Weekly Interview: Theresa Heredia

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 03-10-2017

Theresa Heredia

Theresa Heredia

Each week, as our regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we are featuring Theresa Heredia, the winemaker at Gary Farrell Winery.

Gary Farrell founded the eponymous winery and debuted the label with a 1982 Pinot Noir. Since then, the winery has added more and more to its portfolio of vineyards, working with multiple viticulturalists.

Theresa Heredia was studying at UC Davis in its Chemistry program when she met other graduate students in the Enology program and decided that she wanted to apply her knowledge and techniques to study wine. So she transferred programs soon thereafter and, after graduating, began working at Joseph Phelps Vineyards, and specifically helped launch the Pinot Noir bottlings of Freestone Vineyards. Theresa then joined Gary Farrell Winery in 2012, where she has been a winemaker since.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Pittsburg, Contra Costa County, California. There weren’t any wine grapes there when I was growing up but now you see them around quite a bit.

When and how did you get into wine?
It was 2000 when I discovered the Viticulture & Enology program while enrolled in the UC Davis Chemistry PhD program. I spent two years in the Chemistry graduate program before I stumbled upon wine studies. I was a teaching assistant for undergraduate General Chemistry, along with 11 other graduate students from many different departments. We all got together to grade exams and during grading sessions we often exchanged stories about our different areas of study. I was doing peptide synthesis in cancer therapeutics while the enology graduate students were doing some really fun wine studies. As we exchanged stories, I realized that our analytic methods were identical and we were using the same types of instruments. The big difference was that they were analyzing wine and I was looking at peptides, which sounded very boring in comparison. Within a few days of learning about the enology program I decided to transfer programs.

What has been your career path to where you are?
In 2002, after UC Davis, I landed an amazing opportunity at Joseph Phelps Vineyards where I was offered the job of Research Chemist. I did lots of fun wine research and also made the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines from the recently planted Freestone Vineyard out west of Sebastopol. I grew into this position quickly and was eventually promoted to Associate Winemaker for Freestone in 2005. They sent me to Burgundy in 2006 to work harvest at Domaine de Montille in Volnay, then in 2007 I relocated to Santa Rosa from Napa after construction of the Freestone winery was completed. I was promoted to Winemaker in 2008. It was a tremendous opportunity for a new winemaker like myself to be given the opportunity to help establish a style and a brand from the ground up. I made the wines for 10 vintages: from 2002, when the first grapes were harvested off the new vineyards, until the 2011 vintage. In early 2012 I was offered the winemaker position at Gary Farrell Winery, which began the next chapter in my winemaking career. I viewed this next step as a huge challenge because I went from a brand new, 100-acre estate vineyard in the west Sonoma Coast, to a very established winery in the Russian River Valley with a 30-year track record and some of the best vineyard names in all of California. It was the right move for me because after 10 years, it was time for a new challenge.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?
I believe it is history, vine age, soil type, and climate that make our vineyards special. We source from some of the most iconic vineyards in all of California, like Rochioli, Allen, Bacigalupi, and Ritchie, just to name a few that are located in the most historic part of the Russian River Valley appellation called the Middle Reach. We source from vineyards all over Sonoma County, from Healdsburg to Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, and Penngrove (between Santa Rosa and Petaluma), and each vineyard has unique characteristics that create wines with varying structure and flavor profiles. I like to refer to our vineyard map as my artist palette because when it comes time to put blends together, we sample from each of our 30+ vineyards looking for different flavors, aromas, and tannin structure. Of all the neighborhoods in the Russian River Valley, the Middle Reach has the richest history and some of the best stories of wine industry pioneers. In addition to history, the climate here is special because of its proximity to the Russian River where the climate is very much moderated by the river. Cool mornings followed by warm summer temperatures and then cool, foggy nights create an optimum environment for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, which benefit from these diurnal fluctuations. The warm daytime temperatures and intense sunlight help to create wines with vibrant, sexy red fruit and moderate tannins, while the cool nights help to retain natural acidity and extend the ripening period.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?
My general winemaking philosophy is to respect the vines, the grapes, and the resulting wines. What I mean by this is that I prefer to pick on the early end of the ripeness spectrum, when the flavors are lively and fresh, and the natural acidity is still abundant. The riper one picks, the more one has to ameliorate in order to make a great wine, and I prefer to ameliorate as little as possible. Furthermore, I like to make wines that possess fresh fruit qualities and have some verve in their youth, which means they will have great aging potential as well. I don’t use the same techniques for each vineyard; rather, I tailor my winemaking practices to the fruit qualities at harvest. For example, I use whole cluster fermentation in Pinot Noir vineyards that produce smaller clusters and stems because the stems harden off more quickly and add flavors of black tea & spice, as opposed to herbaceous qualities that might come from larger, less ripe stems. As for Chardonnay, I tailor the press programs specifically to the qualities of the fruit. If I’m working with large clusters, I might opt for a more aggressive press program that breaks up the skins a bit more to extract fruit solids that are beneficial during fermentation because the solids help add texture and creaminess. Smaller clusters, on the other hand, require more gentle press programs because there is already a naturally higher skin to juice ratio, and solids will be present without much effort. It really comes down to knowing each vineyard, recognizing and embracing the most important fruit characteristics while on the vine, trying to capture all of that at harvest, and making every effort to preserve and accentuate these qualities during the winemaking process. I prefer to use light and some medium toast barrels because they polish the wines and accentuate the natural qualities of the wines rather than masking them with too much toast. It’s all about capturing a sense of place in the bottle.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
The biggest challenge as a winemaker is figuring out how to make wines that the consumer will love. After all, most of us would love to simply make wines based on our own preferences, but the real challenge is finding the balance between what we love and what we believe the consumer wants.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
Christophe Roumier, the late Denis Mortet, Ted Lemon, Merry Edwards and of course, my mentor, Craig Williams.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?
Burgundy has my heart, but Alsace and the Rhone Valley come very close.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
It’s very difficult to pick THE best wine I’ve ever tasted, but I must say the best wine experience I’ve ever had was a barrel tasting of the 2005 vintage reds & whites at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. As for the most interesting wine I’ve ever tasted, it would have to be the old Montrachet that was opened in the cellar that evening. I can’t recall the exact vintage but it may have been 1966. The color was dark golden, but the flavors were still alive and the acid was vibrant.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
The oldest wines in my cellar are a 1970 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon and an 1875 Cossart Gordon & Co. Madeira Bastardo. Both wines were gifts. The most expensive wine in my cellar is probably this Madeira.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?
Ha! Since I’m working on tasting notes today, my only open bottles are a 2016 Gary Farrell Rosé of Pinot Noir and a 2015 Rochioli-Allen clone 76 Concrete-Fermented Chardonnay. Sorry for the boring answer! ;)

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
I would choose a Champagne as the white wine and a delicious Chateauneuf-du-Pape as the red. Pinot Noir is usually my red wine of choice because it comes in so many different styles, depending on the region and producer, but since I make and taste that varietal all the time, my next go-to red is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I could drink it all the time!

Is beer ever better than wine?
Never. But I do drink beer more often than wine during harvest. A cold, refreshing beer is great after a long, hot harvest day, but personally, it will never be better than a glass of Champagne or a steely Chardonnay.

How do you spend your days off?
Listening to music, shopping for vinyl records in SF, Berkeley, Oakland, or any city I happen to be visiting. Drinking super tasty, super creative cocktails.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
Some people would be surprised to know that I’m an introvert. Most people I meet in the wine business think I’m quite sociable, but honestly, I’m very happy to recharge in my own space while listening to records or reading a book.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I think I would be teaching. Either Chemistry, Enology, or both.

How do you define success?​
To me, success is happiness and self-fulfillment. Winemaking makes me happy, it challenges me every day, and it’s never the same from one day to the next. On top of all that, it pays the bills, allows me to live a happy, comfortable life, and to travel the world. This is success to me.

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