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Ask a Winemaker: Chuck Wagner

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What do you wonder about winemaking? Do you have something you've always wanted to ask a winemaker? Any burning questions that come about while you're enjoying a good bottle of wine? Let Round Pond ask the Napa Valley's most decorated winemakers your most challenging (and fun) questions...

We've selected six different winemakers from throughout the Napa Valley to answer our most provocative query: What is your winemaking "Secret Sauce"? and we love hearing all the different techniques! Check out other interviews in the Ask a Winemaker series: Honig Winery's Kristin Belair & our very own Muiris Griffin.

Third in our series: Caymus Vineyard's winemaker, Chuck Wagner:

Q

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL SATURDAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

A

Saturday is a workday, and I am usually checking whatever progress is made during the week in the vineyard. The last couple of years, I'm looking both here in Rutherford, in Napa, and more intently at the vineyards in Suisun Valley, where we are building a new winery. The winery offices are shut at that time, so it’s my opportunity to get out there.



Q

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU'VE LEARNED DURING YOUR WINEMAKING CAREER?

A

You know, I’m going to give you some pretty “typical” answers here, sorry about that! (laughs). I’ve learned through the years, with the cycles of Mother Nature and the climate, about not being so determined to find an answer and being more settled that things will turn out in the end. We just have to wait and see what occurs. 



Q

WE ALL HAVE THINGS WE DON’T LOVE ABOUT OUR JOBS. WHAT PART OF YOUR JOB DO YOU DREAD, OR LEAST LIKE TO DO?

A

What we’re doing right now! (laughs) No, probably if we make a new hire for an employee, and I can see that it’s not a good fit, that’s very difficult. I’d like to think that everyone who joins us can stay for a long time and it’s upsetting to realize that may not be the best path -- I hate thethought of disrupting their lifestyle.

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Q

IF YOU COULD SHARE A GREAT BOTTLE OF WINE WITH ANY THREE PEOPLE, WHO WOULD THEY BE?

A

My parents, who asked me to start Caymus Vineyards with them when I was 19. They lived long lives and are no longer with us - the two of them would be more than enough.

 



Q

THEN, WHAT IS THE “GREAT” BOTTLE YOU WOULD SHARE?

A

I think the Caymus Special Selection Cabernet 1990 is a pretty interesting wine right now. That would be the one.



Q

IS THERE A PARTICULAR MOMENT THAT MADE YOU WANT TO BE A WINEMAKER? WAS THERE MAYBE A MENTOR THAT INSPIRED YOU?

A

Well, probably the moment would be making wine with my father and his enthusiasm with serving that wine at the table. That would probably be the moment. We were farmers through thick and thin. I’ve got to give it to my folks for hanging in there. I grew up on this Rutherford property, which is 73 acres, and our primary crop was prunes. Then we also grew grapes, walnuts and cereal grains.



Q

IF NOT WINE, WHAT WOULD YOU DRINK ON A FRIDAY NIGHT?

A

You know, if it’s not wine, I’m a water-drinker. I also like a bit of tequila.



Q

WHAT IS THE MOST PURCHASED ITEM ON YOUR DEBIT CARD?

A

Dinners, definitely! Second would be gifts.



Q

WHEN YOU DROVE INTO WORK TODAY, WHAT MUSIC WERE YOU LISTENING TO?

A

I walked to work today and listened to the birds singing in the oak trees.



Q

DO YOU HAVE ANY GUILTY PLEASURES?

A

None! How about this: I have pleasures, but I don’t feel like they’re guilty. Probably relaxing, eating some double or triple cream cheese, a glass of wine and some sausage a friend of mine makes.

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Q

DO YOU HAVE ANY SECRET TALENTS? WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT YOU?

A

I'm a good winery and vineyard guy. I’m a fast pruner and an excellent tractor operator, and I can fix leaks in barrels!



Q

WHAT IS YOUR MOST OVERUSED WINE DESCRIPTOR?

A

“Texture.” It has to do with trying to explain the goodness of tannins. If grapes are grown properly, tannins are not bitter – in fact, they’re the most enjoyable component of a red wine. They’re “chocolate,” “cocoa,” “granular,” “sweet-like.” That’s what I call texture.



Q

AND FINALLY, WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WINEMAKING OR WINEGROWING TECHNIQUE (WHAT’S YOUR SECRET SAUCE)?

A

An indication of high-quality red grapes is that they have so little juice that we have difficulty crushing them at the winery. This is pure essence – concentrated – and is a result of the skins of ripe grapes. I personally don’t think the juice of grapes is important. The extract, the tannins, it’s all included with the skins.

 

Feed by Round Pond

Written by Feed by Round Pond

The Feed by Round Pond is a collective voice of the staff that embodies the ethos of all we do--from making wine to making artisanal food products to just plain having fun--here at Round Pond.

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