Barron’s: Origins of the Massican Magazine

In 2020, a year that demanded thoughtful distractions, Massican Magazine made its Instagram debut, in partnership with the global creative arts publisher Phaidon Press.
The Design Issue


Between turning out Cabernet Sauvignon for historic Larkmead Vineyards and California riffs on crisp Italian-style whites at Massican Winery, his own label, Napa Valley winemaker Dan Petroski had his hands full. Still, in 2018, when Massican was celebrating its 10th vintage and unveiling a rebrand, Petroski had an idea for another ambitious project: the launch of a lifestyle magazine.

“As a wine brand, I was always struggling with what kind of media presence I wanted,” says Petroski, 47. “Based on my time living in Italy, I could have put a bunch of great Sophia Loren, Amalfi coast, and Fellini movie images on Instagram, but I’m also upset when I see people just posting others’ photos. How do we create our own content?”

That this quest for originality translated to an Instagram-only publication is not surprising considering Petroski, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, spent a decade working in the magazine industry before pursuing a wine career. He connected with writer and photographer friends to help piece together an editorial calendar, drawing on the myriad cultural influences that stir him. Only later did he realize how little time he would actually have to pull off something so “meticulously well done, so I started looking at it as a good concept, but undoable,” Petroski recalls.

In 2020, however, a year that demanded thoughtful distractions, Massican Magazine finally made its Instagram debut, in partnership with the global creative arts publisher Phaidon Press. For each issue, executed with the help of digital marketing pros this time around, Petroski sifts through Phaidon’s vast, nearly century-old library and extracts highlights that find invigorated meanings in their present-day thematic contexts.

So far, the issues have delved into the color blue, food, art, photography, and design. Typically, they comprise five chapters and unfurl in installments on Massican’s Instagram Stories, before the full 60 to 70 pages migrate to the Instagram Highlights archive.

The goal is to “build a reservoir of great content, where you can get really lost in it for just five minutes or 80 minutes like a 13-year-old on TikTok,” says Petroski, who plans to illuminate such realms as fashion, architecture, and gardening in 2021.

Massican Magazine is, as Petroski originally planned, a reflection of “pure love and passion,” he points out, but now there is an even more urgent objective attached to the collection of featured essays and vintage images.

“I normally spend a lot of time traveling for work and I’m always trying to coordinate those trips with a show I want to see at a gallery, or eating at a specific restaurant. But we can’t do that now, so I’m trying to give myself that experience another way. We have to get out of our own minds or we’re going to go crazy,” he says. “It’s the same as with my style of wines. If I like it, I’m assuming enough other people will as well.”

Petroski recently shared with Penta some of the people and places he’s found particularly inspiring during turbulent times.

The Mediterranean. “Blue brings comfort and most importantly it brings nostalgia, taking you to another place where you want to be. For me, that place has always been the Mediterranean. Massican’s signature blue is a Pompeiian blue from a 1,500-year-old fresco outside of Monte Massico, where my great-grandparents are from—and where the name Massican comes from. The blue of that area informs an aspirational southern Italy, whether it be Naples, Sicily, or Positano. That’s the most transporting color for me.”

Massimo Bottura. “I would travel to Italy just to eat Massimo Bottura’s food at Osteria Francescana in Modena. During the pandemic, Massimo’s daughter produced Kitchen Quarantine, these Instagram Live videos showing Massimo cooking from their house and talking and laughing with the family. Massimo is considered the greatest Italian chef of all time and he brings joy to the equation, but he also is a mad genius. He breaks the mold like only an Italian can do, so attractive in personality and generosity. I watched a lot of these videos during Covid and they were raw and spontaneous, bringing me to the kitchens of Italy and my friends over there.”

Cecily Brown. “Cecily Brown is a textural artist, and the way she layers paint, and projects imagery, it has a slightly Impressionist approach to it. But her work is also racy and has modern themes. We each had to individually go through some hard things this year, spending a lot of time thinking and figuring stuff out in confined spaces. We’ve all had those therapy-type moments, and the depth and seduction of Cecily’s paintings are a means to unpacking all the craziness we’ve had to deal with. Her work has always been so layered to me.”

Robert Mapplethorpe. “You cannot deny the power of Robert Mapplethorpe. There is so much energy in his work. Most times it’s dark, but it can also be irreverent. Apart from his controversies, the stuff that gets banned and yelled about over the years, there are his floral images. His Flowers book is out of print, but I finally found it in a used bookstore. There is something about the stillness and precision of the forms that connected me to the isolation and loneliness of Covid.”

Naoto Fukasawa. “Naoto Fukasawa is a Japanese industrial designer and author. A simple chair he built, the Hiroshima Armchair for the Maruni Wood Industry in Japan, is one of the most elegant pieces of wood I’ve ever seen. Fukasawa is behind the philosophy of ‘embodiment’—and wrote a book about it—meaning that the flow of movement and everything in your home moves with you. You don’t look at anything from a singular perspective because you’re always moving around it. It’s an introspective and fresh, new way to look at our surroundings that is especially important during Covid. We have to see our world differently now.”

By Alia Akkam, Barron’s Magazine, January 2021