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KD: Getting big is not necessarily the end-all in terms of it being great. With Debra, and even with the founding partners, the goal was really to be [small]. We're at 8,000 cases now, with maybe a little growth. A smaller company is much easier to manage. In my past life, before I became who am I now as a consulting winemaker, I worked for big corporate firms. And that's fine, but that's not where I wanna go now. I've done that.
NM: What is it about the experience of working at a small — let's call it a boutique — winery that you find rewarding at this point and believe is fundamentally different from working at a much larger winery?
KD: The wines are handmade. I can't overemphasize that. We have done very small lots of 100 cases. They're really handmade. And I think there's a flavor to handmade wines, a uniqueness.
DM: You can really taste, more so than with mass-produced wines, the vintage and the terroir. You simply can't get that with large corporations.
KD: Let's take, for example, the three Zinfandels we do. One is the Maple Vineyard; the Maples are very well respected Dry Creek Valley growers. Then we actually do a block of Maple, called Bill's Block — we became very close to the Maples and they like what we're doing — and that block is entirely different than the regular Maple [vineyard wine] that we do. And then I found another vineyard off Canyon Road up here, and it's farmed by a guy named Paul Bernier who farms organically. Now, one of my favorite Zinfandels is Ridge's Lytton Springs, because while it is Zinfandel, it has other stuff in it too. So, I got interested in doing a different Zinfandel, and that's what this Bernier site is: Zinfandel, Carignan, and Mourvedre. And it's wonderful. But again, these make for about 150 cases! In a bigger winery, these wines would get lost; they don't get lost here.
The Lay of the Land
NM: So it sounds like you're working with a number of grape growers. How much fruit are you sourcing versus raising on the estate?
DM: Technically, we don't do an estate bottling. We're in transition of the vineyards coming back into production. It used to be 100% Cabernet, but now we're going through a replant phase. Right now, some of our Cabernet is our own, some of our Zinfandel is our own, the Syrah and the Petite Syrah come from our vineyard. Kerry's and the winery's ultimate goal is to make the best wine possible. So, if our Syrah needs 5% or 10% from an outside Syrah vineyard, in order to make it the best wine (the Proprietor's Reserve), Kerry has the green light. He's not going compromise the wine just so that we can have it estate-bottled.
NM: You say the vineyards are currently in transition. Can you say a little more about that? Was it a marketing choice, or was it something that you felt was necessary, perhaps because of new information you might gathered about the soil?
DM: Basically, both. Kerry was here during the transition into a winery. It used to be 100% Cabernet, but the founders of the winery wanted to be able to say they had other varietals like Syrah and Zinfandel, regardless if it was technically estate fruit.
KD: The vineyard was 31 years old. It was all AXR. And maybe 10% of the vines were dead.
DM: We ripped out the last of the old vines after this past harvest. So, Kerry's and my choice together is focused on what we want to bring into the winery for production. And Kerry is fan of Chardonnay, so we're planting specifically to make my winemaker happy, as well as our customers and wineclub. Then we're actually doing our own Chateauneuf [du-Pape] style of wine up here, so we are specifically planting for our program now.
KD: It's a good area. We have a nice benchland. We don't have the [large, flat] stones that Chateauneuf has, but of the thirteen varieties, we'll probably have four: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Cinsault, and maybe a little Counoise.
DM: Kerry's been here since the winery was conceived, but when my family and I came in and bought it, it was important for us to have his input. That's a little bit different than some wineries do, but we wanted to have something very different. So, when he said he wanted to do this style of wine, I said, "Absolutely, I'm 100% behind it." So, we worked with the vineyard management crew, and Kerry and they put their heads together to talk about rootstock and clones.