Winemaker Interview: David Ramey

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 06-30-2017

David Ramey

David Ramey

As our regular readers know, we frequently pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became a winemaker. This week, we are pleased to feature David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars.

David’s storied winemaking career began as he graduated from U.C. Davis and interned at Jean-Pierre Moueix’s Château Pétrus. Then, after working in California wineries like Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, Dominus Estate, and Rudd Oakville, David and his wife Carla founded Ramey Wine Cellars in 1996. Today, David’s two children, Claire and Alan, also work at the winery. And in 2014, David founded Sidebar Cellars, which experiments with different varieties and regions.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised? 

Born in Seattle and stayed in that area for six years, then moved to California, settling in Sunnyvale for second grade.  In 1958 (same year the Giants came to San Francisco) it was all orchards—apricots, prunes, cherries—transitioning to subdivisions as it turned into Silicon Valley. I went to school with Steve Wozniak from third grade through high school.

When and how did you get into wine?

I started enjoying wine while spending a summer of college in Madrid. Once home, my friends and I started visiting winery tasting rooms, and I started reading up on wine.

What has been your career path to where you are?

MS degree in enology from UC Davis; harvests with Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix in Pomerol and Lindeman’s in Australia; Asst. Winemaker to Zelma Long at Simi; took over from Merry Edwards at Matanzas Creek; back to Moueix in Pomerol for the ’89 harvest; Winemaker at Chalk Hill for six years; Dominus for two; Rudd for four. Started our brand in 1996 upon leaving Chalk Hill for Dominus, with 260 cases of Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay. Have been in Healdsburg since 2002.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

Low vigor soils—low in organic material—with good drainage, coupled with the right climate for the variety—cooler for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, warmer for the Cabernet varieties—and great farming.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

Let nature do the work: we use native yeasts and bacteria and do not own a filter. Nature has been making wine for 8,000 years before enologists showed up.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Resisting the temptation to tinker with the wines.

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

Jean-Claude Berrouet, the recently retired, long-time enologist for Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix in Pomerol—one of the great gentlemen of the wine world. Paul Draper, another great gentleman of the wine world. And I learned production management from Zelma, for which I’m forever grateful.

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

To be honest, they’re the ones I know best because I work with them on a consulting basis: Greg Morthole and Justin Seidenfeld of Davis Bynum and Rodney Strong; Brian Maloney of Buena Vista and DeLoach; Ben Cane of Westwood; and Matt Hughes of Brassfield Estate.

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

Tuscany, for sure; I’ve fallen in love with Brunello the past few years.  After that, the Rhône, both north and south.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted?

There have been many over the last forty years, but I’d say it was a Montrachet from DRC; I don’t remember the vintage.

The most interesting?

The wines of Château Musar in Lebanon—like a cross between an older Barolo and an older Burgundy.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar?

I think a 1959 PX, Pedro Ximenez, a sweet Spanish sherry—like deep brown syrup.

The most expensive?

Probably Chave Hermitage; I think we drank all the La La’s.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

A Provençal rosé, a Brunello, and a Gigondas; my wife doesn’t share my infatuation with Brunello, so we keep two reds going at the same time.

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

Dry Alsatian Gewurtz, followed by Brunello di Montalcino.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Not for me. Even with spicy food like Mexican, Thai, or Indian I’ll take an ice cold rosé or an aromatic white.  I will, though, take sake with sushi.

How do you spend your days off?

My wife Carla and I read the papers over breakfast, then go for a hike, then make up some lunch with wine, then perhaps a nap, then the kids come over for dinner.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

That I’m 66 years old—but it’s a young 66!

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

Designing and building something—I think it would be great to be both an architect and a developer/builder of some sort.

How do you define success?

Strong family bonds; enough money to not have to worry about it; the respect of one’s peers; and reasonably good health.​​

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