How I make wine these days
The seeds were planted back in the 1990's, long before I started my own brand. I always questioned the prevailing wisdom at the time that California winemakers should utilize the same methods as their old world counterparts--in other words, as a Pinot Noir winemaker, that I should use the same kinds of barrels, the same kind of fermentation management, grow on the same kind of soil, and so on, as is done in Burgundy. Obviously, some things were no brainers--don't plant Pinot Noir in a hot climate, for example--but many other methods, it seemed to me, were uniquely suited, and developed for and in, Burgundy, not in California. Shouldn't we adapt our methods to the fruit we had here, which is very different from the Old World?
Over the course of the next twenty years or so, I made wine for a variety of brands in many different styles. Always I tried to be as faithful as I could to the grapes I worked with, and not try to make them into something they were not. I found, for example, that Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands, where I still have several clients, is very well suited to a bigger style of winemaking--riper, more flamboyant--than fruit from the north coast. That is where they find their highest and best expression, and following my natural inclination to make a slightly more restrained kind of wine from those grapes gave lesser wine. At the same time, and not necessarily by design, I found that the wines I made from the northern coastal regions, particularly Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast, gave their truest expressions when picked less ripe. So, rather than impose my style upon the grapes, I let them tell me what they wanted to be and then did my best to respect their wishes.
I crossed that bridge about 10 years ago. Right around that time, I began working on a project in Casablanca Chile. Doubling up on vintages and working with grapes that behaved very differently than what I was used to really opened my eyes to the somewhat myopic approach I used to take to winemaking. The revelations are too numerous to go into here. In short, what I realized was that I really needed to trust my instincts, not be afraid to look silly, and take some chances. Which is what I have been doing ever since.