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And I think that just gets into you — maybe not for everybody, but for me it absolutely did! So then I started reading everything I could, every book I could get my hands on. And my wife [Dana] is a Doctor of Pharmacy, so from a chemistry perspective, a lot of things I would defer to her — I might ask why something's going on and she could break it down into an equation or whatever. I don't know if that's necessarily relevant to being a good winemaker, but it doesn't hurt. Some of the best winemakers are [University of California,] Davis guys who understand to the nth degree how the chemistry works. But I have a slightly different spin on it: guys like them are great winemakers because they're trained to be great scientists, but if you don't have the palate that goes along with it, then you may never be the guy who makes that wine to blow people away.
NM: Do you believe that winemaking can be technically sound and cohesive — perfect in a textbook sense — yet still produce mediocre wines?
CT: Yes! I believe you can over-think things. The beauty in the craft by a lot of winemakers I've known — that, to me, was exceptional — has been that they've felt it. It wasn't about the chemistry behind it, although they probably understood that better than I. It was that they really felt it. And I can relate to that — although I'm not trying to put myself in those folks' category nor am I trying to call myself an artist, for that matter. It's like in beautiful design, where an illustrator knows how to design something because he can see it in his head, really visualize it, and then it becomes something amazing. That is what I'm striving for. For me, it starts with getting into that vineyard, walking up those hills, and looking at things vine by vine. We fine-tune it because we know the vineyard already, because we know, for example, that there's a vine or two that has a rock down there and whose roots are not going to get the same kind of water, or that there are ten vines, maybe, that need just a little bit of extra tweaking. Honestly, I don't think I'm the best winemaker, but I do think I'm doing a good job, and I believe that because I have more feeling than I have technical expertise going into it. I don't know, maybe 'feeling' is not the right word to use…
"Wine has that beautiful ability to open us up, to allow us to communicate with one another, to appreciate each other, and to just really enjoy life — like a beautiful piece of art."
CT: You know, I have a statement with Super Sonoman, and people always ask me about it — "'Winemaking with vision,' what does that mean?" Well, to me, it means two things. One, I've believe in Sonoma County and I think that someday I'll produce a wine about which people are going to go, "Spot on!" And maybe that'll be my little thumbprint on Sonoma County, and maybe it'll never be anything beyond that. Secondly, I am always thinking about those vineyards. It's that thought process that I live by. I walk the vineyards, I see the fruit hanging, I know what it's going to taste like, I get excited by it, and I know how I want to tweak it each year. '07 was different from '08, and '09 will be even a little bit more different. I get what I do with that fruit, I'm starting to learn the vineyard, and I'm sure I'll learn more over the next five years. It's that sort of approach to it, knowing what that dirt can kick out for me, and then taking it, bringing it to life, and putting it in a bottle! Ultimately, somebody's going to spend a lot of money [on one of these bottles], they're going go sit down with friends and family, open that thing up, and drink a glass of wine together. I want to take what I know about that vineyard and communicate it to those people, and I want them to go, "Ahhhh, it's so good to be with you guys!" That is what wine is; wine is a communicative tool. It's like art, in the sense that a good artist can communicate and express himself. Wine has that beautiful ability to open us up, to allow us to communicate with one another, to appreciate each other, and to just really enjoy life — like a beautiful piece of art.
I really love being a part of that process. I love walking into this winery, I love talking to people about wine, I love drinking wine, I love pairing wine with food — which, to me, is really what it's all about. I don't simply want to make a wine (although I have) that you would think of in the context of just drinking wine; I want to create wine that is food. I like wine to be part of life because we communicate every day, and I see a great bottle of wine as a form of communication. It helps us to understand an expressive quality of the world and at the same time helps to open us up. It has an inherent, natural power to enable us to connect.
NM: If you were to distill your goal into its simplest form, what would it be?