Would you like to discover some weird but wonderful food pairings for zinfandel? How can American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) help you find new wines to love? How does yeast have a profound impact on wine’s taste?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Kerith Overstreet, the winemaker at Bruliam Wines in Sonoma, California and a former medical doctor.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
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- Who is Chewie the Marketing Collie?
- As a student of literature, who are Kerith’s favourite authors?
- How did Kerith bring her love of the humanities into her medical studies?
- When did Kerith develop her passion for wine?
- How did Kerith realize she wanted to shift from being a medical doctor to a winemaker?
- Are there intersections between Kerith’s science background and her approach as a winemaker?
- What lessons has winemaking taught Kerith when it comes to her Type A personality?
- How has the support of fellow winemakers impacted Kerith’s journey?
- Why does Kerith love experimenting with yeast?
- What is the inoculation process in winemaking?
- What types of experiments does Kerith do in the winemaking process?
- How did the name “Bruliam” come about?
- What roles do Kerith and her husband, Brian, have at Bruliam?
- Which features of Rockpile make the biggest impact in their wines?
- Which creative route did Kerith take to getting access to Rockpile Zinfandel?
- Which delicious treat should you try dunked in a glass of Zinfandel?
- Which unusual but simple wine and food pairings should you try next?
- How do customers feature as the highlight of Kerith’s career so far?
- I loved Kerith’s pairing suggestions for Zinfandel. They’re on my list to try this week.
- She shares a great overview of how American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) can help us find the particular styles of wine we love.
- Kerith even manages to make yeast interesting as she lets us know its profound impact on wine’s taste.
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Winemaking is such a wonderful mix of art, science, history and modern technology. There’s something for everybody in wine. - Kerith Overstreet Click to tweet
I love talking about yeast but everyone elses’ eyes seem to glaze over. - Kerith Overstreet Click to tweet
An American Viticultural Area (AVA) lets consumers know that wines produced from within this territory share certain characteristics. - Kerith Overstreet Click to tweet
About Kerith Overstreet
Kerith Overstreet is the winemaker at Bruliam Wines. When she was small, her dad used to say, “You can be whatever you want after medical school.” So she did. After completing medical school (U. of Rochester), residency, and two fellowships (UCSD), she thought winemaking sounded more fun. So she enrolled at UC Davis to study enology and catapulted into the 2008 harvest.
Starting with a single barrel, Kerith has grown Bruliam Wines to 1200 cases a year (plus/minus). It’s mostly single vineyard pinot noir with a smidgen of Rockpile zinfandel. With delight and an “OK” from the CF-NO (aka the hubby), she added chardonnay in 2017. Cherishing her grower relationships, Kerith has aligned herself with top vineyards and growers to supply her fruit. Today she cherry picks her fruit from the top vineyards in Sonoma County, Santa Lucia Highlands, and her own Torrey Hill vineyard in the Russian River Valley.
- Connect with Kerith Overstreet & Bruliam Wines
- Kerith Overstreet’s Biscotti Recipe
- Diary of a Book Launch: An Insider Peek from Idea to Publication
- My Books:
- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 104: Zinfandel Crusader Joel Peterson, Ravenswood Founding Winemaker
- My new class The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner And How To Fix Them Forever
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- @nataliemaclean on Twitter
- @nataliemacleanwine on Instagram
- @nataliemaclean on LinkedIn
- Email Me at [email protected]
Thirsty for more?
- Sign up for my free online wine video class where I’ll walk you through The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner (and how to fix them forever!)
- You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
- The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and other country-specific Amazon sites; iTunes.ca, iTunes.com and other country-specific iTunes sites; Audible.ca and Audible.com.
Kerith Overstreet 0:00
It’s such a wonderful mix of art and science, of a history and modern technology, of culture of shared experience. There is some of everything and wine. There’s something for everybody. And I think that’s why I love it so much.
Natalie MacLean 0:15
Absolutely. Do you have a medical mind approach to winemaking? Are their intersections in the way that you approach your new career from your past training?
Kerith Overstreet 0:24
Having a strong science background is very helpful in the winery. Because when things go wrong with your wine, 99.9% of the time, it is always going to be biochemistry secondary to microbiology. It’s some kind of spoilage organism. A bacteria or yeast that you don’t want around that creates some kind of a byproduct that you don’t want in the wine. So if you can see that coming, if you can head off disaster before it happens, it helps a lot.
Natalie MacLean 1:02
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine, the love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations. 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 194. Would you like to discover some weird but wonderful food pairings for Zinfandel? How can American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) help you find new wines to love? And how did yeast have a profound impact on wines taste? You’ll hear those tips and stories in my chat with Kerith Overstreet, the winemaker at Bruliam Wines in Sonoma, California and a former medical doctor. She has some fascinating stories to share. Now on a personal note, before we dive into the show, with the continuing story of publishing my new wine memoir Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much. I’ve always had this odd feeling that in my writing, my personality is like an oil painting, whereas in person, I’m more diluted like watercolours. I think that’s because when I write I can pack a lot into each sentence and then refine it until it’s loaded with meaning. But in conversation, my thoughts and words are, they haven’t been worked and reworked to kind of all over the place. I think that’s why I’m shy when I have a casual meeting or meal with a few people versus being on television, say where I’m more confident because those segments are completely scripted. That’s what makes me nervous about a book tour for this memoir. I’m worried that after people read a book that I’ve worked on for, like 10 years, they might find the person behind the book pale by comparison. So maybe I’ll script all my appearances or maybe I’ll try to get out of my head with this circular thinking and just relax. Have you ever felt this way though? Perhaps it’s the difference between your resume which you can perfect, and your answers during a job interview or some other situation? Let me know. I’ve posted a link to a blog post called Diary of a Book Launch in the show notes at NatalieMaclean.com/194. This is where I also 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 of this manuscript. Email me at [email protected] Okay, on with the show.
Natalie MacLean 4:21
All right. And just before I introduce our guests, I want to tell you that one of you in the US is going to win a bottle of her gorgeous wine. And all you have to do is email me at [email protected] and tell me you want to win. It’s as easy as that. Alright, back to our guest care though for st is a winemaker at Bruliam Wines in Sonoma, California. When she was small, her father used to say You can be whatever you want after medical school. I just love that. So she did after completing Medical School of residency and two fellowships. She thought winemaking sounded more fun. I can’t wait to ask her about that. So she enrolled in the prestigious UC Davis programme to study in enology and catapulted into the 2008 harvest. Starting with a single barrel, Kerith has grown Bruliam Wines to 1200 cases a year and she lives with her husband and three children in Healdsburg, California and Sonoma County, where she joins us now. Hello, Kerith and welcome.
Kerith Overstreet 5:21
Hi, Natalie, thank you so much for having me here today. I am delighted and honoured to have this opportunity and platform to share some stories with your passionate wine audience. Thank you.
Natalie MacLean 5:32
Oh, my pleasure. You just have such an interesting story. So I’m just gonna take it right from the top. Now before you went to medical school, you studied 19th century British literature which caught my attention. And you have a dog.
Kerith Overstreet 5:47
I do. Dog who’s having a moment.
Natalie MacLean 5:51
No problem. Is he a winery mascot by the way?
Kerith Overstreet 5:54
He is. He’s Chewy, the vineyard Collie and we call him Chewy, the marketing Collie.
Natalie MacLean 6:00
Oh, okay. He’s head of marketing I take it?
Natalie MacLean 6:07
I’ve heard that before. Anyways, you never know. Everybody needs to work hard on a family owned winery. That’s right. Does Chewy need to step up? Okay. So, back to 19th century British literature. I asked you this because well, I’m going to get you to tell me first, who are your favourite authors, and we’re the Romantic poets among them? I’m just super curious.
Kerith Overstreet 6:30
You know, I’m like an Austin Bronte girl. I love Jane Austen. I love the Bronte sisters. I enjoy George Eliot. I loved Mill on the Floss. I like Christina Rossetti as a poet. I like Elizabeth Barrett Browning as a poet. You can tell I lean towards female authors. And that continues I think, even to this day as a reader. But who doesn’t love Jane Austen? She’s hilarious.
Natalie MacLean 6:55
She’s great. And the number of remakes of her books, you know, from Pride and Prejudice to Sense and Sensibility and all the spin offs. Now we have Bridgerton. I mean, she’s spawned a whole category. She’s fantastic. And I was curious, because I studied the Romantic poets at Oxford, and I was focused on Keats. And although there were others who are more popular at the time, but I just love that period in literature. It’s just fantastic. But you studied literature. You had to go to medical school, according to your father, why didn’t you take an undergrad in science?
Kerith Overstreet 7:26
Well, because I knew that I was going to learn everything that I needed for patient care in medical school, right. So even if you take biology as an undergraduate, microbiology as an undergraduate, which I did. I took all of the required courses to go to medical school, I knew that this was sort of being in college as my opportunity to study and enjoy all the courses that I loved and that I was passionate about. And not that I didn’t love medicine and science. I did. It just seemed like why repeat yourself, right? Because even in medical school, you learn the same thing. Again, and again and again and again until it you know becomes sort of fact and muscle memory in your brain. So I really use my opportunity as an undergraduate to sort of fulfil all those humanities nerd niches a lot like yours, right? Like, I was looking back in my library just for you this morning. And yes, I have books on Wordsworth, and Keats, and Shelley, and all of the Romantic poets who are close to your heart, too.
Natalie MacLean 8:29
Huh. Quite the Renaissance woman, I know I wouldn’t in the first place dream of medical school. But if I were going, I’d be terrified and what they all sciences to make sure I passed. But you obviously very strong academically in the sciences. So then you chose the University of Rochester for medical school. Now, why did you decide on that university in particular?
Kerith Overstreet 8:49
That’s a great question. So that was actually my absolute first choice for medical school. And it’s for two reasons. Number one, they tend to have a very artsy medical school class. They want to cultivate a cohort of physicians who are multidisciplinary, who are caring, who are broad and deep in their perspectives. And they tend to have at least 50% of the incoming medical school class students who studied things other than a science major as an undergraduate. So when I started there, we had a woman who was an art history major from Williams College. We had a giant cohort of kids from Johns Hopkins, all of whom were writing seminars majors. We had someone who was psychology at Yale. He went on to become a psychiatrist. We had someone who had been an opera singer and then she decided to go to medical school. I mean, what an interesting class of diverse and divergent thinking students. Really bringing all of that experience to the table and to patient care. And the other reason I picked Rochester is they invented the biopsychosocial model of medicine which now it seems really everybody knows whether or not you’re a physician that your mood affects your health, right. But there was a time when this connection between mind and body was sort of new science, right? There was a time when people thought it was shoo shoo. But we now recognize that so many aspects of our health are intertwined, and that our mental health and our physical health are inextricably bound together in terms of wellness.
Natalie MacLean 10:32
Very holistic and also very Renaissance again, in terms of perspective for medical school. That’s terrific. And is that where you first discovered wine? I mean, Rochester, New York would have been close to Finger Lakes. So is that where you’ve got into wine? Or have you been sort of attracted to wine drinking at least before you went to medical school?
Kerith Overstreet 10:49
And I had some wine in college, and then in medical school, the big revelation was 10% discount when you buy a case. So medical students, we would all pull together until we had enough people to buy a case of wine so that we got the 10% discount. So yes, I started enjoying wine in medical school and continued to enjoy it through my residency and fellowships in pathology, where I really developed a passion for wine.
Natalie MacLean 11:19
Fascinating. So you completed years and years of training to become a pathologist, which side note for those like me who didn’t know what that really meant. A doctor’s doctor because you’re specialists and you help a patient’s physician to confirm a diagnosis. I just had to confirm though, is that like Dr. House on the television series? Is he a pathologist?
Kerith Overstreet 11:38
Okay, so I’m super embarrassed that I’ve never watched the show, but I do know who the actor is. Like, I’m the person who, you know, if someone gets a biopsy, let’s like take the most basic thing a skin biopsy. Okay, I have this freckle. This freckle looks weird. So if your physician takes off the freckle, and it gets sent to the lab. I’m the person who looks under the microscope at the freckle and says, oh this is an okay freckle. Or this is bad, this looks like it could be melanoma. That’s just sort of the most basic understanding. We do that for the whole body.
Natalie MacLean 12:06
Okay, sounds like Dr. House. So now you’ve got this whole career setup. You’ve made your father presumably very happy. So what was the exact moment you realized you actually wanted to become a winemaker? When and where did that switch happen for you?
Kerith Overstreet 12:21
I think that the first switch happened during my internship in general surgery when I realized I did not want to be a surgeon. And then from there, I switched into surgical pathology. And I guess, you know, it never dawned on me that I could be a winemaker that it is actually sort of a career that one could pick. And I had the opportunity to make wine on a very small scale. My first year one barrel of wine, and I sort of leapt into it. And I do what medical students do best. The night before I knew the fruit was coming in, I read a textbook. And so I showed up and I was able to pare it back, chunks of winemaking material with literally no context, right, I was just like a talking head. And because people thought I knew a lot more than I did at the crush pad. To be fair, I literally knew nothing, right? Except I’m just parroting this stuff back. They let me do more. And from there, that first day on the crush pad. I was like, wow, this is for me. I just kept asking questions. How do you know what to do? Why are you doing this? Why don’t you do it this way? Why do you do it that way? And I just fell in love with it. It’s such a wonderful mix of art and science, of history and modern technology, of culture of shared experience. There is some of everything and wine. There’s something for everybody. And I think that’s why I love it so much. It’s a lifelong education journey to which you can attest.
Natalie MacLean 13:48
Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, I didn’t grow up thinking I’d be a wine writer. But here we are, right. Life takes different turns as we go along. So do you think that you apply? I mean, you already alluded to it. You read a textbook the night before, but do you have a medical mind approach to winemaking? Are there intersections in the way that you approach your new career from your past training?
Kerith Overstreet 14:10
Yeah, there are for sure. So I don’t think, you don’t have to go to medical school to be a winemaker. Right. But having a strong science background is very helpful in the winery. Because when things go off the rails, when things go wrong with your wine, it is always – 99.9% of the time – it is always going to be biochemistry secondary to microbiology. So in other words, it’s some kind of spoilage organism. A bad actor, a bacteria, yeast that you don’t want around that find something in the wine that it can eat. And then it eats and consumes that and creates some kind of a byproduct that you don’t want in the wind. So if you can see that coming, if you can head off disaster before it happens, it helps a lot. And then of course you know I love fermentation chemistry. I love oxidation reduction chemistry. I love wine science. I think it’s really interesting and really fun. Because it incorporates, you look under the microscope and look to see what kind of bacteria you have, right? You have all of fermentation science and fermentation chemistry, which is enzymes and kinetics. You have wine ageing, which is organic chemistry when it comes down to it, even though no one likes to talk about it. But think about what tannins look like. It’s like a whole bunch of chicken wire, right? That’s organic chemistry.
Natalie MacLean 15:29
Is that what they look like? I’ve never seen them in a microscope. Chicken wire.
Kerith Overstreet 15:33
No, no, like, I just mean if you were drawing out the chemical structure, it looks like Battlestar Galactica. Its like a whole bunch of hashtags. Looks like chicken wire, right? So it’s all of these aspects of science that come together to create something that is so subjective and that really is art with like a lowercase A, right. Because it’s subjective and speaks to our emotions and speaks to place and time in a shared experience.
Natalie MacLean 16:01
Very artfully put. That’s lovely. You’ve I believe described yourself as Type A. So what was the hardest thing about adjusting to winemaking? What did you find a challenge?
Kerith Overstreet 16:11
There are things beyond your control, which is something that I’m not used to relinquishing control. So it can become something as mundane as being frustrated with UPS, right? Like, I can control everything. From the minute I pick the grapes, to the temperature that I ferment them, to how much pressure I use when I press them, to what kind of barrels I use, to what’s the dissolved oxygen before it goes on to the bottling line, and it’s stored in a warehouse. It’s temperature controlled, and then it goes out in a UPS truck to someone’s house and darn it, wouldn’t you believe I get these frustrated angry phone call. The wines have been delivered somewhere else. The winess have been delayed. The wines have been lost. Like it’s just annoying. But you know, of course the bigger picture of course, is mother nature, which we really can’t control. So when we’re dealing with winemaking, which really is dealing with agriculture and farming, you really need to take a deep breath and sort of learn to roll with the punches. And it takes time. Like I joke that probably one of my finest moments was the first year I was making Chardonnay. And I make Chardonnay from a very cool climate site on the Sonoma Coast called the Heintz vineyard. It’s owned by Charlie Heintz. And I remember calling him yeah, very well known vineyard. I remember calling him saying, Hey, Charlie, it’s raining. And he’s like, Yep, it’s raining. So Charlie’s an old school farmer, right? Nothing fazes him. His is unflappable. And like, but Charlie, it’s raining. He’s like, yep. Like, Charlie, should we harvest? He’s like, do the grapes tastes ripe to you? I’m like, nope. He’s like, then why would your harvest. I mean, it’s nice to have some institutional memory and a calm voice of reason to talk you off the cliff, as you ratchet up your emotions as harvest approaches.
Natalie MacLean 18:10
So I relate in other ways, but the whole trying to control everything and Type A and anxiety. So you have another friend who helped you through this. You’re both runners. Tell us about her and how she helped you in the early days especially.
Kerith Overstreet 18:24
Yeah, so I feel very lucky to have a cohort of wonderful colleagues, male and female, but mostly female winemakers, whom I trust and can talk to when I feel like things are about to go sideways. And Karen Meyer from Meyer Family Cellars is one of my best friends and she’s been my longtime running partner. We run every Saturday morning. We used to run at 5am. Now we run at 6am. When we were younger, we did like 12 miles now we do nine because our knees are a little bit crankier. But it’s just really nice to sort of pound the pavement and work through all your frustrations, both sort of physically and mentally. So we can be pounding and I’ll be breathing hard and say what do you think about this wine? I think the VA is going up. What do you think I should do? And you know, she has been a winemaker all over the world. She trained in Australia. She’s worked in New Zealand. She’s worked in France. She’s worked in Oregon before she settled here and she has a global perspective. And again, it’s just really helpful to hear her perspective and to know that I can just really trust her when I have questions or problems that are confusing. Like especially the first year I was making Chardonnay and she’s making Chardonnays like 15 years. So she’s the woman I turned to. I have like this eidetic memory so I remember all these different facts. So I get texts from her like can you remember what the dose is on Clara star? I need to cold stabilize the Rosé and I’m like oh, it’s da da da da da and I can just text you right back. Oh, that’s gonna be a good, pretty good yin yang balance for friendship.
Natalie MacLean 19:59
That is terrific. And have you ever experimented with yeast or had any frustration with them?
Kerith Overstreet 20:04
Oh, all the time. I love that stuff. So I love talking about yeast. Everybody else’s eyes pretty much glaze over. But you know, we could spend two hours talking about like native yeast versus but let’s not totally do that. Well we got to talk about it. It’s a must.
Natalie MacLean 20:28
I love it. Oh my gosh.
Kerith Overstreet 20:29
Right. So like, I had to get one in this. Yes. Very good. So I love talking about yeast strains. And yes, I’ve had problems where I’ve had fermentations that have stuck. And I’ve had to deal with that. I’ve allowed fermentations to go completely native. And we’ll use that loosely in quotes. And it is so anxiety provoking for me. That given my personality, which is clearly akin to yours, like a high functioning, you know, get stuff done kind of personality. I now know that I’m a lot happier and calmer if I just inoculate the tank. So I let things start native and then I inoculate and I do very much like to play.
Natalie MacLean 21:04
I what does inoculate mean just for those who might not know.
Kerith Overstreet 21:07
Oh, sure. That’s a great question. Yeah. So obviously everybody who’s listening knows that we put grapes into a tank and yeast eat the sugar, and they convert that sugar to alcohol. That’s the process of fermentation. And there’s yeast flying around in the air all the time, especially in wineries. And we can use that yeast that is in the air to convert the grape juice into wine. On the other hand, you can buy yeast at a yeast store. We have special winery yeast stores, just as baker’s have yeast stores and just as you’d go to the grocery store and buy a little packet of Fleischmann’s yeast if you were making bread. It’s exactly the same thing. So if we’re gonna inoculate the tank, we would buy the yeast, mix it up according to the instructions. And I’m super old school. So I get a plastic bucket and I pour it over the top of the tank. So that’s what I mean by inoculate. And it stops the fermentation? It begins the fermentation. Begins. Inoculate. Okay, gotcha. What’s interesting is that grapes come in from the vineyard with lots of different kinds of yeast and bacteria who live on them. And some of those yeast and bacteria can certainly eat grape juice and convert it into wine. But very few of them are advanced enough to live through the rising tide of alcohol and make it out the other side alive. Which is why saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is the same yeast we use for bread. The same yeast that they use to make beer is the only yeast and the preferred yeast that will get wine from sugar completely to wine and having consumed all that sugar. They’re really a one trick pony. Those yeast do one thing. One thing only. They eat six carbon sugar, glucose and fructose and they make ethanol which is wine. One thing and they’re pretty temperature tolerant. And they’re pretty alcohol tolerant, right? So there are Zinfandels out there that are probably 16% Alcohol. And there are yeast in the world that can survive that type of alcohol.
Natalie MacLean 23:10
Wow, like an Arnold Schwarzenegger yeast.Yes, they work out. That’s a very clear explanation. I like getting into little areas like that not too deep down the rabbit hole, but to help us understand kind of some of the fundamentals of what’s happening there. So do you like to do experiments too given your medical training? Like are you doing any sort of vineyard or in the winery type of experiments with your winemaking lately?
Kerith Overstreet 23:40
All the time, from small things to big things, right. So when I make my Rosé, I do colour trials, which is an experiment where I take the Rosé that I have, and if the colour seems a little bit pale, I might take some finished Pinot Noir from a neutral barrel and add 1% Pinot Noir, 2%, Pinot Noir, 3% Pinot Noir and see what that does to the colour. And it’s as simple as taking a graduated cylinder and you could fill it up with 99ml of Rosé and one ml of Pinot Noir and that’s a 1% addition. And you can see what that one ml does to the colour. And then you can do the same thing at 2% or 3%. And that’s the example of a little tiny experiment. Most recently, I was really excited that I got to be part of a bigger, broader enology project that is looking at specific enzymes that can cleave the bond and sugars to allow certain compounds to volatilize so that we could remove them. So this is an experiment as looking at enzymes that could be a remediator for wines that have smoke impact. So my wines did not have smoke impacts. So this is the early stages of the experiment, where they’re just looking at the enzyme and in the safety of the enzyme. And does this enzyme indeed, cleave the sugar bond we’re looking at. So it was super duper cool. Yeah, so it’s really, really cool. So it’s, you know, we added the enzyme to some bottles of my wine. And then we didn’t add it to other bottles of wine, which were the control, and then all that wine got sent to the TTB to the government as part of an experiment, so I feel lucky that I get to participate in experiments big and small, all the time.
Natalie MacLean 25:28
TTB is The Tobacco Bureau?
Kerith Overstreet 25:31
It used to be BAFTA, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and now it’s the TTB. So there’s sort of the head honchos and the federal government who oversee alcohol.
Natalie MacLean 25:43
Gotcha. All right. So back to your wine label, which is interesting, and sound scientific. Bruliam. Is that how you pronounce it?
Kerith Overstreet 25:50
It is well done. Yes, exactly.
Natalie MacLean 25:51
Tell us how you came up with that name.
Kerith Overstreet 25:55
Thanks for asking. So Bruliam is named after my three kids. The Bru is Bruno, the Li is Lily. And the Am is Amelia. And Bruliam sounds like cadmium or polonium, so our logo and branding has always been a riff on the periodic table of elements. And our tagline has been Wine Is Elemental, right, like elemental to a life well lived, elemental to gathering your friends, spending time with family sort of fellowship, shared community fellowship and those wonderful experiences of food and wine and time and love together. Oh, that’s slightly a cheeky nod to, of course, the fact that I went to medical school. Yeah, and I have a science background.
Natalie MacLean 26:39
I love that. So you, if I understand correctly, met your husband when you’re in grade 10. What does he do at the winery? Have you been together all that time? And what does he do there?
Kerith Overstreet 26:49
So, as I mentioned to you, he is Canadian. He is from Toronto. He moved to San Diego when we were in 10th grade. And we’ve been basically, for all essential purposes together, ever since other than some short on off on off during college and beyond. And the jokes about my husband, Brian, are number one, if you see him at a wine event or at the winery, it’s like citing a unicorn. He’s always behind the scenes. He does not want to be on camera. I think in all of Instagram, he features in maybe two pictures. We post a lot of stuff. So maybe once a year, he’ll show up at a wine event and pour some wine, but for the most part, he’s behind the scenes. He’s sort of the guy who loads all the wines onto the web page to make sure that it’s functional when we do a release and that people can buy wine and click it and put it in their cart. The other thing he’s famous for is for being the CF No. As in Brian, I think we should make Port. No. Brian, I have this awesome idea. Let’s make a Marsanne Roussanne blend. And he’s like if you really want to lose money, then that’s a good idea. So I call him the CF No. Like hey, there’s this extra fruit at the end of harvest, I can just get this extra three tones. No.
Natalie MacLean 28:09
Well, he sounds like he has some guardrails around your creativity but you work well together.
Kerith Overstreet 28:15
Exactly. Keeps us from financial ruin.
Natalie MacLean 28:18
Is that the how do you know my husband story? Is that because he’s so shy? Is that.
Kerith Overstreet 28:23
No, no. Okay, so the how do you know my husband story? Is that how I have Zinfandel fruit story. So that story is the fact that I had wanted to make Rockpile Zinfandel.
Natalie MacLean 28:36
What is Rockpile, sorry? Is that a region?
Kerith Overstreet 28:38
Oh yeah, that’s a great question. So Rockpile is a region. It’s an AVA, which is American Viticultural Area, which is how we designate pieces of territory here in the United States. And it’s analogous to a DO, DOCG, or an AOC in European countries in the old world. So it’s mandated at the federal level by the TTB. And what an AVA, American Viticultural Area, does is it lets consumers know that wines produced from within this piece of territory share certain characteristics. And that could be the weather. It could be the impact of the wind. It could be the elevation. It could be the amount of rain that it gets. It could be the soil and sunshine and the amount of degree days and heat which dictate what gets planted in that area. So that when a consumer goes to the grocery store and sees Russian River Valley, or Petaluma Gap, or Rock Pile on a label, they sort of know what to expect. So Rock Pile is a small AVA within Sonoma County that sits at significant elevation. There’s no wineries up there. There’s no hospitality. It’s only grape growing. And I happened upon Rock Pile when I was running through the Dry Creek Valley and I happened upon this winery, and I went in, not when I was running, but at a later time and tasted the Rock Piles and and fell in love with it. So I thought, well, you know, I live in Sonoma County. I’m a Pinot Girl but you know I live in Healdsburg. I run in Dry Creek Valley. That’s all about Zin, I should make some Zinfandel. So I started looking on the websites trying to find out who the growers were. It’s a whole like opaque. It’s not very transparent. You can’t figure out what’s going on. So I tried to send some emails, no one gets back to me. And at that point, I decide it’s time for guerrilla warfare. I’m just going to take this into my own hands and get it done. So I go to the farmers market and I find these beautiful peaches from Dry Creek Peaches and I make this beautiful galette and I decide I’m going to bring it to Moritz Winery on a Saturday and ask about buying fruit. Because Mortiz is the name that’s synonymous with crafting delicious Rock Piles in and growing Rock Piles in there quite a large family and everybody’s involved with different aspects of winemaking and viticulture. So I pack up my galette, and I put on my lip gloss and I drive to the winery on a Saturday. And just like any popular tourist destination, it’s very busy on a Saturday in the summer. And the tasting room attendants are three guests deep trying to pour over their heads and make everyone feel comfortable and welcome and I waltzed in with my pie and say, May I please speak to Clay Moritz. And they look at me and they’re like, Clay. He’s not here. He’s out of town. I’m like, oh, and they said, but his wife’s upstairs. Shall we get her? And so they call up to her. Waiting in the corner with my little time I galette and down wattles and I say wattles this incredibly beautiful, incredibly petite and 10 months pregnant woman, like you know how when very teeny, very petite, very slim women. Even three months pregnant, they look like they’re gonna fall over. So now we’re talking about the fact that it’s July. It’s hot. It’s sweaty. It’s full of people in the tasting room. And she is coming down these very precipitous steps from an office that sits above the tasting room. And down she comes down these steps and she looks at me smiling, holding a pie and she looks me up and down. And she goes, how do you know my husband? Oh, I just cry. Luckily, we’re all friends now. It’s all good. My kids took swim lessons at their house. Their family is wonderful, warm and gracious. And I continue to this day to buy Zinfandel grapes from her brother in law, but we did have a rocky initial moment. Wow. That’s the old wow do you know my husband story.
Natalie MacLean 32:42
That’s great. That’s great. I love that. So yeah, you said you’re a Pinot girl. And we’ll get to Pinot in more depth because you really have a great focus on that. But since we’re talking Zin, that’s how you got into Zin but you have a couple of really wonderful but slightly weird pairings for Zinfandel. Tell us about those.
Kerith Overstreet 32:59
Well, I guess my favourite has to be chocolate almond biscotti with Zinfandel. So it is a recipe people ask me for it all the time. You can find it on CookingLight.com under the recipe Tuscan Almond Biscotti. They’re super easy to make, but when I make them you got to amp it up. You got to juice it up. So for me the Rock Pile Zin often has mocha notes and all of these wonderful secondary aromatics that come from the barrels so you’re gonna get lots of baking spice, cardamom, warm, you know all the warm baking spices that you think about when you’re making banana bread or apple pie. So when I make my chocolate almond biscotti, I start with chocolate almonds as opposed to regular almond so we’re no longer in like Cooking Light territory. We’re just in delicious territory. So you got to do chocolate almonds and I like to use dark chocolate because that has a more depth of chocolate flavour. And then I like to add a whole bunch of aromatic spices so I add cardamom, asian five spice, some ginger for warmth. And, you know, they’re nice and they’re like crispy and they’re not soft, and they’re really awesome dunked in the Zinfandel. So I’ll go out into the market and talk to wine buyers at restaurants and I’ll bring them a little bag of biscotti and I’m like dunk it in, dunk it and just do it. They’re like really embarrassed. And then I am peer pressuring them. Everybody’s doing it. Everybody dunks it. And then they take their cookie and they dunk it into the Zinfandel and they have a bite and they’re like, oh my god, this is delicious. You know, because my Zinfandel is not sweet. There’s no residual sugar, but it’s got, you know, lots of fruitiness. And having that like crunchy cookie dunked into the wine and the aromatics from the wine mere the aromatics in the cookie and you get like the Mocha nodes just sort of like explode in your mouth. It’s so delicious. And I absolutely wish I could take credit for this tradition, but it is fully Italian. I have jumped on the bandwagon.
Natalie MacLean 35:01
And is that what you call it Zin Santo?
Kerith Overstreet 35:03
Exactly, because as you know, Vin Santo is an Italian tradition with little biscotti that are almond they do not have chocolates, they do not have spices and they’re very small, dunked in a sweet wine called Vin Santo. So that’s my like, Natalie pun that instead of Vin Santo, it is Zin Santo.
Natalie MacLean 35:29
Oh, that’s terrific. Do you have the recipe for your biscotti on your website?
Kerith Overstreet 35:33
I don’t know, but I can send it and then you’ll surely share it. I don’t think it’s actually on the website. You can definitely share with your readers. I’m a big recipe sharer. Nobody invented a recipe unless you’re Escoffier. Yeah, exactly.
Natalie MacLean 35:49
And we can put it in the show notes. And we’ll still be linking to your website in the show notes. So one way or the other listeners can get that recipe. So it just sounded amazing when you were describing it. I want to try it.
Kerith Overstreet 36:00
And biscotti are easy, and they pack and travel well, because the harder they are the better they get.
Natalie MacLean 36:05
Oh good. Oh, nice to know. Yeah. I’m always drying out bread and food. And so that’s right up my alley. You have another pairing for Zinfandel. Tell us about that one.
Kerith Overstreet 36:17
Okay, so I have heard that Cool Ranch Doritos and Zinfandel is sublime. So I haven’t totally tried this one yet. I’ve been a little bit nervous. I’m not a big Cool Ranch Dorito either. So maybe I’ll have to try this and like posted on social media. So I’m down for unusual pairings. Like I really like Rosé with Chicken Noodle Soup. I think it’s a great pairing. But I am definitely going to have to explore the Cool Ranch Dorito one.
Natalie MacLean 36:45
Yeah, the cool Ranch Doritos, I haven’t tried that either. I don’t even eat Cool Ranch Doritos, not because I don’t like them. But I just haven’t tried them. They’re not in my universe yet. So yeah, we’ll have to report back to listeners after more experiments.
Kerith Overstreet 36:58
Exactly. It’d be a winery experiment.
Natalie MacLean 37:00
Exactly. So in your winemaking career, is there a moment that stands out as a career highlight?
Kerith Overstreet 37:06
You know, I was thinking about that one. I can’t think of any single career highlight, although I’m constantly renewed and delighted when people who drink my wine send me emails and pictures. And I feel so lucky that my wine gets to be part of dinners and celebrations. So nothing brings me more joy when someone sends me an email or sends a text and it’s a picture of someone holding a bottle of my wine standing at the top of a waterfall. And they’re like, we went on this hike and the only thing that we schlepped up are sandwiches and a bottle of your Rosé. Or someone says, we were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary, and we met you at the winery five years ago and today we’re bringing out the 2015 Gap’s Crown Pinot to have with this special dinner we’re having at home. And you know, just feeling connected to people is the reason I do what I do. So rather than thinking of a career highlight as any one thing, I feel lucky that I have all of these moments that happen frequently, that continue to rejuvenate me and keep me excited to do what I do and keep experimenting and keep playing.
Natalie MacLean 38:18
I love that. And again, I resonate so much with that, Kerith, because my favourite career moments in writing are not awards and such. It’s when people email me and, you know, I’ve had emails from you know, there was a young man who was stationed in a submarine for months, and he was reading it to pass the time. And then you get emails from somebody else who’s reading it in another place and picking out different lines and things. It is that human connection and just imagining where they are and that you’ve had this moment with them at least not virtually, but through your work through your creativity.
Kerith Overstreet 38:54
Absolutely. It’s the shared human experience. And when you write your stories and moments of the highest high and moments of the lowest low and everything in between and the grit and determination to keep going forward to keep moving. Those are the moments that resonate with people’s hearts. That’s the shared human experience that makes it special. Like no one cares if I got a 94. Honestly, no one cares if I use 30% new oak and it comes from France. People want to know that I picked up the hose during harvest and I focused it the wrong way, turned it on and I splashed myself in the crotch, and all day the interns made fun of me. But I guess that’s what people want to know, right. Or that like you bend over to clean out a bin and you split your pants. Like that’s the stuff people want to know. Yeah, absolutely. That’s the stuff they can relate to like the humour, the humility, the fact that looks very glamorous on the outside, travelling around the world, tasting wines around the globe and writing about them seems like the most glamorous dream job in the world, Natalie. But beneath that there’s this very human woman who shares the same experiences that we do, right. Like raising a kid, doing dishes, vacuuming your house. We all do those same things together.
Natalie MacLean 40:14
That’s true. It’s true. Yeah, it’s not all Skittles and Zinfandel at 9am in the morning when you’re looking at this lineup and people go tiny violins tiny. Okay, fine. I don’t complain.
Natalie MacLean 40:31
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Kerith. Here are my takeaways. Number one, I love Kerith’s pairing suggestions for Zinfandel. Those are on my list to try this week. Two, she has a great overview of how American Viticultural Areas AVAs can help us find particular styles of wine we love or at least know what to expect. And three, Kerith even manages to make yeast interesting, and she shares with us how profound its impact can be on wine’s taste. In the shownotes, you’ll find my email contact, the full transcript of my conversation with Kerith, links to her wines and website, and where you can find the live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. You’ll also find a link to my free Ultimate Guide to Wine and Food Pairing. That’s all in the show notes at NatalieMacLean.com/194. Email me if you have a sip, tip, question, or would like to become a beta reader of my new memoir at [email protected] You won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Kerith. In the meantime, if you missed episode 104 go back and take a listen. A chat about Zinfandel with California winemaker Joel Peterson. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Joel Peterson 41:58
Baby back ribs are a wonderful match. And there are several wines that go really well with baby back ribs in part because, since dawn has this really pretty sweet fruit, the blend he may be talking about as Besieged, which is a traditional California field land based on what California did pre-Prohibition. Nobody was trying to make varietals wines they were trying to make wines that tasted good and we’re particular for that location. They planted grapes together called some Fidel of course Petit Surat Karina and Ellicott. dico che sometimes little Granada, sometimes a little Syrah sometimes a woman Tara are more than but those were the blending grapes of California and so Beseiged is based on that concept.
Natalie MacLean 42:47
If you liked this episode, please email or 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 Zinfandel with some spicy Doritos chips.
Natalie MacLean 43:14
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/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers