Page 4 of 5
BB: Kerry has a B.S. in Fermentation Science from [University of California,] Davis. He got it in 1983. He's very smart technically, and his nose is so much better than mine. I mean, he'll go like this to a sample of wine I might suggest [pushing glass away with feigned disgust after barely smelling it], "Ew, we don't want this!" And I'll say, "Well, I didn't think it was that bad!" And then we'll taste it through and, sure enough, he'll be correct. I have the taste side of it a little bit… he'll make comments or I'll make comments, and we've found a pretty good balance between the two of us, where we both contribute to the wine. But I'll certainly never say that I make the wine. He makes the wine! I could never do what he does without him, or someone like him…
GB: … [Turning to Bill] But I think Charles Creek wouldn't be what it is without you. So, it's a wonderful combination of the two pieces. But it's great to have someone who's knowledge is continually expanding, rather than being very narrowly focused all the time. Because with what the public is after, what grapes are growing (you've got global warming changing what's happening with vineyards), and you've got people changing with what their tastes are — why not have [a winemaker] who's growing with all that. If you've got someone you've got to pull out of the cellar to look at the world, that becomes another challenge for you. This way, we've got someone out there in the world. He even makes wine in India, for crying out loud; he's got a client over there.
BB: The lion's share of the contributions do come from Kerry. I couldn't do anything without this guy. With his technical experience, his trade, and his real-world experience, he brings so much to the table.
[Their winemaker isn't the only one to whom the Brintons feel a debt of gratitude. Throughout our discussion, I got a strong sense that the proprietors of Charles Creek never lose sight of the value of their sales staff not only as evangelists for the brand, but as spokespeople for wine in general. I took this opportunity to solicit the opinion and feedback of Darci Feigel, who had been present from the beginning of the conversation.]
GB: We get a lot of great feedback from our pals in the tasting room. They'll say, "We need something like this" or "This just isn't going anywhere."
BB: I call the tasting room our laboratory, our tasting laboratory. Because there we get firsthand information, like in a focus group. I enjoy going in occasionally and asking people what they think, and getting their feedback. It's great! It's like having a free focus group. We used to have to pay [money] for little groups like that [at the juice company].
NM: So, Darci, what two or three things, in your experience in the tasting room, would you say have really stood out for you, time and time again, that have made things really interesting or noteworthy or whatever. I mean, it's an experience in and of itself to work in a tasting room because you're interfacing with people with quite a range of geographical origin, of experience, of culture.
DF: When I came from a really big, busy winery to this nice, small family winery, I felt like, "Ahhh, I can relax and talk to people a little more now." So, it changes [the dynamic]. It gives the opportunity to convert people. They might come in and say, "I only want to try reds." And I'll say, "No, but you really need to try this; [trust me] because I'm not a white wine drinker either." And I'll get them to try the Patolitas, which is such a nice, middle-of-the-road [wine], not heavy in either direction. And they'll say, "Wow, that really is good!" — and then buy their first bottle of white wine! We have a rosé that does the same thing for people: they'll refuse to try rosé, and I'll say, "Dump it out if you don't like it, but taste it." Then they end up loving it!
"I call the tasting room our tasting laboratory. Because there we get firsthand information, like in a focus group."
And another thing is the price points on the wines; they're amazed that it's a small, family-owned winery and yet the wines are still reasonable. We [make efforts to] get the ratings, because people hear the ratings and think, "Wow, it got that many points? It's going to be expensive!" And then they'll look at the list and find that it's not. Because they only think of ratings, a lot of people who don't know or understand. Also, they're used to thinking of wines [in a certain way], like Cabernet is going to be too big and heavy. Yet they'll taste ours and — though they will lay down for six or eight years down the road — they can still drink them now and they love those, too. So, those kinds of things, those aspects, are the interesting things that I'm getting from people as they come into the tasting room.