Choosing A Winemaker And What To Know Beforehand

In 2002, Steve and Stephanie Anglim launched Anglim Winery in downtown Paso Robles. They produce award-winning Rhone varietals and blends plus limited release Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Steve is an expert winemaker who is a consultant to five wineries in Paso Robles.

What are the preliminary steps to winemaking?

The first thing to determine is how much wine you’re planning on producing. Then you need to consider whether you want to do any of the work yourself or whether you want someone else to do all of the work. If you choose the latter, you’ll need to decide if you want them to do that on a consulting or full-time basis.

A good way to determine this is to look at the numbers. Let’s say you’re a small winery hoping to make $60,000 a year. Divide the number of bottles that you’re planning on making into 60,000 (plus benefits and the like). The cost allocation can quickly push you out of a price market and become a barrier to hiring a full-time employee.

Many wineries choose to work with consultants who will do the work themselves or bring in people on a temporary basis to assist. Some consultants will manage the cellar help that you currently have.

What is the role of the winemaker?

All wineries, from large to small, have winemakers. They hold a unique set of skills and talent that combine production and craft, with a little art and science thrown in.

The first thing the winemaker needs to know: what kind of wine do you want to produce and what price point do you want to sell it at? The key is to work with the winemaker to back up to what needs to be done to your vineyard and your fruit to get you as close to that objective as possible.

By definition, making wine isn’t really all that complicated; you get some grapes, add a little yeast (actually, you don’t even have to add the yeast for it to ferment), press it and you’ve made wine. But to make good wine, it’s not the ingredients you use, or even the techniques that you use, as much as how you deploy them, in what order and with what competence.

There are hundreds if not thousands of alternatives to choose from to optimize the wine as it goes through the aging process such as:

• Do I fine it?
• Do I filter it?
• What kind of barrel do I use?
• How long do I leave it in the barrel?
• How often do I rack it?

There are also a variety of machines and equipment that can be used to enhance wine or change the character at varying times in the process, including barrel choice. And that’s the purview of the winemaker.

How do I choose a winemaker?

Most winemakers have a style. The key is to get the wines that the individual made from fruit that is as similar to yours as possible. And then determine – do I like it or not? And of course it’s personal preference. You can get the same fruit to ten different winemakers and you’ll wind up with anything from a light-bodied fruity style to a dark, jammy style and it all came from the same vineyard.  You really need to work with the individual to determine if their style is aligned with the direction your winery is going.

How does a wine get its unique taste?

It starts with, and the majority of it comes from, the fruit itself. So a winery is by definition limited by the capabilities of the fruit that it either produces or procures. If you own a vineyard, it’s important to do whatever is necessary to get it into a shape where it produces the highest quality fruit relative to its neighbors.

You also have to understand that you’re trying to be the best in the area where you are located. You can’t just make wine as though it came from somewhere else; it’s very dependent upon the place it comes from.

Generally you can put grapes in a kind of quadrant based on heat requirements. Wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, at the low end, require relatively cool climates and are very intolerant to hot climates. At the other end, wines like Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet can take a great deal of heat and do not work well in very cool climates. Other varietals form a continuum between those; no one area is really perfect for growing all varietals.

What is the standard process for making wine?

Generally, when making red wine you remove the grapes from the stems and then, depending on the winemaker’s preference, break the fruit open by crushing or leave the fruit whole. The fruit then goes into a large tank where it ferments. At the end of alcoholic fermentation, you drain all the finished wine into a tank or barrel. The remaining grape skins are further pressed for any residual juice.

The making of white wine is a significantly different process; you bring the fruit in as whole clusters, dump those clusters into a press and squeeze out the juice. The juice that comes out is settled for either hours or days to clarify and then the clarified juice is moved to either a tank or barrels to be fermented. The environment is kept relatively cold – usually in the 50-60 degree range.

The wine then ages in barrels (preferred for premium wines) or tanks for anywhere from, depending on the varietal, six months to three years. During that process you do what is called racking: gravity settles the particulate matter in the juice down to the bottom of the barrel. You remove the clean wine from the top, clean the barrel out, and return the wine. That’s done multiple times during the life of the wine in the barrel, so that by the time you get to the end it’s pretty clear. Some premium wineries will then bottle it unfiltered and unfined, which means they haven’t done anything to it except let gravity settle. At that point, many wineries will filter and then bottle the wine.

How long did it take for you to get to a place where you liked the way your wine was developing?

Oh, I’m not there yet! If you’re satisfied with your wines, you’re not really paying attention to what’s going on. There’s always something more that can make a wine just a little better. It’s the nature of any craft; you’re working at the margins.

Winemaking is very collegial. Most winemakers will tell you everything they do, how they do it and when they do it. They’ll discuss technology and philosophy, but unless you have your own point of view on winemaking, it’s almost irrelevant information because so much of it depends on the choice of grapes and from what year. I can read their notes but unless I understand the philosophy and why they did it and not just what they did, I’ll probably make a substandard wine.

It’s really about following your own instincts. You’ll eventually do things in your own way, to make your own unique wine.

What is your best advice for someone who’s considering making his or her own wines?

First you have to find something you like and be realistic about what you expect. It’s too easy in this business to put too much inappropriate effort, work and money into fruit that doesn’t justify it and find out that you’re in an untenable situation. It’s much better to start with where you want to be and work backwards.

Anglim Winery Website
First Crush Wine Making Website


For more information on Paso Robles wineries for sale, call Pacifica Wine Division at (805) 237-4040.