Video: Winemaker John Williams, Frog’s Leap on Dry Farming (and Humour)

The Impact of Dry Farming on Wine?


Our guest this evening is John Williams, Winemaker at Frog’s Leap Winery

… join me live now from…

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Here’s a sampling of our lively discussion from our tasting…

Gregory Hughes0:51 Cool fact: look at the bottom of the label on wine made by John Williams and it says “open other end.”
Beverly Asleson19:53 How high is your pH in regards to acidity in your wines?

Paul E Hollander37:40 We put our Zin in the refrigerator for 30 minuets before opening.

Paul E Hollander15:16 Patti and I drove the Silverado Trail with many visits in 2009. Wonderful trip and about time to go back.
Paul E Hollander7:48 Good evening to you both. Can see and hear you both fine. Enjoying the Zin.

Stephen Andrews54:20 Going to Hilton Head next week. Will look for the Cab. For the wife.

Stephen Andrews53:25 My wife likes the Cabernet Sauvignon. So she wants one. Unfortunately not in Waterloo

Stephen Andrews50:19 John thank you for making such great wines. Sticking to your passion is important.

Stephen Andrews47:53 Wine reviewers need to promote this winery. It is great!

 Stephen Andrews36:23 Tenderloin with a Zin mushroom gravey

Stephen Andrews30:42 The Zin is like a wonderful Primitivo with vanilla berry jam and soft tannin.

Stephen Andrews26:54 Kiss this frog get a prince
Stephen Andrews19:18 John I am enjoying the Zin it is so well balanced and favourableStephen Andrews14:39 Money is not important passion is. John had passion.

Stephen Andrews7:30 What cheese goes with this Zin?
Sam Hauck30:15 Sadly, no Frog’s Leap in our BC gov’t stores

Sam Hauck17:26 John, what is your production level?

Rachelle O’Connor8:32 Your website is brilliant – love it! Everyone should take a peak –

 Murray Johnston52:40 Wish Canadians can order cross the border. Love to try all.
Murray Johnston17:45 From experience how long do you like to age your zin?

Kenn Starr21:28 What does certified organic mean

Kenn Starr25:56 How did you get the winery’s distribution ?

Beverly Asleson15:51 How has this year been so far?
Beverly Asleson48:29 Love Sideways/Merlot!
Stephen Andrews51:43 Yes the 2014 Zin would work with turkey.

Paul E Hollander53:32 Which vintage is it?

Stephen Andrews9:24 This Zin is nice. Anyone else trying it?

Stephen Andrews3:41 First time drinking your Zin 2014

Stephen Andrews35:49 Well worth the price!

 Stephen Andrews33:46 Yup it is terrific
 Stephen Andrews34:50 What food pairing
 Stephen Andrews21:32 Wow great organic.
Stephen Andrews31:53 It’s so good!

Kenn Starr42:15 Looks like a very red Zin

 Kenn Starr19:40 Do you ad Tannins in all your wines
Paul E Hollander0:00 You have made our Sunday evening! 🍷🍷🍷

John Williams Frog’s Leap Winery


John William Bio from the Frog’s Leap Site:

As undergraduate at Cornell, John Williams obtains an internship at Taylor Wine Company, and discovers that a winery is full of tanks of booze, pretty girls giving tours and absolutely no cows unlike the dairy farm he grew up on. He falls in love with wine.

John makes a pilgrimage to the Napa Valley on the Greyhound Bus, meets Larry Turley while illegally camped on his property, a former frog raising farm; after two bottles of wine they agree to start a winery together. Larry helps John get a job with his friend Warren Winiarski. As the only employee at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars John keeps cellar notes and helps bottle the ’73 Stag’s Leap Cabernet. He proceeds to total Warren’s car on his 5th day on the job. At Larry’s urging John obtains a motorcycle to make the commute between UC Davis, Stag’s Leap and the Frog Farm.

While quaffing almost the entire batch of fizzy Chardonnay John made from grapes he borrowed from Warren, the two coin the name Frog’s Leap as well as the inexplicable clever phrase “Time’s fun when you’re having flies!” that becomes the winery’s official motto.

John is (still) the sole employee of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars when the announcement is made that the ’73 Cab had won the Paris tasting. A serious pain in the ass!

John graduates from UC Davis; becomes winemaker at the newly opened Glenora Wine Cellars on Seneca Lake in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region. At the opening of the winery, a reverse-wired motor in the new crusher spews one-half of a ton of Baco Noir grapes into the assembled crowd, including the State’s Lieutenant Governor—An auspicious start for the dairyman from Clymer.

John returns to Napa Valley to become head winemaker at Spring Mountain; marries Julie Johnson at the Frog Farm; renews a pledge with Larry to make wine—a task completed that fall in a borrowed an unused hot tub. John and Larry sell their motorcycles to raise the cash to launch the project as no bank would loan them the money.

Frog’s Leap is bonded; winery makes its first wines, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel, with grapes purchased from Spottswoode.

First Frog’s Leap wine is released—a 1981 Sauvignon Blanc, featuring designer Chuck House’s award-winning label; Terry Robards’s story “Frog’s Leap: A Prince of a Wine,” appears in New York Times. Spottswoode, the original fruit source for the Zinfandel replants to Cabernet. With no source for Zin, John makes Cabernet and tries his hand at Chardonnay. At Spring Mountain, John is kicked off the set of “Falcon’s Crest” because he’s told he does not look enough like a winemaker.

The Ahwahnee Hotel becomes the first big account to carry the Sauvignon Blanc.
…and has sold a case a week ever since!

Julie becomes Frog’s Leap’s first official employee; Robert “Rory” Calder Williams is born; the first Leap Year party featuring a theme of total debauchery is held at a new restaurant called Mustards Grill.

John leaves Spring Mountain to work full-time at Frog’s Leap. Resumes Zinfandel production using grapes from the Batuello Vineyard, bordering the east side of the Frog Farm.

Thomas Kylor Williams is born.

The 1984 Cabernet Sauvignon is released.
Just had this the other night, such a good vintage…

Convinced that organic farming will produce a healthier vine and a better wine, John seeks more information and is introduced to Bob Cantisano through a contact at Fetzer Winery. John works with “Amigo” Bob to establish farming protocols, and convinces his grape grower partners to grow organically by offering a financial incentive. Pat Garvey, Lee Hudson, Mike Wolfe, Frank Leeds, and Andy Hoxsey agree to join John in becoming among the first to “go organic”. John is now introduced at industry meetings as “that hippie farmer”.

Katherine “Kelly” Damon Williams is born.

Frog’s Leap receives California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) status; In a move to further improve wine quality, John hires Frank Leeds to take over farming operations for Frog’s Leap. Frank’s Chavez & Leeds family vineyards become a vital Rutherford fruit source, and the practice of dry farming becomes the standard; Pablo Polanco is hired to work the cellar.

First Frog’s Leap Merlot (1990 vintage) is released.

Larry Turley sells his interest in Frog’s Leap to The Williams family and starts Turley Wine Cellars on the original Frog’s Leap site (the Frog Farm). John and Julie seek a new location for the winery.

Frog’s Leap secures a long term lease on the Red Barn and officially moves to Rutherford. The property includes a partially collapsed historic barn and some vineyards nearly dead to Phylloxera. Architect Ned Forrest designs a master plan for a “new old winery estate” that begins with reconstruction of the Red Barn. Construction extends into late summer and catastrophe is narrowly avoided as tanks and grapes arrive on the same day. Dry farming practices introduced by Frank Leeds and his Uncle Roy Chavez resuscitate the vines enough to harvest some SB and Merlot. Paula Moschetti is hired as the company’s first lab rat.

In a pivotal moment in Frog’s Leap history, vintner Chuck Carpy helps John to secure a loan and purchase the Red Barn from Freemark Abbey. The property includes 40 acres of decrepit prime Rutherford vineyard in addition to the restored barn and newly planted orchards and gardens. With the acquisition of this land Frog’s Leap realizes an important milestone—the ability to control their own farming practices. Sadly, Chuck passes away soon after facilitating the sale.

Replanting of the Red Barn vineyard blocks to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot begins, and Frog’s Leap buys fruit from Louise Rossi, including Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and some very old Valdeguié. Lisa Crean promoted to Sales Manager.

image 7
The first “Rutherford” is blended from dry-farmed grapes from the Chavez Leeds Ranch as an expression of Rutherford terroir. The winery secures a long term lease on Garden Vineyard, a prime Zinfandel resource in Saint Helena. With it’s hillside location and gravely loam soil this 15 acre resource meets John’s long term goal to farm his own grapes.

Inaugural release of Leapfrögmilch celebrated at Calistoga’s first and last leiderhosen party at the Mount View Hotel. The winery purchases 52 acres of riverfront land in Rutherford at the end of Galleron Road. Moving Frog’s Leap one step closer towards an entirely estate-grown Sauvignon Blanc program. Winery begins to export to Japan and UK.
Humbled and flattered to have such interest in our particular winemaking style overseas.

First release of winery’s “Rutherford” (1996 vintage) a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; Frog’s Leap begins construction on the Barrel Chai next to the Red Barn; Julie and John separate.

Petite Sirah is planted at Galleron after uncovering a small section of gravel.

Frog’s Leap Barrel Chai
Completion of Barrel Chai allows all winemaking and storage to take place at the winery. Julie starts Tres Sabores winery.

Paula Moschetti named co-winemaker.

John and Davey Pina spearhead planning efforts for the Rutherford Reach section of the Napa River Restoration Project. The resulting cooperation along the river sets the bar for public/private river restoration. First issue of Syrah and La Grenouille Rouganté, a dry rosé made from ancient Valdeguie grapes from the Rossi property that no one else wanted.

Frank Leeds promoted to Vice President of Vineyard Operations. Pablo Polanco becomes Cellar Master.

John befriends Jonah Beer, Director of Sales at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars while on the road and teaches him how to cheat on his expense account.

Jonah signs on at Frog’s Leap as General Manager and Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
…and rewrites the book on cheating on an expense account

image 9
Shortly after harvest is completed, Frog’s Leap goes solar with a bang—literally a crossed wire created a minor major explosion but the team gets it up and running.

The winery negotiates a long term lease on the Gonzales vineyard.

While serving on the board of the Napa Valley Vintners, John meets Tori Wilder, the new Communications Director. He bails on the board but keeps the girl.

Chardonnay moves to a single vineyard program, with fruit from Tony Truchard in Carneros. The familiar double-wide trailer is towed away and construction begins on the Hospitality Center (The Vineyard House) first envisioned by Ned Forrest in 1995.

Frog’s Leap discontinues Leapfrogmilch.

New hospitality center and administrative offices are completed; the new “old” farmhouse is the first LEED (Silver) certified building in California wine industry.

John tries his hand at bötrytized wines with the first issue of a late harvest riesling from the Rossi Estate Vineyard affectionately called Frogenbeerenauslese. The picking crew questions John’s sanity when the request is made to harvest “rotten” fruit.

In the Groove

The acquisition of the historic Rossi Estate on Highway 29 is the capstone of an all estate grown cabernet sauvignon program.

A second orchard is planted at the winery, and extensive organic gardens now produce more than 50 different crops in rotation year round.

The Cal Berkeley Marching band makes a brief appearance at the Leap Year Party. John tries to lead the march and walks straight into the tuba.

Replanting begins at the Rossi Estate.

Abbie, the wire haired pointing Griffon, joins the family.

To meet growing demand, winery hospitality begins offering a signature seated tasting on the porch of The Vineyard House in addition to the traditional tour.

The garden program continues its expansion, and begins to supply local restaurants with organic produce and eggs. Small batch preserves are made available seasonally.

Frog’s Leap launches The Fellowship of the Frog.

John receives a “Susti” Lifetime Achievement Award at the Ecological Farming Conference, and ties the knot with Tori in New Orleans.

The inaugural Frogtoberfest Dinner and Retrospective Tasting draws a raucous respectable crowd and kicks off a new harvest tradition.

The Peach Festival is introduced as an annual summertime event. Harvest kicks off with a toast to 30 years of Frog’s Leap winemaking.

The first Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon is produced.

Rory Williams launches Calder Wine Company.

After decades of mentoring and advice to Frog’s Leap and others, Roy Chavez, affectionately known to all as “Uncle Roy” passes away.

The Plan
Ned Forrest begins work on designs for two new buildings to support expanded agricultural and farming pursuits at Frog’s Leap.

Rory Williams begins work in earnest at Frog’s Leap as a vineyardist.

Frank Leeds named “Grower of the Year” by Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

Chuck House designs a new label for the Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon to be introduced in the Fall of 2014.

John begrudgingly starts a twitter feed, abandoning it after a handful of posts.

Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon
The first kegs of “Young Vines” Cabernet Sauvignon are tapped at Jamber Wine Pub in San Francisco and Archetype in St. Helena. Frog’s Leap employees begin petition to have kegerators installed in the breakroom.

On September 1st, John’s long-time dream of producing an entirely estate-grown Cabernet is realized as the 2012 Estate Grown Rutherford, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is released into the marketplace.

Shortly thereafter, Frog Fellows gather at the Red Barn for the first annual Harvest Moon Dinner, and a good time is had by all.


John Williams




Frog’s Leap Winery







Frog’s Leap Zinfandel 2015
Napa Valley, California, United States










Frog’s Leap Red Grapes




Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon




Frog’s Leap Rutherford Vineyard






Frog’s Leap Merlot 2014
Rutherford, Napa Valley, California, United States










John Williams




Frog’s Leap Winery









Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Rutherford, Napa Valley, California, United States






Frog’s Leap Green Grapes




Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc








Frog’s Leap Winery






Frog’s Leap Chardonnay 2015
Napa Valley, California, United States











John Williams






Frog’s Leap Winery Solar Panels






Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Rutherford, Napa Valley California, United States







Frog’s Leap Harvest




Frog’s Leap Hospitality


– Do you know the profound impact that organic viticulture and dry farming has on the style of wine you drink? How it changes their complexity, their depth and many other dimensions? We’re going to explore that and it’s not going to be a dry conversation at all. I’ve got one of the most wittiest, smartest winemakers joining us here tonight. So before I introduce our guest fully, I want to let you know that I’m Natalie MacLean, editor of Canada’s largest wine review site at and you’ve joined us here on the Sunday Sipper Club, where we gather every Sunday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern to talk to the most intriguing people in the wine world. And so, before I get going, I would like to know how familiar you are with the wines that we will be tasting tonight. So in the comments below, just yes or no, have you ever tasted a wine from Frog’s Leap Winery in California? Just post yes or no, that’s what I’m looking for tonight. I’m going to post some links to the wines we’re tasting right now over here at Facebook. And I’m assuming you all could hear and see me just fine. I’m going to keep talking until you tell me you can’t. Alright, so our guest this evening made his first pilgrimage to Napa Valley in the early 1970s, and that’s when, as he tells it, as he says, he met the physician Larry Turley, who went on to found the renowned winery Turley Cellars. He met the physician Larry Turley while camping out illegally on his property, which was a former frog raising farm. You can see how the name Frog’s Leap Winery is coming into being, but there’s more to it, as well as the motto time flies when you’re, no, wait a minute, time’s fun when you’re eating flies. Anyway, terrific sense of humor, and you can hear him in the background now but he takes winemaking very seriously and has so many profound insights to share with us tonight and he joins us live from his winery in Napa Valley, welcome John Williams.

– Hi Natalie.

– Hi.

– Nice to be with you.

– Ah, so good to be with you, and you’re joining us in the middle of harvest, so thank you for that. I hope the grapes aren’t suffering as a result of your not being our there for an hour.

– You got me on a good day.

– Oh good.

– We’re actually, it’s a beautiful Indian summer weather. It’s turned lovely here. It’s getting very cold at night, so I think many winemakers are getting a little greedy for flavors at this point, so we’re letting them sit out there just a little longer, but we’ll be back to actually starting tomorrow, so.

– Oh that’s great, wow.

– It’s just finished up.

– It’s nice to have a little bit of a rest, so I gave a very brief overview. You’ve had a long and storied history in wine, UC Davis, everything else. So tell us a little bit, fill in the gaps, please, of that introduction. Tell us a little bit about your private life. Or your personal life, not your private life. Let’s not get racy right away.

– No, no, no, no, no, we’ll go easy at the beginning.

– At the beginning, yes.

– Well, people may not know I got my start, actually, in upstate New York. I grew up just below Buffalo, a town close to the Pennsylvania border, so actually I guess my first experience with grapes was Welch’s grape juice, so I’m from your neck of the woods. I went to Cornell University. I grew up on my family’s dairy farm, and I went to Cornell University to learn how to milk cows better, and I thought maybe I might be a vet, but Natalie, it turns out you need to be smart to be a vet, so that didn’t work out so well. But anyway, I was at Cornell, interesting times. And then I ran out of money, and so the–

– As student will, yes.

– As students will, particularly when their family owns a dairy farm. And so I applied for a work-study program through Cornell University where you could work and get money at the same time, and the only job they had available was at the Taylor Wine Company. Now some of your listeners may remember the old Taylor Wine Company. It was a very important part of the industry back in the ’70s, owned by the Taylor family. They made, out of Concord, Niagara and Catawba, and so.

– Wow.

– I didn’t know, of course, I’d never had a glass of wine in my life, but they took me over from Cornell to look at this work-study program, and it was one of those moments, Natalie, that you have in life, when I dropped down into this beautiful valley with grapes coming down right to the lake, and this winery full of tanks of booze, and pretty girls giving tours, and no cows and I knew right away my future was going to be in the wine industry.

– Cows out, grapes in, as well as pretty girls.

– Cows out, grapes in.

– That’s great. What a great story.

– Absolutely.

– And you made your, well, you really started at the bottom with Welch’s grape juice, and then up to the Concord. Life could only get better for you in the wine industry. So that’s great. I’m just going to, I’m going to welcome the people who are walking into our virtual wine bar already, lots of people pouring in, Beverly Asleson is here from California, Murray Johnston. Happy Thanksgiving, yes! Everybody in Canada, of course. Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I hope you’re enjoying some delicious wines the whole weekend. Stephen Andrews is here from Waterloo and Steve is always on point. He’d already sent me a picture on Facebook of the Frog’s Leap wine he was opening. Remind me which one. Oh, it’s the Zin, the Zin 2014, Stephen Andrews has opened, so excellent. Dave Head has said that he can hear us just fine, and guys, please post again. I can only see five comments at once, and then they fall off the edge. Don’t know why Facebook does it, but that’s what they do, so I’m not ignoring you, just repost again. And a reminder, as we always do now, week to week, if you share this video, this conversation, you are eligible to win a couple of bottles of, in this case, of course, Frog’s Leap wine, and I will be announcing last week’s winner at the end of the video, so you have to stay with it till the bitter end, but it’s not going to be it’s not going to be hard. John, okay back to you, John. Now, so was that the moment you realized you wanted to be in the wine industry, when you were surrounded by beauty, landscape, girls, et cetera or was there a moment when you actually started making wine that you knew, “Oh my gosh, this is what I have to do?”

– Yeah, well at Cornell they didn’t have any classes in actual winemaking at that point. They’ve got a, the university’s really come around now, they’re doing a great job down there. So my best hope was to get into dairy fermentation, so something most people don’t know about me is my actual degree is not in winemaking, undergraduate degree at least, it’s in cheese making and so I had actually had more experience, in my early days, making cheese than I did wine, but that’s.

– That’s a good complement.

– Many of the things are actually fairly similar.

– Yeah, I would think. Fermentation, natural liquid, controlled decomposition and rot and all that kind of stuff, I would think. It’s a perfect marriage.

– Indeed, indeed and has been through my life, as cheese still remains a big part of my life.

– That’s great, that’s fantastic. Okay, so now you are in Rutherford. Can you differentiate that region from other sort of sub-regions of Napa Valley for us?

– Well, it’s hard to think of the Napa Valley really being as diverse as it is, I mean we’re only 25 miles long and two miles wide. It’s an extremely small wine-growing region. Most people don’t realize that only 4% of the wine were coming from California actually comes from the Napa Valley. So it’s small, it’s what? A third of the of the main Arkansas. The 2/3 of the size of the Cote de Beaune, so it’s a small region. But that said, there’s amazing diversity. One of the soils, there are 134 soil types in the Napa Valley, very catholic, but there are, as opposed to Burgundy, which has got limestone, right? So it’s very diverse from a soil point of view. It’s very diverse from a climate point of view as well. As you know, the bottom of the Napa Valley opens onto the Pacific Ocean so the cold Pacific Ocean. So the temperature at the bottom of the Napa Valley can be significantly lower, sometimes as much as 15 degrees on any given day during the summer from the bottom of the valley to the top of the valley.

– That’s remarkable.

– When you think about Europe, you–

– 15 degrees, wow!

– 15 degrees, you’d have to go from Norway to the south of Spain to see that in Europe, right?

– Right.

– So a big difference that way and that’s why we grow so many different varieties there. You can grow everything from Zinfandel to Pinot Noir in the Napa Valley because of this huge temperature difference. And then there’s the diurnal effect, because again, of the Pacific Ocean, as the warm temperatures raise up, it brings in the cool air at night, and so we’ll see, commonly, a 40 or 50-degree change in the temperature, in Fahrenheit, between the daytime temperature and the nighttime temperature. Very unusual for a wine-growing region.

– That is fantastic and I must–

– Rutherford happens to–

– Yes, go ahead, tell us about Rutherford.

– I was going to go on to say that, ’cause I was supposed to answer the question. I get off topic sometimes.

– Yes, you are.

– You got to bring me back.

– So do I.

– Rutherford is right in the middle of this. It’s the pivot point in the Napa Valley, between the cooler to the south and the warmer to the north, and part of the reason that it makes it, probably the single best place in the world to grow Cabernet Sauvignon.

– Ah, ’cause right in the center there.

– I’m going to back that up now.

– Yes you do, and we have the physical evidence here tonight. Actually, okay. So we wanted to go with the whites first but let me just say that Rachelle O’Connor has said your website, John, is brilliant, everyone should check it out. She’s posted a link in the Facebook comments below here. And Rachelle, I just wanted to say hello, ’cause she is on assignment for our site and our community over in Milan tonight in Italy. So Rachelle.

– Oh my goodness.

– You’re up very late. My dear, shouldn’t you get some sleep? But anyway, I’m so glad you’re here Rachelle. Hope you had a good flight. Stephen Andrews, the Zin is nice. Is anyone else trying it? Yes, I am. I am, Stephen, we will be. So and there’s Paul Hollander, Good evening to you both. Can see and hear you both fine. Terrific, and Paul is enjoying the Zin as well. So okay, so Rutherford is sort of in that pivot point in the center of Napa and, oh, Gwen would love to visit the winery. So why is it perfect for Cabernet? You said you had to back that up. I do have your marvelous Cabernet, of course I opened and was tasting before. But.

– Yeah?

– Yes, I’m keen. But what makes this so Rutherford so perfect for Cabernet, specifically?

– Well first of all, I should say that not all Rutherford is. But the western and eastern benches really are. One, because of soil restriction. The vines can grow good but not too good. Whenever you have restrictive soil, it decreases the vigor, which, well-drained, low-vigor soils are key to Cabernet Sauvignon, so it’s largely the soil, particularly on the western benches. Now you get into the center of the valley, and then the soil’s too deep, really, for red grapes and so there’s why we grow Sauvignon blac there. But all the Sauvignon varieties need this, Cabernet Sauvignon in particular needs to have dry feet or really well-drained soils so these gravelly alluvial benches in Rutherford are, and really Oakville thought to give them a little nod, are really ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon.

– Much like Bordeaux itself.

– It really anyone, any seasoned wine traveler traveling up Highway 29 and looking to the west would be deeply reminded of the Medoc, yes.

– Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So yeah, Rachelle’s saying she can hear us loud and clear in Valentina, Italy, Valti–

– Oh my goodness.

– Yeah, she’s way over there. Anyway, we have people around the world. So we have people from the US, of course across Canada, which is the majority of our audience, but people tune in everywhere. There is someone in Singapore who gets up in the morning and he’s not drinking wine but he’s watching us and having tea, so that’s dedication, I would think. But John, now I know we’re going to dive deeper into the issues about dry farming and so on but I have to just say I love your sense of humor. And I know you may be moving away from this but I’m going to bring you right back to it. So tell us first about how Frog’s Leap Winery got its name.

– Well, you alluded to it a little bit in that. So when I graduated from Cornell, I decided that Napa Valley was the place to be. We were just, of course, starting. We’re talking 1975, this guy Robert Mondavi had started the first new winery since prohibition, and there was Andre Tchelistcheff, there was all this research going on at UC Davis, there were these amazing wines starting to be made there, so for an aspiring winemaker who had had his fill of Catawba, it was the place to go. And so I didn’t have a lot of money, this is a theme of my life by the way, but I didn’t have a lot of money, so I got the $69 Ameripass on the Greyhound bus and headed to the Napa Valley. I arrived there in the spring of 1975 on the bus with 40 bucks in my pocket, so I had known this young woman at Cornell, we were in a wine tasting class together and she thought her brother had a place there, so I hitchhiked up, there was no one there, the house was abandoned, it was rundown, I didn’t think anyone lived there so I said, well, this beats the $2 camping fee. So I pitched my tent, and it was the very next morning when Larry showed up on his motorcycle. Larry was an emergency room physician over in Santa Rosa, and so he showed up, front tire right through my tent flap. You know, what the hell are you doing on my property? And fortunately, I had a bottle of wine.

– Nice way to get to know each other.

– Yeah exactly. Well even better, it gets better. Fortunately, I had a bottle of wine in the tent with me, and we opened that. I said, I was about ready to have a drink of wine. He said, “Well, I’ll jump in.” And so we drank that bottle and another and decided to start a winery together, so Larry stayed as you mentioned.

– As you will after two bottles.

– Indeed, yeah, it seemed like a really good idea.

– I’m sure.

– He was itching to get interested in wine as well. But Larry had some very dear friends who were just ready to bottle their first wine, so he proposed that I go to work for Warren and Barbara Winiarski, so I became the first employee of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. My very first day on the job, we bottled the ’73 Cab that wins the Paris Tasting, if you can imagine.

– Wow.

– That was my first day on the job.

– Timing is everything. Oh wow.

– Timing is everything, yeah.

– My goodness.

– There were a few grapes that fall that didn’t fit into the hopper at Stag’s Leap that we took back to what we had discovered was a frog farm. We made one of those five-gallon jugs of wine and we ran out of things to drink one night and it was still fizzing a little bit on the top, but we decided to sample it, and I think we sampled something like four out of the five gallons and, with a few friends, and in honor of Stag’s Leap, where we had procured the grapes, and the frog farm where we made the wine in a glass jug, we came up with the name Frog’s Leap.

– The Frog’s Leap, I love this.

– Yeah, people say, “How’d you get the name Frog’s Leap?” I said, we’d been drinking, which is pretty much true.

– That’s, yes, the reason or the blame for a lot of things that happen. And then, on the cork, I know you’re moving away from this, but I still love it, Ribbit. So you’re playing off the frog.

– Yeah.

– A bit of fun.

– Well when we got started, you know, everyone is so serious about wine and we’re certainly serious about wine, but we thought of it as something great just to drink and have fun with. And so we took the temperature down a little bit when it came to, obviously, our packaging but our attitude, just our overall attitude, and I think that’s stayed with people and I think it’s brought a lot of people into our camp.

– Absolutely.

– We don’t want them to forget how dedicated we are to making great wine, and how much effort we put into our craft.

– Absolutely.

– But we take the temperature down a little bit on the pretension.

– Absolutely, sell them the sizzle then give them the steak that they really need. So under the barcode, I’m just going to show this in the camera, it says, open the other end. I love that.

– Open other end, yeah.

– And then the motto, time’s fun when you’re eating flies. And you, you now have–

– When you’re having flies, you got to get that right, Natalie.

– When you’re having flies. I know, I’m tripping all over it. I need to have, obviously, a few glasses more of wine too, to get that, but–

– I think so.

– Yes, but what is the Fellowship of the Frog? To continue this metaphor.

– Well, most wineries have wine clubs and we didn’t. We resisted for many years having a wine club, just ’cause it seemed like what everyone was doing, but we have a lot of people who are very passionate about our wine who have become friends, really, and inspired by the Fellowship of the Rings, we decided to start the Fellowship of the Frog. So for the price of buying 12 bottles of wine a year, you get a first invitations to all of our great social events and we stay in touch with you and you get access to our cellar, where we keep a lot of our older wines, so it’s really a, it’s a fellowship, it’s not a wine club. It really is a partnership between the winery and those who are passionate about Frog’s Leap wines.

– I’m sure that’s easy. And is there a secret handshake or a frog–

– There is a secret handshake. I could show you, but it’s a secret, sorry.

– Oh, okay. Well, we’ll see at the end of the video if you’re willing to share. Murray Johnston is saying, “From experience, “how long do you like to age your Zinfandel?” John, how long do you suggest aging your Zin?

– Well, I certainly think. You know, Natalie, I’ve probably asked that question more than, I’m drinking our ’86 Zinfandel now with tremendous pleasure, just to give you an idea. So 30 years is nothing for our Zinfandels. And they get so much nuance, they get so much. But of course, they’re so charming when they’re young too, so I made a mistake when I first started collecting wines of we would try a beautiful, well-balanced wine, and we’d say, well, that’s lovely. We should probably drink it right away and then we would get some tannic, bitter, alcoholic, very heavy wine, and we’d hack, and spit it out, and go, oh my goodness, gracious. That’s going to be good in 40 years, right? I don’t think so. I think wines are like people. If you’re ugly when you’re young, you’re going to be ugly when you’re old, and it really is this balance that you need right from the very beginning and those wines, we don’t have a red wine that we’ve made in our first 37 years that I wouldn’t be proud to open and drink at this point.

– Wow, that’s fantastic. Fantastic. And Sam out in BC, who teaches wine courses, John, what is your production each year? I’m sure it’ll vary, but–

– So, sure, no. Wineries lie about this, so first of all, just so you know, but I’ll tell you the honest truth, just because we’re being that way today. We farm about 250 acres of grapes. 250 acres will give you, at four tons the acre, about a thousand tons. Now that’s not always all productive but we do buy just, we buy our Chardonnay grapes, for example. So we get about a thousand tons of grapes a year. On a good year, that will make somewhere between 55 to 65 cases of wine so it’s a lot, really, when you think about it. On the other hand, it’s just simply a product of our farming. It’s made by myself. It’s all in one place. It’s easy to see. And that’s over the five different varieties that we make. So we’ve been that size for a long time, by the way, almost 20 years, so it’s not like we’ve enormously increased our production. What we have done over the years is, we used to buy quite a bit of our grapes. Now, we’re pretty much estate-grown with the exception of our Chardonnay.

– Okay, and is all of your wine organic? Or certain parcels or how do you?

– All of the grapes we use for our wine are certified organically grown, and have been for 30 years. So this is not something that we came up with yesterday. There’s a difference, in our country at least, with respect to labeling between wine made from organically-grown grapes and organic wine, having to do with the use of sulfur which we could spend the rest of the podcast arguing about, but–

– And lose everybody in the process.

– And lose everyone in the process, but we’re wine made from certified organically-grown grapes, yeah. And have been for, we were the, kind of the, at least say early adopters of that in Napa. I think we were the first by many years, yeah.

– Alright, fair enough. So Ken Starr, welcome. He is asking, what does certified organic mean?

– Well, it used to mean nothing, but we passed a law in 1990 that if you were going to call yourself organic, you had to meet a national standard in the United States, and so certifying agencies were set up. We’re certified by California Certified Organic Farmers, CCOF, and so what it means is that you have to keep very strict records. They come out, they visit your farm on a random basis, they take samples of your soil. That’s what it means in terms of the legal part of it. What it means to farm organically is a much more rich and wonderful discussion that I hope we have a chance to get into.

– Absolutely. And that’s not dry, but we should have some wine. Ba-dum-bum.

– Yes, please.

– So where did you want to start with the wines tonight, John?

– Well, I have a little bit of our Sauvignon blac here.

– Yes, so do I.

– Just waiting at the ready.

– Excellent.

– And I’m thinking I’d like to quench my thirst with a little taste of that.

– Absolutely. Let’s try that. And I have posted, but I will post again folks, the links to all of the wines we are tasting tonight. I’m going to repost that right now so you have it. And I know somebody from Pennsylvania just posted a comment asking a question. I think it was, perhaps even from a winery, and I missed it, so anyway, if you’re just joining us, you’re here on the Sunday Sipper Club. John Williams from Frog’s Leap in Napa Valley Rutherford is joining me. We’re having a great discussion. Please just let us know where you’re tuning in for, from, sorry and if you’ve ever had a wine from Frog’s Leap. Right now, we’re going to first try the Sauvignon blanc. So John, tell us about the Sauvignon blanc, please.

– Well, I will because Sauvignon blanc is the number one wine at Frog’s Leap. We make more Sauvignon blanc than any other wine. It is more than 30% of our production. It is the wine that we’ve made every year since our first year in 1981. We started the winery in 1981 by selling our motorcycles, and making 500 cases of wine, and Sauvignon blac and Zinfandel were the two varieties, so this has been with us for so many years. No wine gets more respect at Frog’s Leap than our Sauvignon blac, and I’ll tell you why. As my first visit to Europe back in the late 70s was to the Loire Valley. I was sent there by Mike Robinson, Spring Mountain Vineyards, and Natalie, I know this has happened to you, to visit these winemakers who were so passionate about their Sauvignon blacs, their Sancerres and that their whole cuisine had developed around them. They wouldn’t drink other wines from other regions. It was part of the fabric of their families and it was just so instructive to me that wine could be such a part of the life of the people making it. And I vowed upon that trip that I would never disrespect this variety, Sauvignon blac, which I think gets short shrift in too many cellars, to be honest with you. It’s kind of the white wine they make while they’re waiting for their Cabernet Sauvignon and so.

– To age, yes, absolutely, yeah.

– Yeah, so we love Sauvignon blac. It is the wine we sell all over the world to fine restaurants and retailers and it’s just, and if I didn’t make it at home, I’d be in deep trouble with my wife, by the way.

– Happy wife, happy life, yes.

– Exactly, and so we just love this wine, this variety.

– And do you consider this, I mean, in the category of Fume Blac or is that just another name that, I guess, Robert Mondavi came up with? Or is that a style that has more oak aging as opposed to what you’re trying to do with this Sauvignon blac?

– Yeah, I think you’re right about the marketing thing, primarily. You know, in Sancerre, if we have a like Dagueneau has a Blanc de Fume, that connotates extra lees and aging and so on. It’s Sauvignon blac at its best, I believe, is this fresh, crisp, minerally, absolutely transparent look into the soil, but it can be dressed up. We actually make a Sauvignon blac that’s $95 a bottle, that’s seen a year, full year, on its fermentation lees, in a concrete egg, and a year of bottle aging, and so you can dress this up, but at its very best, this is it, just simple, beautiful, fresh.

– Yeah, it’s so fresh.

– Minerally Sauvignon blac.

– Wake up. A wake-up call for your senses. It’s like, hey, I’m here, I’m here.

– Indeed, indeed.

– No, it’s terrific, I love it. And this one recently came out, I think, in vintages in the LCBO. I think it’s–

– I believe so.

– Still in circulation here. Yeah, it’s terrific. So, excuse me, I’ll just go back. Beverly says, my favorite is Sauvignon blac, but one day, yes, Beverly needs to get to your wines. You do, Bev. Okay, so what would be your ideal food pairing with this Sauvignon blac, John?

– You know, this wine is so versatile that way. Everything from cheese to, you know, we had it with bouillabaisse. Because it satisfies all, it doesn’t elbow its way into the conversation with food, it is just so content to say, I’ll play my beautiful part in a meal. But gosh, it just goes with everything. It really is.

– It does.

– It really is amazing.

– Yeah, absolutely. And it’s not I mean, it’s refreshing. I always like to say the juices are running along the sides of my mouth, but it’s not aggressive or anything, it’s just a come-alive kind of wine.

– I think it pays a lot of tribute to the wines that I tasted in Sancerre, with respect to that dryness and the beautiful acidity, natural acidity. But of course, it’s distinctly Californian too. You get a little bit of the white peach, a little bit of the flower, so it’s not an imitation of what I saw in Sancerre. It’s just a tribute, really, to particularly with, we talk about three things at Frog’s Leap when it comes to our wines. Balance, restraint and respect for terroir. This really fits all those categories, in my opinion.

– Absolutely. And speaking of lightening up, maybe a little bit on the restraint aspect, how about his Cabernet, or sorry, Chardonnay, that I just had a little taste of before we started. It’s glorious, it’s robust, full-bodied, but not heavy.

– Yeah. Can I pour myself a little bit?

– You’re allowed. Okay, let’s give this a shot.

– Okay.

– Tell us about this one.

– Well, I’ll be honest with you, Natalie, I’m not a big fan of California Chardonnays in general. To me they often fall into the category of what I would call tropical fruit-flavored pancake syrups. You know, very sweet, very oaky, very heavy, very rich, very you know, they’re very popular, let’s put it that way. The other category is the faux Burgundies, those who, like myself, have spent a lot of time in Burgundy and want to make the next Chassagne-Montrachet. I struggled with both of those styles for a long time, but ultimately, really changed the way we make Chardonnay to this style. So this wine is 100% barrel fermented in brand new French oak for four days. And that’s all the oak this wine has ever seen. It’s aged, then, 10 months in concrete on its original fermentation lees. The result, we believe, is that the wine is so much dryer than a typical California Chardonnay.

– It is.

– It has that beautiful character of the lees aging, that nice toastiness, that creamy sort of character. Its alcohol is restrained. I mean, the Sauvignon blac’s about 12 1/2, this is about 13%. Those are not real alcohol contents, by the way, and also beautiful, natural acidity in the wine.

– I am impressed, by the way, on the alcohol levels, I must say. This is refreshing in multiple dimensions, like to have 13.5, this is 13.1 on your Chardonnay. And even in the reds that we’ll taste, I was noticing that, going, wow, you get this much flavor at that low a level of alcohol. That’s pretty darn good.

– Well, when we talk about organic and dry farming, you’ll see a big part of the reason for that in our opinion. So I love this Chardonnay. I actually think it’s tremendous. Actually it’s a Chardonnay that you might consider with food. I think, for people who drink a Chardonnay as more of a before dinner drink or something, this maybe isn’t quite, doesn’t have the residual sugar or whatever that they might be looking for. But this is our style and we’re pretty happy with it.

– Absolutely. Sam in BC says, “Oh, sadly no Frog’s Leap in our BC government stores.” Sam or John, somebody needs to fix that. Interesting. I would think it would be there. Maybe in some of the private or consignment or agent available, I’m not sure. But yeah, that’s really surprising. Stephen Andrews says, the Zin is like a wonderful Primitivo with vanilla, berry, jam and so. Stephen, you’re jumping ahead. Stay with the class.

– Stay with us, people, we’re going to get to the Zinfandel next, I promise you.

– Oh yeah, we’re going to get and you said that before we started, John, that you wanted to taste, actually, the Zinfandel before the Merlot and Cabernet. I would never have guessed that. I would have always said, oh, Zin probably is the most vibrant flavor. Let’s put it at the end, otherwise the others will be wallflowers.

– Well yeah, I know. We joke that usually you taste Zinfandels right after the tequila, but you’ll see our style, again, is much more restrained in the 13 1/2 percent alcohol range.

– That is amazing.

– So, a whole different way, yeah.

– Absolutely. So I do have the Zinfandel here, just since we’re naturally on that topic. And you’ve got 79% Zinfandel–

– Oh, can I switch over?

– Yes, you’re allowed. You don’t have to ask permission to taste your own wines, John. It’s 79% Zinfandel, 19% Petite Syrah and 2% Carignan, which is really interesting, that kind of a blend. But of course to be labeled Zinfandel in California, or any other varietal, it has to be 75% I guess or higher? So you can put other things other grapes in the blend.

– That’s right, and our insight into making great Zinfandel is to make a wine taste more like Zinfandel, it’s best to have less Zinfandel in it, and–

– Now that’s paradoxical.

– Up to a certain point.

– Okay, yeah.

– It is, but let me explain the reason why is as we smell this wine now. I’ve got the ’15, I know Stephen’s drinking the ’14, which I love, and–

– I’ve got the ’15 too.

– But both of these, yeah, has that beautiful summer fruit, like a mix of blackberries and raspberries and summer fruits kind of warming in a pot ready to make jam that they form bubbles and start to get that sort of raisiny sort of character. So to get that beautiful aromatic in Zinfandel, the wine really has to be pretty ripe. Zinfandel’s a big-berried grape and so it doesn’t get this depth of flavor until it’s pretty ripe. I would say 24 1/2 degrees Brix or sugar, at least. Well, you’re talking 14 1/2 percent alcohol to start and it’s very easy to get much higher than that. Well, that starts to take away from the drinkability and the freshness of the fruit. So the way the old-timers would do that, and the way, since I guess I am an old-timer, that we do it, is that at the same day that we pick the Zinfandel at, say, 24 1/2 degrees Brix, we pick Petite Syrah and Carignan, and sometimes other varieties as well and they would not be as ripe as the Zinfandel, so it might be 22.8 and the Carignan might be 19 1/2. Well, when you ferment them all in the same pot, the other varieties get color and nuance and depth of flavor but they also lower the overall sugar content and reduce the alcohol down into this 13 1/2, I think this is 13.8.

– Yeah, that’s brilliant. I love that strategy. Added color and complexity–

– And, and–

– Yeah, go ahead.

– Sure, and look, Natalie, we could take some credit for this but quite honestly, when you think of the world of wines, so many wines are made this way. Chateauneuf-du-Pape, for example, or the wines of the Priorat or Rioja or many good Italian wines are made by co-fermentations of multiple varieties to make a wine that’s better than the sum of its parts, essentially.

– Absolutely. And I always knew, you’re throwing, not throwing, blending in different grapes to add complexity, depth, different flavors but also that component of actually lowering the alcohol that would be there and if you just went with Zin, and therefore probably the enjoyment factor because we’re not tasting the heat of the alcohol, we’re just getting that nice, as you said, rich berry flavor.

– Well, and all of a sudden you start to think about this with food and because look at this with your roasted chicken or your pasta, or your burger off the grill or almost anything. And my trick, of course, is that is to chill this down so it’s actually got a little as my summer drinking wine for when you’re doing a barbecue or outside. The chill will just keep that down. It’ll start to warm up, that’s beautiful. Whereas you take out a white wine, and unless you put ice cubes in it, which I’ve been known to do but the white wines warm up too quickly, whereas Zinfandel, if you bring it out chilled, it just makes the perfect summer drink, it really does.

– Ah, nice. Good way to reframe the Zinfandel.

– Yeah, we’ve reframed Zinfandel.

– Yeah, absolutely, you’ve done that. I love it. I always thought it was like a palate-whacker, but in this format I really love it with the lower alcohol. It’s really good. So we need to segue–

– Well, and many–

– Oh, go ahead.

– Many of the great traditional Zinfandels that could made this, the old Ridge Geyservilles, for example, or I don’t know if you’ve ever had a Joe Swan wine or some of the, a lot of Joel Peterson’s early wines were made in exactly in then what we call the field blend. It’s important to notice they’re not blended, it’s actually co-fermented, which makes a big difference, ’cause if you develop that alcoholic character in the wine by fermenting it individually, then you blend Petite Syrah in, you’ve not done the same thing as if you ferment them together and lower the overall sugar going into the fermentation, if you follow me.

– Yeah, it’s almost like cooking. Like you’re not cooking every separate ingredient or whatever. They’re coming together and they’re changing each other as they cook.

– Right, or adding spices late in.

– Not that you’re cooking wine.

– Right, at the end.

– That’s right.

– Or salt on the top of a dish, absolutely.

– Correct.

– Excuse me. That was a really good metaphor you had when we talked earlier this week about hydroponic tomatoes. So tell us that one again, because for those who missed that, the impact of dry farming and perhaps co-fermentation, it might extend to that too, but compare that. Like what’s the difference? That people will understand in a concrete way when you talk about hydroponic tomatoes.

– Sure, sure. Well let’s talk a little bit about dry farming if we can, because this wine is a perfect example, so good catch. First of all, I don’t want to make it out to sound like there’s something extraordinary about farming without irrigation. For more than 100 years, that’s how all grapes grown in the Napa Valley were grown. All the great and fundamental wines that established the reputation of the Napa Valley, the great Inglenooks of course, and the BVs and the great Robert Mondavi wines in the mid-60s and the Stag’s Leap that won the Paris Tasting, the Chateau Montelena. All these wines were from dry farm vineyards, and the reason we know that is that irrigation wasn’t introduced until 1976 and it didn’t become popular until the 80s, became popular in the 80s, became kind of de rigueur in the 90s, 2000s and now winemakers will tell you it’s actually impossible to grow grapes without irrigation in the Napa Valley, which of course obviously isn’t true. I think it’s also important to note that in all the other great wine-growing regions of the world, from Germany to France to Italy to Spain to Portugal, to you name it, right? Irrigation’s not allowed by law and there’s a simple reason for that is that it tends to create an overproduction of grapes and dilutes the flavor. And that’s exactly what happens here. These grapes get too much water. It’s like the tomato that’s hydroponically grown as opposed to grown in real dirt, it just never develops that deep tomato flavor. And I think the result of, I think part of the result of that is that winemakers are leaving the tomatoes out on the vine a lot longer, or the grapes out on the vine a lot longer, we call it hang time, right? They’re going out to the vineyard and they’re tasting their irrigated grapes, going these just don’t have the same depth of flavor.

– So they’re trying to make up for it.

– And so they’re making up for it by leaving it on the vine longer and longer and longer and the result of that is that we see the sugar content go from 22 and 23 degrees sugar up to 24 to 25 to 26 to 27. The average Brix content for any Sauvignon in the Napa Valley today is 28 degrees of Brix or sugar content which is over 16% alcohol.

– For a Sauvignon blac.

– So we actually have to remove. For any Cabernet Sauvignon.

– Oh, Cabernet Sauvignon, yeah.

– We’re speaking of particularly, yeah. But it’s the same idea. It’s even a more insidious than that, in my opinion. Sorry, I’m a little passionate about this.

– No, go ahead.

– But I think that we also know that you can leave a tomato on the vine forever. If it’s not grown in real dirt. It’s never going to get that tomato flavor. And so what do you do with a tomato that doesn’t have any flavor? Even if you’ve left it on the counter hoping it gets tomato flavor. Well, you chop it up and herbs and spices, salt and pepper, balsamic vinegar, you put arugula around the outside and mozzarella on top, right? You try to cover over that fact that there’s no flavor in the tomato by the preparation. And I’m sad to say that that’s a little bit of what’s going on in winemaking today. 200% new oak, micro-oxygenation, spinning cone, reverse osmosis, Mega Purple, all this stuff we’ve had to add to the winemaking process to cover over the fact that grapes aren’t getting the same depth of flavor.

– It’s a great analogy.

– So this goes hand in hand. It goes hand in hand with organic farming ’cause you need to have organic matter in the soil to hold the moisture content. It certainly goes hand in hand with balance, and restraint and respect for terroir, because if your roots are not deep in the ground, how are you going to express the unique and wonderful soils that you’re growing the grapes in?

– Well said, and–

– All that over a glass of Zinfandel.

– I know, have a sip. And so surely, I perhaps this is Captain Obvious here, but your dry farming techniques must have helped you significantly during the droughts that California has been experiencing.

– There was one problem with that because, of course, people heard pretty well known that we dry-farm now, so when we had five or six years of lower rainfalls, I don’t call it drought, but lower rainfalls. I was besieged by journalists thinking our vines must have died because of the drought but it was quite the opposite. When you have a deep and well-developed root system, our vines actually are deep in the ground and really did not feel the effect of the drought at all. Well, they did put their roots deeper in. I will have to say, if you’re a collector of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlots and even Zinfandels, these lower-rainfall vintages from ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15 and ’16, these vines were reaching so deep that they brought up so much flavor. These are amazing vintages, and put a case down, because 50, 30, 40, 50, 60 years from now, you’ll be tasting the wines, going, wow, that old guy was right. These are really worth keeping and.

– Absolutely, vines, like people, it’s good when they suffer.

– Alright.

– You could still hear me okay, John?

– I just got you back. Yeah, sorry, I lost you there for a second.

– Yes, yeah, we had a little blip there. But we’re actually, I can’t believe it. We’re already almost at the 45-minute mark. I am going to–

– But we have two hours, right?

– Oh yes, that’s right. This is the extended dance version. He’s not leaving. This is so good. I haven’t even looked at my list of questions, largely, that I have usually, such has been our discussion but, so let’s, I want to make sure we taste the wines that I have in front of us. But tell me, perhaps, as I go toward your Merlot, take me to the worst moment of your winemaking career. Tell us where you were, what it felt like and why it was the worst moment.

– Oh boy, Natalie, really?

– Yep, really, we’re going there.

– I have been so blessed, it’s really hard to say anything that was a trial. I mean look, I came to the Napa Valley in a Greyhound bus with 40 bucks in my pocket. I’m now $22 million in debt, so I mean, I guess there’s that, right? But I feel good about that, don’t worry about that. So Larry and I started the winery together, and it was such fun and we were so joyous, but it became very popular, and it started growing. And with the growth came issues and you know the winery’s right in Larry’s house, he was newly remarried, so there were a lot of issues there. And not only that, he was getting tired of being an emergency room physician, and wanted to get more involved in winemaking. So we had to come up with some solutions and what we ultimately decided after drinking several bottles of wine one night, was that we needed a second winery. So that’s when we created Turley Wine Cellars and we split exactly in two and so that I could keep Frog’s Leap, we actually moved it to the new location, where we are now in Rutherford at the old Red Barn, and Larry created Turley at the old frog farm and he’s still there and he’s doing spectacularly well. But there were quite a number of bumps in the road during that process that were probably some of the lowest moments of my winemaking career but we got through it. Everyone’s in great shape. We remain friends, but you know those separations are always, even in the best of situations, those are tough times.

– Those are tough. Okay, let’s make sure we go to a happy note now. ‘Cause I’d like a Cinderella ending. What is the best moment of your wine career? Aside from, perhaps, good reviews or awards. What is the moment you remember that is just kind of one of the best?

– Well I mean, I described this magic moment when I first acquainted myself with the idea of wine at the Taylor Wine Company but it has been you know, it’s perhaps not obvious to people, but the greater portion of my work and the greatest portion of my craft is not actually in the winemaking process but in the growing process. And so a very significant part of my time is spent out in the vineyards. And there is nothing more thrilling than planting a new vineyard which we purchased the Rossi Ranch in ’07 and had to largely replant it, and planting a vine that you know is going to have a lifespan that exceeds your own is an awesome and wonderful experience. So viticulture, the harvesting, the growing of young vines, the pruning, these are the moments where you’re with yourself and your craft that mean so much, they really do.

– Wow, that’s, wow. Okay, we need to go out on that. John, that’s fantastic. I love that.

– We have to drink the Cabernet and the Merlot.

– Oh yes, yes, yes, yes. Right, we can’t go out on that. So, let’s talk about this Cabernet and–

– Let’s talk about this Merlot very briefly, because Merlot is back and it’s what everyone should be drinking. and it’s one of the most exciting varietals in the world.

– Do you know who I’m interviewing next?

– And people aren’t drinking it anymore and it’s killing me.

– I know. Next week,

– Who you interviewing next?

– Rudy McClain, Rudolf McClain, who made the documentary Merlove, right? So he’s trying to counteract the Sideways effect of Merlot. Okay, so can we get over that?

– You know what I say about. I think we can because here’s what I say about that, is that movie actually saved Merlot, and it’s destroyed Pinot Noir.

– Really?

– Exactly counterintuitive of. Well, all the idiots that were making bad Merlot are now making bad Pinot Noir, so your chance of getting a great Merlot is much better, in my opinion than a Pinot Noir.

– The serious people stuck with Merlot, okay, gotcha.

– Exactly so.

– It’s that contrarian view you’ve got to take, okay. Alright.

– Alright, I love it.

– So why Merlot? Then why should we still be loving Merlot? And this Merlot.

– Well, Merlot is. Well, Merlot is the toughest of all the varieties to grow, it’s the toughest wine of all the wines.

– Is it? Even more so than Pinot Noir? I though Pinot Noir was the heartbreak grape.

– I believe so. No? Okay.

– Oh no, because Merlot is the most, the vigorous of all the Sauvignon varieties, and the more a vine wants to grow like a weed, the more the wine wants to taste like a weed, so green flavors are a real problem and so Merlot has to grow to de-vigorate Merlot. The only way we really know how to do that is to grow it in cold soil, and so Merlot has to grow in clay.

– [Natalie] Cold soil?

– Cold soil and cold soil is clay soil, so all the great Merlots in the world are grown in clay because the soil de-vigorates the vines, slows it down to develop these beautiful red fruits. To me, the difference between Merlot and Cab is Merlot is red fruit and Cabernet Sauvignon is black fruit, blackberry, currant, cassis, and–

– I love that differentiation, and the fact that you said the more vigorous a vine is, the more it wants to grow and taste like a weed. That’s a good thing to remember.

– Yeah, exactly.

– You’ve got to pull it back.

– It is.

– So it doesn’t go to the weed side of things.

– Get it to slow down. This is the big part of grape growing, right? Yeah, yeah. And so it’s difficult to make and then, of course, it’s impossible to sell. So how could it not be everyone’s favorite. It is for me, from a culinary point of view, it is the most versatile of all red wines because it has the red fruit aromatics like a Pinot Noir but it’s got a little grip and it’s got some tannins so it’s your roasted chicken wine and your veal scalloppini and your whole roasted fish and your vegetarian dishes. It’s just so versatile in a way I don’t think Pinot Noir is. And for that matter, I think Cabernet Sauvignon is basically a steak and lamb wine and it’s a two-trick pony.

– Two-trick pony.

– But it’s a really good, but it’s a good two-trick pony, I’ll tell you that. If you’ve got the ’14 Cab in your glass.

– Absolutely, and soexcuse me, we have Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend. Some people are having their turkey tonight, some people tomorrow. So Merlot, would you pair that with roast turkey?

– I think it’d be fantastic, really. I really do, yeah. The Zinfandel would be nice too that way, I think, yeah.

– Yes, that’s so juicy.

– Particularly a Zinfandel with five or six years of age on it. It would be my–

– If we could get it.

– That’d be a tough choice.

– Yeah, absolutely.

– You have to put it in your cellar and cover it over and not touch it for a while.

– Yeah, so both vines and people should show restraint. Cellar these wines.

– Exactly.

– Yes, okay, so this is a magnificent Merlot. It’s just, it’s so balanced, so beautiful, as you say. It’s interesting way to think about it versus Pinot Noir. Some interesting concepts you’ve brought up there. Excuse me, Stephen Andrews says, John, thank you for making such great wines and sticking to you passion. Excuse me. Beverly says, love Sideways and Merlot. I don’t know if you can do both, Beverly. Okay, so yeah, Stephen says his 2014 Zin would work well with turkey. Alright, so just so we get to the Cabernet. You’ve been saving this till the end, John. So tell us why–

– Oh, my gosh.

– And so we always think of–

– Smell it, Natalie.

– Okay, yes. It’s been, I’ve opened it up. Stay with us. I’ve opened it up an hour ago, just so it would have room. And it’s a towering wine, it needs cellar time, but it’s beautiful. But you know what surprised me is you put the Cabernet at the end whereas I always think that Cabernet is a little less aromatic than, say, even Merlot and Zin, but you’ve put it at the end.

– So many Cabs are being made today with so much power and so much emphasis and so much winemaking technique, that their Cabernet-ness is gone. And this is the smell of the beautiful blackberry, currant and cassis aromatics of this wine. It’s really, and this is the wine. You know, Natalie, I’m sure you’ve heard the term Rutherford dust.

– Yes, the dust.

– This idea that Cabernet from Rutherford would have this earthy dusty character that’s so distinctive to the place that it’s grown. I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled it before but this is Rutherford dust and you’ll never mistake it for anything else now. And it gives me great pleasure to have that in my wine because of course, the consulting winemaker at Stag’s Leap, when I was there, was a man named Andre Tchelistcheff, who coined the term Rutherford dust and this wine is a tribute to him and his great mentorship of me because this is what Rutherford smells like. And that, ultimately, is what great wine is about, when it has a personality so deep from the place that it is that it just simply couldn’t be made anywhere else. How cool is that?

– It’s very cool.

– How cool is that?

– It’s very cool. I love that term because as I breathe it in, it’s almost tickling my nose. I’m feeling like the dust coming up. In a good way. It’s good, it’s good. I love that, very dry and beautiful.

– But all the things we talk about, balance and restraint, this is 13 1/2 percent alcohol again, right?

– That is amazing.

– And primarily this idea of respect for terroir. A wine, you know, you would think that doing less would be the easier thing to do but what I find about winemaking is, and for that matter, almost any craft, be it, there’s no writer that’s ever gotten a literature prize from adding too many extra words into their paragraph, right?

– No.

– You know, a great artist distill their craft.

– Yes, they try to take away.

– They don’t expand up on it.

– Like Michelangelo said, “I try to take away the bits of the marble “that don’t belong there.”

– That’s how you make wine, that’s how you make wine.

– I think we got it.

– There aren’t any bits in here.

– That shouldn’t be.

– That should’ve been taken away, yeah.

– That is so good. Wow, okay. That’s fantastic. And yet again, I want to end it on a high note. That is so good and the comments still are coming in. John, we’ve tasted all the wines, thank goodness. They’re so good. Is there anything we haven’t covered that we should, that we missed?

– Oh my God, absolutely, Natalie, because what I want, we have to do a whole another podcast sometime, right?

– Yes, we will, we will, yeah.

– With some older vintages, so we can talk about what, because all the the things that we’ve talked about show their hand with a little bit of age, right?

– [Natalie] Yes.

– Yes, we didn’t get to talk about the Tao Te Ching, the book that inspires me on a regular, there’s so many things we have yet to talk about, so can we do this again some time?

– We can. I can’t believe you’re willing to in the middle of harvest and all your must-be stresses, you’re game.

– Let’s do it the next time when we’re not in the middle of harvest, how’s that?

– Yes, absolutely. John, this is fantastic. So your website is Frog’s Leap Winery?


– Dot com.

– Just, yeah. It’s a beautiful website, my–

– It is.

– My beautiful wife, her company had developed that. They do a tremendous job for their clients and we also encourage people to visit the winery. It’s by appointment but it’s very easy to make to register to come. It’ll be one of the best wine experiences you ever have.

– I can attest to that.

– Come visit us.

– I’ve visited you. Yes, it was fantastic. It was such a good tasting. It was many, many years ago when my son was–

– It’s time for a revisit, that’s for sure.

– I think so. John, I raise my glass to you. Thank you so much for this conversation tonight. I have so enjoyed this, learned so much, so many good insights and yet, it just gives you a taste of how much more there is to talk about which is the ideal conversation, I think.

– Indeed. It’s been a pleasure, Natalie, in hanging out with you and your guests. It’s really fun, so–

– They are still coming in.

– Here’s to you.

– Ah, cheers. I’m going to say goodbye for now and I will still stay online, folks, for a little bit longer, but John, take care and good luck with this year’s harvest.

– Thank you, we’ll get it in and hope to see you again soon, Natalie.

– Absolutely, okay, take care. Alright, folks. Alright, I’m just going to segue over. Wow, that was a good conversation. These just get better and better. I mean, wow. So, oh, Paul, thank you. Beverly, yes, thank you. So guys, stay with me because I’m going to announce winners. Don’t disappear on me. So if you want to qualify for this week’s prize of winning a couple of bottles of magnificent Frog’s Leap wines, share this video, this conversation now and but back to us. I have two winners to announce because, as you may recall or you may know, last Sunday we were with Paul Mabray in California and he is offering a very high-end California wine for someone who has shared his post, and then we had, and I’m just bringing up the winners here on my list, then we had Santa Margarita as a special additional video podcast, whatever, videocast, on Monday, so first, drum roll, I don’t know if you can do it. Oh wait a minute, Stephen Ribbit, you’re welcome, and I must tell you, next week, I have alluded to it already, but next week’s guest is going to be a documentary maker, Rudolf McClain, no relation. He made the documentary Merlove that we talked about, but also, his new documentary, which is what we’re talking about, is all about Syrah. So he’s brilliant, he’s creative, he’s funny, he’s the kind of guest we want and he’s going to be talking about Syrah. Okay, back to the winners. So for the winner for Paul Mabray, I should say his name correctly, the digital futurist and wine unicorn, trends predictor. If you didn’t catch that conversation, go back and watch it. It’s on the blog. But here is who won that. That would be Paul and Patty Hollander from Virginia. Yoo! And their comment was, “If you enjoy wine, want to learn more, “I urge you to join us every Sunday evening.” That’s not a plant, anyway, these guys are regulars, they’re great. Love the comment, guys, and there was more to it. Thank you, thank you. You’re going to get that high-end bottle of California Cabernet, I think it is. And there is a report that Paul was offering as well. Second winners for the Santa Margarita, they’re giving away Prosecco, a bottle of Prosecco, and their high-end Pinot Grigio, and that is going to the two Kennedy sisters, who are getting saucy in Toronto. They are wine writers as well and they shared our Santa Margarita post. So guys, you all win, we all win, when we’re on live here tonight. We win, we learn, we enjoy wine, it’s a lot of fun. Those are the two winners but here we go. If you share tonight’s conversation and click follow, you could be next week’s winner of two bottles of amazing, high-end Frog’s Leap wines. So guys, I think that’s it tonight. Ah, Paul you’re welcome and I will follow up with you after this broadcast to connect you with, Paul, so he can ship you your wine. I love this. I feel so Oprah. You’re a winner and you’re a winner. Anyway, this has been fun. Happy Thanksgiving, all of you in Canada and thank you all for joining me. I so appreciate when you join us here. If you’re watching the video replay, you still have all of this week till next week to share this video and qualify to win a couple of bottles of very high-end Frog’s Leap California wine. These bottles are about $40, $50 or something like that, but gorgeous, they are so gorgeous. So I will announce the winners next week when we talk to the documentary, wine documentary filmmaker, Rudolf McClain about Merlove and, I think it’s Que Syrah, Syrah, something like that. It’s all about Syrah, next week, so we’re going to be tasting Syrah. I will post more details here in Facebook. So guys, thank you. It’s been fun, and as always, have a good week. Enjoy some great wines, happy Thanksgiving and I’ll see you next week. Take care.









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