From wine nerds to winemakers - how we ventured into the world of winemaking
By Jennifer Waits, Co-Owner, Waits-Mast Family Cellars
When my husband and I embarked on the process of making our first barrel of wine nearly 10 years ago, we had no idea what we were in for. It started as a bit of a lark, but really an opportunity to learn more about wine (which we love) and to try our hand at crafting a wine from one of our favorite grapes (Pinot Noir). We had plenty of ideas and when Brian met with our first winemaker, they spent hours discussing the type of Pinot Noir that we’d like to make.
That first barrel of Waits-Mast Family Cellars wine (a 2005 Pinot Noir from Amber Ridge Vineyard in Russian River) far exceeded our expectations and lured us into making more wine the following year. We’d already been wine nerds, having attended the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival’s Technical conference starting in around 2000. Far out of our league, we’d fuel up on coffee and take copious notes while listening to scientists delve into serious grape growing and wine making topics related to soil, disease, grape clones, and the intricacies of the wine making process.
Back in 2000, we didn’t have much context for all of this information that we were taking in at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival’s Technical conference, but we listened attentively and supplemented those kernels of wisdom with other outside research. We started to read more books and articles about wine - from technical to historical - and also began asking different types of questions when we were out wine tasting. We started to become those people asking: "what's your oak program" or "can you tell us the Brix and pH at harvest?"
As wine newbies, I vividly remember being at our first winemaking facility back in 2005 and laughing to myself when someone asked for the name of the forest in France that a particular barrel was from. At the time I couldn’t imagine why anyone would care about that level of detail.
Flash forward to 2015 and after 10 years of winemaking I realize that we think about far more details than we ever could have imagined when we first started. Although we may dabble in different forests, we do put serious consideration into the types of barrels that we use, from the manufacturer, to the degree of toast, to the percentage of new vs. older barrels that we use for each vintage.
Barrels are just a small part of the whole process, and we have also spent a lot of time thinking about pick dates, working in the winery to craft the perfect blend that highlights the terroir of each site, and even have debates about the color of foil to use for each bottle of wine. We are faced with countless decisions throughout the wine making process and hopefully everything coalesces in order to help us realize our vision of making delicious vineyard-designate Pinot Noir that represents the diversity of sites in Mendocino County.