Guest Author - Jim Fortune
Jim Fortune: I want to welcome you to another online conference call. This is just one of several Wine Conference calls that we will have. I have Dennis Martin on the phone. Dennis is Vice President, Director of Wine Making at Fetzer Vineyards.
He joined Fetzer in 1985 as an Assistant Wine Maker. In 1996, he was promoted to the position of Vice President of Wine Making for all Fetzer wines. He began overseeing all wine making in the Brown Foreman's portfolio.
Dennis, are you there?
Dennis Martin: I'm here Jim.
Jim: Why don't we start off with the questions? The first question is how old were you when you decided that you wanted to be a wine maker.
Dennis: I was fairly old. I had spent some time in the service so I was 25 years old. I think you probably know from my bio that I was an undergraduate Agribusiness major. I became interested in wine towards the end of that trek. I decided to pursue studying wine in school so I went back and got my Master's Degree after that. Kind of a late start, but it's all worked out.
Jim: What's the greatest part about being a wine maker?
Dennis: I don't know. I think a lot of it is the creative part of it. As you know, every year is a different challenge. We go through this cycle every year and Mother Nature is good to us or not good to us, sometimes. The challenges around that and creating a product from what Mother Nature gives you, makes every vintage fun.
The challenging part is creating something special and getting the most out of what you have every vintage. As our company gets bigger and you get more people involved, that becomes an interesting aspect of it as well.
Jim: I know something about the science of wine making, however, there is another side of making wine, and that is the art. Two people can take grape concentrate, yeast, water, stainless or oak, and store the wine. But they make wines that are totally different. Can you describe your art style, and what it brings to the Fetzer brand?
Dennis: A lot of the style that I protect today, was the style established by our original wine maker, Paul Bolin in the late '70s when the Fetzer family hired a wine maker. Those styles still ring true today and so what I have tried to do over the years is to honor and respect the styles that Paul developed.
It's important to do that when a brand our size needs to produce a consistent quality and style of wine each vintage. We often make more blends rather than one blend, within a vintage and it's important that those blends be consistent within the vintage as well.
A lot of it was Barney Fetzer's vision. It was making wine that is assessable for people to enjoy every day, and we try to be true to that. It carries forward in our wine making. It's making wines that are brew forward, easy to drink, and assessable. They are wines that our consumers can enjoy every day without costing a lot of money.
Jim: Describe the difference between fruitiness and sweetness.
Dennis: Those are easy to confuse because sweetness is obviously the residual sugar that's left in a wine. The fruit is the inherent fruit that you get from the beneficiation process which comes from the grape or the grape variety. They can be confused a lot of times.
Let's take floral wines for example, like Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Muscat. We make a fair amount of Riesling and Gewurztraminer here, and use Muscat as a blender. Often when you smell those wines, they are so floral, and so spicy, that when you taste them you expect them to be sweet. From a style stand point we certainly make those wines typically, because that's what people expect. I think that's where it sort of gets muddled.
Normally, most of your still wines and your table wines are made relatively dry. Certainly, Chardonnays, Cabernets, Merlots, Zinfandels, Pinot Noirs, and wines like that are often dry or near dry. Sweetness is just a function of any remaining sugar that would be left in the wine after the fermentation, whether we arrest fermentation to leave that sugar in there, or we add it back in the form of mutae or concentrate. Does that help?
Jim: Yes. That was great!
Until next time, let me know what is on your mind, and how you are doing, O.K.?
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Jim Fortune - the Bella Online Wine Guy