Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dieter and Gone To Heaven

Dieter Cronje, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, is the winemaker at Presqu'ile a winery in the Santa Maria Valley in California's Central Coast. Presqu'ile has an interesting connection to New Orleans having been founded by the Murphy Family after their summer home on the Gulf Coast (also called Presqu'ile) was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Dieter took some time out of living the idyllic winemaker life (said with sarcasm) to chat. Let's put 20 ish questions on the clock. All photos courtesy of Presqu'ile (pronounced Press Keel).

My dad was a man of the law in South Africa during Apartheid. In order to endure all of that, one had to drink a lot, I suppose. So I began drinking wine with him. At 18, I went to University, where I figured out one could actually get a degree in making wine. My dad recommended I get a degree in enology.

A 1997 Dujac Clos de la Roche. It was drank at a party for a winemaker I was working for. He brought it out and popped the cork. It was then I knew I wanted to make Pinot Noir.

I worked at Kanu Vineyards for a while. Then headed off to France for a couple weeks, just working in a winery here and there for a day or so and moving on. Did a lot of double vintages during that time, where I would work September to October in the Northern Hemisphere and then January to May in South Africa.

I was working at a winery that Matt's (Murphy) parents were invested in. Matt was working there also to kind of figure out if wine was something he and his family wanted to pursue more. I started work there on August 1, 2006 and Matt and I instantly became very good friends. Which when you are working long hours in the fields, you either become good friend with someone or you hate them. We became friends. So when his family went forward with Presqu'ile, Matt asked me to be the winemaker. I said yes. You know we used to surf, play golf, and stuff, all the time. Now we are too busy for that (laughs).

With my Pinots I am looking for a more balanced, nuanced wine rather than something large and alcoholic. My wines aren't overwhelmed by new oak, we only use wild yeast and this helps keep our alcohol levels low. What I am really trying to do is capture each vintage for what it is. I want to highlight the differences between a vintage because that is the way it is supposed to be, rather than each vintage being manipulated to taste the same.

All of wine making is pretty tough stuff (laughs). Definitely the cleaning. People dont realize how much of our day is spent cleaning. We work during harvest up to 20 hours a day, with 15 of those dedicated to scrubbing tanks, cleaning drains, having insects from the vines climbing up your pants, getting really is hard work.

The Santa Maria Valley is in between two transverse mountain ranges. This means when the morning marine layer front comes in it smacks up against this mountain range and just sits there until around lunch. This allows our grapes to to stay cooler, get less sun, and hang longer. Plus the soil here isn't very rich, which is good for grapes because you want the vines to have to fight to make grapes.

First, a new winery needs to be able to make quality wine. And we got that down. Next, the hardest thing is the fight to get our name out there. There are millions of labels of wine and we've got to get ours in front of the customer. To this end, Matt is on the road 200 days a year, just getting people to taste the wines. But once they do, we got them.

With our Sauvignon Blanc, raw oysters. No better pairing than that. With the Chardonnay, I like pastas, chicken. But because of the weight of the chardonnay you can use a heavier sauce on the pasta, something with cream. With the Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, a bone in ribeye with mushrooms and a reduced balsamic glaze. With the Presqu'ile Vineyards Pinot Noir, duck confit. I love duck.

Wine and War. A great book about wine during the Second World War and the struggle by the French to keep the good stuff from being shipped to Hitler. Billionaire's Vinegar is another good book about the sale of a fake bottle of wine to a wealthy collector who thought he was getting a bottle owned by Thomas Jefferson. And then on a technical level, I really like Principles and Practices of Winemaking.

I am not a fan of high alcohol wines, for two reasons. One the high alcohol itself. Second, in order to her that high alcohol level, the wine starts to lack in acidity and it moves from its natural state. Hard core yeasts must be added, sugar, etc... I am not a fan of that at all.

I wish more wineries would use more native fermentation, getting the yeast off their fields instead of generic yeast. I also wish people would use less oak. Look, oak is the most generic, universal flavor in wine. You and I can order a barrel of oak from the same cooper and give our two different wines the same flavor. Using less oak allows the varietal to shine through. Also, the amount of animal products used in winemaking would shock most vegetarians-egg whites, gelatins, fish scales in many white wines. If the government makes us put "Contains Sulfites" on our labels, it should make wineries list animal products as well.

Have to say when Matt and Amanda got married in Denver. We opened a lot of great bottles of wine. Including a rather young, but still incredible bottle of Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee-Conti. It was a very special wine and a special moment. As they were getting married and we were all about ready to start the winery.

Dream case? That is tough. Start with Champagne- a (1) 96 Dom Perignon Rose and an (2) 85 Krug. Then, I would need a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, so let's go with (3) 2010 Spy Glass. A bottle of (4) Mulderbosch from South Africa, a great white wine. Kanu, a (5) wooded Chenin Blanc from a good year. A wine from (6) Au Bon Climat, one of the ones names after his daughters, but I can't pick just one because I know him. So either Knox or Isabelle. A bottle of that (7) 97 Dujac. (8) DRC Romanee-Conti 2002. A bottle of (9) Gaja Costa Russi. A bottle of (10) Didier Dagueneau's last vintage of Sauvignon Blanc which was 2008. Now some sweet wines. (11) Kracher rates numbers his wines from #1-#14, with #14 being the sweetest. I'd take #14. Finally a bottle of (12) vin de Constance, Napoleon's favorite wine.

Serve your wine at the right temperature. You are drinking your whites too cold and your reds to warm. And store wines properly.

I really appreciate that wineries are trying to utilize biodynamic practices or organic farming. But all that stops at the edge of your vines. If the guy next to you is spraying pesticides, that is going to get into your wine. And sometimes doing things organically can create a bigger carbon footprint, because say, instead of using tractor once a day you are using it 3 times a day. The issue of biodynamic and organic needs to be studied more and researched more before it is accepted whole cloth.

My family. My mom, my dad, and my brother. They all live in South Africa, so I rarely see them. If giving the opportunity, I'd like to drink a bottle of my wine with them.

Favorite chore is definitely tasting! When we blend the wine, we taste each barrel, then blend them up. But my favorite time at the winery is a very specific moment. It comes after harvest when all the grapes are in the tank. I climb up on top the ladder to punch down the cap, and hopefully see bubbles. When I see those bubbles it means we are now making wine, as opposed to just growing grapes. That moment always makes me smile.

Ice cold beer. There is a winemakers saying, "It takes a lot of beer to make good wine." And that is the truth.

I don't really pay attention to what people write about how wine tastes. But one thing I can't stand is the personification of wine. Say when someone compares this wine to a "shy women in the back of a room." Or that wine to an "aggressive women at the end of a bar late at night." Wine is not a person. It makes the writer sound like they are referring to themselves in the third person.

1 comment:

Shawn said...

Nicely done! Glad to see this post! I got a chance to meet Dieter, and I have to say this guy is hysterical and a lot of fun. He had laughter going for much of the event. Looking forward to their new tasting room! Cheers!