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JM: (con'd) Karen and I always feel that when you pull wine out of a tank [after fermentation], you want it tasting so good then that you could put it in a bottle and sell it. That's always been our philosophy: taste it, taste it, taste it. When we do extended maceration, when it's down fermenting, we get it down to about 2 brix, we argon the top, we do a few other things to make sure the cap stays sterile (a few tricks in our bag), and then we let that tank sit. It may sit for a month, two months, maybe beyond that. And we taste it every couple of days. Then all of a sudden it hits a spot where it's like the wine tastes as if it's been [aging] in barrel for a year! — not so much with the components of oak, but it will have a smoothness and silkiness to it. And at that point, we drain it off and go to barrel. Sometimes malo-lactic has taken place in the tank, and sometimes it hasn't. We do malo-lactic natively, too. And again, the one thing that sticks out to Karen and I the most is keeping a wine really fresh and really clean. That's so important. It comes back to being with your wine all the time. But not doing so much of that to where it's a burden — just enough to where you're making decisions that keep a wine at a healthy level so that you don't have to use so much sulfur [dioxide] to fend off problems that you could have otherwise avoided in the beginning.
Lessons in Life, Lessons in Love
NM: So, clearly you've learned a few things that you put into practice to make better wines. In that process, what have you learned to make a better you? If you were to describe the one thing about making wine that has really shaped your life and your attitudes about life in general, what would you say?
JM: I immediately think, Patience. I'm dealing with a product that I'm taking from the vineyard to the bottle. Being patient with it, waiting with it, watching it develop, and extrapolating that into the next vintage that we produce… You can make wine for thirty years straight and still not have it all figured out. Karin and I will be learning in this process forever but one thing is for certain, once these wines are put into bottle and age we can only watch and learn from that point on. This is the humbling patience that gives us perspective as we age too.
KM: And also within the wine growing world, when you start making wine it completes the circle. Because when you grow fruit and sell the fruit, that's one ball game. What you can push that fruit to do depends on how you farm it. When you understand that, then I think there's a greater respect for what it takes to make a bottle of wine. It takes a lot…
JM: When I came in to take over the vineyards from my dad — I was 19, 20 years old — I came from the side of, "Oh, the damned wineries want us to do all this stuff in the vineyard." It was always a struggle: they'd come out and say, "Hey, we need to drop some fruit, pull some leaves," while I would always think, "You don't need to do any of that. It doesn't make a difference in the wine." That's what I thought, because I was on the grower side. And then we started making wine. When Karen and I started, we wanted to make the best possible wine that we could off this ranch, and decided that it had to be better than anything else that's ever been made from here.
"The one thing that sticks out to Karen and I the most is keeping a wine really fresh and really clean. That's so important. It comes back to being with your wine all the time."
That was our goal, and to this day it's still our goal. In doing that, we learned all the trials and tribulations of winemaking, the risks, the challenges, and how much it really makes a difference in the end product and its marketability. With all that, along with my experience as a grower, my ability to speak the lingo and communicate with the people who buy our fruit for other labels is seamless now, it's smooth. It's easy for Karen and I to sit down with a winemaker and say, "Hey, this is what we're doing with our stuff. Do you want to try it with yours?" or "We've been successful with this, but not so much with that."
KM: It's actually changing the way we communicate and the way we negotiate with wineries. Now we have this wine in front of them, and can tell them that this is what we produce off of our ranch. It's a very good tool for communicating and negotiating.
NM: So making wine, in addition to growing and selling grapes, has expanded your palette (in the artist's sense) of experience and vocabulary that you didn't quite have as just a grower…