is one of the wine industry’s top awards.
“I like all of his wines,” said James Laube, senior editor.
In a video about Lewis’ wine, Laube added, “The Lewis cabernet typifies modern wine making. The grapes are very, very ripe, expressive, opulent. There’s an underlying seam of elegance, finesse and grace and harmony. ... I think people are going to be talking about this wine for a long time.”
Those are big compliments from a long-time wine expert and they thrill Lewis, who started making wine in 1992 after his best friend bought a vineyard and asked for help. Lewis left racing in 1991, deciding to change careers. His winery is about a 45-minute drive from Sonoma Raceway, where the Verizon IndyCar Series races annually and Lewis sometimes goes for a spin in his 1982 Can Am car.
Lewis said he wasn’t racing with the best equipment at the end of his driving career and that made it hard to win. But he’s been able to make changes in his new profession.
“Now I have the best people in the business that are running Lewis Cellars and I have the tools to do some of the top stuff,” he said.
Winemaking and racing have similarities, he said. Weather is a factor in both. So is stress and pressure.
“Even though harvest is not like qualifying for Indy, it’s still a nail-biting time,” Lewis said. “It just takes longer than four laps to get it done.”
Lewis Cellars is a family-run business that includes Randy, wife Debby and her son Dennis.
“They do it all,” said Laube, the magazine senior editor. “They sweat it all out. They check the vineyards. They pick the grapes. They make the wine. There is very little they don’t do in the winemaking process. In this day and age, it is a bit of an anomaly to have a winery that is this family-oriented without external influences.”
Lewis is among several Indy car racers in the wine business, including the Foyt and Andretti families, team owner Jimmy Vasser and former driver Scott Pruett. The high marks from Wine Spectator put him in elite company.
And while Lewis wines are sold by the bottle and in restaurants in New York City, throughout California and Aspen, Colo., among other places, wine lovers will have a hard time finding the 2013 cabernet lauded in Wine Spectator. It sold out long ago. But other Lewis wines are available at lewiscellars.com.