Weekly Interview: Ben Riggs

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 10-17-2014

ben riggsEach week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Ben Riggs, a prolific winemaker based in Southern Australia.

After three decades as a winemaker, Ben is now a major player in his region’s wine industry.

To start at the beginning, Ben’s experience with wine began early. His father who knew Wolf Blass and so Blass’s Yellow Label Rieslings were often found on the Riggs family table. After an oenology course at the University of Adelaide, Ben joined Brian Croser’s team at Petaluma, followed by a 14-year stint at Wirra Wirra with the late great Greg Trott.

Ben now operates as consultant winemaker to a select group of principally McLaren Vale labels. His portfolio includes Shoofly, Penny’s Hill, The Black Chook, Woop Woop, Pertaringa, Geoff Hardy, Zonte’s Footstep, Jip Jip Rocks, Journey’s End, and Tatiarra from the Heathcote region of Victoria. He also maintains his own winemaking venture under the Mr. Riggs label.

In addition to all of those projects, Ben has served ten years as a board member of McLaren Vale Winemakers, including three years as Chairman. He also chaired the McLaren Vale Wine Show for five year period.

Check out our interview with Ben below the fold.

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Weekly Interview: Christine Barbe

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 10-10-2014

Credit: Coquerel Family Estates.

Credit: Coquerel Family Estates.

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Christine Barbe, the owner and winemaker of Toquade Wines and the winemaker at Coquerel Family Estates.

Christine was born and raised in Bordeaux. And even though her family worked in the wine industry, Christine says she was never interested in following the family career path. But still – can it really be attributed to pure chance? – her studies undoubtedly prepared her well for the wine career that was to come. She graduated with a degree in biochemistry without knowing what to do with it. It led to a seamless transition to a PhD program in Enology and Viticulture at the Bordeaux Institute of Enology.

While she was a doctoral student, Christine had the fortune of applying her studies to help make wine at Château Carbonnieux and La Louvière in Pessac-Léognan. This is when she fell in love with Sauvignon Blanc. Or, as Christine would say, this is when she developed a certain toquade for Sauvignon Blanc (hence Toquade Wines).

In 1996, Christine graduated with the PhD and she came to California. She explained that in Bordeaux, it is very difficult for female winemakers outside of well-established Bordelais families to advance in the wine industry. And in comparison, in California, “you can do whatever you want.” Not only are jobs more accessible to qualified people, winemakers have the freedom to experiment – something which might be sneered at in Bordeaux as untraditional.

After some time at Gallo, Robert Mondavi, and Trinchero, Christine became the winemaker at Coquerel Family Estates in 2010.

Chatting with Christine was a joy. She retains a thick French accent, and her answers to my questions – sometimes succinct, sometimes stream-of-consciousness – revealed plenty of savoir faire.

Check out our interview with Christine below the fold.

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Weekly Interview: Blair Poynton

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 10-03-2014

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Blair Poynton, the director and winemaker at Jed Wines.

Blair Poynton

Blair Poynton

Blair hails from Perth in Western Australia – located just a few hours’ drive along the coast from Margaret River. So, Blair explained to me, youngsters in Perth got exposed to wine “whether they like it or not.” Blair was no exception.

After a short stint at a wine shop in Cambridge, United Kingdom, Blair now lives in Sonoma. He travels to the Uco Valley in Argentina every year to produce wine under Jed Wines. A real cosmopolite, then. An Aussie who lives in Sonoma and makes Argentinian wine.

When you talk to Blair, it all makes sense. Blair is an interesting mix of childlike glee and relaxed composure. He would slowly select his words and then – when he hit on a tickling thought – would let out a giddy chuckle. You could tell that he’s happy to let the world guide him to its many corners and pleasures.

Check out our interview with Blair below the fold.

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Weekly Interview: Timm Crull

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 09-26-2014

tim crull photo

Timm Crull

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Timm Crull, the winemaker at The Terraces winery in Napa.

Timm was an undergraduate student at Berkeley at a time when it was, as he describes, a “gourmet ghetto” – with current titans like Alice Waters and Kermit Lynch just starting to establish themselves in the area. Quickly, Timm started blending in to the environment. He took some cooking classes, continued gardening, and, in the early 1980s, started making wine in his house with purchased grapes. “It’s the hobby that went awry,” he chuckles. Not long afterwards, in 1993, he took the plunge and bought a piece of property up in Napa – “back when it was still affordable for a guy who worked” – and started growing his own grapes at Quarry Vineyards.

At the time, Timm was mainly a grapegrower, and only secondarily a winemaker. He sold his grapes to Beringer which Beringer used in their Private Reserve line.

But then opportunity knocked. I guess opportunities tend to do that to guys who stick around long enough. Timm had gotten to know Wayne Hogue, as they were neighbors at the time. Wayne had founded The Terraces in 1991. Just like Timm, Wayne, too, had been a grapegrower for much longer than he was a winemaker. In the early 1980s, Wayne had had sold his Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon to Caymus. Could it have been that similarity that persuaded Wayne? One Saturday morning, Wayne drove over to Timm’s house, had coffee, and said, “Timm I want to sell you my 20 acres to add on to your property.” And thus began Timm’s winemaking career at The Terraces.

Even though it’s harvest time in Napa – a grueling time for any winemaker – Timm’s enthusiasm and passion shone when I interviewed him. Check out the interview below the fold.

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Weekly Interview: Sarah Cabot

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 09-19-2014

Sarah Cabot.

Sarah Cabot.

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Sarah Cabot, a winemaker at Precept Wines in the Willamette Valley.

Last week, we interviewed a globe-trotting veteran winemaker with projects in multiple continents.  We’re taking a sharp turn in the other direction this week with Sarah, who is a young emerging specialist in Oregon Pinot Noir.  Sarah has spent most of her career in the Willamette Valley – for eight consecutive years now.  Prior to joining Precept Wines, she worked at Omero Cellars since its start in 2008, at Willakenzie Estate before and during her tenure at Omero, and also at Belle Pente Vineyard.

These days, Sarah is working at Precept Wines on a variety of single-vineyard projects. She’s busy with harvest right now, so we were very glad to be able to catch her in her free time!

Check out our interview with Sarah below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Interview: Aurelio Montes

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 09-12-2014

aurelio - photoEach week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Aurelio Montes, the chairman of Montes Wines, which mainly produces wine in Chile, but also in Napa Valley.

Born in Santiago in 1948, Aurelio graduated from the Catholic University in Santiago with a degree in agronomy and oenology. After travelling the world and gaining experience in both the Old World and the New World, Aurelio worked at the Undurraga Winery as chief oenologist from 1972 to 1984 before moving to Vina San Pedro where he worked as technical manager and chief oenologist for four years.

Aurelio then co-founded the Montes Winery in 1988 with the goal of making world-class wine for the export market. At the time there were only ten wineries in Chile who exported their wines. Now there are over a hundred. Respected as a pioneer and a visionary in Chile, Aurelio has been an advisor to multiple other Chilean wineries such as Echeverria Wines, Santa Ines, Viu Manent, and Casa Lapostelle. Aurelio expanded his portfolio to the Napa Valley in 2006.

Critics have called Aurelio “one of Chile’s most experienced and respected winemakers.” In 1995, Aurelio was named the “Chilean Winemaker of the Year.”

Check out our interview with Aurelio below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

A Conversation with Tony Terlato

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 09-09-2014

Tony Terlato.

Tony Terlato.

In June, I conducted an in-depth interview with Tony Terlato, chairman of the Terlato Wine Group. Lots of the interview made it into one of my Grape Collective columns.

While going through some notes, I came across the full transcript of our conversation — and realized that it’s a fascinating read. Terlato has spent nearly 60 years in the wine industry, so has an endless number of stories to share.

Check out the interview below!

David White: Let’s go way back in time. In 1955, you were working for your dad in his wine shop. A year later, your future father-in-law invited you to join his wine bottling and distribution company. Did you ever have a choice — or did you feel like you had to follow in the family footsteps and join the wine industry? You were being pressured on both sides!

Tony Terlato: It was intriguing when he asked me, but I was friends with Guy Armanetti. You know the chain of liquor stores? He was my handball partner. My thought in my mind was to do the same thing that Armanetti did, open up maybe 8 or 10 stores in different parts of the city. I liked the retail business. It was a lot of hours and 7 days a week, but I liked it and I liked the idea what we were doing.

We had a big wine section. It was 80 feet on one side with all the bottles lying down, 4 shelves high. Top shelf was standing up, bottom shelf was standing up with gallons and stuff and the three middle shelves were all wines lying down. I started in 1955, so I had the benefit of ’47, ’49, ’53 and the ‘45’s. I had the benefit of some marvelous wines that we were selling in the store and I liked that.

My father-in-law was a wine bottler and he would buy wine. At that time, he was buying wine from Gallo and bottling it in Chicago. We were selling gallons of the stuff — it used to sell for 79 cents per gallon! A fifth of Italian Swiss Colony was 49 cents per gallon at that time. I was hesitant to go join my father-in-law, because that wasn’t what I wanted to do. But my father suggested I try it, since it was an opportunity. My father-in-law only had two salesmen working at the time for him at the time, so I became the third.

After I told my father-in-law I would join his team, Bob Mondavi called me because we took our honeymoon to his winery in Napa and I then learned that he was the one who told my father-in-law to get me out of the store!

But when you decided to work in wine, you were more interested in the retail side than the bottling side?

Right, because of the quality of the products that we were selling. At the store, we were selling single malts. My father had 70 imported beers. It was 1955!  We were a center for imported beers. People would come from 20, 30 miles away because his selection was so large. The wine section was equally as impressive, all things that were high-end.

Did you fall in love with wine?

We attracted the premium customer of that time. I liked it, selling gallons on Madison Street, pushing guys who were sleeping on the floor in the liquor stores out of the way to get my order. I wore a tie and a shirt and a jacket. When I was in those neighborhoods, I looked like a flying milk bottle, the way I was dressed. But I wasn’t happy there, so told my father I needed to get out.

Let’s talk about that trip to Napa and when you fell in love with wine. You’re working in this retail shop, so you’re tasting ’47, ’49, ’53, some of the greatest Bordeaux vintages ever. Then you go to Napa on your honeymoon. Was that decision made because you were in love with wine?

No, not really. I came from New York — so I didn’t need to go back to New York for my honeymoon. I spoke to my wife and asked where she wanted to go, and I’m sure she said California. I had never been there, so that sounded great. When Bob Mondavi found out — I think he might have even been at the wedding, and I guess my father-in-law told him we were going to be in California — he said we had to go spend some time with me.

So on our honeymoon, I’d get up at 6:00 in the morning and go with him and Peter [Mondavi] and we would taste wines. Of course, you spend time with Bob, he makes you fall in love with quality. He was doing Charles Krug at the time.

What was Napa Valley like back in the ‘60s? Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Interview: Pierre Seillan

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 09-05-2014

Pierre SeillanEach week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Pierre Seillan, a revered veteran of the industry. Pierre is the current winemaker at six properties sprawled across multiple winemaking areas: Vérité and Anakota in Sonoma County, Château Lassègue and Château Vignot in Saint-Émilion, Arcanum Valadorna in Tuscany, and Bellevue Seillan in Gascony.

It was at the very last property on that list – Bellevue Seillan, a family estate – that Pierre began his wine career. Pierre then did some work in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. But Pierre’s real breakout project came some time later – and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. In the mid-1990s, Pierre came to America, to Sonoma, and created Vérité. Vérité’s wines have garnered high praise from the critics, including seven 100 point scores from Robert Parker. Unsurprisingly, that achievement opened even more doors for Pierre. He quickly expanded his portfolio to the current list of six properties.

Check out our interview with Pierre below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Interview: John Freeman

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 08-29-2014

waterbrook - john freeman - photoEach week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring John Freeman, the winemaker at Waterbrook Winery, a beautiful property in the Walla Walla Valley.

Eric Rindal founded Waterbrook in 1984 as Walla Walla Valley’s fourth winery. Needless to say, back then, Eric was one of a very small group of pioneers who believed in Walla Walla’s potential. Eric in particular knew that the Walla Walla Valley could produce world-class Merlot.

Waterbrook was the perfect match for John, who fell in love with Walla Walla Valley and joined Waterbrook as Assistant Winemaker in January 2003. This wasn’t John’s first job in the wine business – John had already spent twelve years in the industry at Franciscan Vineyards and at Miner Family – and it wouldn’t be his last, either. Two short years later, John was promoted to Winemaker at Waterbrook.

January 2015 will be the ten year anniversary of that milestone in John’s wine career. He and his family are now settled into the picturesque Walla Walla community. On most days, if you visit the winery, you’ll be able to see John walking the vineyards with his dog, chatting with growers about vineyard management, or experimenting with new winemaking techniques.

Check out our interview with John below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Interview: Marti Macinski

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 08-22-2014

standing stone - marti - photoEach week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Marti Macinski, the winemaker at Standing Stone Vineyards, a bucolic family-run winery in the Finger Lakes Region.

Both Tom and Marti had established careers prior to entering the wine business. Tom was working at IBM; Marti was practicing law. They were both incredibly dedicated to their respective jobs, logging in long hours day in and day out. But that must have meant that they couldn’t spend much time together. They wished that they could log in the long hours together as a husband-and-wife team. So, in 1991, after weighing several business options, they decided to found the Standing Stone Vineyards.

While Standing Stone was new, the vineyards were not. Standing Stone’s land had been planted to Riesling and Chardonnay in 1972 by preceding vintners. Emboldened by that history, and armed with the conviction that their vineyards could produce world-class Riesling and Gewurztraminer, Tom and Marti bottled their first vintage in 1993 – and never looked back. This weekend, they are celebrating and reflecting on Standing Stone’s 20th anniversary by pouring some of their first wines from 1993 and 1994.

Check out our interview with Marti below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »