Questions/Answers from Reddit AMA Interview with Juan Munoz Oca, winemaker at Columbia Crest Winery

In your time there, what’s the largest volume of wine Columbia Crest has lost to spoilage and/or human error during any phase of the wine making process?

We’ve never lost wine to spoilage, if we did I’d be fired. Spoilage is very rare in the industry these days.  To human error, a few years back a cellar guy mistakenly opened a tank door. He was backing up with a forklift and he knocked into a tank. Wine went everywhere. We lost a thousand gallons of really good wine. It was an accident though, the guy’s actually really great at his job and is now in charge of our reserve wine program.

What is your favorite beer?

Lagunitas Daytime IPA

If you had to go to another state, excluding California, WA and Oregon, in the US and start experimenting with grapes and winemaking, which would you choose?

I would go to New York State (to be close to the city), or maybe Texas. Colorado also has a lot of potential for good wine too.

What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of Washington State as a wine growing region compared to the rest of the world?

That’s a really good question. The relative advantages are found in the soil which is very loose and doesn’t have water retention capacity, giving us a lot of control over how much water the vine will get.

The climate which is dry, has hot days, and cool nights. Then there are only 7 inches of annual rainfall which is only a third of the water that the wine needs.

The combination of the climate, soil, and rainfall means that we have to irrigate the vines which gives us a lot of control over the canopy architecture.

The disadvantage is in the first 10 days of November it can get very cold. Once it gets cold harvest is over, it’s Mother Nature’s way of telling you it’s done. So, you have a ticking clock and can’t leisurely pick grapes.

Hey Juan, love your wine. H3 Le Chevaux is INSANELY tasty. Do you cook too? What’s your favorite pairing with wine and food that you’ve made.

I do cook, it’s about 50/50 with my wife and I in the kitchen. My favorite pairing ever was Columbia Crest Syrah with a rack of lamb.

Do you think Pinot Noir is overrated? If it costs $50 to make a decent bottle, isn’t it a good indication that this grape has little interest in being wine?

Pinot grapes only grow in certain conditions because they’re so delicate, so you can only make it in certain parts of the world, which can affect the price. But the payoff is a really good wine, keep searching there are cheaper Pinot’s out there.

What advise would you give someone who just started to learn about wine making and viticulture?

Keep trying new things. Try learning about different wines from different regions. The more you know about how other areas explore their terroir in their wine, the more you’ll know about how your region differs. You’ll also get a lot of experience when you do this, which always helps.

If you are interested in starting your own winery, what is the best way to get started?

Find a good grower and get a hold of some grapes, and then rent some space in a nearby winery, so you don’t have to spend a ton of money on equipment. Then just give it a try.

You can also get an internship at a winery, which will give you a lot of experience. We’ve hired a lot of interns who have gone on to become winemakers.

Do you have any favorite books, websites or other resources about making wine? Or any books that you consider to be the “wine bible” of wine making or the wine industry?

I keep these two at my desk:

Sunlight Into Wine; A Handbook for Wine Grape Canopy Arrangement. It’s a Viticulture textbook and a great guide to growing grapes by Dr. Richard Smart.

Principles and Practices of Winemaking by Dr. Roger Boulton. Which covers everything about wine.

Do you expect the crowdsourced wine to be any good despite inconsistent decision making during various steps of the process?

I don’t think the decisions have been that inconsistent. When creating Crowdsourced Cabernet we developed a safety net of realistic parameters that we use to create Columbia Crest wine. So even if all the votes skewed in one direction the wine should be fantastic.

What tips would you give the home winemaker? 

I would advise home winemakers to experiment and be patient. Experimenting is the only way to improve your skills. And you have to have patience and not be afraid to make a mistake, remember a chef gets to cook 3 times a day, a winemaker only gets to make wine once a year. So you have to be patient.

Winemaking Tips Strategy - Juan Oca

Thank You Juan for the insightful interview!

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