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Written by Nikitas Magel   

Kyle in Vineyard KL:  I think the biggest influence on our winemaking is from the winemakers that we worked with previously — fortunately we had some very good teachers in that regard.  And again, because they were small producers, we were talking about a lot of smaller lots, so we had a lot of opportunities to try different things, see the results either through our own winemaking or vicariously through the winemakers we were working with who were giving us the chance to do that.  As far as formal training, I have done some work in viticulture and enology at UC Davis, but I don't have a degree in that area.  And you'll here about a lot of smaller winemakers who certainly have done some coursework up there but maybe don't have the formal degree.  My formal degree is in computer science — so from the standpoint of understanding technical things, maybe there's a small connection there.  But — and this is one of the things we love about this industry — there's a tremendous amount of learning that goes on between winemakers.  Some of it comes in the form of research, things that you read, but a lot of it comes through direct contact with other people.  And then, of course, there's experiencing the wines and just having a sensibility about these things; it goes back to my interest in food from many years ago.  It's a bit like asking if someone can be a great cook without any formal culinary school training, and the answer is yes!  And I think it's true with wine, too.

NM:  It's interesting that you bring up the subject of formal training.  Something that I feel is true of a great number of disciplines and industries, but especially so with winemaking, is that there is a continuum of skill that at one end is purely intuitive and artisan-driven, and at the other is purely pragmatic and technique-driven.  Winemaking at the one extreme results in a product that might have character and individuality, but is riddled with faults and is prone to problems.  At the other extreme, the result is a product that's technically sound but lacks any soul or distinction.  Success — again in nearly any endeavor, but quite so with winemaking — comes with being able to balance the two.  Seeing as you've come into this industry from a technical background, I'm guessing that a great deal of the protocol and procedure in winemaking is something to which you've taken very readily.  But what about the other side of that continuum?  Tell me about your creative side.

KL:  Yeah, it's very interesting that you pick up on that.  It's funny, sometimes I feel  like a creative person who's maybe a little trapped in the technical world!  {chuckling}  And winemaking actually is a wonderful medium through which to, like you said, create a balance.  There is a technical side that absolutely cannot be ignored.  Similarly, there's a creative side that shouldn't be ignored.  You're right, there needs to be a balance there.  I've tasted wines that I sometimes think are technically very sound but just seem overly technical, and perhaps even manipulated — and that's kind of a pejorative word — but some wines get manipulated to achieve a very specific result.  On the flip side, as you said, you can be very creative but technically sloppy, and so end up with a problematic result.  So, I think there absolutely must be a balance.

And that's actually a good way to sum up our winemaking philosophy.  First and foremost, I talk so much about the vineyards because that's really where it starts; you absolutely cannot make a great wine without great grapes.  I know it's a cliché, but it's a cliché because it's true!  It has to start there; you can't have something that's not great fruit and try to produce something that's going to amaze people.  You have to start with great fruit.  That said, if you take the great fruit and try to make it into something it isn't, I think you can end up with just as bad of a situation.  I think a lot winemaking is trying to really understand what that fruit is about.  Some of that is understanding what the grower is about, what that land is about, what all those different things that go into a vineyard are about.  Winemaking, I think, sometimes is as much about not doing something as it is about doing something.  And so I think our winemaking is balance of that, too — it's a balance of technical and creative, but it's also a balance of intervention and not.


To learn more about these handcrafted wines and how to get them, visit Coterie Cellars online. v

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