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Spotlight: Nick Goldschmidt, Part 2

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How do you manage all the travel?

I’m in South American 3 times a year, I’m in New Zealand and Australia twice a year, and I’m in Spain once a year. And the rest of the time I’m in California or on the street. An important part of what I do is selling wine in the street, in the U.S., because, when people ask me to consult, I always ask, “Where are you trying to sell your wine?” If it’s not th U.S., then I’m not the right consultant, because I make wines for the U.S. palate and the U.S. market, and that’s why it’s important for me to get out and work the streets, to hear changing opinions and changing philosophies of what wine is all about. That’s why I have an interest in having lunch with you, Steve, because I’m interested to know what turns your clock today.

How would you describe the U.S. palate?

The U.S. palate is becoming…it’s definietly changed. I hate to say it, but I think we’re becoming a little more British.

What does that mean?

The British see wine as a commodity, something they drink every day. The don’t see any relation between price and quality, whereas in the U.S. we do. So if somebody buys a bottle of wine for $50 in the U.S., it’s worth $50. In the U.K., it could be worth anything; it’s just a hit or miss thing. So in the U.K. people sell wine for 3 bottles at ten pounds. It’s like cheaper than water. Well, we’d go out of business in the U.S. if we did that, so at least, in the U.S. there is a relationship between price and quality, and I think the customer today sees that. But going forward, if we continue down the route of these large retailers who are trying to do direct, we will see more and more wines sold cheaper and cheaper, with no relation between quality and value. I think it’s important that we continue with the three-tier system, I think it’s important that we continue to make th best wines we possibly can, and not cheapen what we do, so it’s not a race to the bottom.

Doesn’t a company like Bronco play an important role?

Bronco is known for providing wines at a very good price and doing a good job at it. I totally agree with that, and it will be a sad day when Fred Franzia leaves this world, because I think he is one of the funniest, hippest, coolest, most challenging guys, and we need guys like that to continue to push guys like me, at the upper end, to realize that, you know what? At that price point, it is a commodity, but there is a value.

What’s your most expensive wine?

Under my own stuff, Goldchmidt Plus, which retails for $150.

What makes that wine worth $150?

Basically it’s about risk. There’s four things I do to this wine. It’s a thinner slice of a very high profile vineyard; that’s the easy piece. The second piece is, it goes into new wood twice, for two years each time, so it’s a four year, 100% barrel aged, 200% new wood. The third thing, and most important, is the way I drive the volatile acidity up. I used to work for Grange, and one of the secrets of Grange is, V.A. increases gradually over time in barrel, but if you can get the V.A. to increase quickly, in the first three months, you get a far more complex product in the same amount of time. [...] The fourth thing is the proprietary thing, which is the way I extract the juice out of the tank. It takes me two days. I mentioned it to a small independent wine writer once, and the next day I got two phone calls from two other guys that had learned the technique as well, who said, Welcome to the club! Please don’t mention it again. So I can only make maybe one barrel from ten tons. So that’s the expensive piece.

When we think of these famous consulting winemakers, like Michel Rolland and the others, are you in that league?Do you get paid as much as they do?

No.

Why not?

Because most of my consulting is outside the U.S.

Could you join that league if you wanted?

No. I–well, I know all those people, obviously. These are friends of mine. I worked with Michel at Simi for 13 years. Andy Erickson used to work with us. Heidi [Barrett] is a good friend. I would have to base myself in Napa. I’m not really too interested in doing that. I would have to continue to work with very expensive properties to guaranteee a high-end demandy sort of thing. I’m more interested in making single-vineyard wines that are true to their terroir, and when you talk about these sort of blocks, there aren’t that many special blocks in the world that can produce wines of that volume and quality. When I think about that, a big block to me is like 400, 500 cases. You can’t make XYX wne at $2,000 a bottle and make 6,000 cases. You just can’t.

A lot of people do. But when some of these cult wineries hire these famous consulting names, what do they really get for $30,000 a day? Do they actually useful information, or is it for bragging rights?

I thnk those famous names provide a lot of authenticity in the trade. That’s reputation. So they’re using that consultant’s repuation to sell their wine through the system. That’s fine.

What one thing would you change about your job, if you could?

Ha! If I could change time, and make 48 hours a day rather than 24, that would be a hell of a lot more fun for me! But I’m having so much fun right now, meeting great people. I work with some of the best winemakers outside of the U.S., and personality-wise, dedication to wine, to focus–since I left the corporate world I’m getting to know more and more sub-terroirs than I thought I knew in the New World. So there’s not a lot I would change.

What’s a really new exciting terroir we’ll be hearing more about?

Something I’m interested in is southern Chile and more altitude in Argentina. In fact, I’m investing in a vineyard that’ll be the southernmost vineyard in Chile. We closed the deal and we’ll be planting grapes next Spring.

  1. “The British see wine as a commodity, something they drink every day”. Well after all most people consume wine in the U.S. for the affect… Oh that new phrase… ” It is what it is ”

    Have a Great Weekend : )

  2. Oh and yes enjoyed your interview of N.G. Love these types of articles

  3. Steve, I too love these kinds of reports (posts).
    It’s been said many times and many ways, but it’s so true: “wine is a business.” However, the other side is that even Michelangelo had to be paid, so helping his art to proliferate. In the same sense wine too continues (in some quarters) to be art and have great value; in the case of Goldchmidt Plus, $150 is the price for this art. Drinkable art can be transmuted into visual art by-way of a Steve Heimoff or some other skilled writer-reviewer and how they portray that wine (poetical wine reviews might take more than the allocated 50 words).

  4. This may be of interest to only the true winemaking geeks, but when Nick refers to the “proprietary thing” in making his $150 Golds-t that brings to mind what other ex-Grange winemakers have described to me: that Grange is made only from overnight draining of the cap, i.e. something between free run and press in that it is what gravity pulls out overnight without mechanical force. This might more grandly (grangely?) be called “interstitial draining.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstitial

  5. What a great and timly article Steve. I have known Nick as a winemaker and friend for 12 years and he is the most talented and hardworking winemaker on the planet. He deserves the recognition!

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