Andy Erickson is the consulting winemaker for Dalla Valle, Arietta, Dancing Hares Vineyard, Mayacamas and Ovid and is the co-owner and winemaker for Favia Wines and Leviathan. After working his first harvest at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Andy went on to study enology at the University of California, Davis, while working at Spottswoode and Saintsbury wineries. He then spent ten years working for three of Napa Valley’s most prestigious estates: Harlan Estate, Staglin Family Vineyards and Screaming Eagle.
Karen interviewed Andy Erickson for WineSpeed in November, 2019.
Karen MacNeil: What was the first wine that truly inspired you?
Andy Erickson: I’ll have to say it was Dalla Valle’s 1991 “Maya”. It was an eye-opening wine, and something that for me stood out from a lot of the other wines in Napa Valley. It is probably what sent me down the path of searching for great cabernet franc.
KM: Did you have a mentor? Tell us about her/him.
AE: Even better, I’ll give you three. I was extremely lucky early on in my career to work with John Kongsgaard when he was still at Newton Vineyard. John really showed me a way of viewing wine as it relates to farming, nature and life. His non-interventionist approach is something I still strive for. David Abreu is someone I have worked with for many years, and his connection with the vineyards is inspiring. That, and his pursuit of balance and precision in grape growing. Also Michel Rolland, whom I continue to work with after more than 18 years, has helped me to fine tune my palate, and the way I look at blending to achieve great texture in wines.
KM: What does your average day look like?
AE: It really depends on the time of year, which makes it exciting for me. I work with several properties, all in the Napa Valley, and they are all different. During the growing season I might be meeting with the vineyard team in the morning, working on final blends of the previous vintages’ wines, and maybe hosting a tasting in the afternoon. Right now we have just finished our last bottlings, and are putting the final touches on vineyards, pre-harvest, and we’ve already harvested some sauvignon blanc for a client. In the winter, I like to ski in Tahoe.
KM: If you couldn’t make wine in Napa Valley, where would your next choice be?
AE: I have always loved the wines from Saint Émilion in Bordeaux, and it would be a dream to work with those vineyards. Bolgheri, on the Tuscan Coast, would also be pretty spectacular. The funny thing is, way back when, when I decided to make wine, in my mind I thought, at the very least, even if it never leads to anything lucrative, at least I will live in a beautiful place, because everywhere I had ever been that grew grapes and made wine was amazing. So you almost can’t go wrong. But I would want there to be cabernet franc there.
“I love tasting a wine that immediately makes me wonder where it is from, where the grapes are grown. The concept of “wines of place” is an idea that I love.”
KM: You are a consulting winemaker to some of most prestigious wineries. How is being a consulting winemaker different from being a regular winemaker?
AE: I’m lucky to work with proprietors who are one hundred percent committed to extracting the best that is possible from their vineyards, so it is very collaborative and vineyard-focused, and also small-scale. With our own wines, Annie and I are similarly focused, so in terms of the nuts and bolts there is not too much difference in the actual work being done. With consulting, I try to tune in to what the proprietor wants, since in the end, it is their winery, not mine.
KM: How often do you drink your own wine? Are you a hard critic of wines you’ve made?
AE: We drink our own wines fairly often because wine is meant to be shared, and we entertain quite a bit at our home and winery. Luckily I think, I can compartmentalize and enjoy our wines when we are just enjoying them, but then yes I can be a very hard critic when we are having a technical tasting or blending. We always need to keep improving.
KM: I’m not going to ask what’s your favorite type of wine. But what wine or type of wine do you like the least?
AE: I like wines from all over the world, from many different varieties. I see it as a great way to connect with different cultures and people from all over the globe. The wines I like the least are flawed wines. Unfortunately, there seems to be a movement to celebrate flawed wines, and I’ll be honest and say that I find it perplexing. I can’t think of another industry where the success of some producers is predicated on the tearing down of what others in the same industry are doing. I’d love to debate some of these people. I’d say we’re as committed or more to organic, sustainable, and natural practices in what we do, but we are also committed to consistently bottling the best possible wine every year from every vineyard.
KM: What’s the last wine book you’ve read?
AE: I still think of The Billionaire’s Vinegar, by Benjamin Wallace, which I read a few years ago. What a story, and a great read. I also read quite a few technical journals, but won’t bore you with the details.
KM: What is it about wine that moves you?
AE: I love tasting a wine that immediately makes me wonder where it is from, where the grapes are grown. The concept of “wines of place” is an idea that I love.
KM: Tell us something about you that would surprise most people to learn.
AE: My daughter just left for college last week. This still blows my mind.
KM: In addition to wine, what’s your other favorite beverage?
AE: Easy; beer. It’s a great time to be a beer lover.
KM: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
AE: We have raised two amazing daughters, and I feel so proud every time I look at them or hear someone else talking about them.