Spotlight: Nick Goldschmidt
Nick Goldschmidt is one of the most prolific winemakers in California, or the world, for that matter. He’s consulted for dozens of wineries, and he also makes very good wines under his own labels, particularly Goldschmidt, 50, whose Cabernets I routinely score in the mid-90s, if not even higher. Nick, a kiwi, knows the industry inside out and upside down. We recently got together in Oakland for lunch. Part 2 of this conversation will run tomorrow.
What are all the brands you make now?
Under my own brands, I have Goldschmidt, Goldschmidt Plus, Forefathers, Boulder Bank from New Zealand, Pompano from Argentina, and then my daughter’s Cab, from Chelsea; those are all under the Goldschmidt portfolio. Then under Goldmark I have Fidelity, Yardstick Napa Valley and another New Zealand brand. I have plenty more brands than that, too. Then I consult for, in Chile, 15 wineries, in Argentina 4 wineries, and in California, Don [Sebastiani] & Sons, Blue Rock in Alexander Valley, Ehret Family in Knights Valley, and Passalaqua in Russian River Valley.
You’ve also worked for a lot of people in the past.
Yeah, Simi was first. Through Simi I ran Blackwood, Ravenswood, Estancia and Franciscan. Then when I left Simi, I went to run Allied Domecq, which was Clos du Bois, William Hill, Gary Farrell, Mumm, Buena Vista, Callaway and 8 other countries for them.
That’s one of the most extensive curriculum vitae I’ve ever heard.
Well, and then it became Jim Beam, which was Geyser Peak, Wild Horse and when I first started at Simi I ran Ruffino, Cloudy Bay, Green Point and an Argentine winery.
How come you never settled down in one place?
Because you keep getting bored! All I wanted to be was the winemaker at Simi, but through one thing or another, through attrition or my ability to kiss ass appropriately, I got promoted! [laughs]
How long have you been doing this?
My first vintage was in 1982, in New Zealand.
How has the business changed in the last 30 years?
From a production standpoint, people no longer start at the bottom. They come in sort of midway, through the universities. I mean, I‘m a university graduate too, but I started on the cellar floor, in the vineyard, and worked my way up into winemaking. I didn’t come in through the laboratory. But the biggest change, I think, is culture. We talk about quality, we talk about value, we talk about place, but culture is also really important. And by that I mean, when someone gives me a glass of wine and they ask me what it is, and I can’t even tell you what country it’s from, I got a problem.
Because if you’re making Cabernet in Chile, it should be uniquely different from what we’re growing in Australia, Argentina, California, France. And the personality can only come from the cultural aspect. So when I travel around the world consulting, I don’t stay in hotels. I stay with the winemakers, with the family, I play with their kids, I eat their food, I drink their wine, I hang out with their friends. Then through that, you get an understanding of what’s important to make Chilean Cabernet [or whatever]. It’s not simply getting on the phone, picking something at 26 [brix], making 15 % alcohol with a pH of 4.0, and an acid of 5.
Are you talking about the so-called Internationalization of Style?
That’s become a problem. And it’s removed distinctiveness of appellation within country. So if you understand the culture of that country, you’re better able to put a stamp on “That’s a Chilean Cabernet, or an Argentinian Malbec,” or whatever it is.
What about alcohol levels in all that?
The higher the alcohol, the bigger the removal of terroir.
So what do your alcohols tend to run in your Napa and Alexander Valley wines?
That’s still high, though.
Yeah, but relatively not. I mean, if I’m going up against great Chilean Cabernets at 16 alcohol, Argentina 16, Napa Valley, high 15s…
Do you feel any pressure to bring your alcohol levels even lower, say, under 14?
No. Not at all. But in New Zealand, I do. I mean, if I’m making Pinot Noir, my Pinots are 13, 13.5, my Sauvignon Blancs are 12, 12-1/2, which is a hell of a lot lower than most other international winemakers.
Part 2 of my conversation with Nick will appear tomorrow.