A couple of weeks ago we gave you Part One of a Q&A I did via email with Chris Cameron of Broken Earth Winery here in Paso Robles and now…wait for it…part 2. Chris is a very interesting guy who has traveled all over the world doing this wine thing. I’ve heard some great stories from him so if you ever get the chance to chat him up for a bit make him tell you some. He’s been involved in many unique wine projects and I actually really enjoy what he is doing over at Broken Earth.
I hope to do more Q&A stuff with Chris in the future when he isn’t crazy busy in the middle of harvest 2014. Cheers!
Matt: What are your thoughts on the water issue we are facing here in Paso Robles?
Chris: I went through a similar situation in Australia some years ago, so I believe I have a more complete picture than most. Government intervention can be risky but it requires solid laws to ensure adherence to the policy that is the best fit for the region. Water rights are well established in Paso but there does not exist neither a common goal nor a common approach. Much blame has been leveled at agriculture but this is ill-informed. Water is simple, like power, fuel etc., the more you use the more you pay but……everyone has to contribute. Water of groundwater use is inevitable to determine exactly what the current status is and how best to address it. I have attended many meetings on the water issue and have seen many conflicting opinions on exactly what the current situation is.
Sadly I believe it will become a political issue (I guess it already has) that will result in political ‘point scoring’ rather than common sense solutions. I could go on for pages and pages on this….sorry.
Matt: If you weren’t in the wine business what would you be doing?
Chris: In all my years making wine, surprisingly, you are only the second person to ask me that question. I will give you the same answer…..I have never really thought about it.
Matt: Favorite local wine event?
Chris: Rhone Rangers Signature Event
Matt: Favorite non-local wine event?
Chris: Vinitaly in Verona
Matt: How would you describe your wine making style?
Chris: We have discussed this before, and I look for my wine to be varietally correct, seamless and bright. I utilize reductive winemaking for whites, preferring to exclude oxygen as much as practicable. This results in the more subtle characters of a variety being maintained.
Matt: Would you rather be in the vineyard, in the winery, or in the tasting room?
Matt: Favorite wine and food pairing?
Chris: Aged Riesling and fresh Lavender and Coconut ice cream
Matt: How is harvest this year looking as well as this particular vintage?
Chris: A bit too early to tell but so far yields are lower than expected and everything has been very ripe and flavorsome. Will get back to you on the rest a bit later.
Matt: Due to the fact that I know you, I know that you have an immense amount of wine experience/ knowledge and have traveled all over the world in this business. What’s your favorite story? If not a favorite story how about favorite region or country visited?
Chris: I was involved with a company in Australia that conducted land capability studies internationally. Clients (typically governments) would contact us and request surveys based on their specific requirements. My role was to head up the viticulture and winemaking side. The company (Environmental Resource and Information Consortium -ERIC) was approached by the Turkish government to conduct a study on the Gallipoli Peninsula on the west coast of Turkey. It had a two fold purpose with research for wildfire control and the possibility of further developing winemaking on the peninsula. At this time Turkey was seeking entry to the EU and one of the conditions imposed was to privatize the liquor industry. This seemed to many to be an odd demand but the background to it was that many families grew grapes as their only form of income and these were sold to the government owned wineries which in turn, forwarded the wine to the government owned distilleries, effectively creating an agricultural form of ‘social security’. Without the government purchasing the grapes, many families were left without any income. Turkey used to be the 5th largest grape growing country in the world and the economical burden was substantial, hence the requirement to privatize it.
Part of my involvement was to assess the suitability of certain regions for expansion of existing properties and facilities to encompass substantial growth. Many of the varieties grown in the region are native (and unpronounceable) with few plantings of the more favored classical varieties like Cabernet etc. I developed a product that utilizes all types of grapes as well as helping to deplete the ‘oceans’ of poor quality brandy they produced. The wine was, in fact a mistella, or simply put, fortified grape juice. Very similar to Broken Earth’s Vin de Vie. The development included a day at the Spice Markets in Istanbul to investigate which, if any, spices may be helpful. The project was completed but the incoming government was fundamentalist and created many roadblocks. It seems they wanted media attention without actually doing too much.
In order to address the media requirements, and sorry for taking so long to get to the real story but I felt the background was important. Many may remember the movie Gallipoli (with Mel Gibson, who, by the way, was born in NY State) which deputed the assault by the allied forces to prevent Germany from gaining control of the Dardanelles which provided access through the Bosphorus. The assault occurred on April 25th, 1915 and has become one of the defining events for some of the countries involved (Australia, New Zealand and Turkey). Australia and New Zealand’s forces (known as ANZACs) battled Turkey but, in time have become close allies and the camaraderie that exists between the nations is extraordinary. Every year, now named ANZAC Day, the three countries celebrate with the main event occurring at the site of the conflict. I came up with the idea to launch a wine on the 95th anniversary celebrations in 2005. The wine was a 2004 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blend and what made it so extraordinary was that it was a blend of three wines I had made. Semillon from the Hunter Valley in Australia, Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand and Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc from the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. It was a logistical nightmare but one of the most satisfying events of my professional life. My grandfather participated in the original conflict in 1915 and my visits to the battlefield were very emotional. The wine was called “Pax Mey”. Pax is latin for peace and Mey is ancient Turkish for wine. Other highlights of my Turkey adventures included the design and planting of a vineyard at the foot of the battlements of the ancient city of Troy…but that’s a story for another day 🙂
Matt: What do you see the future of wine in Paso Robles looking like?
Chris: Paso Robles has the unique distinction of being able to successfully grow a great number of varietals. It is fundamentally a hot region so some grape varietals do struggle (Riesling for example) but I feel as a region its personality is still evolving. A lot will depend on how the water issue is handled and if it becomes a political tool, then there exists real concern for the region’s viability going forward. Sadly, I believe many of the very small producers will struggle to continue “living the dream” as the market becomes more crowded and more competitively priced. There are simply too many competing wines and emerging regions. Paso needs to focus on what it does best and not to be all things to all people. That having been said, I believe there are a number of varieties new to the area that are exciting. I believe there is a great future for the white variety Verdelho, which handles hot climates and develops masses of fruit, ripening early. It is a very viable competitor to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We have recently planted 7 acres and will show our first solid crop in 2015. I will keep you posted.
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