Interview with Winemaker Bob Cabral

One of my favorite things as such a huge fan of wine and the wine-making process is to interview winemakers to dive into their journey and what they did to get them where they are. I was able to speak to winemaker Bob Cabral about his own path to winemaking. From deviating from his plans to become a veterinarian to becoming a quite famous winemaker for Williams Selyem, Three Sticks Winery, and most recently, Cabral Wines. This was truly an eye-opening conversation! You can read more about Williams Selyem Winery here. Also, for my last interview with Bob Cabral you can read that on my blog here.

Was there a moment that you remember when you knew that you wanted to
be a winemaker?

After being accepted at UC Davis, Fresno State University & Cal Poly SLO, I realized that 8 more years of school to become a veterinarian was not in the cards for me. I thought winemaking would be interesting as it was very science course heavy.

Where did you study winemaking, or where were you taught?

I did my undergraduate degree in winemaking/viticulture at Fresno State University. And then on to grad school at Fresno State for biochemistry.

What was your first wine job?

I guess my first unpaid wine job was making wine with my Portuguese Grandfather in his barn at the age of 9 or 10 years old. My first paid wine job was with Bronco Wine Company (I grew up with John Franzia’s kids in Escalon) owned by Fred, John & Joe Franzia.

You are quite famous for your role as Williams Selyem Winemaker for 16 years, as well as with Three Sticks Winery (where we met). Currently, where are you making wines in addition to Cabral Wines? Share more about your role at these consulting wineries please.

I am now on the winemaking team at Bricoleur Vineyards in Windsor, CA as a consultant along with Tom Pierson (Associate Winemaker) and Cary Gott (Consulting Winemaker). This is a very collaborative team striving to grow the best fruit and craft the best wines as we build this brand into world class status. I also do some project work for Summer Dreams Winery (Jayson Woodbridge) – grape acquisitions and vineyard layouts/clonal selections.

As a winemaker you taste (and spit) lots of wine, what wine do you feel bad about spitting because you love it so much?

I feel pretty bad about spitting any wines as I really understand what it takes to craft them and it’s kind of disrespectful. But I also could not do my job if I didn’t spit them out. At a consumer or public tasting venue, I rarely spit any wines out.

What was one of the biggest mistakes you have made in your winemaking career?

There probably isn’t enough room here to list them all! Early in my career in Sonoma County I was stopping a fermenting tank of gewurztraminer by chilling it and adding SO2. I was gently turning a Guth mixer on and off to keep the tank from degassing. I had done this for about 15 minutes when I decided to turn the mixer on for a longer period of time. Within 30 second a wall of foam came spewing out of the top of the tank, hitting the ceiling of the winery and whet on for several minutes. We lost about 400
gallons of wine, but the winery smelled great! I never did that again.

Who has been the most influential mentor in your career?

I have been bless to have worked with so many of my winemaking heroes or had extensive conversations with then like; Merry Edwards, Paul Hobbs, Steve Mac Rostie, Tom Eddy, David Ramey and Burt Williams. But the most influential winemaker is randy Ullom of Kendall-Jackson. I was Randy’s assistant winemaker for 6 vintages at Deloach Vineyards from ’86-’92. He was extremely patient and helpful in honing my day-to-day skills and thought processes. A great winemaker that I had the privilege of crafting wines with.

What is something you’d like to share about Russian River Wines that many consumers may not know, or have a misconception about?

That every vineyard has their own story to tell and some of the stories from Russian River Valley vineyards are amazing. The people – workers, growers & winemakers collaborate to grow and craft some of the most delicious wines in the world.

How would you describe the difference in Russian River Pinot Noir Wines and Sonoma Coast?

In general, the Russian River wines tend to be more lush, textural and perfumy when young. In general, the Sonoma Coast wines tend to be more angular, vibrant and age worthy. I don’t believe one is better than the other, just uniquely different.

What is your favorite after work drink?

Vodka – 1⁄2 tonic & 1⁄2 soda with a squeeze of fresh lime.

What is your favorite local spot in Healdsburg?

I really cannot pick one favorite because there are so many great choices. But top couple are Valette, BACI, Dry Creek Kitchen and Taqueria El Sombrero.

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

In high school I had an FFA pure bred swine (registered Yorkshires) breeding project that grew to almost 40 sows my senior year in high school. I was on the Escalon High School FFA Livestock Judging team and Vine Pruning team (3 time cordon pruning state champions). This led me to apply to veterinarian school at UC Davis and study to become a large animal vet. I freaked out at the 8 years schooling required to become a DVM (Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine) and opted to study winemaking & biochemistry at Freson State University – my Dad’s alma mater. I still have a love of animals, but have a passion/need to grow grapes & make wine.

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