Weekly Interview: Don Van Staaveren

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 12-06-2013

Don Van StaaverenEach week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Don Van Staaveren, the winemaker at Three Sticks Wines, a small producer in Sonoma that mainly focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Durell Vineyard.

A graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he studied fruit science, Don is credited with bringing international attention to Sonoma wines in 1999 when his 1996 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages was named Wine Spectator’s “Wine of the Year.”

By the time that honor was awarded, Don had left Chateau St. Jean (where he’d been since 1976) for Artesa Winery. In 2004, he joined Three Sticks Wines.

Check out our interview with Don below the fold.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

My general philosophy is to use patient, gentle winemaking practices in the winery. Also, picking the grapes when they are ripe, keeping as much whole berries as possible, and letting the wines develop and age before bottling. My goal is to produce rich, textural wines that highlight each vineyard.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

In my kitchen right now is a 2009 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepage, 2010 Vacheron Sancerre, and 2010 Penner Ash Pinot Noir.

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

My favorite winemakers through personal account would are Tony Soter, Richard Arrowood, and Aubert du Villane. My favorite winemakers because of the wines are Jacques Seysses, Richard Graff, and Paul Draper. My favorite winemaker through marriage would be Margo Van Staaveren, who produces nice wines across the board.

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

I’m excited about Morgan Twain Peterson because he is following the tradition of his father but putting his own stamp on his wines and they’re very nice. I think Pax Mahle quite innovative and his wines are delicious. I also have a lot of respect for Arnot-Roberts for their use of different varieties.

How do you spend your days off?

Spending time with my family is a priority, doing whatever we do. Gardening for the relaxation and the produce. I’m a big surfer and try to do that whenever I get the chance. If I don’t have much time to surf, I’ll go locally to Bolinas or Salmon Creek…brrrrr. Otherwise my favorites are San Onofre, Ventura, Santa Cruz. We always find a way to travel with a surfboard. I’m not particular; I’ll surf anywhere.

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

The best wine I’ve ever had was an ’85 Petrus because of the richness and balance and great flavor. The most inspiring wine was a 1947 Chambertin Clos de Beze which got me hooked on Pinot Noir. I find Sardinian whites to be the most interesting because of the different varieties and the aromas and brightness of the wines.

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

The oldest is a ’72 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon. The most expensive is a Krug Champagne.

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

My red of choice would be Pinot Noir from a variety of regions, including Santa Rita Hills, Santa Lucia Highlands, Willamette Valley, Sonoma Coast, and Burgundy. For a white, I would choose anything from a crisp Pinot Blanc from Alsace to an aromatic wine from Oregon to something lush from coastal California.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

My biggest challenge is to consistently produce delicious Pinot Noir. So many critical decisions have to be made such as selecting the right vineyard and matching the appropriate style of wine to that vineyard. When are the grapes ripe? And then all the winemaking questions about fermentation and aging, percentage whole cluster, percentage new oak, punchdowns, indigenous or inoculated yeast, and cuvaison.

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

It is hard to select a favorite region, but for now I would say Priorat for the power and flavor of the wines based on Garnacha.

Is beer ever better than wine?


What would people be surprised to know about you?

I learned winemaking “on the job.” I still am a surfer. I make killer cookies.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

If not winemaking I would be shaping wooden surfboards and building wooden boats or I would be a whitewater guide and instructor.

How do you define success?

For me, success is a loving family, leaving the world a better place, the opportunity to keep on learning, and opening a bottle of wine I made with family and friends and having them enjoy it. When I’m gone, I hope people will say “he was a good dude.”

Comments (1)

  1. One of the truly nice guys in the biz, and luckiest too, to have an equally wonderful winemaker partner.