Weekly Interview: Kale Anderson

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 06-01-2012

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Kale Anderson, the winemaker at Cliff Lede in Yountville, California. He also recently launched his own label, Kale Wines.

Kale grew up in Sonoma County, surrounded by the outdoors, art, and wine. But when he headed to UC-Davis in 1997, he thought he would pursue a career in medicine, like his father.

He soon found himself more interested in plant biology, but after spending a summer working for a commercial fishing operation in Alaska, he realized he was creatively unfulfilled — so transitioned to an interdisciplinary major in Nature and Culture.

During this time, he took an introductory course in viticulture and enology — and that set him on a focused path toward winemaking. In 2001, Kale interned for J Wine Company. That internship confirmed he was on the right track.

In 2002, after graduating from UC Davis, Kale landed a position at Colgin Cellars, where he worked the inaugural harvest. Soon thereafter, Kale began working at Terra Valentine. In 2005, Kale joined the team at Cliff Lede, as the assistant winemaker. Six years later, he became the head winemaker — and now oversees the entire production process.

Check out our interview with Kale below the fold.

What’s your general winemaking philosophy?

Get intimate with your vines and the people who tend them. Be gentle, respectful, flexible, and humble in the winery. Give yourself blending options. Produce a delicious wine with a sense of time and place that will continue evolving in bottle.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

The truth: Brita water, breast milk, and ½ cup in the coffeemaker from this morning. To get to the spirit of the question, the laboratory has a 2009 Silex from a Sauvignon Blanc comparative tasting in the fridge and 2007 Margalit Cabernet Sauvignon, Galilee Mountains Kadita Reserve traded from a friend.

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

My first job out of college in 2002 was working for Mark Aubert at Colgin Cellars. It was a great introduction to winemaking. Andre Tchelistcheff is the Neil Armstrong of quality California winemaking.

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

I am lucky to be surrounded by a large network of California winemakers that engage and influence each other on a daily basis. I won’t name names, but the people pioneering “new varieties” in established places, or “new appellations” around the world, or new/old technologies in grapegrowing and winemaking excite me.

How do you spend your days off?

With my family.

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

Every year it seems that I find the best wine I have ever tasted at Open That Bottle Night at Cliff Lede Vineyards. Some highlights? 1990 Les Cailloux Cuvee Centenaire, Châteauneuf-du-Pape; 1990 Dunn Howell Mountain, from magnum; 1990 Château d’Yquem, from a six liter.

While a student, I tasted a 1982 Mouton Rothschild, which  sealed my career choice.

I had some Champagne after my son was born. I don’t remember what it was, but it tasted better than anything…

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

I have some S. Anderson sparkling wine from the early seventies. I do not know what vintage they are from, but they are absolutely delicious. 2002 Colgin wines are still aging from when I worked there. They must be worth a pretty penny at this point.

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


What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Mother Nature and Father Time on many levels. Embracing the challenges keeps the industry exciting.

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

The region I most recently visited tends to be my favorite. The Southern Rhone must be somewhere near the top.

Is beer ever better than wine?

No… Ok, yes after soccer games with the lads, or after a “powder day” in Tahoe.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

My name is Hawaiian in origin (Ka-le), not vegetable in origin!

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

I have absolutely no idea – my speculations would not be flattering. Mr. Mom.

How do you define success?

Success in the wine industry is bringing people together through your wines after you are gone.

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