WinemakerI was lucky to have parents that loved wine. Mom even tried her hand at winemaking. My teen-age buddies and I drank a lot of that precious nectar stored under the basement stairs in carboys. Mom never figured out why her evaporation rates were so high!! And I was hooked! It seemed magical that you could turn everyday fruit into such a delicious treat.
That early fascination blossomed into a life-long experimentation with hobby brewing and winemaking. In the early 1980's my Uncle, Steve Livingstone, started one of the early wineries in the state in Spokane, Washington, and my visits to his winery (and my recognition of how much fun he was having!) began stoking my interest in being involved in commercial winemaking. At that time I was attending Law School at UC's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, and my law school friends and I made many trips to nearby Napa to relax and explore. Napa at that time was still small scale, but beginning to boom. And the wines were exceptional! The bug I'd caught really began to itch.
As I watched the Washington Wine industry grow throughout the 80's and 90's, more and more I was determined that somehow I needed to find a way to be part of it. In 2001, I was spending a week in the beautiful place that I love above all others: Lake Chelan. I came upon the dusty, old orchard property with gorgeous views that was to become the Vin du Lac Estate. I did some research, and became convinced that the Valley had the potential to make unique, high quality wines. I made an offer on the property.
I began studying commercial wine-making in my spare time. I had a bit of chemistry background from High School and College, and I read and re-read the wine science textbooks from UC Davis.
I completed the purchase of the winery property in March of 2002, and started planting grapes in April. During the summer we remodeled the two old orchard sheds on the property, and that fall we crushed 25 tons of grapes.
Those early experiences have been so important in influencing my winemaking philosophy. First, we weren't rich growing up, and I certainly wasn't rich working 40 hours a week as a banquet waiter to pay my Law School tuition and living expenses. So I never approached wine as a "connoisseur". At home and at play, we wanted really good wine, but also wine we could afford. Today, most of my friends still aren't rich, and that drives one of our key Vin du Lac Philosophies: keep it affordable.
My Napa experiences taught me the importance of place. It is one of the magical things about wine that the place from which it comes can infuse it with such distinctive characteristics that place itself becomes a defining attribute of the wine. For me, terroir is everything. Great winemaking must always endeavor to evoke it. We pursue that by seeking wine grapes that are well-grown, distinctive and expressive, and then practicing minimal intervention in the winery, to allow the character of the wine to express itself.
There is art and creativity in winemaking. It is absolutely the most creative thing I have ever done (I can't draw, sing or dance!) But my science background and studies (and mistakes!) have made me distrustful of intuitive hunches. I’ve seen that the best winemakers do have great intuition and understanding of winemaking on some level that is beyond academics. But there is so much science-based winemaking knowledge available now, that it seems foolish to me to ignore it.
I now have two great winemaking assistants: Todd Bunker and David Traynor. They've been around and have seen how lots of other winemakers do things. They often have suggestions to try different techniques they have seen elsewhere. But they've learned I am always going to send them to the books (well, OK, maybe to Google) to pull the data that supports why a new approach makes sense. They are growing as winemakers, and someday they'll probably outgrow me. I'm fine with that! The wines at Vin du Lac will just keep getting better and better!