Before you read this interview of our latest Indoor Boy, winemaker Colin McNany, I strongly suggest you open up a nice bottle of red and/or white, kick up your heels and/or boots, and prepare yourself to swoon and/or melt. Truly, never have I been more tempted to keep an Indoor Boy all to myself. Colin’s humble demeanor belies his consummate skill and the way he talks about his craft will only make you thirst for more.
Interview and photography by Anita Stubenrauch
Can you introduce yourself to us the way you would a vintage of wine? And your lovable pooch, Dulce? Only gaining complexity with age. And Dulce? She’s one sexy mama.
You studied sustainable agriculture at UC Santa Cruz. What drew you to winemaking? A bit undetermined in what direction I wanted to take my education, I found myself hanging out in the gardens all over campus. I was attracted to flowers, fruits, soils, insects and weather patterns. Cultivating food quickly became a passion — in its true essence to enjoy the fruits of your labor. I began interacting with a community of people who wanted to know more about what they eat, how it’s grown, and why. A community really focused on a closed-loop circle of agriculture, in essence, knowing who grows your food; a community-supported agriculture. This was my foundation into viticulture.
I reached a point in my education when a profound interest in growing grapes began to inspire me. It was an agriculture above and beyond growing carrots and sunflowers. Grape growing is a highly complex dynamic of agriculture; I had to further understand how geology/soil/vine interface would effect the outcome of how a wine tasted. It was mystical and real. Blessed with a palette for foods, I began touring the Santa Cruz Mountains and tasting every thing I could get my hands on with a thirst for education. My senior year of school I planted 2 acres of organic Pinot Noir at 1,000 feet with 7 interns working below me. It was the birth of a lifelong passion in the making.
Describe your role in the winery. I am the assistant winemaker, a job which entails every step of the way from grape to bottle. Winemaking is a seasonal agriculture. Grapes are harvested in the fall, September through October. Seven days a week, 15 hour days; ferments never sleep, neither do winemakers. This is the most exciting time for a winery, a fresh crush of a new vintage. Here is a bird’s eye view of harvest:
Harvest grapes with ideal sugar and acid “numbers.”
De-stem all fruit into open-top vats, pitch in thriving yeast culture, and fermentation begins.
Monitor rising temperature and sugar depletion = alcohol.
Fermentation completed, no more sugar, press wine out of skin mush into barrels for aging and softening over the next 20 months.
Come winter, we clean our mess from the fall and take vacation; go surf somewhere tropical. Come spring, vineyards awake from dormancy and begin to reach for the sun. We prune vigorously for the coming years of growth and fruit. In short, from grape to bottle.
What surprises you about winemaking? All the surprises. [Cheeky.]
You likened winemaking to good sex. Can you elaborate for our readers? [Not for the faint of heart. You may want to sit down...] An intimate dance it is… An intimate, 15-day relationship between yeast, fruit, and me. How I approach and dance with these variables will shape the wine. A very aggressive approach would be to overwork the wine, extensive pumping, moving, slamming, and emulsifying. This is going to yield a monster, tannic, masculine beast of a wine — unapproachable and out of balance, in my opinion. I prefer to make wines with finesse — softer movements, more respect for the fruit and the ferment; to transfer my energy. Always listening to the ferment and what it’s needs are, where it wants to go, will be much more enjoyable in every aspect.
Can you talk a little about how the spirit of the winemaker ends up in the bottle? I believe when I consume a wine, I am consuming the energy of the winemaker. A bit esoteric, but I do believe it. After tasting wines from a winemaker who inspires me, I feel uplifted and positively charged. When I consume a wine from a winemaker who I tend to disagree with, I feel closed-minded, uninspired, dirty — like a want to take a shower.
What has been most influential to your personal style of winemaking? Life. Herbs, spices, soils… Vibrant colors, flavors, and aromas. Well-crafted wines and the mad scientists who create them — like Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, always experimenting and blowing their eyebrows off. Legends are inspiring.
How has your winemaking evolved over time? I have gained confidence into trying unconventional techniques. Trying to create wines that are different, unique, full of identity, and expression.
And how has winemaking influenced your other passions (surfing, painting, bread-making, etc…)? To be more of an artist of expression. Paint the world the color Colin. Be different.
You are part of a new generation of winemakers in the Santa Cruz mountains. What energy does your generation bring to this time-honored tradition? Consciousness. Respectfully questioning tradition with progression. An altered focus, young winemakers with old souls. In the Santa Cruz Mountains there is a major generation gap between my peers and the 50+ year-olds. Winemaking will become more radical. We’ll push the envelope with youthful, fresh ideas.
Do you ever just want a beer? All the time. I have a fridge full of IPA’s. It’s hard to enjoy a wine without analyzing the life out of it — keep work at the work place. Carbonation is refreshing.
If you were to be stranded on an island and could bring 3 bottles with you (and assume a steady supply of water, crackers, and cheese) what would be coming with you and why? a) 1976 Richebourg. The wine that has changed peoples lives. One of the warmest summers in Burgundy. b) 1976 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir. The Santa Cruz mountains are my home. This wine was made by one of my favorite winemakers, and his hardest bottle to obtain from a vineyard that no longer exists. c) My third choice would not be a bottle, but some beautiful company to enjoy it with. The wine is only as good as the company…most of the time!
As you look forward to growing older, nourishing your roots, and ripening, what kind of vine do you hope to be? The oldest, gnarliest Pinot Noir vine growing on a steep, southern-aspect slope in the Santa Cruz Mountains, with an ocean view. I will produce concentrated, small-berry mountain fruit that, when handled with care, will produce screaming aromatics and major mid-palette density full of humic redwoods, pomegranate, and sea-smoked tar. Complex, mysterious, balanced, and highly quaffable.
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