Winc Director of Winemaking Ryan Zotovich and Chief Wine Officer Brian Smith take a few moments to share a bottle and some stories about their love for winemaking.
B: Hi Ryan.
R: Hi Brian.
B: Just to give a time and a place, it's 6:16 and 21 seconds, we're in Santa Ynez, California, in wine country. We're kind of hitting the golden hour right now aren't we?
R: It's pretty epic.
B: We're coming out of harvest. What number of harvest is this for you?
R: I've got to do the math…It's the eleventh harvest that I've been a part of.
B: What better way to bring 2016 to a close than to open this bottle we made together last harvest, this Objet d’Art Pinot Noir. This beauty is already changing with a little air — let's try it out.
R: This is a Pinot that you can drink really easily. For me this is very fresh, light and pretty — I like the purity of the fruit and texture of the wine.
B: This has a real pop to it. I love that energy and vitality in a wine.
R This is whole cluster fermentation which translates into a bit more fruit and freshness. The stems add some interesting spice and and earth components, too.
B: Let’s talk about this wine — where did it all begin?
R: It’s Pinot Noir from the central coast of California, grown at Kick-On Ranch in Los Alamos.
Pinot Noir needs to be grown in the right spot. When it is, all you need to do is pick it at the right time and let it be itself. Then you end up with a beautiful Pinot Noir like what we have here.
This wine is made in a style that captures freshness and vibrancy. We chose to make it in a reductive style. We don't crush this. The fermentation actually occurs inside the berry, not in the juice. Less oxygen makes it more fruity.
B: What makes for a great wine? What are you shooting for as a winemaker?
R: For me, it happens in the vineyard. If you start off with high-quality grapes in the right place, you are going to make an awesome product. At that point, you're just shepherding it through the process. That's why the end result is a great product. It's because of that raw input.
Then you listen. You’re out in the vineyard, tasting grapes. At one point, I decide it’s ready to go. Everybody is going to get up at midnight, one o'clock in the morning, put on head lamps, get on a tractor, and pick the grapes.
B: I love doing that, it’s one of my favorite moments.
R: Yeah, it’s awesome.
We do that at night because it's cold and keeps things cold and fresh when they arrive at the winery.
There you have to learn how the wine is behaving: There are a lot of micro-decisions and a lot of listening. Once all of the initial decisions are made and it ferments, it goes in the barrel. Then you let it do its thing for twelve months, and hope that every decision you made up until that point was correct. It's wait and see.
B: It’s a huge wait and see. So here we are. What does it feel like when you open the bottle?
R: At the end of the day, it's about pleasing people. I'm nervous when the bottle gets out and excited when somebody goes for another glass.
B: When you finally open that bottle of wine, it feels like the culmination of all the moments and all the efforts.
R: You make this bottle of wine and you don't know where it's going to go. Every single one of those bottles of wine is going to be consumed and enjoyed. Then, somebody eventually is going to drink it and have an experience, which is pretty wild. I always hope that we're impacting somebody's life for the better. Everything is better with wine.
B: Everything is better with good wine? Or just with wine?
R: With wine. Hopefully, with good wine.
B: What do you think you’ll be most proud of from our 2016 harvest?
R: I am really excited about the Sebastiano Syrah that we picked, because that vineyard is, central coast, cold-climate, Santa Rita Hills. I'm really excited about cold climate Syrah because I like those spicy, peppery notes.
The other one that I’m excited about is the Tocai, which is a white grape that we fermented on skins. We're making a really high-quality skin-fermented wine. I am pretty excited about that too.
B: Which is weird.
R: It's not normal.
B: Full-blown experiment.
R: We'll see how that goes. Those are the fun ones but we've got to say, "We'll see how it goes." It's cool to try new things, do different things, and then tell that story.
Let's be real. Is it going to work a hundred percent all the time? No. But if we make it successful, and match the right person with the right wine — to me that is awesome. You only get that through pushing the boundaries and being creative, and exploring.
B: There is a lot of flexibility and a lot of opportunity here to take risks and innovate in the very traditional practice of winemaking.
R: Exactly. Winemaking in general can get a little stagnant. There's a formula that everybody follows and everybody is doing the same thing. At the end of the day, that really doesn't benefit the consumer. At least, I don't think it does.
B: Right now, the establishment is still in Napa and Sonoma. But there are pockets of really exceptional things happening, that are coming out of unlikely places.
R: It’s not as expensive to make wine here in Santa Barbara County as it is in Napa or Sonoma. You have a lot more creative freedom here to do whatever you want. There's a lot more innovation.
The coolest thing about what we're doing at Winc is that we can try things and create the best wines possible. There isn't anything that we can't do. If we were in Burgundy right now, we’d have to play by the rules. If we didn’t, we’d get kicked out. California, comparatively, is an open canvas for experimentation.
It’s exciting to have the creative freedom to explore that — taking that risk is pretty cool. I don't think you've ever told me no.
B: Thanks. I’m glad that you think I’m actually doing something.
And thanks for taking time out of harvest and sharing this beautiful bottle with me. Great to have a glass of wine and talk.
R: Thanks for taking the time to drink it with me.