Weekly Interview: Jennifer Williams

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 01-20-2017

Jennifer Williams

Jennifer Williams

Each week, as our regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we are featuring Jennifer Williams, the winemaker at Arrow&Branch in Napa.

Jennifer began her career in the wine industry in the vineyards, and even as a winemaker, her focus on the grapes shines through in the interview. She arrived at Arrow&Branch in 2011, after helping out with harvest at Araujo and Spottswoode, and rising through the ranks at Spottswoode to become its winemaker. In 2007, Jon Bonne of the San Francisco Chronicle named Jennifer a “Winemaker to Watch”.

Arrow&Branch is now owned by Steve an Seanne Contursi, who purchased the estate in 2007. The couple share a love for the wines of Bordeaux, particularly those with a healthy dose of Cabernet Franc.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?
San Diego, CA.

When and how did you get into wine?
I discovered grape growing and winemaking in college. I was an agricultural student and during a required botany course, became smitten with how plants worked. Many of my friends grew up in Napa and Sonoma, and I would go home with them over long weekends. One summer, I had an opportunity to work in the vineyards in Napa. I devoted the rest of my college years to viticulture and plant sciences and working in local wineries.

What has been your career path to where you are?
My career began in the vineyard and then grew into winemaking. I worked a couple internships in vineyards in Napa and in the Central Coast. When the season turned cold and wet and there wasn’t anymore work in the fields, I moved into the lab.  It was an opportunity to see the process from field to bottle, and good practice for all that winemaking encompasses.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?
I choose vineyards carefully and prioritize the human element in the vineyard. Having good relationships with our growers is really important to me. We work together all season to accomplish a shared goal for the fruit and having a positive working relationship makes this possible.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?
I start with the best raw materials and minimize inputs. I believe the earlier in the process from vine to bottle that we can do the work, the more pure the wines will be. So we begin in the vineyard in the spring and summer addressing fruit exposure to sunlight and how much fruit each vine is carrying. We’re really diligent at harvest, and patient, too – letting the wines do their thing. They know what to do, so there has to be some trust between winemaker and the process.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
Saying no! There’re so many vineyards I want to try! A friend of mine knits and says the same thing about yarn. She sees a yarn she has to have and can’t resist purchasing it even if she has more knitting projects going than she can finish.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
There are some young winemakers whom I think will really make a difference. For example, Landon Donley of Buccella has a good winemaking instinct, he’s smart, and I can’t wait to see what he does in this industry. And lest we forget the folks in the vineyard, there is incredible, young talent establishing themselves in an otherwise closed community of vineyard managers. I think of Caleb Mosley, who works with Mike Wolf as well as Paul Goldberg and the team at Bettinelli.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?
There’s a renaissance in Champagne, and there are so many individual, unique wines being made now. Exploring them can be very rewarding.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
I think some of the most interesting whites to me right now are Saumur Blancs. I haven’t been, and it’s on my bucket list to get there soon!

Is beer ever better than wine?
Only when Nike Zacherle makes it! Really in love with Mad Fritz Brewing.

How do you spend your days off?
I cook to unwind. So I usually have a project I delve into on the weekends.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I would farm-grow food.

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