Eleven years at Precept Wines did well for Hal Landvoigt’s skillset. Hal honed his love for wine and played apprentice to a few of the Pacific Northwest’s foremost winemakers. He’s been steadily expanding his wine knowledge and higher education, whilst traveling through some of the most revered wine regions in the world. As winemaker and director of winemaking at Precept, Hal relishes in the task of choosing and crafting the grapes and wines for Perimeter wines. A month ago our own Wine Supervisor, Dan Eddy, sat down with him to pick his brain on all things wine.
DE: Do you feel you are super imposing your wine making style, or it’s a conversation and you’re adapting?
HL: I think it’s more of a conversation, and I would rather get creative in the blending and push the roles there. We’ve always said that one of the great things about making wine in the U.S. is that we’re not bound by all those blending rules that you see coming out of Bordeaux or Burgundy. The Languedoc is the only place that is starting to play with that a little bit and they are still bound by a lot of tradition. If you understand why it is the way it is, it makes sense for 200 years ago because they didn’t have genetic testing to identify plant species and how would you know that this wine from this region was any good, unless they all said, you can only grow these grapes. It’s the only way to start to build up your regional brand, but now we have amazing science and technology. We’ve got yeasts. We have all of this deeper understanding of what really goes on from a plant physiology perspective but also from a chemical perspective in the winery. Making good quality wine isn’t necessarily that hard if you embrace the technology. But where it gets really fun is, what can we do to put this blend together that is different or that brings something not just another “me too” to the table. So for up here, for a lot of our blends, Syrah has always played a large part in Washington State, but I think we’re starting to see more, for me especially with Merlot, we’ve always try and use a good chunk of Sangiovese in the blend. Grenache is really a fun blender and brings a lot to the wine. It’s looking at what is there, who cares what they have done before, but what makes the wine taste the best. Some of that is understanding what’s the reason for this brand, what are we trying to make here? And then taste through your wines, and say if I put this and this together that’s going to get me to this idea I have in my head of what’s this wine supposed to taste like.
DE: You have two interesting examples because you do the Perimeter Red Blend from Washington State and now you do the Perimeter Black from California, and they are different blends, right?
DE: What do you highlight in each that is more Washington or more California?
HL: You know I think, it’s an interesting thing ‘cause a lot of time someone will come and say we want you to make this wine, a Washington Merlot that tastes like Blackstone or we want a California Cab that tastes like Waterbrook Cab. And they’re just not the same region and they’re not that interchangeable, I think just from… One, I think Washington has a much softer fruit expression and in general you see a much more, sweet isn’t the right word, but a much more…
DE: More elegant tannins?
HL: Yes, more elegant tannins, but just that a lot of the time when we taste with people, and we do it ourselves, when you are in a lineup with California wines and you taste a Washington wines, you might actually say, that wine is sweet, and it’s not actually sweet, they can all be the same residual sugar, which might be 1 gram per liter or .1% residual sugar but a Washington Merlot and a California Merlot with exactly the same analytic data, same PH, same TA, same residual sugar, same basic alcohol level, will taste radically different just because that Washington fruit has so much more natural fruit expression in itself, so it comes across bramblier, it comes across riper and the counterpoint to that is that it comes across softer.
DE: Which is funny ‘cause you think of California as warmer, so you’re going to be riper, generally, but you also get the other components, you get more tannin, you get… all of that comes with it.
HL: Yeah, well and we have… there’s a couple of things with Washington that are different, we get about two and a half more hours of sunlight per day, so though it doesn’t get quite as a hot, we get a longer daytime to grow that fruit. We go a lot later into the season, so we might start a little bit later, but I think we stretch out a little bit longer, and these are very 10,000-foot broad strokes kind of perspective, but we have a much more significant diurnal shift in terms of that temperature between daytime and nighttime. Where California gets a ton of heat and it gives you that sugar, it also doesn’t develop that same level of acidity that we see out of Washington State that we get with that extra cooling in the evening, and that’s really where Washington gives you that difference. In California you get more of a dried fruit expression that can be a little bit one-dimensional, and if you think about Washington, it’s a very natural fruit. It tastes like strawberries. It doesn’t taste like strawberry jam, it doesn’t taste like dried strawberries, it tastes like you went out in the garden and picked one off the bush and ate it. That super natural fruit expression tricks your mind into thinking that it’s something different than what it is at times.
Read the rest in the coming issue of Wine Journal!
Dan Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine & spirits supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineDanE