Page 3 of 5
NM: I'm guessing it's also important to have a range, because when people come into your tasting room, sometimes they're not going to want to plop down $40, but they'll be willing to walk away with something that's $15, $20.
BB: That's been our philosophy right from the very beginning. Once again, it gets back to the value proposition that we try to deliver to the consumer. That's exactly what we try to do… and continue to make wines at that price point.
[It was clear to me, throughout our discussion, that Bill and Gerry take a great deal of pride in continuing to succeed in their vision of bringing to the market wines that demonstrate a level of quality and craftmanship far surpassing their retail value. Nevertheless, they were consistent in crediting the technical talent responsible for helping them precisely translate that vision into a reality: their winemaker, Kerry Damskey.]
NM: I'm always fascinated about the dynamics between a winemaker and a winery's proprietor, especially if, as in your case, the winemaker, who has a great deal of knowledge and experience, doesn't really have the last say but ultimately defers to the owner who is intimately involved in the winemaking process. Tell me a little more about your relationship with your winemaker. How does it work in general and how closely do you work with him?
GB: Let me give you my take on it, and then Bill can talk about it because he really works with Kerry most closely. Our relationship with Kerry has been there since the beginning, when we first released the Patolitas 2001, which was really our first commercial release. We've worked with him continuously over these years, so that now the phone calls and cell-phone messages come in the middle of night or early in the morning; he's almost like a cousin in the relationship he has with Bill — it's very open, very honest, and it's terrific. And Bill has a great palate that has developed over the years. Growing up in San Francisco, [his family] probably had wine on their table at dinner a lot more than we did in Iowa, where it was really not part of the deal.
BB: My dad liked Bordeaux and white Burgundy, so I was a lucky man!
GB: So he learned to taste those very early in his life. And then with the juice company that he mentioned we'd had, Bill did a lot of work with the food technology people designing some of those blends of fruit drinks. It has a lot of similar aspects to wine.
BB: When you make a product, whether it's a fruit juice or a wine, I think you should make it for the palate, using the different aspects of taste and feel — the first attack on the [taste] buds, the mid-range, the mouthfeel, the after-effect, the ability of the wine to linger in your mouth and give a pleasant sensation. There are many, many factors at play. And that's what we try to work with, and why the bulk market can sometimes help us fill in if we have, like, a hole in the wine. Almost every grape has some hole; there's always some little thing that's not perfect. If they were always perfect, every wine would get a [score of] 100. But they don't.
GB: Another interesting aspect of it is that Kerry, our winemaker, is a consultant to us; he's not our own winemaker whom we keep locked up the cellar. And the benefit is that he's out there consulting for other wineries, as well, tasting other things, exposed to other things. His knowledge base grows continually, not just based on what we end up doing in our little corner of the world…
NM: … So he's really expanding his point of reference and not becoming overly insular.
"When you make a product, whether it's a fruit juice or a wine, I think you should make it for the palate, using the different aspects of taste and feel."
GB: … Exactly!
BB: And he brings all that real-world experience to us, which we think is really valuable.
GB: It makes him be very busy at times, and even frantic. But, on the other hand, I think the pluses far outweigh that. Because to have a winemaker full time on your staff is sort of silly at our size — we wouldn't be fully utilizing him. The other thing that's interesting is that Bill works from the [more subjective] side of the palate and the flavor [profile]. Kerry works from both sides; the more technical and experienced side as well as the flavor side. So it's a great combination of the two.