How did you get into wine?
I drank a lot of wine in college. I was an archeology major at SUNY Albany (NY), and the undergraduate scene there was pretty lame. So I started going to wine bars in Albany. My first great bottle of wine was a 1996 Shafer Hillside Select. (I was still drinking non-kosher wine at that time.) After that bottle, wine (for me) went from two dimensional to three dimensional. And I started thinking about getting into the wine business.
How old are you now?
When did you first start working with Covenant?
In December, 2003. I had just completed my internship at Copain Wines in Sonoma and was introduced to [then Herzog winemaker] Peter Stern. Peter got me a position at Herzog Wine Cellars, where the first vintage of Covenant had been crushed that harvest. My job was to make sure Jeff [Morgan] was happy with the way things were being done with his wine. In 2008, I signed on full-time with Covenant when we moved our winemaking activities up to Napa Valley.
What do you remember as the greatest challenges back in those early years?
Small lot winemaking in a large winery can be difficult. The tanks are too big, the hoses are too long and the pumps are too big. So we had to improvise.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of winemaking?
Tasting the way that flavors evolve in barrel and the creative process from grapes to bottle to glass. It’s exciting; it makes me feel like I’m constantly discovering new treasures.
What are your greatest challenges today as a winemaker?
It’s still not so easy to make Jeff Morgan happy. But I’m think I’m doing OK! Aside from this, it’s really hard to hold myself back and not make too many wines. In California, you can find nearly every grape imaginable, and it’s hard not to try to make a wine from all of them. I have to stay focused and not become overextended.
What do you look for to discern wine quality in your glass?
I have two standards. If it’s a wine I have made, I want to be proud of it. If it’s someone else’s wine, I want to be jealous! First, I look for varietal typicity. Then, within that context, balance and elegance come first. Everything else is gravy.
And what are you drinking now?
I would drink Solomon Lot 70 for a serious red whenever possible. But I also like the new Landsman Chenin Blanc and our BLUE C Viognier from Israel.
If you had to start all over again, would you still become a winemaker?
I don’t think there’s a better, more exciting job anywhere. Nothing can beat this!