It was an old bottle of Chablis—an '86 Chablis from a famous producer called Raveneau. The first time I had it, I was like, Wow, I can't believe that this is made from grapes. How can it taste so amazing? That was kind of a life-changing experience right there. I had the wine in 1996, so it was only ten years old. It tasted kind of like honey, lemon custard, raw almonds, and was very aromatic. There were loads of minerals and the acidity was very high. It was very, very citrusy, but very rich. It was mind-boggling.
Because of that, I started on a quest to understand more about wine, and find out about the region and the producer. I was always very curious and interested in wine, and I wanted to become a sommelier. That's when I started training and working in 1996. I did that for 18 years.
I have also started to make wine. At the beginning, I was just doing it out of curiosity. I didn't know it was going to be a full-time job. I just wanted to see how wine was made, and to see how to deal with vineyards and their grapes. You dig deeper and get more curious, and then you just keep going deeper and deeper until it becomes your life. That's how it started: I was curious and then it took over my life completely.
We just finished a two month-long harvest starting in Santa Barbara and then out to Oregon, and now we're heading to Burgundy for two days. We have a small winery in Burgundy where they're just finishing up harvest. I'm hopping a plane to go check out how the harvest ended up and to speak to the winemaker there to see how 2014 worked out.
I always have and always will look for the balance of in a wine—if it has enough structure, enough fruit, enough acidity. Personally, I don't want to drink something that's overly fruity, tannic-y, oaky, or acidic. It's very much like having a dish with different components in balance. It has to have a very high deliciousness factor—that's important—but always balanced. I try to drink fresher wines with more finesse. I'm not big into the high alcohol, high extract wine that's out there. I'd rather drink two glasses of something that's 12.5 to 13 percent alcohol than have two glasses of something that's 15 percent alcohol.
I think people shouldalways keep an open mind and explore different things. In the past, people liked the big, extracted oaky, high alcohol wines. Now you see people like more of the fresher, vibrant, crisp, clean wine—more finesse, less heaviness. Buttrust your own palate. Everyone has a unique palate and likes different styles of wine. Figure out what you like, and you'll be on your way to drinking good wine.