Interview with Winemaker Jeff Mangahas of Williams Selyem Winery

How did you know that you wanted to be a winemaker?

It was an evolution for me.  I have always been interested in wine having grown up in Washington State where I tasted a bunch of wines and started to collect as a hobby.  I do remember coming back from vacation from a wine trip to France thinking to myself, this could be nice change from research science!

As someone who studied biology from the University of Washington and worked at Princeton in the biology department, can you share more about what pivoted your career and resulted in you going to UC Davis to obtain a Master’s Degree in enology?

Having an extreme interest in food growing up, it was only natural that wine would follow.  More than anything, I was following an interest in wine after my having tasted and collected for a number of years.  While wine and winemaking is art and science, I think that my science teaches me a process, a way of thinking, problem-solving, and is applicable to all professions.

Can you share more about your background and where you were prior to Williams Selyem? I know you were at Hartford Winery, is that where you and Bob met and worked together first?

I started my career with Dan at Dutton Goldfield where I was his Assist Winemaker for a number of years.  I learned a lot from Dan, winemaking and vineyards.  Before he started Dutton Goldfield, he was the founding winemaker at Hartford Court, so I was exposed to what he was doing there, tasting wines, etc.  There wasn’t a vineyard Dan could say no to and so we made a diversity of wines from the RRV, the Coast, and Marin.  It was fascinating.  Hartford also had a similar concept.  When Mike Sullivan left to start Benovia, I jumped right in to take over the winemaking until 2010.  Having been a fan of Williams Selyem from my UC Davis days, I was super excited to come on board in 2011.  I met Bob through various events and got to know him over the years.  I worked with Bob at WS for a couple of years and took over in 2014 when he left to start new projects.

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 taste a lot of wines, when it’s a technical tasting, I will spit for sure to get through dozens of samples.  No spitting when I am at home!  😊

Williams Selyem is known for both producing your own estate vineyards (approx. 5) and for partnering with a large number (Approximately 17) of grower vineyards.  How do you determine which grower vineyards to blend and which to keep as their own vineyard designates?

Most of the vineyards that we source do in fact make vineyard-designated wines as they have a uniqueness and particular flavor profiles.  For the most part, the blended wines are a culmination of younger vines, specific clones, or sections of a vineyard that don’t necessarily fit into a vineyard designate but are still representative of say the Russian River Valley or the Sonoma Coast.

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

Every year is a learning process with new challenges.  Whether it is the uniqueness of the weather for the season, climate change or wildfires, there is always something.  I pride myself and the winemaking team to being fully committed and prepared and leaving no stone unturned throughout the process so I leave each season with a sense of accomplishment that we did everything possible to make a great wine.

What is your favorite after work drink?

After a long day of harvest, a pint of Blind Pig always satisfies, but I will settle for a glass of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Champagne!

What is your favorite local spot in Healdsburg?

There are a lot of great spots in Healdsburg, it is hard to choose.  I miss SHED, but often go to Bravas as I like the small plates.

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

Hmmm…I love to cook, maybe that’s not too surprising.  I don’t know how to swim!

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