Countdown to the MW Exam. 

My journey to the MW exam is almost complete for this year. The exam is the second week in June and I traditionally stop studying about a month before. Why? Because you don’t cram for this exam. It’s not about just memorizing facts. It’s about being relaxed and showing that you have the mastery of the subject to prove that you are an MW. I’ve taken a much more relaxed approach this year. I haven’t gone crazy with essays. I’ve done a few mind maps a week on past questions. I’ve done a few really intensive tasting events of full mock exams between weeks of tasting classics with dinner. My last one before the exam will be next week with my mentor and a few other students in Louisiana. After that I’ll have about one more good week and then I’m going to let it lie and the chips will fall where they may come exam time. I’m going to enjoy the Spring in NY, time with my family, and our upcoming vacation purposely scheduled two weeks before the exam. I’m flying out to California the week after the Louisiana trip to visit Yosemite for our annual company Technical conference. It will be nice to see the Redwoods again and do some hiking before it starts in earnest. 

My biggest problem in the past with the exam is that I always tended to overthink my answers. In hindsight, I probably over thought my studies as well. This year I’ve been more relaxed about it all. I’m always a bit afraid that I’ll be in the thick of the exam and momentarily regret that I didn’t go back and review something critical however I’m working harder at trusting myself and the vast amount of knowledge I’ve collected over the years.  So far, I haven’t developed the eye twitches that plagued my 2nd-4th attempts. I think that is a good sign in and of itself. 

So here I am, down to the final weeks.  I plan on reviewing my examples, updating my business stats, and enjoying the preparations that go along with calmly closing the books. Right now I can picture myself walking into the room in June feeling ready and excited to take on the exam. There is not much else to do but enjoy the moments of possibilities prior to turning in the last paper on June 10th. 

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.

 

To Age or Not to Age

When you think of drinking wine at the appropriate age, what picture comes to mind? Usually it is a red wine. Maybe a decanter is involved? It’s a special occasion or with friends and family. However, not all wine is designed to age a long time. I have heard so many stories of people saving a bottle of wine that they were given as a gift only to open it at some far later date to be absolutely horrified by what they smelled and tasted in the bottle. I’ll tell you a secret. Most wine is not meant to age beyond 1-2 years. However I will also tell you that you can probably figure out what type you are dealing with if you understand a bit about what makes wine appropriate to age.

How Do Wines Age? 

Wines age quite a lot like humans do. They go through a youthful phase, the prime of middle age, and the elegant sunset of old age. A youthful wine will still have bright fruit aromas, called primary aromas, and a core color without any browning leaving pure lemon-green in white wines and purple, sometimes blue, hues in red wines on the rim of the wine. Wines in middle age are known as having developing aromas. This is when the primary aromas start to be complemented (or not) by secondary aromas from the winemaking process such as oak spice or toast from lees as well as the beginning of bottle age aromas. The bottle age aromas are called tertiary aromas and usually show up in Cabernet as dried figs, nutty characters, or cedar characters. Each variety has its own tertiary aroma signature as it ages. Wines in middle age often start to show a browning on the rim which translates as gold in white wines or garnet in red wines. Wines coming to the end of their age cycle will be largely defined by their tertiary aromas with the rare exceptions of truly amazing wines which may still hint at the primary fruit of their youth. White wines of this level will likely be quite gold edging towards amber colored while red wines are fully garnet with tawny colored rims. This cycle’s timing depends on the wine and its key components which help the aging process. What are these key components? Tannin, acid, and sugar.  

Tannin

What is tannin? Tannin is an antioxidant compound found naturally in grapes and these compounds are transferred into the wine during the fermentation process. White wines have very little to no tannin which is why it is usually red wines that come to mind when one thinks of long term aging. Tannin naturally protects the wine from oxygen, which as a wine ages becomes more detrimental to wine quality. Wines with high levels of natural tannin are better prepared to withstand these effects of aging. Just like sunscreen protects us from the UV rays of the sun, the tannins protect the wine from oxygen thus slowing its maturation and allowing it to age more slowly. The higher the level of natural tannin, the more intense the protection which is why Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo age so well. How does this explain how Pinot Noir, a relatively low tannin variety, ages so well? Keep reading…

Acid

Like Tannin, acid is a key component of aging. A low pH coming from high acid levels contributes to the microbial stability of a wine. More importantly it also chemically slows the rate which oxidation reactions can occur which continues to decrease with an increasingly lower pH. Thus wines with low pHs age more slowly and have an increased life span than wines with higher pHs if all other components are equal. Low pHs are one of the main reasons that Rieslings and Hunter Valley Semillons age so well in addition to low tannin reds such as Pinot Noir. They are low in tannin but relatively low in pH which allows them to age more slowly.

Sugar

High levels of sugar are very helpful to aging. This comes down to osmotic pressure. What is osmotic pressure? Say you have a yeast cell. That yeast cell has a very low level of sugar inside it. Then you put it in an environment that is very high sugar. Cells naturally want to create an equilibrium between the inside and the solution that surrounds them. All the water rushes out of the cell and poof! No more yeast cell. The high level of sugar (plus pH as mentioned above) protects the wine from refermentation. A lack of microbial activity increases a wine’s ability to age further. Now when we say high sugar we are not talking about White Zin which usually runs around 26-35 grams per Liter. We are talking 80+ grams per Liter of sugar. For reference, Sodas can run a little over 100 grams per Liter. However, sugar alone will not help a wine. It needs to be sugar plus a low pH on a top quality wine. Think Botrytis affected wines such as Sauternes, Tokaji, or Trockenbeerenauslese. Icewines also benefit from this protection.  

Wines at least two of the above three components will have a better chance of long term aging success than wines with only one or none of the above. That being said, the wine needs to be a style which will improve or get more interesting with age. Varieties such as Muscato really benefit from being youthful when consumed so they should be enjoyed while still fresh and fruity. However, if you happen to like the characters of 10 year old Muscat then that’s great! Drink wines when you want to enjoy them, in whatever stage of life they may be. Don’t wait for the perfect moment when that moment may be now if that is when you want to drink that special bottle.

How old is your oldest bottle of wine? Tell me in the comments.

Originally written for and posted on Snooth.com