Winemaker Interview: Armando Castagnedi

Armando Castagnedi

As our regular readers know, we frequently pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became who they are. This week, we are featuring Armando Castagnedi, the owner and winemaker of Tenuta Sant’Antonio in the Veneto region.

Armando was born into the wine industry: his father produced grapes for a wine cooperative. So the industry was natural to him. But it took an affirmative decision by him and his brothers to move from growing and selling grapes to winemaking. They did this over the past three decades by purchasing additional land and initially hiring winemaking consultants.

Today, Armando oversees the estate’s production of various Amarone, Valpolicella, and Soave bottlings, as well as some sweet wines and grappas.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in a small village in the Illasi Valley, east part of the Valpolicella. I attended the school of Viticulture and Enology and always collaborated with my father (who used to produce grapes for a wine cooperative) in the vineyards together with my brothers. I had the chance to live the vineyards daily, to be present in both positive and negative moments, and this experience gave us strength and will to look ahead and become curious about the world of wine.

When and how did you get into wine?

I’ve always been fascinated by wine but at the beginning it was unimaginable to become wine producer since my father was producer of grapes and didn’t want us to do anything different. Year by year we weren’t satisfied so in 1989 my brothers and I decided to buy some plots of land (MONTI GARBI, where now we have the winery), a difficult area but with good qualitative potentiality. This was the moment when we were closer to the idea of producing wine. In 1993 we met Celestino Gaspari (now owner of Zymè winery) and, with his consultation, we planned our first experience in winemaking.

What has been your career path to where you are?

Our experience started step by step, our effort was focused on improving the quality of grapes and wine, few bottles but made with care, looking for style innovation.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

There are several variables that can make a vineyard special. Every producer knows the characteristics of his own vineyard: first of all the soil, the exposure, the altitude, if the area is ventilated or not, etc. All these characteristics put together create a particular result.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

Our purpose has always been to produce wines with personality, to create clean, fruity, and fresh wines. Many of our wines are made with the appassimento technique that gives concentration and density, but it’s not easy to obtain balance between alcohol, sugars and acidity. So our philosophy is creating wines with good structure and notes of fresh and fragrant fruit.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

To impart to the final consumer our ideas, our incessant research, the difficult situations that sometimes we may have and to let them understand the work behind the wine. The result could be great or not, but the consumer has to understand that every wine is “son” of that vintage. Another challenge is to amaze with the quality of our wine.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

There are some producers from our area that have been a great inspiration, such as Dal Forno Romano and Quintarelli Giuseppe, everyone with his own style. There are famous wines that can’t avoid to make their mark such as Penfolds Grange from Australia and Opus One from California; I also like wines from Burgundy, elegant and mineral. Speaking about Italy, I love Tuscany, from Brunello di Montalcino to Bolgheri area, but the wines that touches the most are the ones from Barolo, with elegant, long-life and aromatic complexity wines.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

I’m always very curious about new winemakers, I like to understand their idea of wine, if it’s in accord with mine, but above all their style, which is a very important feature to me.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?

Barolo.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

Barolo Riserva Giuseppe Mascarelo, a wine that you definitely can’t forget.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

The oldest and most expensive bottle is Amarone Bertani vintage 1964, a present for my wife, that I hope to open soon!

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

Verdicchio Podium 2010, Garofoli. A classic super Italian wine.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

Since it’s summer, I would go for a white wine from Alto Adige, it could be a Sauvignon or a Pinot Bianco only vinified in steel. About red, lately I’m attracted by Sicilian wines from Etna, made with Nerello Mascalese grapes, mineral and not too concentrated.

Is beer ever better than wine?

I drink beer in summer, I love craft beers from small producers but I never have the same feelings that I have with wine.

How do you spend your days off?

Unfortunately I don’t have many days off, I often travel for business. When I’m at home, I like to read especially history books or about political background.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

They could be surprised if I decide to leave my job, but I’ll never do it because it is my life.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

I really don’t know, this has always been my job, I never did anything different.

How do you define success?​​

I believe that success is the result or the recognition of your work, research, dedication, it’s something that has to improve your life without upsetting your balance.

Winemaker Interview: Anthony Walkenhorst

Anthony Walkenhorst

As our regular readers know, we frequently pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became who they are. After a long hiatus, this week, we are featuring Anthony Walkenhorst, the chief winemaker at Kim Crawford Wines.

It is hard to name a more well-recognized New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc than Kim Crawford’s. But Kim Crawford’s history isn’t long. Founded in 1996, Kim Crawford quickly expanded, exporting its wines to the United States within just two years, and becoming the recognized brand within a decade. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, Kim Crawford also produced Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Rose. It has just launched a reserve bottling of Sauvignon Blanc.

Anthony joined Kim Crawford as an assistant winemaker in 2005, after graduating with a degree in agricultural science from the University of Adelaide in Southern Australia, and working harvests around the world. Initially at Kim Crawford, Anthony worked alongside the founding winemaker Kim Crawford and focused his efforts on the reds. Then, in 2010, Anthony became the chief winemaker

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia – however, I’ve now lived in New Zealand for over a decade, starting and raising my family here, and it truly feels like home.

When and how did you get into wine?

When I was 16, I did some work experience at a small Pinot Noir winery in the Yarra Valley. The head winemaker was a Master of Wine and we did blind tastings during lunch every day, which really opened my eyes to the world of wine. From then on I was hooked!

What has been your career path to where you are?

I grew up in Australia and became interested in winemaking early in life. This passion inspired me to earn a First-Class Honors Bachelor of Agricultural Science from the University of Adelaide, South Australia. From there, I had the opportunity to work harvests in the Barossa Valley, Napa Valley, and Ontario, Canada. I joined the Kim Crawford team in 2005 as an assistant winemaker primarily for red wines, working and learning alongside then winemakers Kim Crawford and Matt Large. They were true mentors during this time period, always pushing me and our winemaking team to try new things and strive for the ultimate quality. Now, I oversee every aspect of Kim Crawford winemaking across red and white varietals, and feel incredibly proud to continue the brand’s innovative spirit.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

Across our Kim Crawford offerings, vineyard sourcing is so important – from geography and climate to soil type and grape quality. Take our new luxury tier and Signature Reserve Sauvignon Blanc for example. Our Kim Crawford Core Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from Marlborough, so were instantly drawn back to this renowned winemaking region for the Signature Reserve. Grapes for the Signature Reserve 2017 vintage were selected from the Springfields and Steam Wharf vineyards, located in the lower Wairau. The influence of this valley’s coastal climate keeps the vineyards frost-free and helps fruit ripen slowly, while its fertile and rich soils produce healthy canopies that drive powerful flavors into the grapes. Unique to the Kim Crawford Signature Reserve, our team will continue to re-assess small lot sourcing each year and choose only the highest performing vineyards and grapes for each vintage.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

My winemaking philosophy is to take risks and think unconventionally throughout the winemaking process, with the goal of pushing the highest levels of consistency and quality.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

As I winemaker, I challenge myself to continue elevating and pushing the boundaries of what New Zealand winemaking is and what it can be. I’m thrilled at the popularity New Zealand wines have gained over the years around the world, and I’m excited to keep that momentum going so that our signature varietals stay fresh and innovative, while also remaining true to their New Zealand origins. I believe we’ve successfully done this with our new Kim Crawford Signature Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?

It’s a difficult choice! One aspect I love about winemaking is that – no matter where you are in the world – it’s always changing, from regional styles that winemakers produce to the flavors and aromas of wine as it ages. As Kim Crawford’s winemaker, I’m always learning and am a big believer in not having favorites – always keep tasting and expanding your horizons.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

A vintage port from my birth year and a few bottles of a McLaren Vale Shiraz that was the first wine I ever made.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

Since it is harvest in Marlborough now, there is probably more beer than wine in the fridge!

Is beer ever better than wine?

While wine – of course – is my daily passion, it’s hard to beat a cold craft beer. Luckily, my brother actually owns a craft brewery and there’s nothing quite as refreshing after a long day.

How do you spend your days off?

The Marlborough Sounds are a short drive from the winery, but it feels like another world and is so relaxing. Three kids also help to keep my days off busy.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

I was also considering being a chef before I chose winemaking. I love creating flavors and experimenting in the kitchen.

How do you define success? ​​

At Kim Crawford, I feel that our team has been successful when we’ve built on our strong foundations and extensive winemaking experience in New Zealand to create something truly innovative and unique. That’s why we’re so proud and excited to be launching our new luxury tier and Signature Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. We hope that Kim Crawford fans and wine drinkers around the world enjoy this extension of our current collection of New Zealand wines as much as we do!

Winemaker Interview: Jill DelaRiva Russell

Jill DelaRiva Russell

As our regular readers know, we frequently pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became who they are. This week, we are featuring Jill Russell, who was recently promoted to be the winemaker at Cambria Winery of the Santa Maria Valley in California’s Central Coast.

(We recently interviewed Jonathan Nagy, the winemaker at Byron Winery, who had previously worked at Cambria.)

Cambria is a part of the Jackson Family Wines portfolio. Following the footsteps of the late Jess Jackson, Barbara Banke and Katie and Julia Jackson manage the estate.

Jill studied winemaking at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. After graduating, she stayed in the area and began her career as assistant winemaker at Stephen Ross Wine Cellars. She then worked harvest in France and joined Paul Lato Wines, before being named Cambria’s new winemaker.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Castro Valley, California.

When and how did you get into wine?

When I was in high school, I worked as a server at a winery in Livermore and fell in love with food and wine. Once I graduated, I moved to San Luis Obispo to study Wine and Viticulture at Cal Poly. My education there was centered around “learn by doing,” so I while I was there, I made wine with my peers and traveled California, learning about all the various wine-growing regions of the state. I spent one quarter in Adelaide, Australia, and took another quarter off to work a harvest at a local winery. There I tried to learn every possible aspect of the process, and I couldn’t stop asking questions — I just knew it was meant for me.

What has been your career path to where you are?

I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Wine and Viticulture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I developed my winemaking and regional expertise as Assistant Winemaker with Stephen Ross Wine Cellars in San Luis Obispo, making wines from Edna Valley, Paso Robles, and Santa Maria Valley. After five years, I spent a harvest at Domaine Henry Pelle in Menetou Salon, France, near Sancerre. After harvest, I spent months traveling to different wine regions in France. I returned to California in 2015 as Assistant Winemaker with Paul Lato Wines, where I focused on Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley and St. Rita Hills. As a passionate advocate of Santa Maria wines, I look forward to continuing Cambria’s tradition of world class, cool-climate winemaking.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

Hands down, the topography of the region. The fact that there’s an east-west orientation of ranges which allows fog and coastal breezes to move through the valley and create a long, even growing season makes it special on its own. And with low annual rainfall and warm sun, Santa Maria, and the Cambria Estate, is a perfect place to grow my favorites, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

I like to create harmonious, textural wines that reflect the varietal characteristics of the grapes and the place where they were grown.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

The weather during the growing season and harvest. You can’t predict or change the weather!

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

Jim Clendenen was instrumental in cultivating an international reputation for Santa Barbara County and has some incredible – and funny – stories. I’ve enjoyed a few lunches with him, and I could sit and listen to him for hours.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

I’m excited about many of my friends. It’s been fun seeing the career progressions, and I’m lucky to know an incredible group of young, passionate winemakers, each with a very distinct approach and perspective.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?

I would have to say the Loire Valley in France.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

It’s hard to say the best wine I’ve tasted but have had many wines that moved me. When I worked in France, I discovered orange wine and tasted a 30-year-old bottle that was super interesting that I still think about.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

I have few birth wines that are special to me. I believe the most expensive bottle is a 3L of Goldeneye Pinot Noir that we should drink to make more room!

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

A South African Rosé, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and a Cambria Pinot Noir.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

You can’t go wrong with Pinot Noir and a dry Rosé.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Maybe when you’re boating and floating on a lake.

How do you spend your days off?

My husband and I really enjoy exploring the Central Coast and all that it has to offer. I also spend my time hiking, cooking, and trying new wines.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I’ve never been horse-back riding!

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

I would be a teacher.

How do you define success?

Happiness!

Winemaker Interview: Kevin Bersofsky

Kevin Bersofsky

As our regular readers know, we frequently pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became who they are. This week, we are featuring Kevin Bersofsky, the winemaker at Montagne Russe, a California winery specializing in cooler climate regions like the Sonoma Coast and the Russian River Valley.

Kevin gained interest in wine when he took the wine course at Cornell. When he graduated, he began work in other industries, but shortly after 9/11, Kevin decided to abandon his first career to become a line cook in LA. Then he got a call to work for a Napa winery, and soon thereafter made his first wine in his garage with his friends. That was the beginning of Montagne Russe, which now sources fruit from several growers in the cooler California regions.

“Montagne Russe” literally translates to “Russian Mountains,” but the term in French means roller coasters. Kevin explains why he named the winery so.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Syracuse, New York, but at an early age moved to Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., where I lived through high school.

When and how did you get into wine?

I took a course on wine at Cornell as an undergraduate, one of the benefits of attending a university with one the world’s best hotel administration programs. Along with 800 other students in a huge lecture hall, I got to taste some pretty interesting wines! Several of my friends and I took the wine tasting seriously. On weekends we would buy wines at the local liquor store in Ithaca, sit around and critique the ten dollar offerings. I am sure if someone observed us they would have thought we were a bunch of arrogant know-nothings.

What has been your career path to where you are?

You wouldn’t believe it if I told you. I started out as a mechanical engineer working for Estee Lauder in Long Island. After realizing that working for a makeup company was not my dream, I went to work for a large consulting firm that involved a lot of travel right out of college. During those years, still not feeling inspired by my work, I went to culinary school on the weekends, as I had loved cooking since I was a child. Just days after September 11th, I decided to follow my passion and started working as a line cook at a number of Los Angeles restaurants, such as La Cachette and Melisse. One day I got a call asking if I wanted to work in production for a Napa Valley winery. Little did I know that decision would change my life. While living in St. Helena, I rallied several of my friends together and we all chipped in and purchased a half-ton of amazing Syrah, which we crushed and fermented in my garage. The rest is history. A few years later, while I was attending business school, several of my friends and professors implored me to start my winery after tasting my garage wines.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

Montagne Russe only works with growers who farm their own land in the Sonoma Coast, Russian River, and Mendocino appellations. It is extremely important to me that the owners live and breathe their terroir. We walk the vineyards together and they know every inch of soil, every stone, and every vine. Our vineyards can sometimes be difficult and are presented with challenges that might scare some winemakers away. For example, the weather can be super cool, which requires much patience for the grapes to ripen. In turn, the cool-climate vineyards produce expressive and floral wines. Black Knight Vineyard in particular has many different micro-climates, elevations, and soil types, which contributes to the wine’s complexity over richness. Alder Springs Vineyard is so far north that snow is not uncommon.

Yields can vary greatly, especially for the Pinot Noir. For example, I know several winemakers that have used Springhill Ranch Pinot Noir in the past, but yields were highly unpredictable. For larger wineries, not having a guaranteed supply is a problem. For us, it’s all part of the roller coaster. Black Knight has 22 microclimates! Thus, the two to three tons we get could require up to four separate picks during harvest.

By developing a close relationship to the land and vineyard owners, my growers have faith that I will bring out the truest expression of their fruit and in return, I trust them to be transparent with me about growing conditions, especially closer to the pick date.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

Simple – we take what the vineyards give us each year and basically do our best to get out of the way. We rarely manipulate fruit and we certainly don’t let fruit hang until it’s over ripe. I really don’t love the word “balanced” as everyone should be going for balance. But it all starts in the vineyard. I don’t believe in super long 45-day macerations and overly perfect looking fruit. We don’t typically filter unless absolutely necessary and we only rack once. It has worked out pretty well so far.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Practicing patience and not getting overwhelmed by the roller coaster that is winemaking. That’s the reason we named our winery Montagne Russe, the French term for roller coaster. In the early years every odd aroma in barrel, every sluggish fermentation, and every rainstorm late in the growing season used to send my anxiety up the charts. More recently, I have learned to just enjoy the ride. That’s also the reason we don’t try and make a house style. Why produce the same exact wine every year? Where is the fun in that? It was one of the reasons I left the professional kitchen. There was nothing worse than putting out the same dish 50 times a night, 6 days a week!

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

Probably my number one guy is Tom Rinaldi from Duckhorn lore. Not only because he was my next-door neighbor in St. Helena for many years, but also because he was so honest with me. His wines, of course, are spot on amazing. But he was also one of the few people who would tell me “Kevin, this Pinot Noir is not very good” or “Wow this is an ass-kicking Chardonnay!” And I really appreciated the feedback. As winemakers, we are often very hard on ourselves. Sometimes our view of the wines has nothing to do with wine but more the journey, especially if was a difficult one. So, when Tom gave me gratifying feedback, I knew I was on the right track.

Another winemaker I respect is Christophe Barron from Cayuse. The first bottle I ever tried of his, I stared at for ten minutes, trying to figure out where that level of complexity comes from. I have to give a shout out to Jeff Stewart at Hartford Court, who helped me believe you don’t have be known for one varietal, as his Pinots, Chards and Syrahs are all killer. Lastly, Steve Leveque at Hall. He has been so supportive of Montagne Russe and his feedback has been honest. I love and respect winemakers that help other winemakers.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

Marc Ripolli from Cal Batllet in Priorat, whom I just met during a recent trip to Spain. He personally goes out into vineyards that yield a half-ton per acre to baby some of the most amazing old vine Carignan. Now that’s dedication! He isn’t using fancy equipment and he is proving that the small guy can make wine every bit as good as the sophisticated operations. I would also call out Sean Boyd at Rotie Cellars in Walla Walla. His philosophy on Syrah dove tails with mine completely; we both embrace the Northern and Southern Rhone styles.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?

I think the two that I am most enamored with right now are Walla Walla, and Priorat. I am a Syrah fiend. It’s my first love and on some level, I just don’t get why Syrah doesn’t receive the respect it deserves. In my book, Washington is redefining some of the deeper reds, especially Syrah. I had heard stories about Priorat, but until I visited the region in June, I was unprepared for what I saw. Ancient vineyards wrapped around hillsides, littered with stone, producing extracted yet insanely balanced wine. Basically my dream.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

Hmmmmmmmm. Every winemaker has a handful of wines that altered their perception of wine itself. I think the one bottle that knocked me on my derriere was a 1980 Montelena Estate Cabernet. It was served to me hidden in a brown paper bag and I thought it was a 2005 Napa Cabernet. Eleven guesses later, I still hadn’t gotten all the way down to 1980. If I had not be holding the bottle I would not have believed it. The most interesting was the 2008 Callioux Vineyard Syrah from Cayuse. I ordered it at a restaurant in D.C. and that bottle evolved so incredibly over the course of two hours. If I wrote the list of flavors and aromas in the wine it would seem like an impossible set of characteristics including charcoal, grilled meat, nicoise olive, lavender, and salinity. Just crazy.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

I have a number of 1975 Napa Cabernets, including the BV George de La Tour. 1975 is my birth year. I am sure I have something older back there some place but I can’t get myself to dig through the bottles. I am a sucker for old California Cabernet. Some of those wines from the 1960s and 1970s are drinking better than modern cabs 40-50 years on. The most expensive… You know, I don’t spend much more than 100 dollars on any bottle. But if I had to guess it would be a 2005 Colgin Syrah.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

I just opened a Sojourn Sangiacomo Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. I am getting fruit off the same vineyard this year and had to see what they were doing with it. They of course nailed it! Both intense acid and big fruit, which is not an easy thing to pull off in California.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

It would have to be Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Assuming my Pinots are off limits for the sake of the conversation, anything floral from the Sonoma Coast including the aforementioned Hartford Court Seascape Pinot Noir and any of Kistler’s Chardonnays. A very close second would be Dehlinger Estate Syrah.

Is beer ever better than wine?

There are some terrible wines and amazing beer, so definitely yes. I actually find a lot of wines to be too acidic and in those moments I gravitate towards beer. Especially something amber from Alsace. So at most wedding receptions you will find me cradling a nice craft beer.

How do you spend your days off?

I wish I had more honestly. The chef in me usually has me going on some culinary adventure, such as a farmer’s market or out to Marshall in West Marin for some fresh oysters. I am a bit of a forager and pick up anything on a hike including bay leaves, wild fennel, mirabelles, figs, and wild berries.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I loathe blue cheese. There, I said it.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

Something entrepreneurial and probably with food. I have had an idea of starting an heirloom juice business. I also really enjoy giving lectures at my alma mater, the Wharton School of Business. I have given a few on innovations in the wine industry and love connecting with the students.

How do you define success?

I once gave a bottle of my first Syrah to the parents of a friend that had passed away. She was a part of the group that helped make that wine with me in my garage. It made me proud to think that when they crack open that bottle, they will likely remember their daughter. My hope is that someone will open up one of my wines long after I am gone. Maybe they knew me, and maybe they didn’t. But if that wine brings a smile to their face, then that is my definition of success.

Winemaker Interview: Jonathan Nagy

Jonathan Nagy

As our regular readers know, we frequently pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became a winemaker. This week, we are featuring Jonathan Nagy, the winemaker at Byron Winery.

Founded in 1984, Byron Winery is a part of the Jackson Family Wines Collection. Byron is located in Santa Barbara County, California.

Jonathan was raised there, in Santa Barbara County. His first job in the wine industry was at Robert Mondavi. Jonathan was then a senior in college finishing up his chemistry degree. He decided to work a second harvest at Mondavi, and before long, he was back in the industry at Cambria Winery. Jonathan joined Byron Winery as an assistant winemaker in 2001, and has been its winemaker since 2004.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?

Born in Marietta, Georgia. Raised in Santa Maria, CA, and Campbell, CA.

When and how did you get into wine?

I was living with a Danish family one summer while going to junior college. They had wine almost every night with dinner. The exposure to different wines from different regions really turned on the light bulb that wine was pretty cool.

What has been your career path to where you are?

In 1996, I was a Senior at UCD studying towards a Chemistry degree, and I had one class to take in the Spring. I applied for lab jobs in the wine industry mostly because they would lay me off right around when ski season started. I was hired at Robert Mondavi in Oakville then went to live in Aspen, Colorado for the winter. I ended up working another harvest at Mondavi then moved to the central coast with the intention to go to Cal Poly to get my teaching credentials. I took a part-time tasting room job at Cambria Winery. When the winemaker realized I had a Chemistry degree and two harvests of experience in Napa, he offered me a full time job in the Cambria lab for harvest 1998. I figured I could always go back to school if I didn’t like it. One day, I was stirring barrels and realized how much fun I was having (while getting paid), and I decided to pursue a career in winemaking. I was promoted to Enologist in 1999, and I supervised the night crew during harvest. In 2001, Ken Brown hired me as the Byron Assistant Winemaker. I was able to work closely with Ken until he “retired” in 2004. I’ve been the Byron winemaker ever since.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

Location and soil.

Santa Maria Valley is one of only two East-West oriented valleys located on the West Coast. The straight shot to the ocean means the maritime influences really define our region and its’ vineyards. The daily breezes off the coast and fog keep things very cool during the Spring and Summer. Santa Maria Valley is pretty far South in relation to other premier Chardonnay and Pinot Noir regions. If we didn’t have the East-West valley, it would probably be too warm for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Because we are so far South, our mild winters leads to a very early budbreak. The early budbreak means a longer growing season, which lets the grapes develop intense flavors with more hang time on the vine. We have very sandy soils in Santa Maria Valley (with outcropping of shale and limestone). This really impacts skin development and subsequent flavors. I believe it is why our SMV Pinots always have a silky tannin profile and textures.

The other East-West Valley is the Santa Ynez valley which is directly South of the Santa Maria Valley. The mouth of the valley is the Santa Rita Hills AVA. Because of the orientation and location much of the growing is similar to Santa Maria Valley. The big difference is the soils. Santa Rita Hills has more calcareous, diatomaceous soils with pockets of clay and loam. In general, this means thicker skins and unique flavor development. The wines from this region tend to have darker fruit expressions with big, chalky tannin profiles.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

We work with some amazing vineyards. The goal is always to express each unique site by taking the best of old world methods and ideologies and applying them to the best of new world methods and ideologies. Which changes from vineyard to vineyard and season to season.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Paperwork and compliance.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

I think I’ll stick local. I’ve always been a fan of and have looked up to Billie Wathen at Foxen and Adam Tomack at Ojai.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?

Burgundy.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

Gigual’s La Turque and La Landonne were stunning. Also, Christophe Roumier’s 2002 Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru was amazing.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

1992 Taylor’s Vintage Port. The same.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

C. Nagy Rose of Pinot Noir (my wife’s wine brand).

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

Gran Moraine Chardonnay and Bethel Heights Pinot Noir. Both Oregon.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Not usually.

How do you spend your days off?

Outdoors with family or reading a good book.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

That I’m not that surprising?

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

Teaching high school math, physics, or chemistry and coaching high school basketball.

How do you define success?​​

Aiming for perfection which is never attainable and usually results in excellence.

Winemaker Interview: Lisa Strid

Lisa Strid

As our regular readers know, we frequently pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became a winemaker. This week, we are featuring Lisa Strid, the winemaker at Aridus Wine Company in Arizona.

Aridus is a new winery in an emerging wine region. Currently it makes wine from purchased grapes, but Aridus has owned 40 acres of estate vineyards since 2009. The winery is just beginning to figure out how best to express the grapes from there.

Lisa Strid will therefore have a significant role in developing Aridus’s portfolio. Lisa joined Aridus just a year ago, after spending some time at Gallo.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised on the plains of northeastern Wyoming.

When and how did you get into wine?

I wouldn’t have even thought about a career in wine without the Great Recession. At the time I was working at a magazine, and after a major drop in ad revenue, I was let go. I figured it was as good a time as any to move, so I washed up in Oregon. The only person I knew in the area was my uncle who had a small farm and vineyard in southern Washington. I started out spending weekends, and then as much time as possible working with him in the vineyard, and making wine during harvest. After about a year of this, I realized it was something that could be an actual job. It was really through love of the physical labor itself that I found my way into wine.

What has been your career path to where you are?

I started out in tasting rooms and wine shops as soon as I decided that I wanted to get into wine. It was a fairly flexible way to begin while I was taking classes at Oregon State University, and at the same time a great way to taste a lot of different wines and talk with consumers all across the spectrum of tastes and preferences. I also interned at a winery in the Dundee Hills while still in school. From there, I moved south to E&J Gallo Winery, working both in their Process Technology group and in Winemaking. The great thing about a place like Gallo is that I was able to both work in large volume production and understand the sorts of decisions, compromises, and conversations behind one bottle of wine produced at such a scale, and to work with cutting-edge processes and equipment and see firsthand how changes in production affect the style of the final product. After about three years there, I needed to make a few personal changes, and at about that time I saw the posting for the job here at Aridus. Arizona had always been on my radar for winegrowing, and I’d thought I’d spend a few more years in California before eventually coming out here to consult, but the circumstances just aligned in this case. I’ve only been here just over a year, and it’s been incredibly rewarding.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

We’re actually in the process of just finding that out— our estate vineyards are in their first bearing year, so we’re conducting trials to find out how to best treat these grapes to achieve a unique style. As far as the vineyards that we work with to produce wine currently, here in Arizona it’s largely the individuals who manage the vineyards who make the difference. We work with a meticulous engineer who is always experimenting and measuring his results, a man who spent his career working with vines in Oregon who intimately understands grape physiology, and an Italian in New Mexico who has been in the region for decades and who knows how to adapt just about any grape to the weather. It’s a fantastic mix of backgrounds and the grapes that come from each of these people have their own strengths, which gives me a lot of options when it comes to blending the final wine. Also, our altitude doesn’t hurt. (The vineyards sit at a minimum elevation of 4,100 feet.)

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

I’m almost disgustingly pragmatic, especially here in an emerging region. I want to make solidly great wines that sell, first and foremost. I’m also deeply committed to trialing new techniques to improve quality.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Currently, deepening my understanding of vineyard practices and dynamics here in the southwest. It’s just very different here— we get monsoons at harvest time.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

Max Schubert. I like stories of people not doing what they’re told. Eileen Crane. Where would U.S. sparkling wine be without her?

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

I’m excited about anyone who isn’t a straight white man.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?

Mosel, Germany.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

Best – Dr. H. Thanisch Berncasteler Doctor Riesling Auslese, I suppose. It’s a difficult question. I love the aromas and flavors of sherry, so Valdespino’s Tio Diego gets my vote for most interesting.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

Oldest – 2002 Pegasus Bay Riesling. Most expensive – I try to forget this aspect of a wine, but probably a Domaine Robert Groffier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru. At least that’s one that I remember. I try to hide all the expensive ones from myself, so I can be surprised later on.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

2011 Les Vins De Vienne Crozes Hermitage. Opened it for a pool party.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

I’ve really been into Fiano recently. Oregon Pinot Noir for the red.

Is beer ever better than wine?

It’s a lot easier to hold onto a beer bottle than a wine glass when you’re cleaning up at the end of a 16 hour day of grape processing.

How do you spend your days off?

Walking the dog, yoga, cooking, spending time with my partner and friends. My life is very quotidian.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I listen to a lot of Korean pop music.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

Writing or baking bread.

How do you define success?​​

Personal engagement and fulfillment in the minutiae of the day-to-day.

 

Winemaker Interview: David Ramey

David Ramey

As our regular readers know, we frequently pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became a winemaker. This week, we are pleased to feature David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars.

David’s storied winemaking career began as he graduated from U.C. Davis and interned at Jean-Pierre Moueix’s Château Pétrus. Then, after working in California wineries like Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, Dominus Estate, and Rudd Oakville, David and his wife Carla founded Ramey Wine Cellars in 1996. Today, David’s two children, Claire and Alan, also work at the winery. And in 2014, David founded Sidebar Cellars, which experiments with different varieties and regions.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised? 

Born in Seattle and stayed in that area for six years, then moved to California, settling in Sunnyvale for second grade.  In 1958 (same year the Giants came to San Francisco) it was all orchards—apricots, prunes, cherries—transitioning to subdivisions as it turned into Silicon Valley. I went to school with Steve Wozniak from third grade through high school.

When and how did you get into wine?

I started enjoying wine while spending a summer of college in Madrid. Once home, my friends and I started visiting winery tasting rooms, and I started reading up on wine.

What has been your career path to where you are?

MS degree in enology from UC Davis; harvests with Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix in Pomerol and Lindeman’s in Australia; Asst. Winemaker to Zelma Long at Simi; took over from Merry Edwards at Matanzas Creek; back to Moueix in Pomerol for the ’89 harvest; Winemaker at Chalk Hill for six years; Dominus for two; Rudd for four. Started our brand in 1996 upon leaving Chalk Hill for Dominus, with 260 cases of Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay. Have been in Healdsburg since 2002.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

Low vigor soils—low in organic material—with good drainage, coupled with the right climate for the variety—cooler for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, warmer for the Cabernet varieties—and great farming.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

Let nature do the work: we use native yeasts and bacteria and do not own a filter. Nature has been making wine for 8,000 years before enologists showed up.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Resisting the temptation to tinker with the wines.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

Jean-Claude Berrouet, the recently retired, long-time enologist for Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix in Pomerol—one of the great gentlemen of the wine world. Paul Draper, another great gentleman of the wine world. And I learned production management from Zelma, for which I’m forever grateful.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

To be honest, they’re the ones I know best because I work with them on a consulting basis: Greg Morthole and Justin Seidenfeld of Davis Bynum and Rodney Strong; Brian Maloney of Buena Vista and DeLoach; Ben Cane of Westwood; and Matt Hughes of Brassfield Estate.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?

Tuscany, for sure; I’ve fallen in love with Brunello the past few years.  After that, the Rhône, both north and south.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted?

There have been many over the last forty years, but I’d say it was a Montrachet from DRC; I don’t remember the vintage.

The most interesting?

The wines of Château Musar in Lebanon—like a cross between an older Barolo and an older Burgundy.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar?

I think a 1959 PX, Pedro Ximenez, a sweet Spanish sherry—like deep brown syrup.

The most expensive?

Probably Chave Hermitage; I think we drank all the La La’s.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

A Provençal rosé, a Brunello, and a Gigondas; my wife doesn’t share my infatuation with Brunello, so we keep two reds going at the same time.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

Dry Alsatian Gewurtz, followed by Brunello di Montalcino.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Not for me. Even with spicy food like Mexican, Thai, or Indian I’ll take an ice cold rosé or an aromatic white.  I will, though, take sake with sushi.

How do you spend your days off?

My wife Carla and I read the papers over breakfast, then go for a hike, then make up some lunch with wine, then perhaps a nap, then the kids come over for dinner.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

That I’m 66 years old—but it’s a young 66!

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

Designing and building something—I think it would be great to be both an architect and a developer/builder of some sort.

How do you define success?

Strong family bonds; enough money to not have to worry about it; the respect of one’s peers; and reasonably good health.​​

Winemaker Interview: Juan Micieli-Martinez

Juan Micieli-Martinez

As our regular readers know, we frequently pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became a winemaker. This week, we are featuring Juan Micieli-Martinez, the winemaker at Martha Clara Vineyards of the North Fork of Long Island.

Juan was born in Mexico, but was raised in Long Island. So he knew from childhood memories that Long Island had wineries. And when the wine bug bit him in college, Juan returned to Long Island to work in the wine industry. He began at the tasting room at Pellegrini Vineyards and moved into other roles in the cellar and in the winemaking team.

After brief stints as a brewmaster and then as a winemaker in other places, Juan joined Martha Clara Vineyards in 2007.

Check out the interview below the fold!


Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and raised on Long Island’s East End in the Center Moriches/Manorville area.

When and how did you get into wine?

I got into wine my junior year at Binghamton University. My housemate Paul Clark developed an interest first and we all laughed at him for being “fancy.” However, soon enough I found myself tasting bottles with him and quickly recognized differences in flavor, which piqued my interest and lead me to read more about wine. I knew that wineries existed on the East End of Long Island from my experience playing high school sports against schools like Southold and Mattituck and seeing vineyards on our journeys out east.

During my senior year at Binghamton I decided to get my last summer job at a vineyard to learn more about wine, believing that gaining any knowledge about wine would serve me well in the future. It was during that year that I found myself walking the vineyard, gathering a sample to be analyzed, and realized that I could do this for a living. I like to joke that I am still working that last summer job!

What has been your career path to where you are?

My experiences have all been very hands-on. I did not go to school for winemaking, but have read and analyzed the texts and books so often used in winemaking schools. I have done a lot of independent reading and drinking!

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

Martha Clara Vineyards has 200 contiguous acres located in the heart of the Northville District on the North Fork. Our site is very flat, which allows for even vine maturity and ultimately even fruit development.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

Much like anything I do in life, I strive for balance. For example, I spend a lot of time considering how much residual sugar will balance the acidity in our Riesling. Our area also produces beautifully ripe fruit so when I introduce oak (to whites or to reds), I want to carefully balance the fruit and the oak.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Deciding when to pick is my biggest challenge. Each year we get one shot at harvest and each year is its own unique set of circumstances. This is the one decision that I fret over the most. I lose many hours of sleep during harvest, as I am constantly considering my options, as well as monitoring the weather and weather patterns.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

Michel Rolland would certainly be one of my favorites. I know some may take issue with some of his practices, but I do love how he harmoniously integrates tannins.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

I am most excited about the young winemakers entering the industry, whom I believe will better see the importance of sustainability. While sustainable practices are certainly catching on, it will be the young winemakers who really carry that ball the furthest. There are many things our industry can do to be more conscious about environmental impacts, so that generations from now people will be able to farm these same lands.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?

Tough question. I have loved the McLaren Vale for a very long time not only because it is a beautiful part of Australia, but also for the region’s Shiraz. I also love Mendoza – any vineyard with snow capped mountains in the backdrop is a pretty special place!

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

Cape Mentelle Zinfandel was one of the most interesting, particularly because Cape Mentelle is a winery located in Western Australia, which produces well-known bottles of Shiraz, and because Zinfandel is a variety more often associated with California. The climate in Western Australia, though, seems to be conducive to this variety.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

I inherited some old first growths. The oldest is a 1965 Latour, but it was not cellared properly and I keep it around more as décor. I don’t care much for pricebased comparisons, but the most valuable bottles of wine in my cellar are some of the Cabernet Sauvignons that I purchased when I worked in Australia.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

Right now there are a few things open: our Martha Clara Vineyards 2016 Solstice Rosé, a 1995 Pellegrini Vineyards Encore, and bottle of Crémant de Bourgogne.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

Being that it is summer time I would have to say Sancerre Rosé and Long Island Sauvignon Blanc.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Yes! During harvest, without a doubt. There are days that I have been up to my waist in grapes and the last thing I want is wine – nothing hits the spot for me at those times like a well made IPA! Keep in mind that I was also an assistant brewer and I love beer just as much as wine, but I love each for different reasons.

How do you spend your days off?

I enjoy spending time with my wife, son, and family, gardening, playing golf, traveling, and hiking.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I was born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and that I became a U.S. Citizen the day after Barack Obama was elected President for the second time.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

My original answer to that would have been a tailor for men’s clothing, but as of late I have taken an interest in architecture, so at this time, that’s where I would see myself if not making wine.

How do you define success?

For me, success is defined by the minimization of failure. You cannot eliminate failure completely. It can be a challenge to admit a failure, but the quicker that one can recognize a wrong, the quicker one can create success.

Winemaker Interview: Roman Roth

Roman Roth

As our regular readers know, we frequently pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became a winemaker. This week, we are featuring Roman Roth, the winemaker at Wölffer Estate in Long Island, NY.

Founded by Christian Wölffer in 1987, Wölffer Estate is run today by his children, Joey and Marc Wölffer, along with Roman.

Roman’s path to winemaking is perhaps the most to be envied. Roman was born into a winemaking family in Germany, so, as he explains, his childhood was accompanied by great wine that was celebrated and revered. At age 16, Roman began an apprenticeship in winemaking in Germany. After more experience in the United States and Australia, and after finishing an oenology degree, he took his current position as winemaker.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Rottweil, Germany, at the edge of the Black Forest.

When and how did you get into wine?

My father was a cooper and a winemaker, and when barrel-making became unfashionable in Germany, he and my mother started a wine merchant business together. So great wine was always celebrated and highly revered in my family.

What has been your career path to where you are?

In 1982 I was 16 years old and started my 3-year winemaker apprenticeship at the Kaiserstühler Winzerverein in Oberrotweil, Germany. In 1986 I traveled to the USA for the first time and worked at Saintsbury in Carneros. In 1988 I worked two harvests onopposite sides of the world: first at the Rosemount Estate in Australia, which really opened my eyes, then I went back to Germany and worked another harvest at the Winzerkeller Wiesloch Winery in the Heidelberg region.

In 1992 I finished my Masters Degree in Oenology in Weinsberg and accepted an offer from Christian Wölffer to become the first winemaker at Wölffer Estate (then called Sag Pond Vineyard) in the Hamptons of Long Island, NY.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

There are a number of reasons why Wölffer Estate Vineyards are special. First, Bridgehampton has great soil with up to 8 feet of clay and a layer of loam and silt sit on top of sand, which provides great drainage. Secondly, the island’s maritime location results in milder winters: no spring frosts and cooler winters. Long Island is also the last area in New York to get a frost in the fall, which produces wines of lower alcohol, yet great concentration. It also sits on the same latitude as Madrid, Spain, and Naples, Italy (lots of sun!).

Lastly, the team at Wölffer Estate Vineyards is dedicated and full of pride. Our fantastic vineyard team led by Richard Pisacano, and staff and management team lead by GM Max Rohn, are extremely talented and detailed oriented. Our owners, siblings Marc and Joey Wölffer, are proud and involved, they don’t cut corners, and they are willing to invest in quality in order to fulfill their vision.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

First: to make food-friendly wines with balance, elegance, good structure, and nice acidity. Second: to craft wines with longevity and with layers and concentration to withstand 20, 30 or 40 years of bottle aging. Third: to make wines that are authentic and capture our sea breeze and are fruit-driven, yet have our traditional Wölffer style.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Finding the perfect moment to pick the fruit. Not too early and not overripe. Balance is key to great wines and capturing it is always a race against time at harvest.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

There are many: Gunter Künstler from the Rheingau, Philp Shaw from Australia, Bob Carthwright, former winemaker at Leeuwin Estate in Western Australia, and Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux just to name a few.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

I am excited about young winemakers who are starting to make a difference in hot climate regions with a more moderate style. One example is Gustavo Bertagna at Dominia del Plata in Argentina.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?

That is a tough question. I would say: Champagne, Piedmont, and Rheingau.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

I was fortunate to taste a vertical of 57 vintages of Pétrus – the 1947 was a stunning wine and one of the most amazing I have ever had.

The 1988 Krug is also amazing. The amount of acidity and concentration is fantastic.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

I have 8 or 9 bottles from 1966 (my birth year): 2 or 3 German Rieslings, 4 Burgundy Pinot Noirs, and 2 Bordeaux. I have one bottle left of the 1988 Krug.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

I just finished making the wine list for our 2 restaurants: Wölffer Kitchen in Sag Harbor and Amagansett. At the Amagansett Restaurant the theme is East Coast vs West coast. So I have a wonderful Appoloni Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir from Oregon open, and for Sag Harbor I added a high end list this year and one of the wines was the Comte Lafond Grand Cuvée Sancerre Blanc 2014 from the Loire. And of course there is always a bottle from Wölffer Estate open.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

The Wölffer Estate Perle 2015 Chardonnay – this is one of my favorite wines that I never get tired of. The Grapes of Roth By Wölffer Estate 2013 Merlot – this was a dream vintage and it is a fantastic red.

Is beer ever better than wine?

It takes many a good beer to make a great wine! A hot day and a good beer is certainly a welcome combination every now and then.

How do you spend your days off?

I like to go to the Met Opera in NYC, I play golf, do a lot of gardening, cook a lot and spend time with my wife and daughter.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

That I play a half hour of soccer almost every day at lunch time with my (20 years
younger) cellar crew (when I’m not injured!).

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

I would be a tea planter in Sri Lanka, a stained glass window artist, or a pastry chef.

How do you define success?

Being happy, healthy, and looking forward to and enjoying work every day.

Winemaker Interview: Rolando Herrera

Rolando Herrera

As our regular readers know, we frequently pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became a winemaker. This week, we are featuring Rolando Herrera, the winemaker at Mi Sueño Winery.

Rolando fell in love with wine after working harvest at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in the 1980s. He would stay there for ten years, learning and moving up, and then work with Paul Hobbs on several projects, before settling in 2004 into his current role.

His winemaking philosophy, he says, matches the philosophy of his winemaking mentors: to focus on producing the best possible grapes, and then simply to translate those grapes into wine without doing too much.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?
I was born in a small village, El Llano, in the state of Michoacán in Mexico.

When and how did you get into wine?
I got into wine in the summer of 1985 while working to build a rock wall on Warren Winiarski’s property, the owner of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. There he saw my work ethic and offered me a position to work harvest that year. Not knowing what harvest was nor having any idea what a winery was, I simply said, “Yes.” The first moment that I set foot into the cellars at Stag’s Leap I felt at home and entered a new world that I never experienced. Instantly I needed to learn everything about the business and knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

What has been your career path to where you are?
From 1985 to 1994, for 10 years I was at Stag’s Leap, 3 harvests as a cellar worker and 7 as a cellar master. From 1995 to 1997, I was an assistant winemaker at Chateau Potelle. In 1996 and 1997, I consulted for Paul Hobbs in South America (Chile and Argentina). Then from 1998 to 2000, I was the head winemaker for Vine Cliff. From 2001 to 2004, I was the Director of Winemaking for Paul Hobbs Winery and Paul Hobbs Consulting. In 2004, I branched out on my own to better attend to Mi Sueno Winery.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

Our vineyards are unique, since we own eight different parcels around Napa and Sonoma for a total of 40 acres. We are vintners that practice the good old traditional way; we work on our land, we are the farmers, growers, and the winemaker. We have 100% control, which is something that is becoming increasingly difficult for wineries that are our size.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?
Respect Mother Nature, identify the pros and cons of the micro-climate, tending the vines and finding balance, learning to listen to the beauty of Mother Nature. I strive to become the best farmer in order to produce the highest quality level of grapes. That makes winemaking easy. At the end of the day my goal is to make wine that represents the terroir, the micro-climate, and the variety.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
There are always going to be hurdles to climb, but I think the biggest challenge is to make consistently great wines year after year. To do this I spend more time in our vineyards. Constant care and maintenance is what makes excellent grapes.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
Warren Winiarski, Paul Hobbs, and Marketta Fourmeaux are my favorites. I fell in love with their philosophy as I could relate with their winemaking and respect for the land. These winemakers had great influence on my career and how I came to find my own winemaking style.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
My son! I am so excited to see him become a winemaker and can’t wait to taste his wine. His passion and eagerness to grow in this industry brings me back to memories of working my first harvest.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?
The Rhone region, especially Chateauneuf-du-Pape for the complexity of its terroir and the artistry of blending that happens there. St. Emilion and Pommerol in Bordeaux are also standout regions for the beauty of the merlot grapes grown there.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
A 1985 Cask 23 from Stag’s Leap. This is the wine that really got me to understand, love, and appreciate wine. The 1970 Petrus is also a standout. I have never tasted any other producer that makes merlot the way they do.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
The 1975 Cask 23 from Stag’s Leap Cellar is the oldest. Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1988 Magnum is the most expensive.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?
Right now I have open a 2007 Mi Sueno Napa Valley Cabernet and the 2010 Selección Perla Herrera Chardonnay.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with everydinner, what would you choose?
For the red, Chateau de Beaucastel from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. As for white, Peter Michael’s Chardonnay La Carriere.

Is beer ever better than wine?
When temperatures reach over a 100 degrees during harvest, beer is the best beverage at that moment, preferably ice cold and in a bottle.

How do you spend your days off?
I really enjoy spending time with my wife and kids at home, grilling carne asada, and sharing a great meal with them.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I am big fan of Prince and I am good dancer. I love the movie Pretty Woman and Forrest Gump. I think the most surprising thing is that I truly am a kid at heart. I love playing with my kids every chance I get. I am also genuine, kind, and nice. Sometimes my body language doesn’t reflect that aspect so much, however once people get to know me they see I have a softer, more approachable side.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I would probably be an electronic engineer. I love manual and spiritual work. I would try to create some electronic devices or some type of software.

How do you define success?
Being happy. If you are not happy it’s not success. Happiness is the key to everything.