Category Archives: Winemaker 2 Winemaker

Winemaker 2 Winemaker: Stephen Dooley

 

This month’s Winemaker 2 Winemaker interview travels back to California’s Central Coast to visit with winemaker Stephen Dooley.  Stephen grew up in the upper Midwest and attended Mankato State University and the University of California, Davis, to earn a degree in Enology. He spent 10 years making wine in the Napa Valley, two harvests “down under” in South Africa and Australia, before arriving the Edna Valley, where he worked for others for seven years, and then launched Stephen Ross in 1994. He met his wife, Paula, in 1989 and they married in 1995.  They work together on the Stephen Ross wines.

NC: What got you interested in wine initially?

SD: My curiosity for winemaking started in high school when I experimented with making wine in my mother’s basement in Minnesota. While in college there, I was entranced by a TIME Magazine article, and learned that one could study winemaking and do this for a living.  I transferred to the University of California at Davis to earn a degree in enology and have been practicing my craft of winemaking ever since.

NC: Did you have a person or people in your early career that really inspired your winemaking style? Who were they and why?

 SD: After graduating, I started working in Napa Valley at the Louis M. Martini Winery in 1977 and spent the next decade there – taking some time off to work harvests “down under”.   Coming from the Midwest, I was already instilled with a strong work ethic. Louis Martini himself demonstrated that ethic in action. Despite having handed the reins to his son, he worked at the winery every day, into his old age.  One of Louis’ maxims was “balanced into the bottle, balanced out of the bottle”.  The key to aging is balance, and I incorporate that into every wine I make.

I moved to California’s Central Coast in 1987 when I became the winemaker and general manager for Edna Valley Vineyards, which at that time was owned by the Chalone Wine Group. CWG’s Dick Graff was my boss and he was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about quality winemaking, that I consider him a mentor.

NC: You and your wife run your winery together. What challenges come with that and what advantages do you think you have?

SD: Paula and I consider ourselves one of the luckiest married work teams ever. We get to work together every day, with our passionate and dedicated crew, to produce unique and interesting high-quality wines.  My role at Stephen Ross is winemaker, repairman, salesman…you name it.  I am the owner, so I wear many hats. Paula wears more of the business hat in the office and oversees Direct to Consumer Sales. We’re a great balance and cannot imagine doing it any other way.

 NC: What is your winemaking philosophy in Haiku?

SD: California coast

Burgundian traditions

Mother Nature’s art

 NC: Your winery is in the Central Coast of CA. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the industry there?

SD: I think we have the same main challenge as wine regions and other agriculture sectors throughout the state: The continuing drought is number one, and then sourcing crews to align timing of picking is always tricky. We have been working with most of our vineyard partners for years and are intimately familiar with the fruit and when to pick, but it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about.

All of the grapes we grow or purchase are either from our SIP Certified estate vineyard, Stone Corral, in the Edna Valley, or other local SIP Certified or organic vineyards, all who share a commitment to ethical farming practices and high-quality grape growing.

 NC: You make a number of different wines for your winery under the Stephen Ross label and the Flying Cloud label.  How did you come up with this business structure and how do you describe the difference between the two?

SD: We launched Flying Cloud in 2003 to focus on a suite of Bordeaux varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and a red blend based on Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache and Petite Sirah. I wanted to experiment with great fruit from surrounding AVAs that didn’t fit the Burgundian program of Stephen Ross Wine Cellars.

Flying Cloud wines are popular because they absolutely over-deliver on quality at a value-driven price point. The wines have wholesale distribution and are also available in several states through the website, mailing list, and tasting room.

 NC: What was the best piece of winemaking advice you ever received?

SD: That is quite a question.  I am always seeking ideas and learning from my winemaker friends.  We have regular, healthy, open exchanges of ideas and practices, which I think is unusual in most industries.  In my decades of winemaking, I have gotten many “best pieces” of advice.

NC: Would you add anything to that advice which you could give people just starting out in the industry?

SD: My advice to those embarking on a winemaking career is to be prepared to work very hard, and to be patient.  Taste as many wines and as often as you can – form tasting groups, seek new things, ask questions.  And, to those starting new brands, winemaking is less than half the battle, you have to go sell your wine, too.

 NC: If you could live in another wine region (outside of your own), which would you choose and why?

SD: Another really big question.  Burgundy is fascinating with its history.  I love the Willamette Valley in Oregon, but it is too rainy for my wife.  We both love Italy and its great weather, food and wine.   When it comes down to it, it is very hard to contemplate leaving San Luis Obispo. It’s just about perfect here.    

Winemaker 2 Winemaker: David Parrish of Parrish Family Vineyards

David Parrish at his winery on the Central Coast of CA.

David Parrish at his winery on the Central Coast of CA.

This month’s Winemaker 2 Winemaker interview focuses on David Parrish of Parrish Family Vineyards on California’s Central Coast.  His story began with vineyard trellis work for icons of the Napa Valley such as Robert Mondavi, Bob Steinhauer and others. Parrish spent decades tending to vines and today holds 24 patents for trellis design. He is recognized as the industry expert in knowing how to work with trellises in order to get the most from the vines, and from them, great fruit. Thirteen years ago, Parrish decided to return to his grandfather’s roots of vineyard production. Parrish planted 40 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on his Creston, California, ranch in 1995 and in 2004 made his first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon. Seven years later he opened a tasting room in downtown Paso Robles and expanded his vineyard holdings into the Templeton and Adelaida Districts.

NC: What originally attracted you to vineyard development and trellis systems?

DP: Viticulture has been in my blood since the time my grandfather started growing grapes in Atascadero, which was before Prohibition and the Great Depression.

I graduated from University of California, Davis in 1974 and started a vineyard trellising company which I’m still involved with today. I currently hold two dozen patents for trellis design and have worked with partners all over the world. I’m also excited to see more and more developments around my shade cloth technology which is allowing further ripeness of the fruit without scaring or burning. I’ve been selling it to other wineries that are also seeing great results.

I worked in Napa for several years, but, my heart always wanted to come home to the Central Coast and grow my own grapes. I decided to take my grandfather’s passion a step further opening my own winery, which is slated to open in early 2018.

NC: You’ve stated that your passion is Cabernet Sauvignon. In your opinion, what are the key vineyard practices which are essential to growing great Cabernet which would be applicable globally?

DP: For us, it always comes back to the way you care for the land. We practice sustainable farming in many ways and have even restored a creek bed on our property to ensure the land continues to improve. One of the things I’m most passionate about is the way we care for the soil. We use seaweed that is infused into the drip irrigation adding natural minerals to our soil.  We also use a mix of worm cast and organic products, known as organic tea, to enhance the microbes. It’s not possible to have healthy vines without healthy land.

NC: There has been a lot of focus on what ripeness is in wine and what constitutes a ripened bunch. How do you personally define ripeness?

DP: We define it as when the “green” or characteristically “unripe” flavors are gone, and are replaced with more fruity flavors like black fruit and berries. We also look at the seeds to make sure that they have no more green color, and are crunchy in texture when bitten, like “Grape Nuts” cereal. The skins should be supple and velvety to the touch, and the pulp should separate readily and easily from the seeds when squeezed. We also monitor the pH and TA to make sure that they are in and optimal range, though flavor is always the deciding factor.

After that, I sit down with the winemaking team and we taste the grape samples together scoring each of the characteristics of ripeness on a scale. It’s then a group vote if we pick or wait.

NC: I’ve often heard that clone selection doesn’t matter as much in Cabernet as it does in Pinot Noir. What are your thoughts and which are some of your favorite clones and why?

DP: I think clones are important when planning and developing a Cabernet vineyard. I spent weeks planning the clones I wanted in our Templeton and Adelaida vineyards. Clones assist in creating a complex wine. For instance, Clone 337 produces dense, complex, and very aromatic wines, so we use that in our Cabernet almost every vintage. There are some years and some clones that can stand alone and for me that is Clone 6. It is my favorite clone as a winemaker because it produces such a beautiful, very dark, rich wine, but as a grower it has lower yields so it’s more of a love hate relationship. It’s worth it in the end, especially since our 2014 was rated a 94 points by Wine Enthusiast and we couldn’t be happier.

NC: In the 1970s, you worked alongside some of the great pioneers of winemaking in the Napa Valley. What was that like? Did you feel that history was being made or was everyone so focused on moving forward that it all just happened around you?

DP: I was fortunate at that time to meet a group of Napa growers who wanted to make Napa a world-class wine growing region and one of my professors, Dr. Kliewer, convinced me to accept their invitation to work with them. I moved to Napa and started working with Robert Mondavi and Bob Steinhauer of Beringer Vineyards. After a few months, I was working with most of the wineries in the Napa area on their trellises.

The experience was so meaningful because it was just a group of people working to make the most out of the land and to work in communion with each other. Today, I see that same spirit in Paso Robles. It reminds me of the early days in Napa when I worked with the family-run vineyards and wineries.  Paso Robles is still that way.  We are a pretty close knit group and a great community.

I think there is something magical that happens when winemakers live on the land they love and are able to truly give it the daily attention and care it demands. It’s uncommon and it’s characteristically Central Coast.

NC: You’ve now started your own family-run winery. How do you balance the business and personal sides to your life working so closely with your wife, daughter, and son in law?

DP: Other than my grandfather’s roots, I wanted to return to the Central Coast because of the people. I spent a lot of time in Napa and know the beautiful fruit that can be developed there but, I wanted to work with family-owned wineries just like the one I wanted to build.

My family and I have  learned a lot facing the wine business together over the last eight years.  I am glad we started in a small tasting room downtown because the learning curve was just right.  We all are involved in the day-to-day operations of the winery; even the dogs have a job. I’m lucky we share the highs and lows together. It takes a lot of work, but the rewards are so great. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

NC: Your vineyard and winery is located on CA’s Central Coast which is renowned for Rhone varieties as well as Burgundy varieties in the south. Which other varieties are you experimenting with beyond Cabernet Sauvignon?

DP: We love the progress of our Sauvignon Blanc, , Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and two Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah blends. We have four vineyards that provide us with a bounty of great fruit that’s easy to work with and delicious to enjoy.

NC: Please describe your winemaking philosophy in Haiku 

DP:

Grow it and guide it

Take care of the land you have

Drink with those you love

NC: What key piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in the wine industry?

DP: I graduated with a biology major, but I’ve found the best way to learn is to simply study, experience as much as you can, and make sure you love it.

NC: Thank you so much David!

 

Winemaker 2 Winemaker: Aaron Pott

AP headshot

I have had the pleasure of meeting Aaron Pott several times over the past few years out and about in Napa.  Each time his natural charisma and passion for life has impressed me and after a chance meeting in San Francisco in January, he agreed to be interviewed for this post.  Aaron has worked in many areas of the world after his education in Bordeaux, including Italy and Chile in addition to Napa.  He credits his mentor, Michel Rolland, with helping him the most along his career.  Among the esteemed wineries for which he is working are Blackbird, Fisher Vineyards, Jericho Canyon, Perliss (The Ravens), Greer, V22, Martin Estate, Adler Deutsch, Quixote, Como No?, Seven Stones and St. Helena Estate.  He and his wife, Claire, have started their own brand called Pott Wines and have their own small estate on Mount Veeder in Napa.

NC: How did you learn that you were a winemaker?

AP: My parents took me for the first time to Paris when I was nine year’s old. The first night in an old bistro I ordered a glass of milk. In halting English the waiter replied, “milk is for babies” and promptly brought me a glass of wine. This was the inception of the idea that wine was the thing that made one an adult and if I wanted to get there I would need this beverage. This lead me to study oenology at U.C. Davis and later to a master’s degree at the Univeristé de Bourgogne.

NC: Your website says that Michel Rolland was one of your greatest mentors. What was the greatest learning from him that has shaped your winemaking?

AP: Michel taught me many things. Most importantly, what ripeness is. It seems simple but it is really a complex construct. This he did by tasting many grapes with me.

NC: You have worked with some of the most famous names in Napa. How do you decide which clients to work with for your projects?

AP: I choose clients for two reasons, either I like them or they have great vineyards.

NC: For young winemakers starting out, what is the best piece of advice you were given along your career?

AP: Young winemakers need to realize how much work it takes to become a good winemaker. It is not something that happens quickly and requires a great deal of work and discipline.

NC: Please describe your winemaking philosophy in Haiku.

AP: The nectar of gods

Demands great grapes and terroir

Soar beyond the stars

NC: We work in an industry that is steeped in tradition and history. Some could say this makes our industry stuffy and boring. What is the most exciting aspect of the wine industry today, in your opinion?

AP:  I think what makes it interesting IS the history and the tradition. I would like to think that my wines would appeal to ancient Greeks as well as to people of today. People are always trying to make wine less stuffy but lets face it, it is the most amazing beverage that exists to it should be revered and worshipped!

NC: I completely agree with your philosophy to “Work Slowly, Taste Often and Travel Frequently” which you expressed to Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague back in 2012. How do you feel this has helped you improve as a winemaker?

AP: Working slowly makes great wine. Thinking about every detail and each step and how you move. I love the tantric nature of wine work.

“Wine is meant to be shared and enjoyed and I like to do both.”

NC: You have received numerous high scores, applause, and accolades and you are one of the most sought after winemakers in Napa yet despite it all you remain extremely approachable. How do you stay grounded amidst the laudations?

AP: I ask my youngest daughter what she thinks about me and I always find the truth there. Wine is meant to be shared and enjoyed and I like to do both.

NC: You and your wife work very closely together on your own project, Pott Wines. How do you balance the demands of being a flying winemaker and a business owner with the demands of being a family man?

AP: Luckily, I only work with clients in the Napa Valley so I am not far from my family. I think that family is an important part of the wine experience and I like to have even my little daughters help out during crush.

NC: Do you have any upcoming projects or dreams of projects that are new and exciting that you’d like to share?

AP: I have developed a vineyard for Danica Patrick, the racecar driver, and it is an excellent spot. I am looking forward to the release of this wine!

NC: That is so exciting! We look forward to it as well.  Thanks so much for answering my questions today!

To find more of Aaron’s wines check out his website here.