Winemaker Interview: Juan Micieli-Martinez

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 06-16-2017

Juan Micieli-Martinez

Juan Micieli-Martinez

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 featuring Juan Micieli-Martinez, the winemaker at Martha Clara Vineyards of the North Fork of Long Island.

Juan was born in Mexico, but was raised in Long Island. So he knew from childhood memories that Long Island had wineries. And when the wine bug bit him in college, Juan returned to Long Island to work in the wine industry. He began at the tasting room at Pellegrini Vineyards and moved into other roles in the cellar and in the winemaking team.

After brief stints as a brewmaster and then as a winemaker in other places, Juan joined Martha Clara Vineyards in 2007.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and raised on Long Island’s East End in the Center Moriches/Manorville area.

When and how did you get into wine?

I got into wine my junior year at Binghamton University. My housemate Paul Clark developed an interest first and we all laughed at him for being “fancy.” However, soon enough I found myself tasting bottles with him and quickly recognized differences in flavor, which piqued my interest and lead me to read more about wine. I knew that wineries existed on the East End of Long Island from my experience playing high school sports against schools like Southold and Mattituck and seeing vineyards on our journeys out east.

During my senior year at Binghamton I decided to get my last summer job at a vineyard to learn more about wine, believing that gaining any knowledge about wine would serve me well in the future. It was during that year that I found myself walking the vineyard, gathering a sample to be analyzed, and realized that I could do this for a living. I like to joke that I am still working that last summer job!

What has been your career path to where you are?

My experiences have all been very hands-on. I did not go to school for winemaking, but have read and analyzed the texts and books so often used in winemaking schools. I have done a lot of independent reading and drinking!

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

Martha Clara Vineyards has 200 contiguous acres located in the heart of the Northville District on the North Fork. Our site is very flat, which allows for even vine maturity and ultimately even fruit development.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

Much like anything I do in life, I strive for balance. For example, I spend a lot of time considering how much residual sugar will balance the acidity in our Riesling. Our area also produces beautifully ripe fruit so when I introduce oak (to whites or to reds), I want to carefully balance the fruit and the oak.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Deciding when to pick is my biggest challenge. Each year we get one shot at harvest and each year is its own unique set of circumstances. This is the one decision that I fret over the most. I lose many hours of sleep during harvest, as I am constantly considering my options, as well as monitoring the weather and weather patterns.

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

Michel Rolland would certainly be one of my favorites. I know some may take issue with some of his practices, but I do love how he harmoniously integrates tannins.

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

I am most excited about the young winemakers entering the industry, whom I believe will better see the importance of sustainability. While sustainable practices are certainly catching on, it will be the young winemakers who really carry that ball the furthest. There are many things our industry can do to be more conscious about environmental impacts, so that generations from now people will be able to farm these same lands.

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

Tough question. I have loved the McLaren Vale for a very long time not only because it is a beautiful part of Australia, but also for the region’s Shiraz. I also love Mendoza – any vineyard with snow capped mountains in the backdrop is a pretty special place!

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

Cape Mentelle Zinfandel was one of the most interesting, particularly because Cape Mentelle is a winery located in Western Australia, which produces well-known bottles of Shiraz, and because Zinfandel is a variety more often associated with California. The climate in Western Australia, though, seems to be conducive to this variety.

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

I inherited some old first growths. The oldest is a 1965 Latour, but it was not cellared properly and I keep it around more as décor. I don’t care much for pricebased comparisons, but the most valuable bottles of wine in my cellar are some of the Cabernet Sauvignons that I purchased when I worked in Australia.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

Right now there are a few things open: our Martha Clara Vineyards 2016 Solstice Rosé, a 1995 Pellegrini Vineyards Encore, and bottle of Crémant de Bourgogne.

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

Being that it is summer time I would have to say Sancerre Rosé and Long Island Sauvignon Blanc.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Yes! During harvest, without a doubt. There are days that I have been up to my waist in grapes and the last thing I want is wine – nothing hits the spot for me at those times like a well made IPA! Keep in mind that I was also an assistant brewer and I love beer just as much as wine, but I love each for different reasons.

How do you spend your days off?

I enjoy spending time with my wife, son, and family, gardening, playing golf, traveling, and hiking.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I was born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and that I became a U.S. Citizen the day after Barack Obama was elected President for the second time.

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

My original answer to that would have been a tailor for men’s clothing, but as of late I have taken an interest in architecture, so at this time, that’s where I would see myself if not making wine.

How do you define success?

For me, success is defined by the minimization of failure. You cannot eliminate failure completely. It can be a challenge to admit a failure, but the quicker that one can recognize a wrong, the quicker one can create success.

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