Weekly Interview: Evan Frazier

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 08-09-2013

Evan FrazierEach week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Evan Frazier, who launched Ferdinand Wines in 2010 with just 56 cases of Albariño.

Evan was introduced to winemaking by Abe Schoener in 2006, and that year in the Roussillon, Evan worked his first harvest with ancient Carignan and Grenache vines. Shortly thereafter, he landed a job with John Kongsgaard, and today he’s the general manager for Kongsgaard Wines. In addition to Albariño, Evan makes Tempranillo at Ferdinand.

Check out our interview with Evan below the fold. 

What is your general winemaking philosophy? 

As a young winemaker, my philosophy is to surround myself with great mentors and work with great growers. I’m not trying to insert myself into the wines. For me, winemaking is about putting yourself out there and working with what the vineyard and the vintage give you — at this point it’s all about learning as much as I can and making wines the way that feels right. It’s a winemaker cliché but I want to make the wines that I want to drink. And beyond that, wines that I could afford to order at a restaurant.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

I have a few dead soldiers on the kitchen counter from this week. In the wine business we are so blessed to get to drink great wines! I’ve been trying to stock the winery with Champagne, so there’s a bottle of Bérèche NV Brut Réserve. We raided the cellar for a 2000 Quintarelli Ca’ del Merlo — an intense, really special wine. Lastly, Scott Schultz’s 2012 Jolie-Laide Trousseau Gris — tasty stuff and I’m super jealous of the label.

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

Thinking of that great Valpolicella, I’d have to name Giuseppe Quintarelli. It seems like some of my favorite winemakers have passed away in recent years, guys like Didier Dageneau and Marcel Lapierre. I’ll add to the list Henri Jayer — still waiting for a chance to taste his wines. In the living category, Raúl Pérez. I really want to meet that guy!

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

We have a great group of young winemakers here in Napa that hang out together. If I had to choose one person who I’m most excited about, it would be Graeme MacDonald. He’s just releasing his first vintage under the MacDonald label from his family’s old vine Cabernet that he farms himself. He’s making the wine with us up at Kongsgaard. We are old friends from childhood and it’s great to get to see him all the time. His wines are very classic and elegant, it is pretty exciting to see a winemaker from my own generation putting their mark on Napa Cab.

How do you spend your days off?

I spend a lot of time cooking, shopping, foraging, thinking about food. Whether it’s a weeknight dinner, Sunday brunch, or a multi-course feast for 80, I always have a good time in the kitchen.

I wish I could say sailing. Over the past few years, it’s been a lot more time spent working on boats than time on the water. My best days off in recent memory were last summer when I took my boat down the coast to Catalina Island and back in 11 days. I made it home just in time to pick the Albariño on August 15th.

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

I’ve been pretty lucky to taste some special bottles. I think my true love of Champagne came out of a bottle of 1988 Salon Les Mesnil.

One of the most mesmerizing and ethereal bottles I ever tasted was a magnum of Miani Ribolla Gialla tasted at George Vare’s Ribollafest a few years ago. Sadly, I don’t even remember what the vintage was.

Lastly, a 1977 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard opened for me late at night by a friend in New York City. I couldn’t believe it! I’ve had the wine again recently and it was good but it just wasn’t the same.

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

Sadly, I don’t own much old wine — yet! I do have a bottle of 1970 Graham’s Port that I’m pretty excited about. Most valuable? Probably, a magnum of 2008 Kongsgaard The Judge Chardonnay — you didn’t say I had to have paid for it right?

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

Having to drink only two wines would be pretty rough. Then again, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to only drink Champagne for a month — pretty great, I think. Seriously though, I’ll pick Steve Matthiasson’s 2011 White Blend. I could drink that every night and never get enough. For a red, I’ll go with the 2011 Terre Nerre Etna Rosso. I’ve been drinking that by the glass at Oenotri — if only I could eat there every night for a month!

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

The big challenge I’m focused on right now is getting the pick right. It’s such a simple thing but everything in the winery stems from that one moment. I rely on a couple of great growers who spend all year putting all this energy and potential into the grapes — so deciding when to take over and arrest that process — it’s a big decision.

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

If I had to pick one region it would be Galicia. It’s the source of so many great, underrated wines and really good values. The wines from Rias Biaxas are what inspired me to want to make Albariño. I’m also fascinated with Godello from Valdeorras and Mencia wines from Ribera Sacra and hoping to get a chance to work with those grapes in the future. I’m planning a trip to Galicia as soon as I can get away.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Beer is really inspiring to me right now. We’re pretty lucky beer-wise here in the land of Pliny, etc., but it really surprised me when I was in New York City earlier this year and it seemed like all everyone was drinking and talking about was beer! I’m still a beer noob but I’m learning fast. I just discovered Oude Gueuze. It’s amazing how diverse and versatile beer is. Not to mention sometimes there is nothing else that will quench your harvest thirst.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

My path to becoming a winemaker might surprise some folks. For one, I’ve never studied winemaking – my degree is in Philosophy. Also, my first harvest wasn’t in Napa, it was in France, in a tiny town called Maury in the Roussillon. I worked for an Englishman making wine in a garage from gnarly old vine Grenache and Carignan.

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

If I wasn’t living the dream of making my own wine I’d be following my other dream of sailing around the world.

How do you define success?

Success is pretty simple for me right now. It is making tasty wines that people enjoy drinking and selling enough to buy more grapes for next year.

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