Have you ever dreamed of becoming a winemaker and wondered what it takes? What’s it like to work a wine harvest without power? What makes Riesling the most difficult grape to ferment?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Jim Duane, winemaker and host of the Inside Winemaking Podcast.
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- What’s the story behind Seavey Vineyard having both grapes and livestock?
- Which unusual cow-specific winemaking tip does Jim follow every harvest?
- How did 15 tons of crushed Pinot Noir grapes go missing and end up in a parking lot?
- What’s it like to work a harvest without power?
- How did Jim go from totally avoiding Rosé to making three vintages by 2021?
- What makes Riesling the hardest wine to ferment?
- What led to the aha moment in high school when Jim first became intrigued by fermentation?
- How are off-dry, dry and sweet wines classified depending on their sugar levels?
- Why does Jim consider himself a gardener at heart?
- What’s unique about working with Seavey Vineyard?
- Why was Jim terrified about going into a career as a winemaker?
- What was Jim’s inspiration for creating his podcast, Inside Winemaking?
- How was working at Stags’ Leap winery was like a university of practical winemaking for Jim?
- Why is mastering logistics a critical part of becoming a successful winemaker?
- What were Jim’s biggest takeaways from working at Robert Mondavi Winery?
- Why was Jim excited to have access to the To Kalon vineyard?
- Jim gives us a taste for what it’s like being a winemaker, but his podcast and courses will help you take a deep dive if you’re so inclined.
- His story about working a harvest without power was incredible. Pure grit and determination. And I guess that’s how they did it in the old days every year. Hard to imagine.
- I’m fascinated with all aspects of Riesling as it’s so diverse in style and food pairings, but Jim really opened my eyes to how difficult it is to make.
Start The Conversation: Click Below to Share These Wine Tips
In 2019 we did over two weeks without power at the winery and we still crushed fruit and processed everything. - Jim Duane Click to tweet
As you go through wines, you have a natural evolution of things that you like. - Jim Duane Click to tweet
Since Riesling has different levels of sugar, it allows you to use different cuisine with different pairings and matches. - Jim Duane Click to tweet
I’ve always had a wonder, curiosity and just a full-fledged love for plants and growing things. - Jim Duane Click to tweet
A lot of the job of winemaking is logistics and I’m pretty fascinated by that. - Jim Duane Click to tweet
About Jim Duane
Jim Duane studied biology at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington then worked at Brancott Vineyards in New Zealand. Hauling rocks in the vineyard, he says, helped him get ready for graduate school at the renowned University of California at Davis oenology program. In 2004, he moved to Napa where he’s been ever since.
Jim is now the winemaker at Seavey Vineyard in California’s Napa Valley. Prior to that, he worked at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Robert Mondavi Winery.
In 2014, he launched a podcast called Inside Winemaking, which is ranked one of the most popular wine podcasts. In 2021, he launched Terratorium Wines as a direct result of his podcast and winemaking classes. Jim and his wife Erin have two daughters that keep them busy. Recently, he notes, they logged four pulled-teeth in a 36-hour period.
- Connect with Jim Duane
- Diary of a Book Launch: An Insider Peek from Idea to Publication
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- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 26: Wine & War: The Vinous Insurrection
- My new class The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner And How To Fix Them Forever
- My book deal is signed! Here’s the announcement that was printed in Publisher’s Marketplace, the official industry publication:
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Jim Duane 0:00
Well riesling’s fun right? At those different levels of sugar. It allows you to use different cuisine with different pairings and matchings. Right? Pairing dry wines is a lot different from a sweet wine and what you’re going to eat with it.
Natalie MacLean 0:13
Yeah, exactly. And especially since we love so many different cuisines these days that are often spicy, or even a bit sweet themselves, like they often will just kill dry table wines. Where it’s something with a little natural sweetness, it just goes beautifully with those dishes.
Jim Duane 0:27
Yeah, I totally agree.
Natalie MacLean 0:35
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations. Well that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie Maclean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started. Welcome to Episode 173. Have you dreamed of becoming a winemaker and wondered what it really takes? What’s it like to work a wine harvest without power? And what makes riesling the most difficult grape to ferment? You’ll hear those stories and more during our chat with Jim Duane host of the inside winemaking podcast. Now on a personal note, before we dive into the show with the continuing story of publishing my new wine memoir, the book deal is signed. Woo hoo! I didn’t want to say anything until the announcement was printed in Publishers Marketplace, the official industry publication and you know, even then, I waited to check I wasn’t caught in some sort of weird dream sequence like the I don’t know, confusing opener of some books. Okay, so here is the announcement: TV personality, host of the podcast, Unreserved Wine Talk. Yay! Four time James Beard award winning writer and author of Red White and Drunk All Over Natalie McLean’s Wine Witch on Fire. That’s the title, about one woman’s quest to transform her life that’s been shattered with the sudden crumbling of her 20 year marriage and a vicious professional attack, forcing her to choose between despair and over drinking or digging deeper to find the magic inside herself, to reclaim her son, sanity, reputation, new love and ultimately, her self worth. Sold to Russell Smith at Dundurn Press by Sam Hyatt at the Rights Factory World English rights end quote. I raise my glass to the best agent in the biz Sam Hyatt at the Rights Factory for brilliantly pairing me with editor Russell Smith at Dundurn Press, and to both of them for believing in this book from the get go. Special thanks also to pre submission editors, Allyson Latta and Kathryn Willms, who did major life saving surgery on the manuscript. It still seems unreal to see 10 years of work compressed into one sentence. And that’s all they allow by the way in announcements, thus the mammoth run on length of it. And it’s still not over yet. That tiny tombstone announcement is also a rebirth for a memoir that’s been more than a book for me. It’s a message that I hope to share with as many people who want or need to hear it. I’ve posted a link to a blog post called Diary of a book launch in the shownotes at Natalie Maclean.com forward slash 173. And this is where I share more behind the scenes stories about the journey of taking this memoir from idea to publication. If you want a more intimate insider seat beside me on this journey, please let me know you’d like to become a beta reader and get a sneak peek at the manuscript. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the show notes, you’ll also find my email contact, the full transcript of my conversation with Jim, links to his website and podcast, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you can find the live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at NatalieMaclean.comm forward slash 173. Okay, on the show.
Jim Duane studied biology at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington and then worked at Brancott vineyards in New Zealand. He says hauling rocks in the vineyard helped him get ready for graduate school at the renowned University of California at Davis in their very prestigious enology programme. In 2004, he moved to Napa where he’s been ever since. Jim is now the winemaker at Seavey vineyard in California’s Napa Valley. Prior to that, he worked at Stag’s Leap wine cellars and Robert Mondavi winery, and in 2014, he launched a podcast called Inside Winemaking. It’s ranked as one of the most popular wine podcasts anywhere. In 2021, he launched Terratorium Wines as a direct result from his podcast, which is really interesting, as well as his winemaking classes. Jim and his wife, Erin, have two daughters that keep them busy. He says recently, they logged for pulled teeth in a 36 hour period. Jim, you are busy. Welcome. It’s so great to have you here with us.
Jim Duane 5:56
No, thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here and talk with you today.
Natalie MacLean 6:00
Awesome. All right. Well, let’s dive in and begin with some of your most memorable wine stories. Starting with and correct my pronunciation here, Seavey having both grapes and livestock and something about bloated cows.
Jim Duane 6:16
Yeah, so the Seavey brand started in 1990. And it was a retirement project for Bill and Mary Seavey that purchased this ranch. It’s a 200 acre ranch and we only farmed about 40 acres of grapevines, and back then there actually had been no grapevines. But this ranch had been a winery in a prior century. So in 1880, this whole ranch had been the Franco Swiss wine cellars, like many vineyards and wineries in California really got decimated by prohibition. And so had that period in between where this was a cattle ranch. So when Bill and Mary Seavey purchased the ranch in ’79, and started the brand in 1990, they kept cattle on the property. Today we have a herd of Black Angus cattle. We have sheep and goats and chickens and dogs. And it’s a whole kind of zoo around here sometimes, but there was a young winemaker named Philippe Melka. Back in the early 90s, he came to work here. And we’d always have this practice where you press the Chardonnay grapes, then you throw the pumice out. And you give a bin to the cattle. So this is just pressed grape skins, right just sugar. They love it. It’s sweet. We do it to this day, we don’t give them too much. But they’d love to eat the scrapes. Well Philippe didn’t understand that you can’t do the same with some of the fermented red grapes. And so after a lot of Cabernet was pressed off, he dumped a bit of the pumice into the cattle area, the pasture. And of course, they ate it. They loved it. And then came in the next morning and a bunch of the cows were on their backs their feet up in the air because they were so bloated. That was actually a cow that didn’t make it but cows don’t handle alcohol very well. They don’t have the enzymes to break it down. So never again, everyone remembers this every harvest, you can be really careful with the red pumice. And that doesn’t go to the cattle because they can’t handle it.
Natalie MacLean 7:59
get the cows drunk. Well, I’ve never heard that as a winemaking tip, but that’s the first. Were the grapes fermenting in their stomachs as well. Is that why they were bloated? Or it was just
Jim Duane 8:07
I’m not a vet. So I’m not quite sure all the technical details but everyone remembers. Yeah, no red pumice to the cows. You know, maybe a little bit would be fine, but they had too much. Apparently, the whole herd were on the backs with their feet up in the air.
Natalie MacLean 8:21
That’s quite a sight to see. Wow. All things in moderation, including wine for cows. Okay, let’s move on to. I have another story about crushing Pinot Noir in a parking lot.
Jim Duane 8:32
Oh, so I did college, normal age college stuff. And then I knew I wanted to study wine making from when I was young, even from for college. But I couldn’t quite get to UC Davis. I’d grown up in Utah. I couldn’t wait to get to California financially. It didn’t work out for undergrad. So I did my undergrad work in biology so that I could apply to the master’s programme and Davis and go later. And once I finished undergrad, there’s just no way that I could continue sitting in a chair in school all day. I’m just someone I need to be on my feet. It just didn’t work out. So after college instead of trying to go to grad school, I went to New Zealand for a year. I was 22. I needed adventure. I needed to be on my feet and I needed to work. So went to work at Montana wines down in South Island of New Zealand. It’s known as Brancott estate in the US because of some of the trademark stuff for the state of Montana. It was one of the biggest wineries back then, right this Homer Simpson job where I had this console of panel I was in charge of the intake of grapes and running them through the crusher and the de-stemmer and it was me and this other guy. Russell was a really rough dude in his 50s or 60s, done a lot of things in his life, taught me a lot of things. Nothing about wine, per se but he was in charge of the red stream and I was in charge of the white. It’s just mostly Sauvignon Blanc and some sparkling and it was a big producer of sparkling wines with the Lindauer brand in New Zealand. You know, in the morning we would do our prep work and hook up all our hoses and get everything ready to send grapes to tank. That’s essentially what we did is we we sent grapes to tank all day just using, you know, the control and the Homer Simpson console.
Natalie MacLean 10:07
And for those who don’t watch the cartoon or animated series, it’s just who sits all day at a console pressing buttons, I assume.
Jim Duane 10:14
Yes, that’s exactly. But it was a really nice well rigged up system. But you did have to connect the hoses, and there was one day that Russel had a 15 tonne Pinot Noir lot coming in, which was a small lot for us. But he crushed the grapes and the winery was so big that you had to have a radio, and then you would communicate with another person who was at the tank. So when the grapes left the crusher, there was water in the line. And then the person at the tank, when they saw the grapes come in, they would switch the lines. They would, you know, change the valves so grapes go into the tank and water would shoot out. So one guy went out to the tank waiting for grapes. Russell started crashing and was going and going and a couple minutes later, the guy came back and said, there’s no grapes, what’s going on. And so it led to this big search for these 15 tonne of grapes. And in the end, there was a hose it didn’t get connected after the must chiller. And so what he ended up doing was crashing all of the grapes straight out into the parking lot where the hose didn’t get hooked up instead of into the tank.
Natalie MacLean 11:14
Oh my god, did the grapes go right onto the cement of the parking lot like fermenting it right on the pavement.
Jim Duane 11:21
So yeah, it was a lot of work with shovels after that. It’s cute one.
Natalie MacLean 11:27
Great. And then in 2019, you did a harvest without any power.
Jim Duane 11:31
Not quite any power. But where I am now at Seavey vineyard which is in in Napa Valley. It’s not in the main body valley of Napa Valley. It’s in a little side valley called con Valley, just east of Rutherford, Santa Helena if people know Napa Valley. We’re really out in the sticks. We’re in essentially an oak forest out here. And so we’re at high risk for losing power. And after the fires in 2017, power companies are a lot more hesitant to keep power on in high wind events. It’s really a protective practice to prevent fires. So we lose power all the time in the winery and harvest comes at that high risk time of the year in September and October. And so in 2019, we did over two weeks without power at the winery and we still crushed fruit and processed everything. When I say without power, I mean without grid power. What we ended up doing was hooking up a little generator on the back of a tractor, so is a diesel run tractor with a little PTO run generator. It’s not big enough to run all the equipment in the winery but we can have enough to run the selective equipment so we can process grapes, and then stop that and turn the chillers on. But we’re really kind of on an island out here is the point. Oh, wow.
Natalie MacLean 12:46
Did it affect the vintage in any way? Like, was there any taste difference or any speed of fermentation anything changed as a result? Or just?
Jim Duane 12:55
No, I mean, we couldn’t do the huge days processing days that maybe I would have wanted. We had to scale back a little but very proud that we got fruit in every day continue processing. The wines were great. Actually, the New York Times even came out and did a little article because they were talking about the power outages throughout the harvest season throughout all wine country. So we were actually in the New York Times a little photo and a little write up. It was kind of cool, but we’re, we’re just you know, we bottled those wines last summer and very excited whenever I think of those wines. So you always have like a little story of each vintages when I think 2019 it was real manual hard work sometimes with the lights off because we weren’t always running the lights when we were doing our processing but super excited about those wines.
Natalie MacLean 13:39
Well, it makes you appreciate all the modern technology and conveniences all that. And what about the evolution of avoiding Rosé to make three bottlings or vintages by 2021. What was that all about?
Jim Duane 13:54
So as you said, I did produce three Rosé, three different Rosé as from three different brands in 2021. But if you go back 10 years ago, I wouldn’t touch Rosé. It was just the sort of category of wine that I just wasn’t excited about. I’ve always been drawn to wine for the flavour. And you know, this Rosé is just a different sort of approached wine. It has flavour. It has good flavour. But people don’t tend to drink wine because it has all these layers and nuances, depth and richness of flavour. Rosé is often the wine by the pool. So you want to chill. You want to have a high acid. You have to have the alcohol low enough that it’s fresh and bright and clean. And that just wasn’t appealing to me for many years. But sort of, I think everyone is they go through wines, you have this natural evolution of things that you like, and my wife was one that really led this. I think she just got got kind of fatigued by a lot of the big, heavy red wines that I make. I mean, I’ve always worked making a lot of big Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. So my wife just started drinking more and more Rosé and at first I avoided it. Then little by little, I started drinking more Rosé with her. We’re in our 40s now. So we have this evolution of the food we eat too. We eat lighter food at this point in our life, more vegetables and just less heavy food. And it just fit really well with Rosé. And so little by little I sort of started coming around and now like, that’s what we tend to drink most at home is different Rosé. So at some point, I was like, oh my friends are gonna make fun of me. They’re gonna they’re gonna ruin me with this for this, but I really got excited about Rosé.
Natalie MacLean 15:28
And you kept your reputation.
Jim Duane 15:31
Maybe, maybe we’ll see.
Natalie MacLean 15:34
And you also noted that Riesling is the hardest wine to ferment. Why is that?
Jim Duane 15:39
Oh, so other than making Riesling in my parents basement in Utah when I was in high school, which was my first foray into wine, but that was just a little five gallon actually made it in a little, you know, those red fuel containers like gasoline containers?
Natalie MacLean 15:54
Oh, I have to hear a little bit more about that before you carry on. Like what inspired you as a teenager to do something under the stairs, I don’t know Harry Potter style? What are you doing?
Jim Duane 16:04
It’s a good way to put it. So I grew up in Utah, which is a really conservative state. Its not a dry state, but it has a tonne of like draconian alcohol regulations and laws. And because of the Mormon culture is just not a lot of drinking and alcohol, especially back in the 80s and 90s,when I was growing up. So my parents weren’t from Utah, they were imports. So they didn’t drink a lot. But they did drink some alcohol. And it was just really hard in high school to get beer. And so at one point, my uncle hooked me up with a beer making kit. And so that actually turned out the the easiest way to get beer in Utah, as a high school kid was to make my own beer. And so that’s all I had was the red fuel cans. So I made beer in that. It had not had fuel in it, and I’ll put it that way was a fresh fuel can. Nonetheless, it didn’t look pretty under the stairs. But that was the coolest place in the house, so that’s why we put it into the stairs. I made some beer. It was drinkable. So I was very popular. And that was the first sort of aha moment where I was really intrigued by fermentation. And so that’s kind of what led me into wine. So I got one of those winemaking kits that a lot of home wine makers start with. And it just happened to be Riesling. I didn’t know a thing about a grape or wine, but that’s what they recommended to me. So I made a little bit of Riesling back in 1997, I guess, just after graduating or finishing high school. So that was my first foray into Riesling. And then fast forward 2021, it was the first time I got to make it actually having a full competent knowledge of what the Riesling grape is and what Riesling wines are. It was hard because of the management of that the sugar and acidity. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out when to pick the grapes. These are grapes from Tondré Grapefield which is in Santa Lucia Highlands, California. And so it’s a cool windy spot not far from the Monterey Bay. That was the most important thing. And this is for the Terratorium Brand this Riesling. We wanted to have that great balance of acidity and sugar. And it turns out it’s quite hard to stop a fermentation in the cellar at the exact point that you want it so we wanted kind of the sugar in the acidity to be on par, so about nine or 10 grammes per litre. And so we actually split the lot into two. We had some in tank and some in barrel. We thought, okay, we’ll put the lot in barrel, we’ll let those all go dry, but just from it naturally go dry, and the stuff in tank, we will stop. We’ll put the chiller on, get it cold and we’ll start with enough sugars and then we can balance it out. Well, the lots that we put in barrel didn’t ferment. They stayed and they kept too much sugar. And so then the tank that we were intending to stop, we had stopped it so we were left with a lot more sugar than we wanted to create for this wine. So it was this whole struggle and we got the fermentation tank going again we just warmed it back up. And finally in the end we did get it down. You know at first we were at 15 grammes per litre and we finally got closer like 11 and in the end right you know, two weeks before by the way, we got it down to 10 grammes per litre our goal. But I have never fought with the wine so much in a cellar.
Natalie MacLean 19:14
Yeah, it sounds tough. And so 10 grammes per litre, what does that taste like? Is that what you would characterize as just off dry? Whereas 15 would be like a desert wine?
Jim Duane 19:23
With it. Okay, that’s a good question. Maybe you know this more than I. Some of this nomenclature gets weird with Riesling. I think technically we recall it dry and when you taste it, it’s not sweet. There’s so much acidity that you taste the tartness over and I even had my 12 year old daughter taste this and just asked her you know, what do you think of this not prompting her? And she put in her mouth and she spit it out? She’s like, oh that’s really sour. And I was like Okay, good. So the sugars not too high. But yeah, I think have you ever seen the international Rielsing scale that’s on the back of some producers bottles?
Natalie MacLean 19:55
Yeah, I’ve seen that. I don’t remember the numbers. But yeah, I have seen it.
Jim Duane 19:59
I think when you get about 10 grammes per litre is equivalent to 1% sugar. So it’s right kind of on the line where you could call it dry. So we’re calling it dry. And then yeah, and once you get it 15 grammes per litre, kind of depending on your acidity, right. Because it’s a balance between the two, then you can start saying it’s sweet. But then when you get into sweet wines, it’s kind of double that. It’s getting to some really high levels of sugar when you’re in actual sweet wine.
Natalie MacLean 20:22
Okay, interesting. Wow, love Riesling.
Jim Duane 20:25
Well Riesling is fun, right? Because it’s at those different levels of sugar, it allows you to use different cuisine with different pairings and matches, right? I mean, that’s true. Dry pairings, dry wines is a lot different from a sweet wine and what you’re gonna eat with it.
Natalie MacLean 20:40
Yeah, exactly. And especially since we love so many different cuisines these days that are often spicy, or even a bit sweet themselves, like they often will just kill dry table wines. Whereas it’s something with a little natural sweetness, It just goes beautifully with those dishes.
Jim Duane 20:55
Yeah, totally agree.
Natalie MacLean 20:56
Yeah. Cool. So let’s stay in your childhood for a moment. You’ve long, long been fascinated with plants. What fascinates you about them, even when you were playing soccer, apparently,
Jim Duane 21:09
This is a hard one for me to figure out, but I’m just the consummate plant nerd. When when I was a kid playing sports as a young guy, I was a kid that was there was more interested in the dandelions in the grass than I was the soccer or the game. And I remember as a kid, like, looking down to the dandelions and thinking, no one else cares. Like look at this flower. It’s, it’s incredible. Its structure. Its colour. Like, just where did it come from? Like, I don’t know why everyone cares about kicking the ball around when you have this thing. Like, I always wanted to understand, like, how does a plant how is it created, I was less interested in like, human biology. And that’s just always stayed with me like it’s early February now. So it’s called, I’m just starting to start on my seeds for the next growing season in my garden. And I’m planting seeds. And I just love, so intrigued by that germination, the fact that you have this encapsulation of life in a seed. And then with time in the right conditions, it can grow into this plant, which can give you food, it can be medicine, it can be beauty, it can be structure. All these different things are contained in plants. I just think it’s weird that we go through life, living around plants, eating plants every day and sort of it kind of fades to the background. To me, it’s just always been a little bit more in the forefront. I’ve just, I’ve always had a wonder and curiosity and just a full fledged love for plants and growing things. Poetic way to put it. You are gardener at heart. I will say though, when I was in high school and trying to woo girls, it was not a… it was not a successful pathway.
Natalie MacLean 22:40
You mean flowers?
Jim Duane 22:43
Yeah, yeah. Telling girls, I was interested in flowers. And I remember everyone was talking about we know what they’re gonna study in college when they’re leaving high school and some things were cooler than others. And I was telling people that I was going to plant flowers and not much in just for girls, but then
Natalie MacLean 22:57
so that’s why I try the beer route.
Jim Duane 22:59
That’s right. That’s right. You incorporate the the wine and everything changed. I took due note of that.
Natalie MacLean 23:05
That’s great. And you’ve also said that you also love being outside like you say your vineyard is in the middle of an oak forest. You mentioned that previously. Tell us what that looks like and what it is you love about that setting and being outside and that sort of thing.
Jim Duane 23:22
Again, it’s that proximity to plants. And you know, I’m looking at your screenshot behind you there with the oak trees in the vineyards. And it’s not too dissimilar to what I have just right out my window here at Seavey vineyard. So we really are in the middle of an oak forest. There’s a little bit of pine, but it’s a lot of old oak, some drones and baby trees. On the weekend, when I’m not at work, I want to go hiking. That’s what I most enjoy. You know, I had other jobs in wine industry where they were for bigger producers and I learned a tonne about winemaking. But it was a lot of time sitting in an office at a computer, often writing work orders and sort of being the nexus of information and enology. Then in 2011, when I had this opportunity to come and work here at CB vineyard a drove out during you really have to drive to get out. And there’s this big expanse of forest and everything’s just slower. There’s less pressure. They certainly have a focus on growing grapes. And it’s a little bit harder to grow grapes out where we are because we’re on really hillsides. It’s a dry site, which means there’s not a lot of water holding capacity in the soil. So vines always struggled to grow. But there’s just a power and beauty to the land down here that a lot of times during lunch or after lunch, I’ll just leave my office and go walk and I can walk through a forest to get to the vineyard and come back to the vineyard. It’s just very calming. It’s just I feel like this is kind of the right place like and I’m always been that kid that needed to be on his feet. I sit down like I said I struggled with school sitting and listening to people talk but I love being on my feet. I find that the best way for me to learn I’m not a big reader. I like to listen to things. I like to talk to people and I think ultimately I was very lucky in finding the job it kind of fit my personal characteristics, I guess.
Natalie MacLean 25:08
Oh, that sounds lovely. Like they advocate for all of us forest bathing. You know, you do calm your central nervous system being out in nature and tied to the season. So it sounds like it’s an integral part of your job, which be wonderful.
Jim Duane 25:21
I should mention to the homepage for Seavey vineyard. There’s a quick video it’s a Vimeo video. If anyone wants to check it out, it really shows Seavey in the forest. That’s the best way to see what I’m talking about in real life. If you can come out here.
Natalie MacLean 25:35
Yes, do both. We’ll put a link to that video in the show notes for this for this episode. Yeah, absolutely. And I would think the forest has a lot of woodland creatures. Are there any that are particularly fond of your grapes?
Jim Duane 25:48
Turkeys like to eat grapes. There are certain spots, we know where the turkeys come in. We have a fence a big deer fence all around the whole 200 acres of the property. But we know historically where the turkeys come in, they can fly a little bit so they come over the fence. And so when the grapes are past veraison and starting to ripen up, we’ll get big bags of sunflower seeds and dump them on the ground. And turkeys will to some degree eat the seeds before they go for the grapes. In reality, they eat both. But by eating the seeds hopefully they fill up a little bit before they eat all the grapes. But turkeys, coyotes, coyotes are actually a big issue for us because we have a herd of goats a small flock of sheep. And so right outside my window here, actually we have we just put some sheep in our vineyard degrees during the dormant season, you know the ground is green and the grass is growing. And we have one of those Great Pyrenees dogs, the guard dogs with the sheep to watch out for coyotes, because it’s a wild dangerous place that where we are in terms of nature. Wow. Fascinating. We haven’t had any bears come down here, but a mile up the road they’ve had some bear issues in the vineyard and in with their livestock as well.
Natalie MacLean 26:59
Wow. Oh, well. Okay. So was there anything you were nervous about or afraid of when you went into this industry wide making? Snything that concerns you?
Jim Duane 27:11
I was terrified. I’ll be honest. Yeah. When I was young, you’re 17, I was going to go to college. But I I was very fortunate that I found that I wanted to make wine. The university I was going to go to Gonzaga had sent me a pamphlet of one of those like personality finder, trait finder type deals. So you answer all their questions. And then they give you like a list of things that you might want to focus on. And I did that. And I remember looking and it was like veterinarian, garbage man was on there, actually. Which kind of makes sense, because I do like to be on my feet. And then there was winemaker. It was just a throwaway at first. And then I thought about that. And I was like, well I really like making beer, I was kind of in a transition where I just made beer. So I was very intrigued by that. And so that’s kind of what got me into making that first kit of Riesling. But made me want to look further being in Utah, there was no resources to learn wine making. There was some, you know, old British stuff, like some books and videos I got at the library that would teach you about, you know, general wine stuff. And I remember one video was like 20 minutes on how to put this implement in a fire. And then you heat up the ring put on top of the port bottle. And it’s a way to open a bottle of wine with the heat and all that and it was just not what I was looking for. I felt so unprepared. I had this idea of wanting to go into this career. And I had no resources for that. So I was terrified going into it. Every little bit helps. So learning about biology and chemistry helps a little bit. And then when I was in college, I was able to work at a winery and get a first experience and that was great. But really kind of when I created the podcast in 2014, in the back of my mind, I was always trying to create the resource that I could never find when I was a young person. Obviously podcasts weren’t a thing back in the 90s. But had they been a thing I would have gravitated to that and just held tightly to it because it’s a great way to I mean, it’s free. It’s evergreen, it’s topical. And so I would have searched and listened to all the wine podcasts. So it was a struggle to learn and I think you go to school you have jobs and you learn little by little but where I really learned wine waste Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. I was there for seven years and that was kind of like the university of practical winemaking for me.
Natalie MacLean 29:29
Well that is such a prestigious winery. I mean, were you mainly in the winery? Were you in the vineyard or doing both there?
Jim Duane 29:36
Yeah, mostly in the winery for that job. We did go out to a lot of vineyards. We purchased fruit from all over Napa Valley and so I got to go see vineyards as they were ripening all throughout the valley, but really it was a winery focus job.
Natalie MacLean 29:49
And what do you think you learned most there? What was your big takeaway from working there?
Jim Duane 29:53
Logistics. Logistics. Yeah, it’s a winemaking is it’s not the sexy part about winemaking. But you know, when you have to bring in grapes and take into account labour and weather and tank space, and great brightness and all these things at some point, you kind of realise that a lot of the job is logistics. And I’m very fascinated by that I get energized by that. So it’s, it’s exciting that I get to do it. It’s one of my favourite parts about harvest. But I got to that facility and it’s, yes, we’re making wine. But you could almost kind of use the same sort of mindset on like an oil rig without your pipes and tanks and processing and all things like that. And like I said, it’s not the sexy part. But it’s, it’s really crucial to be able to move wine through its process of winemaking and accommodate all your resources along the way.
Natalie MacLean 30:45
Wow. And you also worked at Robert Mondavi Winery, what were you doing there?
Jim Duane 30:49
So it was my first job in Napa right out of grad school. And I was excited to work at Robert Mondavi because of To Kalon Vineyard. So I’ve always been attracted to not necessarily brands but their access to really marquee vineyards.
Natalie MacLean 31:03
Tell us about To Kalon for those who don’t know or haven’t heard of it. Why it’s so special?
Jim Duane 31:08
It’s a very historic, meaning one of the older vineyards in Napa, I think was probably established in I read this weekend 1860s perhaps by a guy last name Crab. It’s just when Napa was really starting to be planted to grapes wasn’t a big producer back then. But it’s in Oakville, that Oakville district of Napa. It’s right on sort of the Benchlands right up against the Mayacamas hills. And it’s truly one of those special places to grow, especially Cabernet and Bordeaux varieties in Napa. And so Robert Mondavi purchased the To Kalon vineyard after his split with his brother when he was at Charles Cru. And so he established the Robert Mondavi Winery on the To Kalon vineyard. Now he was either extremely lucky, which I doubt that to be true, or more realize the quality of fruit and especially Cabernet coming from that area of Oakville. And so now Robert Mondavi owns the majority of that To Kalon vineyard Beckstoffer on some of that and sells, the Beckstoffer fruit gets sold to the fancy brands like the $200 and $300 bottles of wine. And it’s sort of there’s a clamouring to get that fruit because it’s so well known at this time. But I was excited because Mondavi is the biggest single owner of the To Kalon vineyard.
Natalie MacLean 32:26
You’ve alluded to Cabernet a few times. What is it about Cabernet that fascinates you above all other grapes?
Jim Duane 32:33
Just simply it’s the wine that I like to drink the most. We were talking before, and I’m sure it’s the same with you, you have this evolution of your palate and what you like to drink. But all through my 20s and 30s, I was most excited about Cabernet. Honestly, it’s one of the easier grapes to work with in the winery. It’s a lot more forgiving than say Pinot Noir or some of the other grapes, you have to be a little bit more finicky in terms of when you pick them and how you work with them in the wine room. But Cabernet is tough stick skins, everything’s tough about it. So it’s quite resilient. But it’s really just that flavour profile and the ability to age that really drew me into Cabernet.
Natalie MacLean 33:08
That’s great. Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed our chat with Jim. Here are my takeaways. Number one, Jim gives us a taste for what it’s like being a winemaker. But his podcast and courses will give you a deep dive if you’re so inclined. His story about working a harvest without power, I thought was incredible. Pure grit and determination. I guess that’s how they did it in the old days every year. That’s still really hard to imagine. And three, I’m fascinated with all aspects of Riesling, as it’s so diverse in style and food pairings and I just love it. But Jim really opened my eyes to how difficult it is to make. In the shownotes, you’ll find my email contact the full transcript of my conversation with Jim, links to his website and podcast, a link to Diary of a book launch, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you’ll find the live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at NatalieMaclean.com forward slash 173. Email me if you have a sip,,tip question, or would like to be a beta reader of my new memoir at natalie@NatalieMaclean.com. You won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Jim. In the meantime, if you missed episode 26 go back and take a listen. It’s a personal essay about wine and war. And I dedicated now to the people of Ukraine. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite. German wine merchants in uniform or wine theatres, as the French called them went out to the French wine regions to buy wine at arbitrarily low prices, and then sold it at a premium on the international market to fund the Third Reich’s war machine, but many French winemakers resisted occupation by hiding their greatest wines in their cellars. At Domaine Druin, the proprietors’ eight year old son collected spiders to spin webs in front of the fake cellar wall that his father had built to hide the good stuff and Parisian carpet cleaners donated the dust from beading rugs to restaurant owners who use that to make bottles of young wine look older. One burgundy negotiant supplied the Germans with what they thought was gin but was really Ode to Santenay, a powerful purgative. In other acts of venous insurrection, Loire grape grower Jean Mamasu smuggled resistance leaders through German checkpoints in empty wine barrels. If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the wines and stories we discussed. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week. Perhaps a zesty Riesling.
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at NatalieMaclean.com forward slash subscribe, maybe here next week. Cheers!