Interview with Winemaker Sam Smith of Morgan Wines

12Was there a moment that you remember when you knew that you wanted to be a winemaker? Possibly after the semester abroad, you spent in Bordeaux?

The epiphanous moment, discovering that I loved wine and wanted to be involved to some degree, was certainly when tasting ’05 Lynch-Bages at the Chateau in ’09, during my semester abroad. Also, drinking ’89 Margaux during this same period at an epic Sunday afternoon supper didn’t hurt! I realized there was no turning back while working for Doug Margerum as Assistant Winemaker from ’12-’15.

What was your first wine job?

The first “real” job was working in the tasting room at Firestone Vineyards, and my first production gig was interning at Brander in ’10. Fred and Fabian were so cool, and I’m still super thankful for their patience.  

Those that aren’t familiar with Sta. Lucia Highlands (California) can you share more about the region and what makes their wines so incredible? When I attended a Somm Tour in 2017 (approx.). I was told it had the highest scoring Pinot Noir Wines (at the time) in CA.  What do you attribute that to?

In general, the SLH is a killer place to grow Burgundian varietals, especially with the goal of big fruit, balanced by bright acidity and great phenolics. We have an incredibly cool climate and long growing season thanks in part to the cold wind that comes off Monterey Bay. This thickens skins, preserves acidity, and makes very structured pinot noir.

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 never really feel bad about spitting wine. Wine is cerebral, complex, and inspiring. The greatest wines are those from which you learn and grow, which is more profound with less intoxication…

Was there a moment that you remember when you knew that you wanted to be a winemaker? Possibly after the semester abroad, you spent in Bordeaux?

The epiphanous moment, discovering that I loved wine and wanted to be involved to some degree, was certainly when tasting ’05 Lynch-Bages at the Chateau in ’09, during my semester abroad. Also, drinking ’89 Margaux during this same period at an epic Sunday afternoon supper didn’t hurt! I realized there was no turning back while working for Doug Margerum as Assistant Winemaker from ’12-’15.

Can you share more stylistically about Morgan Wines?

Morgan wines do a great job of straddling richness and elegance, opulence and freshness. Many of the wines in our neighborhood are known for being big, brash, and overdone. While the forward fruit character is an integral part of being true to our terroir, the Morgan lineup also embodies more freshness and balance than many of our neighbors.  

Those that aren’t familiar with Sta. Lucia Highlands (California) can you share more about the region and what makes their wines so incredible? When I attended a Somm Tour in 2017 (approx.). I was told it had the highest scoring Pinot Noir Wines (at the time) in CA.  What do you attribute that to?

In general, the SLH is a killer place to grow Burgundian varietals, especially with the goal of big fruit, balanced by bright acidity and great phenolics. We have an incredibly cool climate and long growing season thanks in part to the cold wind that comes off Monterey Bay. This thickens skins, preserves acidity, and makes very structured pinot noir.  

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 never really feel bad about spitting wine. Wine is cerebral, complex, and inspiring. The greatest wines are those from which you learn and grow, which is more profound with less intoxication…

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

Back in the day, I was storing a barrel and a few kegs of cabernet at a buddy’s winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. I accidentally topped his keg of Rita’s Crown Chardonnay (instead of my kegs) with merlot… whoops! That’s some expensive chard he had to dump down the drain. I think it goes for $6,000/ton now… sorry Mark!

Who has been the most influential mentor in your career?

Doug Margerum- Lifestyle, gastronomy, and blending. Francois Villard- How to make lifted, ethereal cool-climate syrah and whites, even in warm vintages.

What is your favorite local spot in Sta. Lucia Highlands (or Monterey)?

Passion Fish in Pacific Grove has the best wine list on the Central Coast, and Cultura is great for classy Mexican fare and creative cocktails.

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

I’ve tried to learn guitar several times but just can’t get the hang of it.. so frustrating. I just got a ukulele and I’m hoping that four strings are easier to master than six!  

What is your favorite after-work drink?

Coronas and Negronis 

What is your favorite local spot in Sta. Lucia Highlands (or Monterey)?

Passion Fish in Pacific Grove has best wine list on the Central Coast, and Cultura is great for classy Mexican fare and creative cocktails.  

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

I’ve tried to learn guitar several times but just can’t get the hang of it.. so frustrating. I just got a ukulele and I’m hoping that four strings are easier to master than six!

Winemaker Sam Smith of Morgan Wines

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