What do math, science, music, and wine have in common? A lot, actually: just ask “Billo” Naravene, owner and winemaker for RASA wines in Walla Walla.
Born in India, Billo’s family moved to New Jersey when he was 6-years-old, and his brother and now business partner, Pinto, was 8-years-old. Billo received his BS in applied Mathematics and Computer Science from MIT, and an MS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford. Pinto received similar degrees – a Computer Science/Electrical Engineering and MS in Electrical Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology. Wine became a passion for the brothers, and they became avid wine collectors; he and his brother dreamed of having their own winery some day. After spending 15 years in the high tech industry, Billo simply burned out, and in 2005 he applied to UC Davis master’s program for viticulture and enology. When he received an acceptance letter, he called Pinto, and asked, “How serious are you about starting a winery?” Pinto was turning 40-years-old that year, and replied, “If we don’t do this now, we’ll be old men someday regretting our decision. Let’s do it!” Billo entered the program in 2006, and just one year later, they launched Rasa Vineyards.
Why the name Rasa? Pinto and Billo were looking for a name for the winery that had a connotation to terroir and tied them back to their heritage. Their uncle, who speaks Sanskrit, suggested the word “Rasa”, which means “essence” when used in the context of fruit and soil. It is the closest word in an Indian language that means “terroir.” If you are familiar with wine, you know that terroir gives the wine a sense of place; the special characteristics of the geography, geology, and climate that interact with the plant’s genetics, and are then expressed through agricultural products, such as wine.
Billo explains that for him, a great wine is like liquid art and can totally captivate him. He loves winemaking so much, it doesn’t seem like work. “I get paid to do what I love most – that is totally awesome!”
If running a winery isn’t enough, Billo also consults for Mackey Vineyards, Echo Ridge cellars, and Delmas wines. Additionally, he is on the adjunct faculty for Washington State University’s Enology and Viticulture program. “It’s really fun for me to teach the new generation of winemakers,” he notes. But that’s not all – Billo is also studying in the Master of Wine program, and hopes to pass the rigorous exam one day. With all of this, one can’t help but to ask, “Does this guy ever sleep?”
Wait, there is MORE: when Billo has any free time, he plays classical piano, chess, and likes to lift weights. Evidently, and not surprisingly, he knows useless amounts of trivia, and his nieces and nephews all complain when he gives them challenging math puzzles. Music is also one of their passions; Pinto likes rock’ n roll, and Billo prefers classical. Billo started playing piano when he was 23 and is largely self-taught. It’s fair to say that he is a true Renaissance man.
When naming the wines, Billo and Pinto look to their math, science, and music backgrounds for inspiration, as evidenced by the “Composer’s Riesling,” and “The Maestro’s Riesling.” Principia (their Reserve Syrah) is the common name for Isaac Newton’s 3-volume work about his laws of motion and universal gravitation, titled “Philosophical Naturalis Principia Mathematica.” Another wine is named “QED,” which is Latin from quod erat demonstrandum, meaning, “which had to be demonstrated,” and is traditionally placed in abbreviated form at the end of a mathematical proof to signal its completion.