Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Kate Madigan, the Sonoma County winemaker at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma Valley.
Katie got her start with St. Francis just over ten years ago when she started as a harvest intern while earning her undergraduate degree in chemistry at UC Santa Barbara. From the start, she was hooked.
So two years later, she became a full-time lab tech at St. Francis and started studying Enology & Viticulture at UC Davis. In 2006, Katie was named the winery’s assistant winemaker, where she focused almost exclusively on Chardonnay. She was named the Sonoma County winemaker in 2012. (A different winemaker, Heather Munden, heads up the winery’s “Artisan” label, which is only sold via the winery.)
Check out our interview with Katie below the fold!
What is your general winemaking philosophy?
I believe in maximum flavor with minimal intervention. Start with good viticultural practices, and make wine that’s reflective of terroir and varietal.
What’s open in your kitchen right now?
The 2010 St. Francis Claret. We’re just about to release it, so I wanted to taste it with dinner. It’s so textural, I’m just really happy with it. It almost didn’t make it to the meal!
Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
Merry Edwards, of her eponymous winery, and Eileen Crane of Domaine Carneros. They both paved the way for female winemakers in this industry. I just look up to them so much. Sally Johnson, former winemaker at St. Francis, was my first boss, my mentor, and is still a great friend. She’s at Pride Winery now, but I use a lot of what she taught me in my winemaking today.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
I think Italy’s new generation of winemakers are really re-crafting their wines, with great success. Francesco Baravalle at Cascina Bruciata, for example.
How do you spend your days off?
Outdoors! Hiking, biking, kayaking in the San Francisco Bay, or even walking through some of our hillside vineyards with my 2- year old Boxer, Tank.
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
I think that the most interesting thing about some of the best wines I’ve tasted lately is that they don’t have to be expensive! I’m a little obsessed with blends at the moment — my friends and I always try to determine blend percentages by taste.
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
The oldest bottle I have is a 1983 Taylor’s Vintage Port that I got while visiting the estate a few years ago. It was closest to my birth year, and my family is a huge fan of Port.
The most expensive bottle I have is a 2002 Shafer Cabernet Hillside select. It got 100 points from Robert Parker, 97 from Wine Spectator. My curiosity was piqued what “perfection” is supposed to taste like. I used my tax refund & bought it at auction. You only live once!
If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
Louis Jadot Puligny-Montrachet would be my white. So elegant, it could be sipped with dinner or while cooking it.
For red, Sonoma Zinfandel is what I call a “year-round” wine. It pairs with so many different foods, no matter what the season. Within one week last month, I had our Old Vine Zin with pizza at home and brought it to Christmas dinner.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
For me, the biggest challenge is knowing how far to push grape maturity in each vintage. Mother Nature teaches us new lessons every year, yet no two growing seasons have been exactly alike.
You really have to stay on top of it from the beginning of the year — the decision can be so impactful. After all, once you take that grape cluster off you can’t put it back on!
What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?
Absolutely loving Spain right now. The varietals, the blends, everything.
Is beer ever better than wine?
Only after a long day on the ski slopes!
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I can’t run a mile in under 12 minutes, but I can swim one in 10.
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
Well, I love leading an active life, so probably exercise physiology. But I’d still find time for wine. In fact, one of my favorite places here in wine country is a yoga studio/wine bar. When I leave there I feel like I did something good for my body and my heart.
How do you define success?
I believe that success does not breed happiness. Do what makes you happy, and it will breed success.