Interview Winemaker Richie Allen of Rombauer Vineyards

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

Summer 1998 I was in California and happened to go winetasting. It was the first time I had 2 wines side by side. After that what started as a hobby, slowly became a passion and eventually a career.

What was your first wine job? Please share more about your role at Napa Valley’s Rombauer Vineyards and where else you’ve been before landing back at Rombauer Vineyards? 

My first wine industry job was as a student studying winemaking at the University of Adelaide. I worked at Penfolds Magil Estate on weekends. Mostly in the cellar door/tasting room. But I got to do everything in those 3 years from working in the winery to working at Penfolds recorking clinic. After graduating I came to Rombauer in 2004 to work a single harvest and haven’t missed one since.

What was it like as an intern for Rombauer Vineyards? Share more about the intern experience within the Wine Industry.  

It was a lot of fun, long hours and hard work. Back then we did custom crush as well so it was nice to meet other winemakers in the cellar and talk to them while working on their wines.

I read that your love for rock climbing was part of the reason you first landed in California ultimately leading to your role at Rombauer Vineyards. Do tell more please…. 

1998 I came to the US for a 6-month rock climbing trip in California. This led to a chance to go wine tasting. After getting back to Australia I immersed myself in everything wine. I moved to Adelaide to study winemaking and the rest is history.

Can you share more stylistically about Rombauer Vineyards? Specifically your red wines, such as the Cabernet & Zinfandel both which blew me away during my tasting with winemaker Luke Clayton CEO Bob Knebel. 

The last 2 decades we’ve worked hard to acquire specific vineyards and refine the style of the red wines. Starting at the vineyard level and working at each site to grow the best grapes possible. The fruit in turn guides the style. To make the best possible wine you can’t force the vineyard to produce a wine it’s not capable of. Understanding each site and its potential has dictated the style. Ripe concentrated wines, with natural balance. The winemaking, while very precise, is somewhat simple. It all revolves around getting the most out of each block and letting the fruit shine.  Winemaking is a process of not messing it up. We don’t manufacture quality into the grapes, we just preserve it.  

What is something you’d like to share about Napa Valley that many consumers may not know or have a misconception about? 

Its size. It’s smaller than they realize when compared to other great regions of the world. 

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

We don’t spit the great ones.

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

I’m too embarrassed to tell sorry.

Who has been the most influential mentor in your career?

 Probably Koerner RombauerHe took a big gamble on me, but he never messed around when making a decision. If it’s right, you go for it.

What is your favorite after-work drink?  

During harvest, nothing beats a cold beer in the shower.

What is your favorite local spot in Napa Valley? 

Zuzu’s restaurant in Napa.

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?  

My favorite shoes are flip-flops and I love camera lenses.

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