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NM: So, you're harvesting in stages, accommodating for varying ripeness levels, and then fermenting separately in very small lots. That has got to be immensely labor intensive!
MP: Absolutely! And costly, too. I'm picking four or five times what I could easily pick all at once. It's much more labor intensive, much more hands-on; I have to bring the crews in to help pick every time; we have to go through the whole set-up and tear-down process, which means I've got all those bins to go through and do a hand punch-down over a period of a month, rather than all at one time. But I didn't approach it like someone who had researched it and then done it for a long time; it was just something that occurred to me and it made sense, but I wasn't sure until I asked and was told it was actually a great idea. I've even had people come in here and ask me, "Well, where are your tanks? How come you have no tanks?"
NM: Well, it goes back to what you were saying earlier. That is, when you're making wine at this high level of craftsmanship quality and low level of production quantity, it makes perfect sense to be harvesting in multiple waves and fermenting in small lots. So, your decision process — although it developed for practical reasons, because of the resources you had initially — actually turns out to be far more quality-minded.
MP: And that's been exactly the process so many times, as I look back. I've made decisions because they would seem like the most logical or practical or intuitive way to approach something, but not because I knew from any experience that it was the right was to approach it. [That's been the case with] all these choices, and as I look back I don't see one of those that I would have done differently.
NM: Are you making the wine on your own?
MP: Yeah. Now, I have a friend, Dave [Guffy] — but he's not officially a consultant so we can't call him that! Dave helps me a lot; he's very, very experienced. In fact, he was the one whom I bounced the idea off of to go with no [fermentation] tanks. But he's not officially connected with us at all, because he's Director of Winemaking for Hess Collection. He's in charge of all their wineries, their wines, their vineyards — and he's had a ball coming up here seeing what we're doing that's totally at the other end of the spectrum! It's great because if there's a problem, I can say, "Hey, Dave, I'm not sure about such-and-such." And he'll say, "Well, why don't you do such-and-such, and see if it works out." He'll come up sometimes and we'll have fun trying to blend some wines, and I'll ask him what he thinks. Because you need somebody to bounce things off of, to ask the 'what to you think' kind of questions.
NM: So, basically, what it boils down to is that your winemaking experience is relatively limited and quite recently acquired — you began doing all this only about six years ago. And yet you still received accolades recently from the mainstream wine press!
MP: You're correct. But I do want to give credit to Napa Valley College — who is, in fact, going to be only the second educational institution in California to be bonded [as a winery]. First off, while I was taking classes there, they were building this really neat, state of the art winery — and a lot of the ideas I got for what I wanted to build into our own winery came from that. The instructor overseeing it all had all these things put into the winery and I was able to ask her why. [Through that process], I learned about exactly what I wanted to put into our winery — it was great being exposed to that and it just so happened that the timing was perfect. Secondly, because of the way they're set up, I spent an entire year making red wine at the college. And so that gave me a great basis to work off of. Because, regardless of how many years of experience you might have, you have to have some kind of a base on just procedure alone. So, those two things I got from [and have to give credit to] the college.
Beyond that, people might ask me a question about some other wine, but I would have to say that my knowledge and focus is limited to making the wine I make. Sometimes they'll ask me a question thinking that I'm this global winemaker that I'm not: "I don't know!" I mean, I may have an idea or I could suggest something or give them the right direction to go in, but it may be something that I truly haven't experienced. So, all my focus, after going through getting the basics from the college, has been how to make the best Cabernet Sauvignon — not red wine [in general], but specifically Cabernet. And everything we do here in the winery is about that — even the basket press I use, which is really [in design] an old fashioned press, only a modern version from Italy with hydraulics and a stainless steel basket. I could have bought a bladder press, which most wineries use, but my research told me — especially for Cabernet Sauvignon — that that's the best press to use. And I've now noticed that some of the very high end wineries are using basket presses (of course, much bigger) instead of bladder presses. But I didn't do it because of these other wineries, I did it because I just did enough research and felt there was a good reason for it: you're pressing grape against grape. Now, if you ask me what's the best press for Zinfandel, I could guess but I don't know. But I do know that for Cabernet, that's the best press.