We recently got the chance to do a Q&A with Dan Smith, winemaker at Villa San Juliette Winery. He’s an interesting dude, doing interesting things with wine. You should go taste at VSJ and see what you think! Thank you to our friends at Parker Sanpei for the interview opportunity. Cheers!
Matt: How long have you been in the Paso Robles area?
Dan: I moved to Paso Robles in early 2013.
Matt: Where were you prior?
Dan: Prior to Paso, I was living in Portland, Oregon. Formerly, I lived in San Luis Obispo while attending Cal Poly from 2005-2009.
Matt: How long have you been the winemaker for VSJ?
Dan: I’ve been the winemaker at VSJ for two years. I worked as the cellar master for a little over two years before moving up to the winemaker position.
Matt: Where have you worked prior to that?
Dan: I was focused on expanding my regional winemaking knowledge during and after college by working internships for various wineries: Ortman Family in Edna Valley, Gallo Sonoma, Spy Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand, and Adelsheim, Archery Summit, Andrew Rich in Oregon. In between my internships from New Zealand to Oregon, I was an Enologist for Gallo in the Central Valley.
Matt: How/ when did you first get into wine?
Dan: I first became interested in wine when I was on a trip in Spain and France at age 13. The wine culture was intriguing, and I thought the vineyard landscapes were beautiful. When I learned that you could actually receive a degree in winemaking, I decided that’s what I wanted to do with my life and went for it by enrolling in Cal Poly’s Wine & Viticulture program.
Matt: How would you describe your winemaking philosophy?
Dan: At VSJ our vineyard naturally produces intense red fruit and clean, aromatic white fruit. My philosophy, which is constantly evolving, is to shepherd the resulting vibrancy in the fruit to its best natural expression as a finished varietal or blend. I rely on a dynamic style of winemaking that focuses on flavor and texture development in the vineyard, which allows winemaking to be more of an exercise in achieving balance, enhancing complexity, and preserving the natural character of the fruit throughout the ageing process.
Matt: Do you have a couple of favorite varieties to work with?
Dan: Yes, Cabernet Franc and Syrah are some of my favorite varieties right now. Their flavor profiles can change dramatically from vintage to vintage, so it takes a little extra effort in the vineyard to develop consistency. Also, it takes disciplined winemaking to extract the right level of phenolics to boost some of their nuanced attributes.
Matt: What is your favorite aspect of the wine industry in the Paso Robles area?
Dan: It seems there are as many personalities in Paso Robles as there are microclimates. I’ve loved getting to know the locals, the newcomers like myself, and visitors from around the world. Paso is booming, and it’s exciting to participate and contribute to that growth.
Matt: Do you have a favorite variety to drink?
Dan: Paso Robles Grenache
Matt: How about a favorite food and wine pairing?
Dan: Rosé and Thai food fuels my soul.