Q Why do you grow/make wine from the SLH?
A The first domestic pinot noir to steal my heart was sourced from Garys’ Vineyard and that bottle pre-dated my career as a winemaker. It was a wine recommended by John Brechter and Dottie Gaiter, the former wine writers for the Wall Street Journal. After reading their article, I bought the wine, and it forever altered my professional career arc. Today, I am blessed to work with Mark Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, sourcing from the Soberanes Vineyard, right next door to Garys’. I still keep a worn out copy of that old newspaper article in my study. From time to time, I’ll pull it out, re-read it, and laugh. Despite my obvious personal bias for SLH fruit, SLH pinots are special. I categorize their hallmark flavors as “that earthy, leathery, clove-y thing.” SLH pinots are deep, brooding, layered, and complex- terrific food wines.
Q What is your earliest (or favorite) wine memory?
A Ouch, embarassing. I drank too many wine coolers at Brian’s and my high school prom. I threw up in the limousine, and Brian had to pay off the limo driver.
Q What do you love the most about the SLH area (or your winery’s area)?
A That’s easy – the people. In 2009, I called Mark Pisoni on a whim. It was cold call. I remembered the WSJ article about SLH pinots, so I thought I’d call Mark to see if he’d sell me some of that “Garys’ fruit.” I’d only been making wine for two years, and Mark didn’t know me at all. But rather than laugh me off the phone, he invited me down to the ranch. The following harvest, 2010, he sold me 0.76 tons of Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir. After that first pick, as his big, refrigerated truck rambled up the 101 to Healdsburg, Mark called me to say, “Take good care of this fruit.” And now every year, my SLH harvest can’t begin until Mark says the magic words.
Q What’s your favorite pairing for SLH pinot noir / chardonnay / syrah?
A Wood fired pizza with pancetta and portabello mushrooms. Beging by pouring yourself a glass of wine. (Trust me; you’ll need it later). Start with heavily seasoned, cubed pancetta. Sweat it down to render the fat and add thick cut slices of mushroom. Next, let the mushrooms cook down and grow almost sticky in the pan. Deglaze the pan with a splash of wine (pinot, of course), and use the pork-mushroom mixture to top your pizza. It’s pretty fabulous with a light red sauce base and dollops of fresh ricotta cheese.
Q What’s your favorite type of music to listen to during crush?
A Obviously, 80’s pop. Have you seen our prom picture? (please reference question regarding my earliest wine memory).
Q What for you is the best part of being a wine grower/vintner?
A I get to work with the best grape growers in California, people like Mark Pisoni and Gary Franscioni. And I am deeply committed to their fruit. Our relationship is something of a sacred pact. In exchange for access to Soberanes fruit, I promise Mark and Gary that my wine will be expressive of their vineyard, reflective of their farming, and bring pride to our partnership. Writing “Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands” on my bottle is an extension of our years long collaboration, through vine dormancy to bud break to harvest. The importance of my grower relationships cannot be underestimated.
Q What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
A I like to run. In fact, every Saturday morning I run a 9 or 10 miler with my BFF, also a winemaker. During harvest, we trouble shoot our ferment lots. I also run up and down the freeway, driving my kids to and from swim team. And I run errands, of course.
Q If you had to sum up your (life / wine) philosophy in three words...?
A Wine is elemental
Q Your guilty pleasure(s)?
A Candy (red vines, gummy fish, black licorice) and cheap sake
Q If you didn’t do what you did, what would you do?
A I guess I’d go back to being a physician, a surgical pathologist. When I was a little a girl, my dad used to say, “Kerith, you can be whatever you want after medical school.” And I held up my end of the deal. In 2007, I left a career in surgical pathology to pursue my true passion - yeast. I’m kidding of course, but pathology and winemaking are closer than you’d think.