Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Welsh Stewart Wines

One of the things I dig on this trip is having people contact me and invite me to talk to them. Although having them within twenty miles of my epicenter is nice. Jeremy Bivins was out near Davis, roughly an hour's drive east from where I was, and I realized it would be a trek. But what the hell, I thought: I can go walk around the UC Davis Campus and make faces at the law students.

Before the drive, I checked out his Welsh Stewart website to see what he was up to. There was a statement therein that made me raise a brow: Who says you can't have high alcohol and balance? Not us!

Hmm...'cause see, I'm that person who says that. At least, most of the very high alcohol reds I've come across lack the kind of acidic structure that I think is necessary to hold up the front end, so to speak. So I was gonna need some proof of that.

Jeremy met me at a bustling crepe place in Davis, and I liked him immediately. But I thought, this guy doesn't look like a wine guy. This guy looks like a beer connoisseur to me: young, stout, handsome and bearded, the kinda guy who could tell you the finer points of porter rather than Zinfandel. Interesting...


Interview with Jeremy Bivins, Welsh Stewart Wines


C&D: Tell me how you got started.

We moved here in June of 2001, and I started making beer as a hobby. I was at a beer supply store one day picking up grains and saw a number for a grape grower in Dixon, he'd over picked 750 pounds of Zinfandel. So I thought it would be cool to make the jump from beer to wine. My cousins were growing wine. So he offered me the use of his farm and his barn. Over the next six months he showed me everything I needed to know, my crash winemaking course. For six months, I'd go out and taste it, see how it was doing. Then we had a big wine bottling party that next summer...we bottled thirty cases...

How many did you drink?

We probably put away a case or so. But it was an all day thing because we'd never bottled before and it took us three hours just to set up the stainless steel bottle filler. Competent people, it would've taken them an hour to get that done (laughs).


We were talking earlier about ratings chasers and all that...how do you see yourself as a winemaker?

Part of me thinks that winemakers who really hold tight to reviews also take whatever criticisms they read in those mags about wines and then alter their style accordingly so that they insure that they'll always be considerable to that publication. I don't like that. I think you focus on the fruit, you make the best wine with the fruit and the year that you have, and if it turns out to be a 17% alcohol Zin, that's what it turns out to be. So for me at least, if I worry during the fermentation process about how this wine's going to look to somebody like Spectator, who doesn't like high alcohols, they don't like small production anyway...my head would explode. I'd rather just focus on the process and do the best that I can do.

Right now, making wine isn't currently your primary source of income.

No.

What do you do for the money?

I design online training for corporations.

Is wine something you would like to be your primary income?

Yes. If I could make the same amount of money making wine that I make working with computers, I do it in a heartbeat.

What's your take on the common manipulations of wine, like color?

My philosophy is that I want whatever goes into my bottles to be something that I made. I don't ever want to get into a situation where I buy bulk wine...other people's wine to blend. So that makes fruit selection important to me and it makes being really attentive during fermentation really important. I don't ever want to get into the Mega Purple trap, but fortunately, it's not such an issue working with the Rhone varieties.


Will you always buy your fruit, or do you have aspirations to buy some land and do it all yourself?

My goal is always to become self-sufficient. I've had to search for new Zin sources every year...and every year they're different. So yeah, I'd like to rely on myself rather than other growers.

How would you characterize your wines?

The Zin is definitely a "I'm going to sit down and drink a bottle of wine, maybe with a little food, maybe not" kind of wine.

A sipper wine.

The Zin definitely is. I don't think of the Zin as a food-friendly wine. The Rhone blend is much more food-friendly, I think. It's a totally different style of wine.

What comes to mind with this word: 'terroir'?

I don't think about that word too much, because then I have to remember how to pronounce it. I go by appellation...Russian River, Dry Creek...I know what those appellation are going to give me. I know Russian River's going to give me higher acid, bigger fruit and darker color, and Dry Creek's going to give me lighter color, more spice, more red fruit flavors than black fruit. And so that combination I really like.

********

So the question remains: high alcohol and balance, together at last? I'm gonna say this: it is a BIG, JUICY Zin. Can't use the word subtle anywhere in its description. But it had nice weight to it, and was powerful without being jammy. Definitely a sipper wine, lest one feel inclined to pull one's pantyhose off over one's head. I'd recommend it to the Big Young Zin lovers for a try.

I have Steve Rogstad up next, who spoke to me about wine and the Pixies while we watched the fog cover the Carneros. After that, a fabulous couple of Pinot pioneers from the Sonoma Coast. Don't act like you aren't staying tuned.

Clinkies.

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