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Wine Wednesday: A Q&A with Goldschmidt Vineyard’s Winemaker

[Image via Goldschmidt Vineyard’s Facebook Page]

On Wednesday, we wine. And what better way to celebrate the mid-week vino-casion (yep, made that word up right now) than by asking Nick Goldschmidt, winemaker at Goldschmidt Vineyards, a winery in the rolling hillside of Northern California, all about wine, his world travels, the vineyards of Napa Valley and wine. Wait, did I mention that last one already? Oops. But seriously, wine.

Here goes …

MELISSA KANDEL: You were educated in both New Zealand and Australia. What’s the wine like out there and when did you first realize you wanted to become a winemaker?

NICK GOLDSCHMIDT: I have a BSC and a diploma in Horticulture from New Zealand and then a Diploma of Viticulture and a post-grad in enology from Australia. I had no idea of being a winemaker but working in vineyards in those days, the winemakers came out and made all the vineyard decisions. I then worked in a winery after the harvest and so I got to see what it was like. Therefore, the two experiences together made me realize I would have more fun doing that than the other. True scientific viticulture didn’t really exist in the early 1980s.

You’ve harvested and bottled wine in South Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Northern California … Is there a particular winemaking experience you’ve had that stands out as one of your most memorable?

Also in Canada, Argentina but have also had the responsibility of doing it in Italy, Portugal and Spain when I was working for large companies. None stand out. Just the experiences themselves. Each experience is influenced by time and the stories over time. For Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia, I have done 28 years there. Also 28 in California, so these things relate to each other. The main thing is the culture of the place, I get sick of being handed a glass of wine and somebody asking me what it is and where is it from. There is no point in making Napa wine in Sonoma, let alone Chile for instance. If we don’t keep our uniqueness then why buy a bottle of Napa wine? Then the wines they export to us also are very different to what they drink at home.

The second piece is the people. I have had the privilege of working with some of the best winemaking minds in the business. This was paid for by LVMH/Constellation when I was at Simi and then Allied Domecq/Jim Beam when I had moved on. I may not be the smartest winemaker in a particular area but I am only a phone call away from somebody who is. Yes, I have stolen most of the ideas I have ever had.  Does that all make sense?

Yes. It’s the combined experiences and the people more so than one particular instance that shaped your winemaking philosophies. Let’s talk specifically about California winemaking though: Goldschmidt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon comes from two vineyards in Northern California; Yoeman Vineyard in Alexander Valley and Game Ranch Vineyard in Napa Valley. How does the climate of these two regions produce two distinct products? 

Climate is only part of it. The soil is also important. Then the aspect, the age of the vine and the natural crop yield play a role. Oakville is warmer than Alexander Valley and so you get a little more density—bigger tannin and more alcohol and higher pH naturally—in Oakville, and more finesse—more acidity and as we wait we also get high pH—in Alexander Valley. In a blind tasting, I swear most experts can’t tell the difference. In fact, I did this tasting for a bunch of Napa winemakers and they could only tell when I told them what to look for.

Wines produced in the Oakville area of Napa Valley, while heavily influenced by a widely varying terrain, all share an acidity and freshness afforded by the fog off the bay that often grips this region. For those who might need clarification, how can fog affect the taste of wine?

First, there is more fog in Alexander Valley than Napa Valley. Second, I do not think the diversity of Oakville is that great. You just have east, west and the flats. Less the little knoll we are on. The important thing is hang time. But fog of course slows down the heating of the vineyard and so we can go beyond the traditional 100 days [of hang time] and get to 140 days more often. This is the time form bloom to harvest. Longer hang time means better flavor and tannin ripening rather than just high sugar.

You produce a Malbec from Argentina. How does the style of an Argentinian Malbec vary from those made in Northern California? 

The big one is the altitude and then the age of the vines coupled with the plant material they have there in Argentina. Mendoza Malbec is made with lower alcohol and fresher fruit with better acidity. 

As you once described it, winemaking for you “has been a passion that has fueled our dreams and enriched our lives.” Do you think passion is a necessary ingredient for producing quality wine?  

Passion, integrity and the ability to move beyond creativity and actually implement. I cant imagine life not walking vineyards, making wine and drinking wine with other awesome winemakers throughout the world.  

Melissa Kandel is a Southern California-based writer and the founder/president of little word studio. If you really want, you can follow little word studio on Instagram here.

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