Behind the Scenes with... Nancy & John Lasseter Family Winery

by Frank Anzalone, staff writer

Behind the Scenes with... Nancy & John Lasseter Family Winery

The 4th annual “Disney’s California Food & Wine Festival” has brought some fun and unique pleasures to the Disneyland Resort. Different than the annual Walt Disney World event, this festival offers a West Coast twist on food and wine that appeals to all ages of Park visitors.

The Animation courtyard beautifully transformed for this special event. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

This year, a new event is part of the Festival: “Behind the Scenes…”. The celebrity line-up is impressive, and when I saw the Lasseter Family Winery event scheduled (along with my enthusiasm for wines), I knew I did not want to miss this opportunity.

These special “Behind the Scenes…” events are being held at the Animation Courtyard in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area of Disney’s California Adventure Park. We were escorted from the front gate to the ‘red carpet’ entrance of the event. The anticipation of something special for this event was in the air. At the end of the red carpet, the doors opened and servers greeted each guest with trays of filled wine glasses for tasting. As we walked into this room (which we have been in many times before), the atmosphere was very different. The room was set for a special gathering and you had the sense you were on a studio set. All the animation screens were filled with colorful clips from Disney movies and the tables were set for a comfortable intimate gathering.

Emcee and Hostess Chef Jamie Gwen welcoming the attendees. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The “Behind the Scenes…” theme was the perfect configuration, set as a comfortable ‘on the couch’ talk show/panel discussion format. Emcee and Hostess Chef Jamie Gwen welcomed the audience and the Lasseters to the evening’s event. This was a different kind of Disney experience for me, structured more as a Q&A evening with hors d'oeuvres and wine, so it felt more like a comfortable at-home chat. This was the first ever event of this kind for Disney and the first public event the Lasseter Family Winery has done to promote the winery.

The "Behind the Scenes…" panel set looked more like a comfortable living room. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Emcee and Hostess Chef Jamie Gwen starts the Q&A with John Lasseter. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Architectural drawings of the winery and other facilities. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

As the story goes, back in 1992 the Lasseters moved to Sonoma, CA, and discovered winemaking through a group of amateur winemaking friends. It was a life changing moment for Nancy when she was able to harvest the grapes for the first time. She got John involved, and they began making wine with their close friends Tommy and Marcy Smothers.

The idea of a family winery started to evolve and options were considered for a winery site. When a historic Sonoma Valley winery, in desperate need of caring, restoration, and renovation, became available in 2002, the Lasseters made the purchase and transformed the facility into a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly, family-run winery. Nancy and John talked about how the main focus was to not only make great wines, but to clean up and renovate the vineyards and surrounding area to make it more eco-friendly. They have been very sensitive to the natural habitat and have converted their vineyard to exclusively organic farming practices.

Lasseter Family Winery winemaker, Julie Iantosca. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Partnering up with winemaker Julie Iantosca, Nancy and John began to fine tune the vineyard and the direction of wines they produce. Nancy and John have a love for French style blended wines… and a desire to meet one simple goal: “to produce the highest quality wine possible." 

Throughout the night’s discussions, different wines were tasted and described. It was very special to see the passion for their wines in Nancy and John as they talked about how it gets from vineyard to bottle. They seem to have a similar vision, and you can tell they are partners on so many levels.

Nancy Lasseter describes how she felt after her first harvest. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

At the moment, the winery produces three wines; the 2008 Syrah Rose (100% Syrah), the 2008 Rhone (68% Syrah, 16% Grenache and 16% Mourvedre blend), and the 2005 St. Emilion (40% Merlot, 32% Cabernet, 24% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc blend). The Syrah wine has a beautiful bouquet and is describe by Nancy as “our porch wine” (meaning: a wine you can relax with and enjoy any day). This is a very enjoyable and refreshing wine. The Rhone is a solid red wine that has a nice presence with the Syrah. The St. Emilion is my favorite. It has an awesome red blend, Cabernet/Merlot flavor, with subtle yet noticeable French style blending.

When the Lasseters decided to take the leap into their own winemaking, they had to create a label.  As John describes, “We were talking about how we wanted to represent the winery with a label… I had this cocktail napkin and we started sketching ideas…" The finished label is very clean and attractive. The “bee” represents John (his first Pixar short “The Adventures of Andre and Wally B.”), the rose represents Nancy (and, even though John drew a nice smooth stem, Nancy suggested he add a few thorns), and the five grapes represent their five children (all boys).


John points out the details of the Lasseter Family Winery wine label. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

At the end of the evening, there was a raffle of a few items, but the most coveted item was a set of eight wine glasses. These glasses were not for sale, but created for fund raising events. Each glass has a logo from a Pixar movie screened on it… beautiful! Unfortunately, I did not win them, but  had an excellent time all in all, and the evening went by much too quickly.


John Lasseter showing the very limited Pixar wine glasses. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

These events are ticketed admission events, and this one was worth every penny!

For more information about the Lasseter Family winery, check out their website:

Disney’s California Adventure Animation Building in the evening light. Photo by Frank Anzalone.