The Winemaker’s Hand
ARTS AND TRADITIONS OF THE TABLE: PERSPECTIVES ON CULINARY HISTORY
ARTS AND TRADITIONS OF THE TABLE: PERSPECTIVES ON CULINARY HISTORY
Albert Sonnenfeld, Series Editor
Salt: Grain of Life, Pierre Laszlo, translated by Mary Beth Mader
Culture of the Fork, Giovanni Rebora, translated by Albert Sonnenfeld
French Gastronomy: The History and Geography of a Passion, Jean-Robert Pitte, translated by Jody Gladding
Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food, Silvano Serventi and Françoise Sabban, translated by Antony Shugar
Slow Food: The Case for Taste, Carlo Petrini, translated by William McCuaig
Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History, Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari, translated by Áine O’Healy
British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History, Colin Spencer
A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America, James E. McWilliams
Sacred Cow, Mad Cow: A History of Food Fears, Madeleine Ferrières, translated by Jody Gladding
Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor, Hervé This, translated by M. B. DeBevoise
Food Is Culture, Massimo Montanari, translated by Albert Sonnenfeld
Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking, Hervé This, translated by Jody Gladding
Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America, Frederick Douglass Opie
Gastropolis: Food and New York City, edited by Annie Hauck-Lawson and Jonathan Deutsch
Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism, Hervé This, translated by M. B. DeBevoise
Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine, Andrew F. Smith
The Science of the Oven, Hervé This, translated by Jody Gladding
Pomodoro! A History of the Tomato in Italy, David Gentilcore
Cheese, Pears, and History in a Proverb, Massimo Montanari, translated by Beth Archer Brombert
Food and Faith in Christian Culture, edited by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden
The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking, edited by César Vega, Job Ubbink, and Erik van der Linden
Creamy and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food, Jon Krampner
Let the Meatballs Rest: And Other Stories About Food and Culture, Massimo Montanari, translated by Beth Archer Brombert
The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets, Kara Newman
Drinking History: Fifteen Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages, Andrew Smith
Italian Identity in the Kitchen, or Food and the Nation, Massimo Montanari, translated by Beth Archer Brombert
Fashioning Appetite: Restaurants and the Making of Modern Identity, Joanne Finkelstein
The Land of the Five Flavors: A Cultural History of Chinese Cuisine, Thomas O. Höllmann, translated by Karen Margolis
The Insect Cookbook, Arnold van Huis, Henk van Gurp, and Marcel Dicke, translated by Françoise Takken-Kaminker and Diane Blumenfeld-Schaap
Religion, Food, and Eating in North America, edited by Benjamin E. Zeller, Marie W. Dallam, Reid L. Neilson, and Nora L. Rubel
The Winemaker’s Hand
Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS NEW YORK
Columbia University Press
Publishers Since 1893
New York Chichester, West Sussex
Copyright © 2014 Natalie Berkowitz
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The winemaker’s hand: conversations on talent, technique, and terroir / Natalie Berkowitz.
pages cm.—(Arts and traditions of the table)
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-0-231-16756-7 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-231-53737-7 (ebook)
1. Vintners—Interviews. 2. Vintners—Bibliography. 3. Wine and wine making.
I. Title. II. Series: Arts and traditions of the table.
A Columbia University Press E-book.
CUP would be pleased to hear about your reading experience with this e-book at [email protected]
COVER IMAGE: © FOTOLIA
COVER DESIGN: CATHERINE CASALINO
References to Web sites (URLs) were accurate at the time of writing. Neither the author nor Columbia University Press is responsible for URLs that may have expired or changed since the manuscript was prepared.
The wine urges me on, the bewitching wine, which sets even a wise man to singing and laughing gently.…
TRACING THE HISTORIC WINE TRAIL
CONVERSATIONS WITH WINEMAKERS
THE UNITED STATES
JOEL BURT DOMAINE CHANDON
CATHY CORISON CORISON WINERY
BILL DYER DYER VINEYARD
DAWNINE DYER DYER VINEYARD
MILJENKO “MIKE” GRGICH GRGICH HILLS ESTATE AND CROATIA
CHRIS PHELPS SWANSON VINEYARDS AND AD VIVUM
MICHAEL SCHOLZ ST. SUPÉRY WINERY
Spring Mountain District
STUART SMITH SMITH-MADRONE VINEYARDS AND WINERY
DAVID STEVENS CONSULTANT
TOM TIBURZI DOMAINE CHANDON
ERNIE WEIR HAGAFEN CELLARS
JOHN WILLIAMS FROG’S LEAP WINERY
ARMANDO CEJA CEJA VINEYARDS
STÉPHANE VIVIER HDV WINERY AND VIVIER WINES
JOHN CHIARITO CHIARITO VINEYARD
GUY DAVIS DAVIS FAMILY VINEYARDS
New York State
PETER B. SALTONSTALL KING FERRY WINERY AND TRELEAVEN WINES
JOE MACARI JR. MACARI VINEYARD
KELLY URBANIK MACARI VINEYARD
SHARON FENCHAK BILTMORE ESTATE
SHEILA NICHOLAS ANAM CARA CELLARS
GRANT PHELPS CASAS DEL BOSQUE
CHERIE SPRIGGS NYETIMBER VINEYARD
PHILIPPE DELFAUT CHTEAU KIRWIN
ALEXANDER VAN BEEK CHTEAU DU TERTRE, CHTEAU GISCOURS, AND CAIAROSSA
OLIVIER BERNARD DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER
XAVIER PLANTY CHTEAU GUIRARD
ETIENNE DE MONTILLE
GIOVANNI DRI IL RONCAT
ANDREA PERI PERI BIGOGNO WINERY
ALESSIO PLANETA PLANETA WINERY AND VINEYARDS
GIOVANNI PONCHIA CONSORZIO TUTELA
SERGIO GARGARI PIEVE DE’ PITTI
FILIPPO ROCCHI CASTELVECCHIO
CRISTIAN RIDOLFI CASA VINICOLA BERTANI
CASIMIRO ALVES VERCOOPE COOPERATIVE
DOMINGOS SOARES FRANCO JOSÉ MARIA DA FONSECA
PEDRO BENITO SAEZ BODEGAS URBINA DE CRIANZA
OSCAR MONTAÑA PORRES MARQUÉS DE TOMARES WINERIES
RAIMUND PRÛM S. A. PRÛM
YIANNIS PARASKEVOPOULOS GAIA WINES
JURIJ BRUMEC SANCTUM
MICHA VAADIA GALIL MOUNTAIN WINERY
THE AROMA WHEEL
GLOSSARY OF WINE TERMS
GLOSSARY OF WINE VARIETALS
Remembering a first wine experience is as potent as the memory of a first kiss. I had my first experience with wine on a student trip to Europe. My companions charged me with the responsibility of ordering wine in a café under the shadows of the cathedral in Cologne, Germany. How could I, at twenty and an American without a wine heritage, whose experience with wine was limited to holidays when thick, sugary reds accompanied dinners, be brave enough to order from an undecipherable German wine list? I might as well have thrown a dart at the carte des vins. The affordable, poetically titled bottle of Lacrima Christi, or Tears of Christ, seemed an attractive choice. I was clueless as to the wine’s color, or if it was sweet or dry. I half-expected it to have a touch of real tears.
From that romantic moment I was hooked on the idea that a glass of wine, even ordinary plonk, was coupled with sophistication. I subsequently realized wine is more varied, more seductive, more entertaining, whether it stands alone as an aperitif or as food’s enticing partner. Sharing Two Buck Chuck or a stratospherically priced Bordeaux adds conviviality to social occasions.
A visit to a potato chip factory when I was a teenager provoked an early interest in deciphering the mystery of how raw materials convert into consumable products. Seeing a large bin of potatoes washed, peeled, sliced, fried, salted, and bagged in the blink of an eye was a Wow! experience. Today most Americans are far removed from understanding how the basic components of food and beverages arrive on store shelves and onto their tables. In a roundabout way, the potato chip experience led to questions that ultimately helped unravel the complexities of wine.
I am by nature a sharer of information. It is addicting to see someone’s eyes light up when they comprehend new information. After my career as a high school history and art teacher, I wrote a wide variety of lifestyle articles that began to center primarily on wine and wine travel for major newspapers and magazines, including The Wine Enthusiast, The Wine Spectator, The New York Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Town & Country. My husband Phil and I became partners in The International Wine Review and my articles focused on wine. Around the same time, I served as a director of the International Wine and Food Society. I organized fund-raising wine dinners in the United States and Europe. Yet my most pleasurable and important mission was to introduce seniors at Barnard College (my alma mater) and Columbia University, where I was awarded a master’s degree, to the joys and intricacies of wine. The course’s quick acceptance reflected the exponential growth of wine’s popularity among young students.
At each session, students compared a single varietal, took notes, and referred to the Aroma Wheel. My goal was to get each student to understand the importance of personal judgment. The students’ confidence in their own perceptions grew, especially after each in the class sensed an array of aroma and taste profiles in the wines. I hope that the young men and women developed a personal approach to a lifestyle that went beyond wine. It is a better idea than reliance on a critic’s judgments and numerical ratings in magazines.
Phil and I traveled to every continent where grapes grow and wineries proliferate. We tramped through many vineyards and sampled a small portion of the world’s immense diversity of wines in wineries. We absorbed each winemaker’s commitment to take the best of nature’s bounty and limitations to make wine.
Over years of teaching wine courses to wine virgins and wine veterans, I discovered each wine has its own voice, as does every winemaker. Wines speak if you listen closely, but vintners rarely have a platform to give voice to their visions. The Winemaker’s Hand is an opportunity for a few articulate vintners to open a window into the intricacies of their work.
André Tchelistcheff, the visionary winemaker who touched the lives of many fellow vintners, said in 1985 that the first prerequisite of a good winemaker is practical and theoretical knowledge. “Outside of that … the winemaker … must understand the wine, to really know how to listen. I believe every wine has its own voice.” Like an artist working with a canvas and paints, or a conductor working with a score and an orchestra, winemakers work with a palette of grapes, arranging hundreds of discreet choices as they seek to achieve their own personal visions. The skilled touch of the winemaker’s hand is the illusive X factor that makes a good wine great.
The vintners speak in many voices to personalize the process and bring their struggles, zeal, and goals into sharp focus. They acknowledge hazards of the farming life, the financial costs, and the strains of marketing. For many their words flowed as easily as wine from an uncorked bottle. For others it took some coaxing. Like their wines, vintners are complicated. The way they express their vision for their wines goes beyond their words into their bottles.
They go by many names: winemakers, vintners, or enologists. In France they are called vignerons. Some are newcomers who leap into an untried venture, enchanted by the cachet of a difficult business that encompasses both art and craft. Winemakers are bold modern-day Magellans in search of new advances and technologies to transmogrify grapes into wine. They take pleasure in a job with few dull moments. They look forward to every new season and relish a year-round commitment to overcome nature’s vagaries. Each vintner competes for a share of the market, but all are bound together by an obsession to transform grape juice into wine.
Inside every winemaker beats the heart of a farmer who struggles to bring a crop to harvest and to complete the winemaking cycle. Most farmers sell their crops at the end of the season, but vintners begin long weeks of intense work after harvest. A winemaker’s happiness begins with a great crop of well-behaved grapes that maintain their potential from vine to bottle. “Beach chair” vintages occur when all the positive elements combine to produce sugars, acids, and tannins in the right proportions and quantities in grapes. A perfect combination of events is a rare event, something devoutly to be wished for. Too often, challenges of wayward vines and negative aspects of terroir disrupt their best plans.
Terroir is a catch-all term for the special characteristics of geography, geology, and microclimate that create distinctions between vineyard sites or regions. Terroir comprises variables of climate, rainfall, hours of sunshine, frosts, wind, temperature, and maritime influences. It includes stable characteristics of soils such as clay, loam, gravel, sand, or shale. Each terroir brings to bear special challenges as a vintner’s loyal or capricious friend. There are those who argue terroir is the single absolute factor in wine, but a winemaker’s skill controls nature in pursuit of an elusive task. It is the author’s contention that a winemaker’s personal perspective and skills are the most powerful forces to harness nature’s unpredictable behavior and to manage all other factors of terroir that influence each season’s crop. A symbiotic relationship exists among vines, grapes, nature, and winemakers, but the human hand takes ultimate control with step-by-step negotiations with hundreds of careful decisions to metamorphose grapes into wine. After all, grapes don’t jump into a bottle by themselves.
Wines run the gamut from insipid plonk to sublime offerings. Conversations with vintners in The Winemaker’s Hand explain why wines present complex variations, flavors, and aromas, even from the same varietal. The discussions offer insights into the commonalities and differences between vintners and how these individual characteristics affect their wines. One winemaker in the book says that even though it doesn’t take rocket science to make good wine, an untalented vintner can wreck a harvest of good grapes, and even the most skilled winemaker can’t convert a bad harvest into fine wine. The best of all possible worlds happens when nature and talent align to produce a great harvest of grapes and a vintner who can caress, massage, and convert those grapes into a fine wine.
Each vintage in all terroirs challenges winemakers, who are part farmer, part artisan. They are always committed to producing what they hope will be the best wine wrested from a vineyard. Some winemakers are traditionalists committed to age-old techniques, whereas others incorporate new methods. Most mix the two. Read their stories and gain a new perspective about why wines differ from year to year, sometimes dramatically, often subtly, even when made from the same grape from the same vineyard. Understand how two vintners working in the same vineyard with the same grape varietal produce different wines. Learn how an individual’s personality, passion, and skill impact on every vintage. As distinct as their voices are, they all share a passion to produce the best wines their vines, terroir, and nature afford them.
Thousands of winemakers around the world have stories to tell about their connection to the vine, grape, and wine. Most wine lovers rarely have an opportunity to meet them and hear their personal challenges to convert grapes into wine. The Winemaker’s Hand offers wine novices and enophiles an opportunity to look inside the winemaking world as vintners explain their pivotal roles in the creation of a complex alcoholic beverage made from simple grape juice. The firsthand accounts give voice to the difficulties of how and why each vintage is unique.
I like to think that wine is the voice of its maker and that, in the end, a duet between winemaker and nature makes the wine sing.
TRACING THE HISTORIC WINE TRAIL
THE RICH HISTORY of viticulture and vinification parallels the journey of prehistoric man to the ancient world to the twenty-first century. No one knows who was the first brave soul to taste fermented grapes, but the historical, undocumented moment probably occurred wherever wild grapes grew. Our curious, very observant ancestors who counted the stars and traveled to new habitats were obsessive observers of the natural world. Visualize early man picking a strange fruit from a vine and popping a grape tentatively into his mouth. Picture him relishing its fruity flavor. Then imagine how the pleasure doubled after he tasted a grape that ripened and fermented naturally, adding a frisson of alcoholic pleasure to his experience. A sip of an alcoholic libation must have been considered a gift from the gods, something to share quickly with others. Titillated by the new experience, it became a challenge to reproduce the intoxicating sensation of fermented juice.
Evidence supports the early connection between man and wine. Archeologists prove beverages fermented from grapes, rice, and figs were a regular feature in the life of Neolithic man. For centuries, stomping was probably the most efficient way to release juice from grapes. A place to store the fermented juice came next. Innovations in pottery containers used to store food and liquids went hand in hand with developments in bread, wine, and beer. The discovery of an Iranian drinking cup with traces of wine residue revised earlier estimates of the original date of 5000 B.C. as an early date of wine consumption.
Stories and myths confirm the importance of wine in early civilizations. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh and Egyptian hieroglyphics depict winemaking and drinking. Greek frescoes and pottery decorations depict grape harvests and the role wine played in celebrations. Greek and Roman writers, including Homer and Virgil, described the pleasures of the vine and winemaking techniques. The pursuit of fermented grape juice continued, with each generation building on the experience of the past. Winemakers slowly developed skills over millennia that allowed them to gain control over the magical process of making wine. More time elapsed before wine production became an industry and moved out from its beginnings in ancient Egypt and the Shiraz region to Mesopotamia to slowly move west into across the European continent. One hundred and forty references to wine are found in the Old Testament and the Talmud. The book of Deuteronomy describes the arrival of Moses in the land of Canaan and how he sent twelve scouts representing the twelve tribes of Israel in every direction to explore the fertility of the region. All came back with discouraging reports except for Caleb and Joshua, who returned bearing a staff laden with grapes, figs, and pomegranates that proved the land’s fertility. The New Testament often mentions the functions of wine used for religious practices and pleasure. Writers and philosophers throughout time have lauded its healing powers.
But it was the Romans who exerted the biggest influence on viticulture as they expanded their empire. They planted grapes to satisfy the thirst of their legions. Perhaps wine was safer and more enjoyable to drink than local water. Wine was so revered by the Romans that it had its own god—Bacchus. The actual taste of Roman wine will forever remain a mystery, but it may have been sweet and thick, reportedly diluted with water and flavored with lemon peels, fermented fish oil, or pepper. Roman conquerors accepted wine as payment for tribute and taxes, and their love affair with it ensured the development of grape production and wine-making across the empire.
Alcoholic beverages were prohibited when Islam rose to power in Europe and the Middle East. Viticulture declined, except where Moslems permitted Christians to make wine for religious purposes. As Christianity spread across Europe in the Dark and Middle Ages, monks at powerful Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries pushed the boundaries of viticulture to Northern Europe’s cooler regions.
Explorers had a hand in the spread of winemaking. Norsemen sailing west from Greenland in the eleventh century may have been the first to discover wild vines in Greenland and North America. During the Age of Exploration at the end of the fifteenth century, the crews on ships like the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria included a cooper who made barrels to hold provisions for the voyage. Water became undrinkable on long voyages, so barrels filled with wine or rum slaked a sailor’s thirst, a custom that continued well into the nineteenth century. Gold and the Fountain of Youth eluded avaricious explorers sailing along the eastern coast of North America, but a wealth of wild grapes was a serendipitous find. European settlers migrated across the United States with their rootstocks and winemaking skills, creating new varietals by crossing their European Vinifera Vines with native grapes.
Viticulture moved with immigration to new lands. The last century saw consumers making a gradual shift from European wines to those produced in North and South America and South Africa. Competition provoked countries with long traditions of winemaking to develop new markets and state-of-the-art techniques. Vintners from the Old and New World wine regions continue to perfect their mastery over nature and to elevate winemaking by combining science, art, and a labor of love.
Nations with a limited heritage in viticulture, like India and China, are racing to be contenders in the wine market. Marco Polo took note of wine production in Cathay during his historical journey, so it’s not a surprise to find the Chinese—with their long tradition of turning rice, fruit, and grapes into wine—aggressively engaged in wine production. By 1892, European grape varieties were introduced into China and a Western-style winery was built. A French friar in 1910 converted a church graveyard near Beijing into a wine cave and hired a French enologist to produce both red and white wines. In recent years, joint-venture partnerships with foreign winemakers are helping the Chinese adopt Western viticultural and winemaking techniques. Entrepreneurial farmers with small plots of land around the Great Wall and elsewhere in the country are experimenting with a host of imported grape varietals to see which are best suited for China’s immense range of terroirs. The wine trail continues to trace its way around the world.
CONVERSATIONS WITH THE WINEMAKERS
THE UNITED STATES
AFTER THE AGE OF EXPLORATION in the fifteenth century, the Spanish claimed mammoth acreage along the Pacific Coast. In 1769, Franciscan missionaries, led by Father Juniper Serra, built missions with the ultimate goal of converting Native Americans to Christianity, and planted grapes for sacramental wine. Jump past California’s statehood, the Gold Rush, and the huge population expansion to the state that began in the late nineteenth century. An emerging wine industry took hold in northern California’s Sonoma and Napa counties. Disaster struck the nascent industry when a phylloxera epidemic destroyed many vineyards and many wineries. Undiscouraged, Californian winemakers took control with grafted American rootstock resistant to the disease. It was a fortuitous opportunity to expand plantings of new grape varieties. Prohibition caused vineyards to be uprooted. Wineries closed, although some persisted, producing table grapes, grape juice, and sacramental wine. It took until the 1960’s for the Californian wine industry to recover from this setback. A wave of enterprising young winemakers ushered in new winemaking technologies with an emphasis on quality. By the mid-twentieth century, California’s wine lagged behind those of the prestigious European countries, particularly France and other well-regarded winemaking countries. America became a contender on the international stage when California winemakers took the French to the mat in both red and white wine categories at the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine competition.
The quick growth of America’s wine production led to the establishment of the American Viticultural Area (AVA). The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is responsible for designating AVA’s. The system identifies compatible terroirs, soils, and other descriptive information that creates distinct wine regions. Large AVA’s like Napa are often subdivided into smaller districts. Labeling regulations require 85 percent of grapes to come from the specific AVA. The number of appellations continues to emerge in wine-growing regions in the United States and across the world. The designations represent a boon and a source of confusion for wine buyers.
It’s often said that if California were a separate country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest wine producer. Four hundred thousand acres of vines benefit from its celebrated sunshine, microclimates, and terroirs of mountains and valleys. California winemakers lead the way in experimentation with growing and blending different varietals to create distinctive wine styles. Primary grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah, and Zinfandel. Some are bottled as single varietals and others are blended with compatible partners in tune with winemakers’ aspirations. Boutique wineries compete with giant corporations with big advertising budgets and recognizable labels.
Napa Valley is renowned for producing some of the world’s finest wines in highly diverse soils and terroirs. Almost four and a half million people visit Napa Valley each year, coming for its scenic beauty and lifestyle. They are drawn to the wineries situated on the valley floor and on two mountain ranges. Many consumers think of Napa Valley as one entity, but it is a region, county, city, and AVA. As a winemaking region, Napa Valley as a whole has sixteen AVA’s, with more clamoring to be recognized for their individual characteristics. Every winemaker declares its appellation a star, producing superior wines that represent a sense of place, a community of spirit, and a common terroir. Winemakers praise their particular microclimates and soils for excellent wines. Some of California’s most prized vineyards are found in Napa’s AVA’s.
Chandon is hailed for its notable sparkling wines based on the classic combination of Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Pinot Meunier. It seemed sensible to think about bottling the grapes as still wines as well as sparkling. The facility embarked on a still wine program under the leadership of Joel Burt, assistant winemaker for still wines since 2009. The winery’s 900-acre Carneros property grows dedicated blocks of Burgundian clones. “I’m married to the three varietals that are the historic backbone of Champagne and sparkling wine. My still wines come from the same estate fruit as our sparkling wines. Cabernet Sauvignon requires one mindset, whereas the two Pinots and Chardonnay require infinite patience.”
Burt understands that his process for still wines is quite different from that of sparkling wine.
I work with a viticulturist to get the fruit I want. Factors like the number of shoots, irrigation, and stress on the vines are decisions that affect the amount and consistent quality of fruit. The vines are exposed to a lot of sunshine to achieve thick skins and higher tannins than more delicate sparkling wine needs. For still wine we start in the vineyard, looking for low yields of small berry clusters that grow from one or two shoots per vine. Carneros soil is heavy clay with small amounts of topsoil pockmarked with golf-ball- and soft ball-sized stones above hardpan that limit the vines’ vigor. Morning fogs roll in until the sun appears from ten until two in the afternoon. Then the winds come in and shut down the vines. Daily ripening time that is limited to four to six hours each day challenges Pinot noir from consistent ripening. Canopies are trained to produce color and tannins. It’s a long season that keeps acid in the fruit and develops thicker skins, generous tannins, and more flavors, in contrast to grapes for sparkling wine that require bigger berries and less juice-to-skin ratio. It’s crucial to pick at the right time, considering acid to fruit ripeness. Sometimes the acids are so high they need to be brought down, but there is a risk of over-ripeness. We pick some blocks from single vineyards early and others later to hedge our bets.
Wines made in big tanks are innocuous. The best Pinot noir is made in small fermentation lots so we have homogeneous lots to blend. Small batches of Pinot noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier give me complexity, richness, and fruity flavors. Pinot Meunier is a grape that adds a little spiciness and a bit of tannin to the wine. Our Carneros Chardonnay has characteristics similar to those of Burgundian white wine, since Burgundy is where my soul lies.
We handpick at night. The fruit is picked at 40°F, so when it hits the tank it’s ready for a pretty cool fermentation. In 2012, Chandon introduced an optical sorting machine that takes high-speed photos to scan individual berries. It’s the same machine Tom Tiburzi uses. The operator sets the parameters the winemaker is looking for, and the machine checks the shape and color of the berries as they ride down the conveyor belt. An air cannon shoots undesirable berries to a different belt and then into different bins. The sorter can check sixty tons rather than sixteen tons when grapes are sorted by hand. It’s a game-changer. Grapes are delivered straight into stainless steel tanks. We can ferment less desirable grapes and sell that wine on the bulk market. It’s particularly useful for Pinot and is a place where technology is good. It’s certainly better to start with great fruit than to modify it with additives to get better wine.
Some winemakers guide and herd grapes for high extraction and then use more oak than the wine can handle. Every step along the way decides a wine’s fate. I learned to wait and see rather than hurry an event that changes the wine. I want its character to develop by itself. I don’t rack Pinot noir or Meunier, since lees protect wine from oxidation and add richness to the wine. Native malolactic fermentation lasts longer in a cool cellar, forming carbon dioxide and diminishing the need for sulfur dioxide. Most winemaker use SO2 in high levels, but it doesn’t fit with my desire for natural winemaking. I believe less sulfur leads to a better evolution of the wine, so we taste all the time and closely watch the numbers to avoid the risk of oxidation.
BURT’S GRILLED BEET SALAD WITH CHIMICHURRI PAIRED WITH DOMAINE CHANDON’S PINOT MEUNIER
Baguette, cut into four 1-inch-thick pieces on the diagonal
Four medium-sized beets
A handful of arugula
¼ cup of chopped Italian parsley
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
5 tbsp of red wine vinegar
One garlic clove
Pinch of dried crushed pepper (I like to crush whole tepin peppers)
¼ teaspoon of cumin
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F. Peel beets and then cut them in halves. Toss them in a small amount of EVOO and salt. Put beets into the oven and roast until tender; about 30 minutes. Prepare barbecue while the beets are roasting. When the beets are tender, smash them with a knife or other flat object, being careful not to burn yourself. The beets should be in the form of rough patties. Brush them with EVOO and place them on the barbecue in a spot that is not too hot. Cook for several minutes. Mark them like you would when you grill a burger with a quarter turn and grill on both sides. Brush the bread with EVOO and grill it on one side.
This is a very easy sauce to make. It is spicy and tart and perfect for foods with earthy flavors. Combine the ingredients in a food processor, pulse and voila, it is done. Cool ingredients to room temperature. Toss some of the arugula in the chimichurri. Lay a layer of the arugula on one of the grilled baguettes. Top the arugula with grilled beet. Next, top the grilled beet with smashed avocado and drizzle with chimichurri. Eat with a knife and fork.
This recipe is perfectly paired with Chandon’s Pinot Meunier. The tangy and earthy flavors play offeach other to provide the perfect complement to a summer evening. Think of this as a knife and fork salad.
Our Chardonnay is treated pretty much the same way. The wine isn’t stirred a lot because that would make it advance in age. The wine goes into 20 percent new oak for less of an oaky character. I’m a big fan of Chablis and white Burgundy. I prefer a rich, not too fat wine with minerality, texture, and nervous tension that come from a backbone of acid.
Burt comes from Modesto, California, and became interested in agriculture through his farming family.
My mom is a good cook and passed on the Greek love of food. She never used processed products. Kids I grew up with wanted to eat at our house. They ate things like Kraft Singles while we had real cheese, something they thought was a real luxury. My grandfather made his own rub of oregano, garlic salt, and pepper for the lamb he barbecued over grape wood. I wanted to be like him, and today I grow and dry herbs like lavender, oregano, and dwarf curry. I harvest flowers before and after bloom for different flavors. I get earthy flavors when I add them at the start and aromatics when added at the end. My love of food sent me to work in restaurants. I worked my way up from dishwasher until I became a sous chef for a caterer. I knew about grapes from the family’s vineyard and finally realized winemaking was a better fit for me. My next job was as wine buyer at Whole Foods, where I got to try a lot of wine and educated my palate. One harvest, I was the only employee at a small winery. Fresno State was my next step, but I wasn’t interested in hi-tech winemaking and felt the university system teaches students how to make clean wine and how to deal with problems. I was more idealistic and wanted to make wine naturally. My first real wine-related job was doing research at Mondavi. It taught me how to conduct research and what numbers really mean. I also realized people who make products for wine conducted a lot of the research. I worked at Saintsbury Winery, where I learned not to fight the fruit. Some winemakers want to make bigger wines so they overextract and use additives to bulk up the structure. It’s difficult to make an honest Pinot noir, a wine that needs to be pure, clean, and fresh. I get that with fewer additives and doing less work.
When I make wine I approach it from a food and flavor perspective. The main goal is balance of texture, body, flavors, richness, and aromas. Precise control of temperature changes the kinetics of fermentation with longer cold maceration because it extracts more color, flavors, and aromas. I need to see the trajectory of wine’s amazing journey after a year and a half in barrel.
I’m amazed I can make wine the way I want. I’m allowed some latitude, since it’s expensive to make my wine. It’s a small program and I’m lucky the corporation doesn’t want more production. Making high-quality wine in the Burgundy style is a blessing. Being able to learn and achieve my goals by the end of the year is satisfying: lowering SO2 levels, making better wine, using my vision to take the wines where I want them to go. I avoid making trendy, hip wines that become yesterday’s news, avoiding drastic choices that become a liability in the future. My wines must age gracefully along with my career. I’d eventually like to start my own label, focused on Pinot noir and Chardonnay. It’s good to evolve a style and if it reaches perfection, start a new parallel style.
One of my personal quests is to enjoy wine. I go to wine-tastings, checking the zeitgeist of wines. I drink Domaine des Baumard’s amazing botrytized Chenin blanc and Mona Lisa Chenins. I enjoy Cru Beaujolais, Cabernet franc from the Jure and orange-fermented whites.
One notable AVA is the Rutherford Bench, 2,500 acres stretching along 6 miles from Highway 29 west to the Mayacamas Mountains and north to St. Helena. The gravely, loamy alluvial soil of Rutherford Bench land is considered a perfect terroir for Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernets from Rutherford are noted for intense dark fruit and a discernible taste of Rutherford Dust.
Spend time with Cathy Corison and you meet a strong, intensely focused winemaker who maintains she makes wines to suit herself, wines that totally represent her. The interview with Corison broke out of the gate when she said she liked the idea of The Winemaker’s Hand and often uses the term. “The question of terroir versus the winemaker’s hand is a complicated subject. Even when the grape source and other qualities based on terroir are consistent, there’s no question an enologist’s hand and personality can and should always be discernible.”
Years before Corison bought the vineyard property on the west side of Route 29 on the Rutherford Bench land, long before her husband William designed the elegant Victorian-style barn to house her winemaking facility, she was bitten by the wine bug. John Haeger, a favorite college professor, introduced her to wine in noncredit wine appreciation class. “It shows the influence one person has on another. Wine grabbed me by the throat and ran with me. I studied biology at Pomona College in 1975 because I love living things. I discovered wine was a living system that was also delicious.” After graduation, she headed straight to Napa with her father’s gift of $200.
My first job was at the Wine Garden, a wine shop and deli where local winemakers gathered every Wednesday night. It was a fabulous experience for a young student.
I realized there are winemakers who don’t have technical training, but I knew I had to learn all the aspects of winemaking. I chose the academic route as a better way for a woman to enter the field thirty years ago, when there were few women vintners. I fulfilled a required chemistry course at U.C. Davis, and the next year enrolled there for a master’s program in enology. The formal degree gave me a good technical foundation, although I’m not aware of it any more. After that I worked at Chappellet for a decade and made wine for a lot of people during the ’80’s, I wanted to express my own winemaking voice.
I have two stylistic models for my wines. I admire the wines of St. Julien in Bordeaux that prove power and elegance can coexist in the same glass. Second, I appreciate Chianti Riservas, especially those made before the advent of Super Tuscans, when the best grapes are cherry-picked to adapt to an international style of wine. There are still good houses in Tuscany that make aromatic Riservas with beautiful balance.
Corison maintains there is a close, undeniable link between terroir and the winemaker’s hand.
Terroir is undoubtedly a key factor, but it comes down to a winemaker’s vision of how to work with the soil. Truly great, complex wine is a combination of a unique place meets the hand of an individual winemaker with passion and a personal vision. In the best case, the winemaker’s hand becomes an integral part of the terroir. Wine is interesting to think about, beyond its use for washing down food. A consumer should become familiar with a recognizable, individual wine style. Someone who has never seen a Gauguin painting will always recognize his paintings, even though they may have only seen one. The same experience should be true of a particular wine. Good wine can be made by committee, but often too many hands, too many conflicting ideas muddle the results. Fortunately, there are occasions when, at large wineries, vintners are given the opportunity to make wine that reflects their ideas and attitudes. Ed Sbraga (winemaker emeritus), at Beringer Vineyards, comes to mind as an example when he had the license to use his hand. And then there are also times when a capable wine technician makes flawless wine without character and soul.
CORISON BASQUE LAMB STEW
A Corison twist has been added to a delicious basic stew.
3½ lb lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1 sprig fresh rosemary
½ cup dry white wine
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tsp sweet paprika
3 canned roasted red bell peppers, cut into ½-inch strips
1 large ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
4–6 sprigs parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
½ cup Corison Cabernet
½ cup chicken stock
Combine the lamb, 3 of the garlic cloves, rosemary, and white wine in a medium bowl. Let marinate for 2–3 hours. Drain the meat, discard the marinade, and pat dry with paper towels. Mince the remaining 3 garlic cloves and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with lid, over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown the meat on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Return all meat to the pot. Add onions, minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook, scraping browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in paprika, add roasted peppers, tomatoes, parsley, bay leaf, and red wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until juices in pot reduce and thicken slightly, about 10–15 minutes.
Add chicken stock, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until meat is very tender, 2–2½ hours. Adjust seasonings.
Pair with our Cabernets. The lamb flavors melding with the sweet paprika, fresh herbs and roasted peppers highlight the delicious flavors of the wine.
Terroir is emphasized today as an antidote to the current international standardized style of winemaking. Terroir makes sense when it is a consistent, unique factor in each vintage, as it has been for generations in Burgundy. But even there, house style can be so strong it often trumps the vineyard. It’s why I needed to choose the right terroir to achieve the style I wanted before I made the first drop. Some of my favorite Cabernet Sauvignons come from the gravely, loamy alluvial soil of Rutherford Bench between Rutherford and St. Helena, a terroir that is perfect for Cabernet grapes. There’s copious sun that ripens them fully and the cool nights that produce dark color, complex flavor, and adequate natural acidity. The best vintages occur when the cooling fog rolls in each evening, clearing up by 9 or 10 A.M.
“My brand was established in 1997 as the Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from my Kronos vineyard,” she said. She maintains she couldn’t make her wines anywhere else in the world. Hers differs from her neighbors’, a true example of a winemaker’s personal choices, preferences, and attitudes.
We each do something different at crucial junctures. Every decision nudges the wine stylistically, but the basic components of the wine come from the vineyard. My vineyard yields grapes that gush out color, great aromas, with concentrated flavors of blackberry, plum, and cassis. Our wines have a silky mouth feel, drinkable with hearty foods when young, but will continue to develop in the bottle for decades. I continue to make wine from gnarly 40-year-old vines on St. George rootstock that were here when I bought the vineyard. Banks consider vines to have a viable, commercially sustainable life of thirty years, so these old vines are amazing. After all these years, they know exactly what to do. I so value these old vines and I replant them vine by vine as they die. In 2010, only twenty-nine out of 4,000 vines were replaced.
Corison casts a proud, maternal eye over her extraordinary vineyard stretching west behind the barn and explains the origin of the wines’ names.
Kronos is one of the three Titans, the sons of heaven and earth, who sit between earth and sky, just as, for me, wine sits between earth and sky. It’s the timelessness of wine that I’m interested in, not necessarily Greek mythology specifically. The images on my bottle, cork, and box are Neolithic life symbols, one based on rain, the other based on a sprouting seed.
Grape prices have gone up frighteningly. I pay top dollar for some of the world’s best grapes grown organically from three specific vineyards because great grapes make great wine. I deal with the owners on a handshake basis. I don’t own the soil, but I’m involved in the farming at every stage, checking on the status and evolution of the vines.
“Winemaking is the easiest thing I do,” Corison says, tongue in cheek. “Farmers are always nervous. We’re often dodging a bullet because every year, Mother Nature throws something different at us.”
Terroir is part of my hand. Together, we deliver a sense of place, power, and elegance, a wine that graces the table, one that achieves a balance between food and wine, each making the other better. I try to balance between a vine’s green growth and its fruit. It’s a struggle, but it’s important to me to keep the alcohol level under 14 percent. Grapes picked too early have green flavors, but if picked too ripe, the wine loses the deep red, blue, and purple fruit characteristics I love in Cabernet. The result will have unsatisfying black and pruney flavors with high alcohol and low acidity. Grapes grown and picked correctly from the Rutherford Bench exhibit soft, ripe tannins that originate in the vineyard. It’s not possible to remove bad tannins surgically in the winery, leaving only the good ones behind. Nine out of ten years, our tannins feel like velvet.
I have the power to blend with a consistent stylistic vision. Blending is very intuitive and changes year to year because of the weather. It’s neither linear nor logical. A plus B doesn’t equal A plus B. It’s possible to blend for homogeneity, but why is that desirable? I sell off what doesn’t fit my blend and it often goes into wines more expensive than mine.
I hope I’ve gotten better at what I do. I’ve become more intuitive about the way I make wine. The miracle of winemaking is underlined by experience. I don’t need to measure sugars any more. I’m not interested in what’s “in,” like the current trend of boozy, very ripe, low-acid, sweet wine. I keep my radar focused through changes in fashion. I stick to my style because I’ve seen fashions come and go.
My wine isn’t cheap, but it’s a good value. I want to sell it and still be able to make the next vintage. The wine business has been tough for the last ten years. I don’t delegate responsibility, so I juggle a lot of things, including family. I don’t like shuffling papers and worrying about personnel. I prefer driving my tractor around the vineyard rather than worrying about the health of the business. My tractor is so tied to the soil and vines, and when I’m on it, stresses over issues disappear.
She is interested in biodynamic farming and hopes to learn enough about it to do it well. “I question the way it’s used for marketing wine. It’s a big woo-woo factor that’s done by a lot of people who dabble in it and throw the term around.”
What’s left to accomplish? I can always make better wine with incremental changes, but I’m a lumper, not a splitter. It’s why my main focus is on one wine, although from time to time, I need to make an interesting change, or I wouldn’t keep going. I admire the wines from Alsace, so I make a dry Gewurtztraminer in the Alsatian style from grapes harvested from Mendocino County. It’s a goofing-around wine, fun to make, fun to drink, useful for our receptions and first courses at dinner. And sometimes I’ve bottled Syrah, Merlot, Rosé, and Cabernet Franc, limited production wines that don’t meet the Corison blend requirements but that are lovely by themselves. They are sold under our second label, Helios, the sun god in Greek mythology.
I don’t work to other people’s goals and stylistic preferences, or to garner someone else’s approval. I never put anything in a bottle I’m not proud of. All I have to sell is my integrity and my brand. I make wine I like, and count on others liking it.
Corison’s 1,500 to 2,000 cases of wine, with the final count depending on Mother Nature, are highly regarded “cult” wines. She defines a cult wine as one that is of limited quantity, that is hard to find, and that is praised by the critics. Although anyone who has enjoyed Corison wines knows she has earned the kudos, she demurs from the status.
Critics like to pick everything apart. People who appreciate wine should be aware of the inflation of numerical and other kinds of ratings, especially if those ratings push winemakers to go for scores. In some cases, winemakers at certain producers are paid on the basis of high scores. Unfortunately, ratings influence people who are afraid of their own decisions. If they put their faith in scores, they have to believe them all, whether good or bad. My customers should get pleasure from my Cabernets without being too analytical. Professionally, I do a lot of formal blind tastings. I only need one description for the wine and food I love. “Yum.”
DYER VINEYARD AND CONSULTANT
I met Bill Dyer well over two decades ago, when his wife Dawnine, winemaker at Domaine Chandon, invited me to a St. Patrick’s Day party at her winery. Dawnine’s job was to create sparkling wine for Moët Chandon’s Napa off-shoot. Bill was Director of Winemaking at Sterling Winery, overseeing production of several varietals of still wine. Bill traveled a few minutes to his job down the steep road on Diamond Mountain Road while Dawnine drove up and down Highway 29 to its most southerly stretch to reach Domaine Chandon’s facility in Yountville. In 1992, after twenty-five years, the couple abandoned corporate winemaking and purchased 12 acres in the Diamond Mountain Appellation. “We fenced in the property to keep out marauding, hungry deer. They can eat their way through a crop. We built our rammed earth house later in 1996,” says Dyer.
Diamond Mountain District has a reputation for powerful, dazzling blended reds, primarily based on Cabernet Sauvignon. Coastal hills, like ours, are an excellent place to grow wine grapes because of their interesting volcanic soils. We are located about 40 miles east of the Pacific Ocean and north of San Francisco Bay, with influences from San Pablo Bay. Our summer weather is quite easy to understand. The normal pattern is an on-shore flow with wind blowing from the northwest that brings fog to the coast. This keeps us quite cool. But every so often we have an offshore flow when the wind blows from the direction of Nevada, temporarily eliminating the effect of the cold ocean. Our climate of warm days and cool nights is sometimes described as Mediterranean, but I wonder where that idea comes from. In my experiences traveling to Europe, the Mediterranean climate seems entirely different. It doesn’t cool down at night there as it does in California.
I came out of my first college experience as a generalist. I was disinclined to specialize, so I ended up with a major in philosophy without a particular career path. I became interested in wine, first through tasting some interesting wines, like Ridge Zinfandel. Dawnine was still in school. We moved to Napa, where I visited wineries and became a cellar rat, the lowest flunkey in a winery. Then I joined Sterling. They sent me to school to learn winemaking.
Eventually, we wanted a house in the country after living for eighteen years in Calistoga. We weren’t planning to have a vineyard when we started looking for land. I always liked Diamond Mountain from my Sterling days. We found this undeveloped site across the road from some of Diamond Mountain District’s most eminent Cabernet producers—Reverie, Diamond Creek, and Von Strasser. We walked the property, turned over the soil with a shovel, and found beautiful gravel. It was the same caliber of vineyard land as those great wineries along the road. We decided to make a vineyard wine with our own label and cleared the land of trees. Some people buy rocky sites and spend $100,000 to cart the stones away. We live with the rocks on which our vines thrive. Our site at a 600-foot elevation seems to be an ancient rockslide from the hillside above. It was a Herculean task to rip out the largest rocks to get ready for planting. The vines struggle to thrive on what’s left: streaks of gravel, chalky tuff, huge boulders, and red soil formed by volcanic activity eons ago. Our upland volcanic soils are more acidic than those on the valley floor. They also differ from the sedimentary sandstone and shale soils in the Spring Mountain District AVA immediately south of Diamond Mountain. The wines of the DMD typically show an intensity and concentration attributed to these deep but sparse volcanic soils.
The site made Bordeaux varietals an obvious choice. We planted the vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. There’s a lot of talk about a typical Bordeaux blend, but in reality there is no such thing. Bordeaux wines are a throwback to the time when wine made in that region came from a field blend. In earlier times, the varietal mix was different. Malbec dominated as number one, followed by Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon was way down the list. Today, the blend often starts with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. A lot of permutations of this historic blend exist around the world.
Dyer Vineyard is planted on a grid with equal distances between rows. Planting decisions, like row direction, really depend on conclusions each winemaker makes. There is no such thing as an ideal row direction, although some people argue passionately about a north–south or east–west plan. We use a V-trellis system that keeps shoots upright and spreads the canopy to provide a little protection from the sun. Our vines are planted north to south. The worst is east to west because the south side of the plant is in the sun all day long and the north side gets too much shade. Tweaking the north–south system a bit works the best at our vineyard to protect the vines from afternoon sun. Most vineyards were planted out of habit, with rows parallel or perpendicular to the entry road.
One wine differs from another because of all a winemaker’s functions. It would be a real miracle if wines from two different winemakers tasted exactly the same. In a small operation, all the cards are in the owner’s hands: site management, grape selection, attempts to manage biological processes of yeast and bacteria, decisions about barrels, and length of aging. I believe the best wines come from small estates where individual owners understand a season’s idiosyncrasies and can take the long view.
Bill’s experience at Sterling Vineyard gave him an edge in selecting the varieties and clones to plant in the Dyer vineyard. “I developed the first single vineyard wines at Sterling, including a Diamond Mountain Ranch Cabernet in the early 1980’s. I hand-selected the plant material, focusing on clones and rootstock that best matched our site and oversaw all the vineyard activities.” Dyer expresses his ideas about the benefits of winemaking at a small winery and has distinct opinions about large corporations.
I’ve come to the conclusion that large-scale corporations shouldn’t own wineries. There’s a huge difference between a small operation like Dyer Vineyards and one like Sterling Winery. We have the pleasures and difficulties of our own winery. Big businesses often take a short-term view, driven by the need to show quarterly profits to shareholders. Also, a large corporation maintains all the controls. In my experience, corporations are composed of decent, smart people who can collectively make bad decisions. A corporation can dig into their deep pockets to acquire vineyard land, expensive barrels, and other costly tools. At a big winery, a vineyard manager is in charge of ninety vineyards, so it’s less likely that the winemaker sees the vineyard until the end of the season. Blending from ninety lots doesn’t reflect a particular terroir. Corporations have difficulty in understanding that grapes vary in yield and quality from season to season, sometimes by 20 percent or more. Such seasonal variations affect the quality and amount of wine, but variables aren’t good for the bottom line.
In contrast, Dyer wines show off our vineyard site with our aim of achieving structure and balance paired with good aromatics. Our wines reflect this particular place, specific soil, aspect, and location of our vineyard. We planted the correct varietals in our vineyard to produce on average 400 cases of elegant Cabernet Sauvignon. We farm the plot the best we can, dealing with what each season gives us. We prefer our traditional approach, reflected in the continuum of all the things we do throughout the year. Our approach is to use tried-and-true methods rather than to follow the contemporary strategies of high-alcohol blockbuster wines. We stick to producing wines that reflect our personal approach to showcase the particular terroir of Diamond Mountain because styles change. We believe that strategy works well for us.
I used different blocks for the 100,000 cases of some reds when I worked at Sterling. Dyer wines are an entirely different project. Our blend from year to year is really simple. It is a vineyard wine. Basically, we pick on the ripeness of Cabernet Sauvignon. Then we do weighted samples from our 2,000 vines, 80 percent of which are Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine goes into one third new barrels and fifth-year used barrels. Dawnine and I are quite competent at blending. It was an essential part of our past winery associations, as it is now with our wines. Our vineyard is laid out so that we are able to co-ferment the varieties from the vineyard in proportion to the varieties we planted. Crop levels are low on our difficult site, with its five-degree slopes. Yield never exceeds two and a half tons per acre. Our vines are sustainably farmed and organic as a matter of principle. This is our front yard and it’s also important that we are responsible stewards of the property. We don’t want residual chemicals in our well, so we don’t use herbicides. It’s necessary to use sulfur, but it’s an organic antimildew product. No one wants mildew in their wine. We can’t avoid chemicals completely, but we use as little as possible if there’s a severe problem. We go only as far as we’re comfortable. Since 1996, we make Dyer Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ourselves across the road at Rudy Von Strasser’s winery.
Winemaking is based on hunches and perceptions. Deciding when to pick is the most important decision. We find it easy to make evaluations together. In our case, 80 percent of the wine comes from our vineyard. We make judgments together about barrels, playing to our individual experiences and strengths.