California Winery Advisor - How did you get started making wine?
Colin Murphy - Approximately one year after graduating from UC Santa Barbara with a Film degree, a buddy of mine got me a job in a tasting room. The idea was to earn and save money to move to Los Angeles. I took to the new job well, because I grew up with wine on the table and felt comfortable and confident talking about the topic. Soon after I started, the “lightbulb” went off and I knew the wine industry was where I belonged. Nine months later I was picking grapes and making wine. That was 21 years ago this month.
CWA - What interests you about wine?
CM - A bottle of wine itself can tell one about a time, a place, and even a person such as the Winemaker. Making wine interests me because it is a special blend of craft and science. One uses his hands but also employs an equal part of critical thinking. I use algebra every day. (stay in school kids!)
CWA - What can you tell us about your winemaking style?
CM - My prime directive is to make the best wine possible. I am a very hands-on Winemaker. I single-handedly vinify about 110 tons of grapes. I perform my own punch-downs, pump overs, pressing, racking, topping, and most lab work. Everything. I also make it a point to walk through the Estate Vineyard every day I am on the property. I try and avoid doing things in the Winery simply as a matter of course. Every vintage is unique and requires a different approach. It’s easy for one to proclaim he simply shepherds the wine along its journey from the crushpad to the bottle. But doing nothing is, in fact, doing something, in winemaking. This isn’t faith-healing. If there is an issue, it should be addressed.
CWA – What is the most important factor in making a great wine?
CM - Trust your palate. As Winemakers we are inundated with advice and opinions, welcome or not, from owners, bookkeepers, vineyard managers, spouses, and fellow Winemakers. There is nothing wrong with listening, but the intuition must reign supreme. That said, my wife has a great palate and I constantly seek her valued opinion.
CWA - Is there any advice you wish you got before you started making wine?
CM - I did get the best possible advice from many Winemakers. “Don’t do it. Stay out of the Wine Business”. I didn’t listen. I wish I had been told to study chemistry, biologly, or physics at the University level. I wouldn’t trade my fantastic Liberal Arts education but some hard sciences would not have hurt.
CWA - Which wine law/regulation would you change if it were up to you?
CM - Where do I start? The Three Tier System, Tied House Rules, and state Franchise laws. They all stifle consumer choice and freedom. These laws are a part of the incohesive mélange of rules that differ state to state and sometimes county to county. It’s silly and embarrassing that there are counties in the US that are as dry as Raqqa, Syria.
CWA - Do you have any favorite wine publications/websites/social media sites you follow?
CM - I am an inveterate consumer of all the information I can get my hands on. Twitter is my weapon of choice. Social media, in general, has really broken down barriers between wine producers and consumers in the best way. There is no excuse why a consumer shouldn’t “know” his favorite winemaker. Wine Berserkers is an excellent forum where Winemakers can mingle online with consumers and connoisseurs of all levels and learn from each other. I’ve certainly been educated on particular topics on that forum.
CWA - How do you feel about the current wine rating system? Do you feel it helps consumers with their wine buying decisions?
CM - Whether it is stars, points, or colorful write-ups, wine rating systems can be an outstanding resource for consumers. There has been a substantial democratization of wine commentary and reviewing. Anyone with a smart device can start a podcast, blog or vlog. We should never discount expertise but I think it’s important for the consumer to simply seek recommendations from a “reviewer” with a similarly aligned palate. That advice can come from one’s local grocer, a fellow consumer, or a Master of Wine. The platforms seem endless.
CWA - What were the last two truly memorable wines (that weren’t your own) you tasted?
CM - I had the good fortune of acquiring two bottles of 1967 Chateau Latour. I gave one bottle to my parents, who were married that year. I shared the other bottle with my lovely wife and it was transcendent. Although not known as the finest of Bordeaux vintages due to Harvest issues, the 1967 demonstrated that the winemaking team at Latour could overcome their challenges to produce a wine of breathtaking quality
The other wine I had as a young man in college. Like most college students of the day, I was only in search of the cheapest beer available. One day my father gave me a care package in the form of a mixed case of wine. One of the bottles was a Sanford Vin Gris of Pinot Noir. I don’t remember the vintage but that was my “ah-ha” wine. It led me to the Sanford Chardonnays and ultimately to the other world class wines in my backyard. The special nature of that Sanford wine was amplified decades later when I had the privilege of working with the Winemaker responsible for its creation, Bruno D’Alfonso. Things really came full circle because working with Bruno and his wife Kris Curran put the finishing touches on my primary winemaking education.
CWA – Which of your current wines are you the most excited about?
CM - My 2014 Koehler Mourvedre, Santa Ynez Valley, is my favorite in our current line-up. I was very pleased with the 2013, but this particular vintage of Mourvedre shines. It speaks to my desire for elegance, complexity, typicity, a sense of place, and a balance of earth and fruit. These may sound like buzz words, but when a wine is hitting the mark on all these points, it really sings. But don’t take my word for it.
CWA - Is there a particular winemaker that you modeled yourself after or just appreciate their skill?
CM - I was blessed to work with and be mentored by some of the most talented Winemakers on the Central Coast. Stephan Bedford (Bedford Winery), Alan Phillips (Fontes & Phillips), Norm Yost (Flying Goat Cellars), and Kris & Bruno (D’Alfonso-Curran), all shaped how I make wine today. Beyond that, I appreciate folks like Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, and Richard Sanford, to name just a few who are pioneers in our field in Santa Barbara County. I am standing on their shoulders.
CWA - Where can people taste your wine?
CM - Our Tasting Room, Vineyard, and Winery are located at 5360 Foxen Canyon Rd., Los Olivos, at the junction of Zaca Station Rd. and Foxen Canyon Rd. The Tasting Room grounds are just a terrific hang-out. Bring a picnic or take advantage of the alternating Saturday taco truck and wood fired pizza.
CWA - Where can people buy your wine?
CM - Our wines can be found in the finest restaurants and bodegas in Central and Southern California. Also, check us out: www.koehlerwinery.com
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