Portrait Of A French Master Of Wine

Posted: Mar 09, 2020

By the time you entered the Master of Wine program you'd already accomplished a lot in your career first having ac­ quired degrees from the University of Dijon, Champagne's University of Reims, and the University of Washington; wor­king for Randall Grahm and then Banfi at Pacific Rim. Why this renowned and rigorous endeavor when you'd a wall lined with accreditations reflected in firmly established career suc­cesses-and with a family to consider?

I always had the MW program in mind and I wanted this last feather in my cap. It wasn't an easy journey and I am very lucky that my family was willing to let me take on the challenge. I did enter the program with the thought that it would help me to become a better wine professional. The program did much more for me and my career than I've envisioned originally.

Why Muscat for your MW research paper?
First because it was an easy topic for me to do my research paper on. Secondly I am very interested in understanding why some white wines are bitter and what can we do to reduce bitterness in white wine. I also have a strong interest in non-animal fining agents. Dry Muscat was a perfect variety to use as a base wine to study bitterness and the impact of various fining agents.

As a winemaker who's long worked to commercialize a grea­ ter number of varietals than is typical in the US, to what do you attribute the relative timidity of the California wine­ focused consumer to venture beyond the Big Varietal Names?
I think there is much more diversity today than we've ever have but this is not penetrating the broad market. I suspect that it is partly due to the reluctance of chain buyers to take risks and partly due to the fact that the volumes of those more 'esoteric' wines are too small to get broad distribution . I am constantly surprised about how vibrant and exploratory some markets are and yet how it seems that only Cabernet sauvignon, Chardon ­ nay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are growing in syndicated data. I am confident that some varieties and styles will spill into the broad market over time just like rose has.

Given that your current position has entrusted you with grea­ter numbers of staff than your previous jobs, what indices concerning labor may now be in flux in the three US states in which CWG operates?
Labor is tight everywhere and for everyone. We have several skilled positions that are hard to fill in the vineyard and at wi­neries. I feel lucky that we have a great staff that loves making wines and grow grapes with us but there is no doubt that vacan­cies are taking longer to fill.

The globalization of wine knowledge and technological coo­peration, both factors which have benefited the progress of your career--where does the world go from here?
I see several huge trends for winemaking. The first one is the desire from consumers for more understanding about what they put in their body which is pushing for more transparency on the producer side. This is excellent in my mind but it will not be easy for the industry to be fully open. We do have an additional risk with the current concerns regarding alcohol and health - we need to face this as an industry. The second big trend relates to climate change and how the industry adapts. Sustainability, climate's change cousin, is a twin trend and like every industry we need to work on a better path to reduce the amount of waste, our carbon footprint and produce wine with less input. The third one is the proliferation of brands and wines - we might be get­ ting to a point where we have too many players and the market is ready for a little consolidation on the supplier/producer side.

What's your view of climate change's current impact upon viticulture and, more particularly, its enjoyment by the consu­mer?
We know that so far climate change has benefitted many 'mar­ ginal' regions such as Oregon's Willamette Valley or southeast England. The change will intensify and so we should expect new regions to open while established regions will have to adapt. I think this will be fantastic for the adventurous consumer who might find value in new emerging regions; for example I re- ­cently had a lovely Pinot noir from Washington's lesser known Puget Sound. The traditional regions will fight as long as they can to retain their niche but they will need to adapt eventually - some consumers might not be up for the ride, others will be fine with it. I think it is fascinating to think that the Loire valley could switch to Merlot and Cabernet sauvignon while Bordeaux should consider Aglianico. In the case of most French wine, the change will be easier since they do not advertise the variety on the label, for wines that are labeled with a variety and have a strong connection to a certain place (Mendoza= Malbec), it will harder to adapt. I hope that the established regions will use this opportunity to plant new varieties that will also have disease re­sistance, something which would help lowering chemical sprays.

With many years making wine along the US west coast please detail viticultural and enological adaptations you've imple­mented which may not have been available to you had you remained in France.

On the vineyard side we are reconsidering varieties planted in cooler climates such as planting Cab sauv in Cameros, and ex­perimenting with warm climate varieties that would more rea­ dily adapt to hotter sites. We also look at trellises and canopy management, and different irrigation schemes. We could not do that in many regions in France . On the winemaking side we are primarily playing with de-alcoholization. Otherwise we use the same techniques as everyone else--earlier picking, blending different sites, and using high RS tolerant yeasts.

How might a sommelier or shop clerk best make their pur­ chases and customer recommendations when faced with an ever-expanding range of wines from which to choose?
The number one quality of a good sommelier or wine service professional is to know his clientele and offer wines that match their expectations . Building a thoughtful wine list based on the type of restaurant and on the level of curiosity of the customer base is a good yardstick to decide whether or not to add a wine to the list. Diversity of regions and varieties, price points and brands are important factors. While not a sommelier I am a very trained customer who finds some wine lists very esoteric and complicated with others far too simplistic and obvious, so pro­ bably a little less extremism would help wine buyers from spen­ ding time digging for rare bottles rather than placing proven brands on their lists.

By David Furer
Source and Orlginal Article: Sommeliers-international.com

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