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Ask a Winemaker: Todd Graff

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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 5 different winemakers from throughout the Napa Valley to answer our most provocative query: What is your winemaking "Secret Sauce"? Check out other interviews in the Ask a Winemaker series: Caymus Winery's Chuck Wagner,  Honig Winery's Kristin Belair & our very own Muiris Griffin.

Fourth in our series: Frank Family Vineyards' Winemaker, Todd Graff:

Q

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL SATURDAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

A

It all depends on the season. During harvest it’s a typical (work) day, so nothing different there from the other days during harvest. But during the rest of the year, if I'm good, it’s waking up early and getting to the gym before anyone else does, and if I'm bad, it looks more like coffee and a newspaper. In the summer, if the kids are home from college, it could be a big breakfast morning, with bacon involved, for sure.



Q

WHAT IS THE MOST PURCHASED ITEM ON YOUR DEBIT CARD?

A

Champagne. I’m not sure that I have a favorite, but the one sitting in front of me is a Delamotte. I have a couple of bottles of Vilmart here, and it’s usually French champagne. I only belong to two wine clubs, and they’re both champagne clubs (laughs). We make a few “bubbles” here at Frank Family, and I’ve been (making) it for most of my career, first at Schramsberg and then Cordoniu (now Artesa). 



Q

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

A

This morning happened to be sports talk. If it’s not that, it’s probably old Country, like Waylon Jennings.

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Q

DO YOU HAVE ANY GUILTY PLEASURES

A

Probably 80’s music, mostly Pop. And then back to that bacon again.

 



Q

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

A

I make a mean margarita. I like silver (tequila) with a margarita. All you need are some good limes and a good triple sec like Cointreau. And keeping the Mexican theme going, my breakfast tacos are a pretty big hit around the house. I don’t recommend them at the same meal, though.



Q

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

A

I went to UC Davis to study grape growing – viticulture – specifically. I think the harvest I did at Joseph Phelps Vineyards was really when the lightbulb came on. The vintages that I worked overseas, in Australia and France, reaffirmed it for me.



Q

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST LESSON THAT YOU HAVE LEARNED DURING YOUR WINEMAKING CAREER?

A

Be prepared, and trust your instincts. With everything you do.



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

Paperwork, for sure. Being a “desk jockey.” I’m lucky that most of my time is in the cellar and the vineyard.



Q

IF YOU COULD SHARE A GREAT BOTTLE OF WINE WITH ANY 3 PEOPLE, WHO WOULD THEY BE?

A

I think I'm going to choose my 3 children.



Q

WHAT IS THE “GREAT” BOTTLE YOU WOULD SHARE?

A

The great bottle would probably be our Winston Hill bottlings from their birth year (Frank Family Vineyard’s flagship wine from Rich Frank’s estate in Rutherford).

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Q

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

A

Gin and Tonic. My favorite gin normally is Hendricks, and a specialty I guess would be Monkey 47 out of Germany that is pretty delicious. The bottle is pretty interesting, too. Right now it’s on the windowsill filled with flowers, like a college wine bottle. You never quite grow out of flowers in liquor bottles, I guess (laughs).



Q

WHAT IS YOUR MOST OVERUSED WINE DESCRIPTOR?

A

Oh, I know where this is going (laughs). “Balance” – and I use it because I like it. To me, it means that if the wine is balanced, I’ve done my job well. Everything from aroma, to body, to structure, fruit, and oak - I’m looking for a complete circle, and to not have any one thing dominate.



Q

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

A

My philosophy is, at the end of the day, I just want the wine to taste good. However, for fun, my secret to help a wine finish ferment or mellow out, would be turn the cellar lights down low and play a little Barry White. If that doesn’t work, then it is Bob Marley and shaking chicken bones. That usually gets the wine going my direction.

 

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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