When I started at Kendall-Jackson in the summer of 2004, I was assigned the job title of “Viticultural Enologist.” Essentially that’s “winemaker-in-training.” It was during this time that I learned why it is so important for winemakers to have their boots in the dirt in the vineyards.
For a young winemaking student, recently finished with school and a couple of nice internships, being a Viticultural Enologist was a dream assignment. It was my job to help monitor the Bordeaux grape vineyards on the North Coast, identify problems and opportunities, make suggestions and decisions to emphasize quality, and translate that into the winery where I would help turn the grapes into wine.
I spent a lot of time in the vineyards during this time.
But there is a reason the winemaking team is in the vineyard so much. You’ve probably heard the phrases, “winemaking starts in the vineyards” or “great wines come from great grapes.” At Kendall-Jackson we certainly believe that to be true. We preach the message of quality and that is derived from our vineyard lands in the cool, coastal areas of California.
As a winemaker, the scope of my responsibility is larger, but the essence of the job is the same. For this reason, I still go out into our vineyards as much as possible.
Because of the emphasis we place on the vineyards it’s not just the enologists who are getting dirty. The winemakers feel the need to be out among the vines as often as possible. But more than just winemakers, the winemaking team — vineyard managers, viticulturalists and winemakers — spend a lot of time walking the blocks, looking for problems and opportunities. We believe that the more eyes watching each vineyard the better.
Sometimes we can make a change where we see a problem on these walks. Back as a young viticultural enologist and until today as a winemaker, I can learn something very tangible and important about the grapes in a given vintage by spending time in the vines. This knowledge can be crucial when the grapes come into the winery and winemaking decisions have to be made. I never make wine by a recipe. I react to the fruit as it arrives in the winery, and the more I understand about where the grapes have been before they arrive, the better informed my decisions can be.
I think this attention to detail shines through in the wines we create. I hope you agree. Cheers.