Was there a moment that you remember when you knew that you wanted to be a winemaker?
I was 9 years old and it was my first night ever in Paris and my parents took me to a famous old bistro for dinner. I ordered a glass of milk and the waiter responded in halting English, “milk eez for babies”. At nine I wanted to be an adult and this was my ticket to adulthood. Later in the trip we visited several wineries and I realized that the vigneron had three things in common that I wanted in a career: they all worked outside, they all lived in wicked, super groovy chateaux and they all had dogs. I was sold, I started learning everything about wine.
What was your first wine job?
I was hired during my undergraduate days as lab technician at Robert Mondavi/Opus One Winery by my now neighbor Steve Lagier.
I know you spent time working in France, how has that shaped your winemaking style and the varietals you’re now making in California?
I work in France during a very prolific period for wine technology on the Right Bank in St. Emilion during the 90’s. There was so much research happening into viticulture and oenology at this stage that many things that I learned then are starting to be talked about now in Napa. Certainly my taste for Cabernet Franc has not waned since those days.
Not only do you make your own wines under the Pott Wines, you consult for many other brands. We met through the Blackbird Vineyard’s label, what other labels are you the winemaker for?
Seven Stones, St. Helena Winery, Adler Deutsch Vineyards, Perliss, Somnium, Greer, Emos, Martin Estate, ¿Como No?, Bernard Magrez Napa Valley, Sigma and Fe.
I read a fabulous interview about you that Bloomberg wrote sharing that you’re up by 4:30am typically. Can you describe an average day during harvest, what about when you’re not in harvest mode?
There is no average day during harvest. Generally the day starts at 4am and finishes close to midnight. During the first part of the harvest we are looking at ripeness and concerned very much about what is going on in the vineyard. This means eating tons of grapes! As the days progress we get more and more focused on the winery with punchdowns, monitoring fermentations and barreling down.
Of all of the vintages you’ve made as a winemaker, what is your favorite year, varietal and why? If you had to pick one as your last bottle of wine you enjoyed (which you made)?
Up until last year I loved 1991 and the wines that we made for in that vintage. I think that 2018 changed that producing other worldly wines with wonderful balance and acidity. I am very excited to see these wines come to light. My favorite varietal is the one that it best adapted to the site. For example at my vineyard Châteauneuf du Pott is ideal for Cabernets both Franc and Sauvignon. It is that synergy between great varietals and great terroir that makes great wine.
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 always feel bad about spitting any wines because they are all such a struggle to make but it is part of the job. Just like you can’t fly a spaceship when you are drunk you can’t blend wines.
Can you share more about how you learned to make wine? Did you have a formal winemaking education or more hands on through various winemaking roles?
I went to the University of California, Davis and studied oenology as an undergraduate and went to the Université de Bourgogne and did a Master’s degree in Viticulture. However, I always felt that my experiences with great winemakers is what has lifted my career and understanding of wine. Always on the shoulders of giants.
What was one of the biggest mistakes you have made in your winemaking career?
Falling in love with the owners sister at Château Troplong Mondot
Who has been the most influential mentor in your career?
There were so many! John Kongsgaard, Michel Rolland, André Porcheret, Jean-Louis Mandrau, Ed Sbragia, my wife and two daughters.
What is your favorite after work drink?
What is your favorite local spot in Napa Valley?
La Luna Taqueria
Tell us something that would surprise people about you?
I have a deep addiction to Cheetoes and grower Champagne!