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Now, I'm not suggested my wine is going to be some phenomenal Bordeaux, but it has a lot of the things that will enable it to age and improve. Having worked with the hillside and being familiar with it, I know where this wine is going to go. Three or four years from now, it's going to be delightful; ten years from now, it'll be amazing. Because it has everything there: the tannins, the acids, the fruit, everything. And to answer your question more directly, taking our 2008 vintage as an example, I could have de-acidified the wine. Easily. I could have brought the pH up and made a wine of which I knew I could crack a bottle open after only six months in bottle, be able to drink it, and it would be like nectar! But I don't want to do that. I want this thing to evolve, and I know that it will. And I know that it will for a few reasons: first, the vineyard is rock-star; secondly, I've used the best barrels and I know what the chemistry is in this thing, so I know what it's going to do. My point is that if you touch this wine in four or five years, it may not be your favorite wine, but your shit is going to get rocked when you drink it! I know it will! It's just going to get better and better! And that's the difference between how a lot of guys make wine in California and how a lot of guys make wine in France, at this level of quality. In France [at this price point] they're not thinking about popping this open as soon as they bring it home from the shop. At the same time, it goes against the grain of having a business in the first place: you want people to drink your wines! And that's why guys like Kosta Browne make these big, extracted Pinots — which I like — but it's not like drinking a bottle of La Tâche twenty years after it was bottled! There's a big difference!
NM: Yes, there is a mentality of immediacy in the winemaking choices of a large number of California producers, especially below a certain price level where they're positioned in the market for rapid consumption. Overlaid on that is our American culture that's unaccustomed to thinking in terms of longevity, which translates into almost a complete absence of cellaring considerations in the context of even super-premium wine. Since we haven't been making wine nearly as long as some Old World regions, do you think it's simply a matter of time before the American wine industry changes in that regard? Or do you think there are elements of American culture that will hold us back?
CT: I absolutely think there are elements of our culture that will hold us back. I think some people will get it — those who are deeply engaged with connecting to their own humanity and who firmly embrace doing so through wine. But I don't know that everybody is like that. I think there are guys who are always going to come home — no offense to them — and who are going to watch Survivor, pop open a Miller Light with their buddies, and that's going to be what they think is the coolest thing in the world. There's nothing with that; maybe some of those guys are wine drinkers too. But I think American culture is inherently consumerist and focused on immediacy. For me, life is entirely different, life is about beautiful things, about communicating, expressing yourself, being whom you are, loving what you do, loving why you are in the world, and hopefully about touching other people every day in a productive, positive way. And I believe that wine facilitates that. But I don't think it does so for everybody. Maybe in a couple of hundred years, after Americans have been drinking wine for a while, our culture will have evolved. But in the next five years, I don't think it's going to happen!
I think what we'll do, as the Super Sonoman program evolves, is that we'll make wines like our current portfolio for people who will cellar them. And then I'll probably do a different style of wine for people who want to spend a little bit less and pop the cork sooner. Because I believe there are ways of tweaking my wines for earlier drinking. My whole point is that it may become necessary to focus on making the best immediately drinkable wine that I can, and also the best cellar-able wine that I can. This is what I'm about.
NM: Speaking of winemaking strategies, tell me about how you first learned to make wine. And what has Super Sonoman taught you that you wouldn't have learned otherwise about winemaking?
CT: I think my process for becoming a winemaker was a little different than other people's; it started in a parallel path. First, though I'm not an artist, I've always been surrounded by artists and have an appreciation for the creative process. Plus, I love food and wine, so my winemaking skills began with my winetasting experiences. What I did early on is to decide to try all the best wines that I possibly could. I wasn't thinking that I was going to be a winemaker; I was focusing on the fact that I loved wine. So I started drinking through all these fine wines and learning through research about where and by whom they were made. And while I never fancied myself as a winemaker, I started to experiment with it; I was just having fun with it, trying to produce something of high quality in my garage, which is how it all started. Once I got bitten by that bug, which didn't take long at all, I got deeper into it; I couldn't wait to harvest the grapes and make the wine! I would walk into the garage, where I had a perfect setup for it all, and the fermentation smell was like magic — the whole house would smell of it, it was awesome!