Interview with Winemaker Adam Lee of Siduri Wines

 What was your first memory of wine and how did you know you wanted to be a winemaker?

So I grew up Southern Baptist in Austin, Texas and never drank at all until I went to college at Trinity University in San Antonio.  There I drank a lot, but very little of it was fine wine.  The first real memory of drinking wine was drinking Ernest & Julio Rhine Wine while playing “drinking Twister” while in college.

I never actually knew I wanted to become a winemaker.  It just kind of happened.  I tried making wine back in 1994 and it turned out really good and now I can’t imagine doing anything else. 

What was your first wine job?

My first wine job was working at a wine store called Austin Wine & Spirits.  I was hired as an assistant manager because I could open the store, close the store, show up on time, do basic accounting work, and was passionate about wine.

My first job at Austin Wine & Spirits was to clean out the Closeout Bin of wines.  I learned that day that you never put wine on the floor of a store without it being in a box, as I managed to kick a bottle about halfway across the store. 

What is your favorite wine?

Pinot Noir is truly what I love and that is why I make it.  But lately I’ve got a crush on Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  I love the idea of looking at a vineyard as a harmonious whole, rather than splitting it up into different grape types.  Still, I will always return to Pinot Noir. 

What was one of the biggest mistakes you made?

Ooof, so many. Back in 1995 we were bringing our first fruit from Oregon down to California in a driving rainstorm.  We reached the Oregon-California border in the middle of the night and it dawned on us that we didn’t have any paperwork whatsoever and they can carefully check what fruits and vegetables you are importing.  The officer at the border (who obviously didn’t want to be working in the rain and in the middle of the night) asked Dianna if she had any fruits or vegetables.  She responded that we had a few grapes (when actually we had 2.75 tons of grapes) and he told her a few grapes were no big deal and “Welcome to California.”  That was a huge mistake that somehow worked out okay. 

Who has been the most influential mentor in your career?

Wow, that’s a tough one.  In starting Siduri we based much of what we did….the emphasis on single vineyard Pinot Noirs…on what Burt and Ed were doing at Williams-Selyem.  So I have to mention them.

But honestly, I’d have to say it was people like the cellar worker at Lambert Bridge Winery (Genaro) and Don Frazer who was the winemaker at DeLormier that really had the most influence on me.  We made our first wine, in 1994, at Lambert Bridge and made Siduri the next 3 years after that at deLormier.  They shared so much information with me that it really demonstrated that wine is something best shared – even when that means winemaking and not just wine. 

What is something you’d like to share about Pinot Noir Wines (which you make from possibly every great Pinot Noir region in the United States) that many consumers may not know if they’re not familiar with the varietal?

Pinot Noir is often described as one of the most difficult wines to produce. That’s really not true. Pinot Noir is one of the most demanding wines to produce.  Demanding is different than difficult.  With Pinot Noir you can’t get away with some of the things you can with other grapes – increasing yields a bit or cutting corners on farming a tad to make a profitable less expensive wine.  Pinot Noir demands that you shoot for the stars every time.  Sometimes you don’t get there, but it demands that you try.  —  Knowing that makes Pinot Noir easy, in some ways….not difficult, but demanding.

What are some characteristics in your wine that consumers will find that may be your “stamp” or “trademark”? 

What I really hope that consumers find is that the wines reveal the place that they come from.  As such they may love one vineyard-designated Pinot Noir, but not care for another one nearly as much. For me, that’s representative of wine that has character.  As long as a consumer doesn’t tell me that it is  poorly made, then I am happy that they find one of our bottlings more appealing than another. 

What is your favorite after work drink?

Eh, it is funny but don’t drink a lot other than beer and wine.  And I drink cheap beer, by and large.  If I am going to drink wine after work I usually will opt for something white and crisp, such as a good Austrian Gruner. 

What is your favorite local spot?

The Wagon Wheel.  It’s a fantastic dive bar over on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa.  It has a great juke box, cold beer, and lots of pool tables. 

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

In college, I studied French History, specializing in the comparative history of the French and American prison systems.  Somehow that didn’t lead to a job right after college, but not having a job led me to take that first opportunity in a wine shop.  So you never know where this whole crazy path is going to take you!

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