Cheers with Dino: Sparkling Wine Part 2

In this second installment of our four-part series on sparkling wine, we continue the effervescent conversation with celebrated California champagne and winemaker David Munksgard of Iron Horse Vineyards.

Q: What’s unique about your approach to winemaking?
A: Most winemakers have a unique style that is recognizable, and I hear from folks that my style is very recognizable. There are so many small decisions that go into winemaking, so it’s the sum of all those little decisions that creates a unique style.

Q: What defines a good wine?
A: It should reflect where it was grown. It should also be true to the grape varieties that you use. It should exhibit a degree of refinement. It should be memorable.

Q: What's special about sparkling wine production?
A: First, it’s a lot of extra work. With still winemaking, when the wine goes into the bottle, your job is done. With sparkling winemaking, when the wine goes into the bottle, your job is only half done. Then you wait another three or four or 15 years to finish making the wine. It’s a lot more work. It’s also worth all that work. 

Q: What do you think of the growers movement in Champagne, France?
A: It’s great! Not a lot different from still wine growers deciding their grapes are special and finally deciding to make a small batch of wine with their label on it. Most grapes are sold to wineries and the grower never gets credit for all that hard work. Here’s a way of showing the world how good your grapes really are.

Q: Winemaking is one of the very few industries where the human touch and technology come together to create something quite magical. Do you experience that daily?
A: I feel that often. People are celebrating huge moments in their life with a bottle of something that I made. Who would not be touched by that?

Q: Are you part farmer, part scientist and part artist?
A: I have a science degree, but what I do is a craft. The more you practice this craft, hopefully, the better you get at it. 

Q: So many changes happen throughout the year in the vineyards. Do you consistently make decisions that can change the outcome in a challenging year?
A: I’m truly lucky to have the vineyards that I do, and they’re just a few steps away from my office-lab. This makes it very easy to stay connected to the vineyard. You only make changes when changes are needed. We have a great vineyard team. If I see something happening in the vineyard that concerns me, we come up with a solution that works.

Q: What kind of impact will climate change have on the wine map?
A: The scientists at the universities are not sure about this with regard to vineyards. Coastal regions of Northern California rely on the cooling effect of the very cold Pacific Ocean, but the temperatures inland can get very hot. If temperatures inland do get much warmer, then logic would say that coastal regions might get even cooler than they are now. The universities are also trying to get growers to start growing grape varieties that do well in much warmer climates. I think this is an issue that will not have just one answer. This is why I say, "plant on a hill overlooking a cold body of water." 

Q: Have you heard of a terroir driven wine list some restaurants offer? What are your thoughts?
A: Oh, yes. I think with so many labels out there, more information is always better. 

Q: What should Iron Horse fans be excited about in the future?
A: Our pledge to you is better wines every year.

Q: What is your favorite wine that you have ever made?
A: The wines I’m making next year.

Q: Do you make wine to please yourself, your wife, Page, Joy Sterling the owner, the critics or the consumers?
A: I make wine I want to drink. I’m happy when my wife likes them. I’m employed when Joy likes them. You simply can’t please all the critics. We have a great following that keeps us going and, through them, we pay the bills.

Q: What should the consumer care about when it comes to sparkling wine?
A: That it’s more than just the bubbles. That these wines can have beautiful aromas and flavors. That they go terrific with food. That they age great. 

Q: Do sparkling gives pleasure to the people who make it or the end users who drink it?
A: Both. It is such a fun, complicated, demanding process. I can’t imagine not making sparkling wine for a living. Without faithful and demanding customers, we’d be out of business.

Q: How do you want to be remembered in the wine industry?
A: As a guy who was lucky enough to live his dream. Not everyone gets that chance, so I’m not going to mess it up by not working hard.

To read Part 1 of the sparkling wine series click here.

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Categories: Cheers with Dino