So this is the first article in our Culinary Craftsmanship series. And as the winemaker for Bridlewood, you’ve been called a grape artist. Accurate?
Well I don’t call myself that, but it’s pretty funny. I guess because you’re taking a raw product — grapes — and transforming them into something that people can enjoy with food and friends. That’s the job of the winemaker: to craft that grape and transform it into something that will live sometimes even longer than you will. I taste the grapes before they’re picked and have to translate it into what the wine will taste like. There’s definitely an art in winemaking, and lots of science as well.
How’d you get into wine?
Probably because of The Bachelor everybody thinks winemakers in California are a dime a dozen, but that’s not the case. People don’t come out of high school and say they’re going to be a winemaker unless their family owns a winery or they live in a winemaking area. I grew up in California’s Central Valley which is table grape and raisin land. My father was a viticulture professor and I helped him with the research and the physical labor of grape growing, harvesting, all the tough work. A lot of the work in summer was extremely hot, and winter was cold and wet. I didn’t realize that there was the other side – the grape artistry.
My dad would tour wineries all over the world for research, getting exposed and bringing the wines home. I also took some wine appreciation classes in college, but as a broke college student I wasn’t drinking any high end wine.
How do you figure out what wines you like?
One of the best things I’ve done for my own palate and my own education is trying wines from all over so that I know every style and region. I have way more background behind my choices than most people. But my friend started with sweet Riesling, went into light Pinot Noir, and then bolder Australian Shiraz. Once people start to experience it, it opens their minds and there aren’t any boundaries. People are branching out and trying more things. You just have more opportunity now since more wine is being marketed to millennials and baby boomers. The US is a great market to try new wines, the space has just exploded in the past couple of years.
What do you think people would find most surprising about harvest?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that it’s all romantic, going out and spending time in the vineyards. I’m going out to evaluate them, and there’s a lot of travel and early mornings and late evenings unless you’re just working with one estate. I’m not eating lavish dinners during harvest. What’s also surprising is how physically demanding harvesting grapevines is. Picking grapes is some of the hardest work around. I’ve done my fair share. People take a lot of pride to make these wines and the attention to detail and blood, sweat, and tears can be easily looked over when you’re sitting at table and a sommelier just brings you wine at your table.
Blood, sweat, and tears — have there really been a lot of tears?
[Laughs] Tears of joy. When you’re able to sit down and taste something you’ve made and been a part of, from picking grapes to picking barrels to determining what the blend is gonna be to seeing it age, it’s just really rewarding. You have a creation that you experience and make every year, and every year it changes.
What’s something you never thought you’d be doing as part of your job?
I didn’t know when I embarked on it that I’d have an opportunity to see some of the most beautiful places in world, travelling to taste wine and see their growing areas. I’ve been to Chile, Argentina, France, Italy, Australia, all over California. It never fails to surprise me how beautiful and awe-inspiring these areas are, as well as all the different wines they make.
This post is brought to you by our friends at Bridlewood Estate Winery.