About a year and a half ago, I was having lunch with Butch Milbrandt and Ted Seifert,  tasting some of the MilbrandtVineyard wines . I asked him if we could have his wine maker come to one of  my “Intimate Tasting With The Wine Maker” events I put on twice a year. At the time, their wine maker was Gordy Hill who had a very good reputation and a lot of respect in the state of Washington. We booked it for the following year. Things changed in that time period for Milbrandt Vineyards. Gordy Hill went on to other ventures and Butch and Jerry Milbrandt hired Joshua Maloney to be their wine maker. So, Josh was on for my event.

Joshua Maloney came from a six year stint as red wine maker at the Canoe Ridge facility for Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Washington State. When he was hired by Ste. Michelle he was the youngest wine maker to ever hold that position at 32 years of age. Josh moved to Washington from California where he worked for both Stags Leap Wine Cellars and Estancia. He has now worked at Milbrandt Vineyards for one year, and the recent white wine releases have his personal stamp on them. I had an opportunity to sit and talk with Josh before the event.

A graduate from Cornell University as a major in chemistry, my first impression of Josh was… this is an intelligent man. I told him he reminded me a lot of my friend Nick who is now the head wine maker at Screaming Eagle in Napa. Nick always gave me the impression of someone who could sit and read tech books for hours and be perfectly happy. I got the same feeling from Josh. As we talked, I came away with the same feeling and more. Josh is confident yet humble, and very passionate about wine. He is a firm believer in the effects of terrior on grapes and wine. He is open minded to the techniques used by various wine makers. This is our conversation sans nonessential bantering.

Josh brought two barrel samples of syrah for me to try. One from the Clifton Hills Vineyard and one from Kathryn Leon Vineyard. After talking about the different levels of wine produced by Milbrandt, Josh discusses the differences in the two syrah samples.

Josh: These are both single vineyard syrahs. At harvest we were slated to make about a thousand cases of an estate tier syrah. I am walking the vineyards, I kind of got my eye on where I think the best round will come from. We got some that are coming from Clifton Hills that is phemomenal and some that is coming from Katherine Leone that is phenomenal. So I ferment them dry and put them down to barrel. My wine making technique is to keep it all separate for at least six to nine months and then blend it. I wait for the wines to evolve and wait to discover what they are showing. As they are evolving and showing what they really are, they are both amazing but so different. I start talking to Butch and Jerry Milbrandt along with Heather who is in charge of sales, saying I do not want to blend these together. I’ve got five hundred cases of each you want a thousand cases of this Estate tier syrah… It would be a cardinal sin to destroy their uniqueness to make the case wine. Can we bottle them separately please? So right now we plan on bottling them separate next year for the 2011 vintage, and not doing an Estate tier.

Stan: Gotcha, doing a vineyard designate.

Josh: Doing two vineyard designates at half the volume each instead.

Stan: So you’re a big terroir guy.

Josh: Absolutely. Even with coffee I’m a terroir guy. I prefer a Sumatra or a Papua New Guinea coffee over a blend any day. My wine making style is trying to understand what that parcel from that vineyard and that AVA is trying to convey, and then looking at all the techniques and all the experience that I have to try and coax out the most of that and express that instead.

Stan: I’m a huge terroir guy. I talked to a wine maker, actually a well founded, long-term wine maker, who didn’t feel that terroir meant anything, which is hard to believe. I asked him about Chablis. You can put twenty chardonnays in a row for a blind tasting and pick out the four Chablis that are in the line-up. He said that was a unique example, but most times terroir doesn’t stand out. If you look at his wines, most of them are co-blended from different AVA . He has no terroir definition in his wines. If a guy does this year after year, he is not going to see terroir.

Josh: I’ll take that a step further. He probably sees terroir, but he probably sees it as a disadvantage, because if you are looking at larger volume value priced wines, distinctiveness is your enemy. When I was working at Ste. Michelle, I made two hundred case lots of some single vineyard cabs that I thought were phenomenal. But I also made two hundred thousand case lots of cabernet that retailed from twelve to fifteen dollars. In the later example, your number one goal is not to offend anyone. You want to have the same consistent product year in and year out. So finding unique parcels that vary from vintage to vintage is actually going against your goal. But at the two hundred case level, I think showing the distinctiveness of the terroir and the vintage; that’s your goal, because that is what the consumer is looking for.

Stan: That makes sense. But at the same time I think you still have to acknowledge terroir.

Josh: Yeah.I think there is a real popular movement in wine making and particular in wine marketing by wine makers to talk about like I don’t make the wine I just let it make itself… I am just the shepherd. At the heart of what the wine maker is saying I agree with it a hundred percent, which is you are trying to understand what the vineyard is trying to express and you let that expression come out in the wine. But, where I diverge is that I don’t just let it happen. I have been making wine for fifteen years and I have worked with fruit from New York, I worked in Nape, Monterey County and Washington. I’ve worked in all sorts of different conditions and vintages, and I know that if you sit back and just let it happen you will get vinegar. I forget who this quote is attributed to but someone said, ‘God makes vinegar, wine makers make wine’.

Stan: I think what they are  trying to say is that they do not manipulate their wines.

Josh: Exactly.

Stan: They don’t add tannins, they don’t add acidity, all those things. I think that’s funny, I’ve always said that a good chef adds things to his food to make it better. If the food lacks salt, he will add salt.

Josh: Let me ask you. If you get a vintage that’s particularly high or particularly low in acid, and normally the site you’re working from has a very distinct acid profile and in that vintage you don’t have it to the point where the wine is unbalanced. Do you make the wine worse by making a slight correction? Or is it better to let that unbalance come through and say that is the character for the vintage? And I don’t think there is a right answer for that. But that is the kind of philosophical debate that wine makers have when they’re sitting around bullshitting.

Stan: Again, I liken it to the simple example of salt. When a chef is preparing a certain meal it may lack salt. He may feel as the chef, he needed to add salt to the meal to enhance the flavor, to make it more appealing to the consumer.

Josh: That’s my personal philosophy… There are certain techniques, there are certain yeast strains that I can use, there are certain fermentation temperatures that I can specifically try to target, that can bring out more of what is already there. I’m not trying to put something that’s not there in the first place. I’m just trying to coax out something that is already there. You look at me, I can’t pass off the Bohemian thing. I went to Cornell, I studied chemistry, I don’t have that laid back sort of ‘Hey Dude’, I’m just going to let things happen kind of thing.

Stan: It’s amazing to me how many chemists and engineers become wine makers. I think transparency is good to a point, but to de-acidify or acidify a wine I personally don’t have a problem with that. I mean, you are making the product. This brings me to the question… Why does a wine maker release a bad wine? I just tasted a pinot gris from Oregon that was so mouth puckering, I couldn’t keep it in my mouth. I drink a variety of wines good and bad, and I could hardly drink it… It was that tart. My jaws just ceased up. I could not foresee this wine softening up. It was so out of balance with the acidity. So I’m wondering, what causes a winery or a wine maker in your opinion, to release a bad wine?

Josh: I think there are a lot of causes or a lot of reasons. One of them might be house palate. The wine that you are speaking about, was this a novelty for them? Do you know their history?

Stan: I’ve tasted two prior vintages and neither was that tart and out of balance.

Josh: Sometimes if you taste a vertical from a certain winery you can see that they almost start convincing themselves that what they did the year before was good but should be more of something to bring it into balance. They start to like that, whether it is over-oaked or over acidified or not enough acidity or things like that. They start walking down that path. Now gauging that wine against what everyone else is doing, eventually you start thinking that that is correct. Personally I think that in certain countries a high tolerance for brettanomyces is the reason for it. They have always had it there, they really  don’t notice it anymore.

Stan: Sure, like in France with many of the French wines.

Josh:Yes. Whereas in most New World wine cultures it’s completely unacceptable at any level. There’s no tolerance for it. So when you taste two wines side by side there is a startling difference. I think that’s part of it. I can tell you that some wine companies I’ve worked at there is a lot of pressure just to hit sales figures. For some reason if the vintage or the vineyard didn’t give you acceptable quality, there are a lot of internal conversations about what is good enough… What would get you something in the marketplace, which I think is remarkable. I understand it’s a wine business, I’m a wine maker and my primary focus is quality. But for the guy who is signing the checks at the end of the day and there is nothing left in the bank account, he can’t keep signing the checks. I understand that there has to be a balance, but by the same token, that balance can’t be a three month or six month forecast it has to be a fifty year forecast. What will that one bad vintage or one bad release do for you long term?

Stan: Yes, your reputation.

Josh: Exactly. By putting out, even if it’s a small amount, by putting out that one lot of bad wine…. O.K. you may get a little bit of the money back, but then the next year you’re going to get slow sales and the year after and the year after.

Stan: Personally I know that certain wineries will recover from a bad vintage the next year. When you are in the wine business you take that kind of thing for granted. However, for the consumer it is different. When they taste a bad wine, it sticks in their mind. The next time they see that label they are more then likely going to pass it over.

Josh: I could  probably name about a dozen different wineries where I’ve only had one experience like that and I won’t try them again.

Stan: I’ve ran across wineries that are consistently bad, and it is as you said, they probably have a house style that they like. I’m always curious as to why they would want to release a certain wine, but like you said, it is most likely a monetary issue. I guess it is how strongly the owner pushes the issue. Does the wine maker have a strong voice and say ‘ I would rather flush this down the toilet then release it?’.

Josh: Yeah, there has been times where I have been willing to do the nuclear option, which is if you want to bottle this you’re taking my name off it and putting yours on it as the owner instead. I will not publicly sign for this wine and say that it is something that I approve of. Fortunately I have never had to go that far. Usually  you can see those coming far ahead in the vineyard. There was a lot of fruit in 2011 that we rejected in the vineyard because it didn’t meet with our standards. Fortunately we had contracts in place that they had to meet certain parameters and they didn’t meet those parameters, so we can say ‘Hey, we’re not going to take that fruit.’ So we never had to write the first check, we never had to get the sale for it afterward. That’s the best way to approach it.

Stan: Sure.

Josh: I would hope that with the quality of wines that are being produced in this country today, hopefully the people that are putting out bad wines don’t stay in the wine industry very long.

Stan: (Laugh)… I did an article a couple of years ago on my blog to explain the reason for my wine scoring. The only reason I score wines in my reviews is to show how I feel about the wine. I don’t think you can score a wine absolutely. Technically you can’t put a score on a wine.

Josh: “You can’t quantify something that is qualitative.”

Stan: I have also made it clear to my readers that I want them to know how I personally feel about the wine and if they agree with my palate and enjoy the same wines that I do, then maybe they will agree with my estimation of the wine.

Josh: Sure.

Stan: But I would never expect my readers to except a score as absolute. At one point I decided I would never score a wine lower then 80 points…Which I’ve changed since. What caused me to think that way was a wine I tasted that was produced by a local winery. I believe they were attempting to make a Bordeaux style wine from Red Mountain fruit, because the wine maker is a real Francophile. I don’t think you can do that because Red Mountain fruit is a real distinctive terroir.

Josh: I’m a firm believer that if you want to make a Bordeaux, move to Bordeaux. If you want to get as far away from Bordeaux to make a cab,  just move to Napa or Red Mountain.

Stan: He made a very soft, non-distinct wine that did not stress the Red Mountain fruit, the way I understand Red Mt. fruit, which I love. I was really harsh in my review of the wine because they were charging thirty-eight dollars for the bottle, and if I spent thirty-eight dollars on it I would be angry. But then I started thinking about the wine maker and what he was striving to do with that wine. He had an intention, and I’m sure he reached that goal. From a consumer’s standpoint it was a disappointment. Then I got to thinking that maybe I was too harsh on them. But then I reconsidered thinking that he should be able to understand what the consumer is looking for.

Josh: That’s part of the equation that we all have to solve while we’re doing this. I forgot who I was talking to the other day about this. Someone was saying…’Is that the best wine you can make there?’ I said… ‘The best is so subjective.’ What’s my style target? I have to answer that one first. Who’s going to buy this wine? At what price point? And what are they expecting of it? Then, what are my materials to work with. Where are the grapes, where are the barrels? What do I have? Which I should have lined that up to match that question first. So in order to answer that question first I have to make sure I have the right fruit and the right barrels, so that I can craft the right wine for that particular style. And hopefully, when that consumer buys it they’re not just saying, yes this is what I expected, they’re saying this is a hell of a lot better then I expected, and it really hits what I was looking for. But one of the things I’m a big fan of personally, in trying to figure out the answers to all these questions is blind competitive statistics. Particularly in the high end category. I like going out and I like buying … If I want to make a Red Mountain cab … Buying other peoples Red Mountain cabs same vintage and same price point, tasting them all blind and writing up my honest notes. I surprise myself on how seldom I can identify my own wine in a line-up. Because when you put it in this context, suddenly what you thought was big and fruity is a little more structured and earthy. Maybe it’s a little bigger and fruity then you thought it was. The tough part though, is being brutally honest with yourself and try to separate the person from the product. So that you can taste that wine, realizing that you put your heart and soul into it, and it almost feels like your child, but in the end you still have to judge it as severely as you judge the wines next to it on the table. If you can do that successfully, I think that changing your wine making, and your expectations is also realistic in the future. And that’s the only way to grow as an artist.

Stan: I like that. I remember talking with the owner of a winery who struggled with the perception of wines that their wine maker has. The wine maker is against oak influenced wines. I myself have had several discussions with that wine maker on the subject of oak. I personally like oak influence on let’s say for instance, cabernet franc. I like the elements it adds to the wine such as mocha, chocolate, tobacco leaf, etc. It adds complexity that is not in a cab franc that is not oak influenced. The same is true of cabernet sauvignon. Oak can add layers of spice and other elements.

Josh: Getting back to your analogy of food. I think red meat and salt or red wine and oak is a perfect analogy. If you have a really nice steak, and you don’t put a little salt on it, you’re not going to get all the steak flavor out of it. If you have a really good cab, and you don’t put a little oak on it, you’re not going to get the real cab flavor out of it. I think the most common mistake is over- oaking. So I am actually dialing back our oak levels at the winery. I’m also changing the way we are oaking it, by getting the wine on to the oak a lot sooner. So basically, as soon as it’s almost done with alcoholic fermentation, before malolactic starts, we’re going down to barrel. And then we’re dialing the oak level way back. The Rhone varieties except for syrah, will see no new oak at all. The syrahs in 2012 are going to be about 20% new French oak but it will be puncheons not barriques. And then the high end Bordeaux varieties will be about 40% new french oak, and that’s about it. We’ve increased our french oak order almost tenfold, since the last vintage because of my preference.

Stan: So obviously you prefer french over American oak.

Josh: It depends on where the wine is going. If I’m going to make a thirty dollar plus bottle of wine, and the expectation is single vineyard and I’m trying to express the best terroir then absolutely I prefer french. If I’m talking fifteen to twenty dollar a bottle, and it’s suppose to be a soft, kind of quaffable, bright vanilla, toasty, clean finish, buy in the supermarket today and drink tonight, I’m actually a fan of American oak. I think using french oak would be like putting truffle oil on mac and cheese… Actually that sounds good!

Stan: Do you use new American oak on the supermarket wines?

Josh: The supermarket wines I would use new American oak barrels, but only about 25%…It would be a very low level. For two reasons: 1) I think it’s too much. 2) Price point, I just can’t afford it. These are actually from neutral barrels. (Referring to two barrel samples of syarh Josh brought with him.)

Stan: The sample on my right is Clifton Vineyards syrah?

Josh: Yes, actually Clifton Hills. And the one on the left is Kathryn Leon Vineyards. The weird thing is the soils are quite different but the vineyards are about only a mile away. They’re very close to each other yet they’re very, very different.

Stan: Who’s your favorite wine maker? Who do you look up to? Is that something that wine makers do? Do you guys look at another wine and like the style, want to ask them questions. ?

Josh: It depends on which variety. I’m going to throw out a few names, and it is going to become apparent which styles I like. For grenache, and I adore grenache, probably my favorite variety… Actually grenache and cab are the two I drink the most of. I love Alban grenache. I had two at home and now I have one. The night I had the first one was an amazing night. I’m on their mailing list, and I’m on Saxon’s mailing list. Manfred Krankel from Sine Qua Non… There’s a quote of his that I read in an article that I have always looked up to, and I’ve always aspired to him as a wine maker. When he was starting, he went straight from a restauranteur to being a wine maker, and he starts hitting home runs right off the bat. Someone asked him how was he doing it so well? He said, that it was pretty easy…. I went on all these winery tours when I first started, and listened to what all these wine makers and vineyard owners said they were doing, and then I actually did those things.

Stan: (Laughs) That’s cool. His wines are phenomenal, especially his grenache. I have a friend who is on the mailing list, so I have had opportunity to try a few.The first Manfred Krankel wine I tried, was like… Wow! I also personally like the Mollydooker wines. Sometimes they can be almost over-extracted like so many from that area in Australia. However, they are almost as hedonistic as you can get without being over-the-top.

Josh: Personally that is a style I like. Honestly I think part of it is that my first few years of making wines I was making wine in the Finger Lakes in New York. I was going out for job interviews in Napa and I brought some of my wine along with me. I was the assistant wine maker so it wasn’t really my wine all the way. I was in a tasting room in Napa Valley and I was talking with someone in the tasting room. We were tasting some of the chardonnay and I said I brought some of my own wine that I made. He said he would love to taste it. I poured it and he said….” I don’t smell anything.” I mean, the wines we were making were so elegant and delicate which is actually a rouge for saying that they had no character to them. So I’ve always  wanted to make wines that were deep, rich and intense and hedonistic so you didn’t have to search for something in there. What you had do is search to separate what those things were because your senses are being assaulted all at once.

Stan: I love those wines.

Josh: I like Quilceda Creek cabs. I know that some wine makers give them a bad rap, not publicly, but I think part of that is jealousy for all the accolades they receive.

Stan: I’m not a huge fan myself, but all I’ve tasted is older vintages from the eighties. My friend Ted, you’re sales rep,  has told me that some of the vintages from the nineties have been stellar. I trust his palate, so I guess I’ll have to revisit.

Josh: I think the ’03, ’05 and ’07 are outstanding vintages. They were pretty ripe vintages so these wines are big, hedonistic reds. There is oak, but I think it is in the right balance. Dusted Valley is in the process of making this “Red HeavenVineyards” cabernet. I’ve been consulting them for a few months, and I think I have them convinced to bottle it by itself. It’s just so big and voluptuous and it’s a huge mouthfeel with ample tannins, but they are in balance with the extract. The fruit just pours over the palate. It was either that or try to  blend it with something that would basically negate a lot of it’s character. That was the option, so I think they will bottle it separately. I told them that if they don’t bottle it separately, that I will tell the guys that own the vineyard that you’re not going to bottle it separately and that next year I should get the fruit instead.

Stan: Ruthless.

Josh: I was joking of course. Long term of course I hope I can get some fruit from that vineyard. Right now I’m pretty excited because I have a contract for a couple of tons of Elephant Mt. cab sauv. It shares a lot of similarities to Red Mountain in terms of huge tannins really big, expressive fruit. But, the fruit characters are a lot brighter. More of like a blackberry/currant vs. the plum characteristics of of Red Mt. The acids are a little more pronounced then Red Mountain.

Stan: I’m waiting for someone to do a cinsault in Washington. I tasted a cinsault from Dusted Valley that blew my mind. Unfortunately they  didn’t make a lot of it. I told them if they had more I would have bought twenty cases for the store. I was talking with Ken Waliser who is the manager of Sagemoore Vineyards and is part of the Washington Wine Commission. I asked if cinsault would do well in Washington , and he thought it could be a viable grape in the area. He lamented the decline of syrah in Washington State since it is such a good varietal for this region. It is nice to say, that I have seen a surge in syrah sales over the last few months. It looks like it is starting to get a grip on the market again.

Josh: I’ve seen in the last couple of years, the Washington style of syrah start to come into focus a little better. It’s still very different depending on the site you are working with. Washington syrahs, and with Washington reds in general I think there is a greater willingness of the wine makers to let the herbal characters come through. Particularly in the syrah.  Both of these samples are the Phelps clone syrah. If you don’t have at least a hint of lavender in the aromas in the syrah I don’t think that you’re really expressing the variety and the clone very well. I get a lot more in the Clifton Hill then the Kathryn Leon. In my last job we bottled a cinsault a couple of years for the wine club, for Ste. Michelle. I would get a case of it for the summer and put it in the fridge. Chill it down to fridge temperature and drink it almost cold. That was a great summer red.

Stan: I thought that the Dusted Valley cinsault was actually bigger then I expected.

Josh: Their cinsault comes from a vineyard called Stoney Vines which literally butts up right against Christophe from Cayuse, his vineyard which is on the rocks. It makes really big wines. They have a syrah that they’re going to bottle from 2011 that has that earthy, funky kinda  meaty syrah thing going on that is really lovely. Very very distinct.

Stan: Syrah is one of my favorites. I really like this Kathryn Leon syrah.

Josh: I prefer the Kathryn Leon over the Clifton Hills.

Stan: They’re both good, it just seems as if the Kathryn Leon has more complexity.

Josh: Yes.

Stan: I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge fan of black tea, tobacco leaf and spice in my wines. When they have those elements I get all giddy.

Josh: Yes, those are some of the characters I enjoy, especially in the Rhone varietals. And in it’s own right I think the Clifton Hills is a wonderful, beautiful, elegant wine. And I think having them together is a stronger statement then doing one or the other. It really highlights the uniqueness of the terroir.

Stan: Yes. I think there is a time for one and a time for the other. Certainly one has quite a bit more spice.

I really like the recent release of the Milbrandt pinot gris. I love the minerals and acidity in that wine. It’s fantastic, and it smells like perfectly ripe pears, but it doesn’t taste like pears.

Josh: It comes from two different regions. It comes from Ancient Lakes vineyard up near Evergreen and also from Yakima Valley. So the minerality and acidity come from the Ancient Lakes vineyard, and then the ripe pear is the Yakima Valley. Yakima Valley fruit adds a little more fatness to the mouth, because that is what we were looking for. We didn’t want to balance the acid with sugar, we wanted to balance the acid with density. So, the Yakima Valley pinot gris that we had, had the good fruit, it was actually a little more melon then what’s coming through in the wine, but it also had a lot more broadness in the palate. When you put the real steely acid from the Ancient Lakes vineyard against it, it just kind of did that, it came together. Our 2011 Traditions riesling is sourced similarly. More flinty, steely, bright acid from Ancient Lakes, but it has a little Yakima Valley pop in the mouth.

Stan: I’ve got to try that.

Josh: Here’s the bottle of wine you need to try. The 2011 Evergreen Vineyard Dry Riesling… 0.4% residual sugar, and it is a wine that would be perfect with oysters. It’s from one of the oldest sections of Evergreen, so it has the density from older vines giving it the concentration. But it has this amazingly bracing acid. There is a lot of fruit there, but mostly it smells like wet rocks.

Stan: I love that, I’ll have to give that a try. I’m also a big riesling guy, and right now riesling is hot. I can barely keep it on the shelf.

Let me ask you this, what are you bringing to the table at Milbrandt that is different from your predecessor?

Josh: The wine maker prior to me was using slightly different wine making techniques. His expression of certain characters varied in their tensity compared to what I am doing. Grenache is a good example. I like grenache that is big and intense and really assaults the senses with aromas and palate. Even though it’s huge and dense, it is still soft and round. The grenache that I’m making, we’re trying to crop it lower in the vineyard, we’re hanging it a little bit longer…Not a lot longer, and I’m doing the saignee method to concentrate it, because some of these blocks are young.

Stan: So you are making a rose with the saignee juice?

Josh: Yes, I think some of the rose we’re tasting tonight has some of the saignee juice in it. But then what’s left of the grenache juice we are doing a long slow, gentle fermentation with it so it stays on the skins for a long time before it goes down to barrel. Which produces a much more intense grenache. And I’m told what we did before was basically a much faster, shorter fermentation to get something that was bright and fruity but was soft and didn’t have the intensity, but was perhaps more appealing to a wider segment of the population. But it didn’t have that brooding intensity that I’m looking for.

Stan: I agree with your approach. Nothing is more disappointing to me then popping a bottle of grenache and getting strawberry pie without anything else, just a little flabby. I can understand why some people like it, but it’s not for me. I love a grenache that has a spicy edge to it..

Josh: I think grenache should smell like raspberry preserves mixed with lavender and dried thyme. If I can get that grenache, I feel like I’ve hit a home run.

Stan: Isn’t strawberry a prominent characteristic of grenache?

Josh: Yes, in the less ripe ones. In riper ones I get  blackberries. In most you not only get the raspberry and blackberry, you also get the leaves and stems.

Stan: Do you have a 2011 grenache cooking right now?

Josh: We have two of them.

Stan: So you are doing a vineyard designate grenache?

Josh: We had a bit of an epiphany a couple of days ago. I was sharing a bunch of these wines with the tasting staff and we have three different vineyards in our portfolio that begin with the word “Clifton”. We have Clifton, Clifton Hill and Clifton Bluff. And because I am so intimately connected with all of them, it’s like my two daughters: I can tell their personalities apart just by seeing how they play from a distance. To an outsider, they might get confused by them. I’m so connected to these vineyards that their nuances and everything are blown up and exaggerated in my mind, and so how could you not know that there is a Clifton, a Clifton Bluff and a Clifton Hill? C’mon, everyone knows that! So I’m sharing a Clifton Bluff and a Clifton grenache with the tasting room staff. The vineyards are no more then twenty yards apart, but they’re so vastly different. The analogy would be that the Clifton would be like the Kathryn Leon and the Clifton Bluff would be the Clifton Hill. The Clifton Bluff was bright and herbal and was not quite as intense. But the Clifton grenache was dark, was more that style I’m shooting for. And I’m talking about that and the group is looking confused. They’re saying wait, is that the Clifton Hill or the Clifton Bluff? No, there is no Clifton Hill, there is a Clifton and a Clifton Bluff. I’m sure if you’re playing this back you’re saying…”What the hell is he talking about.” The wines are speaking for themselves, but we’re trying to figure out how are we going to make it obvious to the consumer, because when you look at the labels it can be confusing because the names are so similar. The consumer goes to the tasting room and there are two different grenache and they have two very distinct reasons for being, and they’re both lovely. It’s kind of fun to see which one you like better. It’s my hope that the group that comes into the tasting room will get in a big argument over which grenache is better. It will be a fun argument and hopefully they will leave with a bottle of both, take them home,  drink them over dinner and swing back and forth.

Stan: After I tried your pinot gris, I told your rep. Ted that I am really excited to taste your reds. Since you were one of the red wine makers at Ste Michelle you probably didn’t dabble in whites too much.

Josh: I had a six year semi-hiatus from the whites. I was still involved with them. I helped out with some of the blending, and we occasionally blended a few lots of whites where I was working.

Stan: As far as the wines we’re tasting tonight, did you tweak any of them when you stepped in last year?

Josh: The division between the old and the new is that the ’11 whites are entirely mine and the ’10’s are none of mine. The ’10 reds I found in barrel, I put the blends together and I tweaked them. So the ’10 reds are half Gordy’s and half mine. The ’11 reds are 90% mine since the barrels were already ordered when I got there. I had to pick and choose the oak treatment. The ’12 reds will be completely mine.

Stan: I am excited for that. I think it is a smart choice for Milbrandt to bring you on board, if the gris is any indication.

Josh: Thank you. I’m really excited about my opportunities and what I can do now. I’ve been working for them a year and a day now. Yesterday was my one year anniversary. I’m consulting, I’m starting my own label, I’m taking these new wines and finding all the gems in there and getting them polished. The vineyard sources are phenomenal. And to be able to find the little diamonds in the rough, polish them and present them is so much fun.

I had this conversation with Joshua Maloney on August 9 over lunch. The ensuing tasting event took place later that afternoon, and Josh did and amazing job in his presentation to the group. I see a lot of good things coming our way from Milbrandt Vineyards in the future.

Sorry for the length of the article, but I wanted you to get most of what Josh had to share. I will post a review of his whites in a separate article. I would like to thank Josh for taking the time to share his knowledge with me and you. Cheers! Stan The Wine Man



About Stan The Wine Man

I am a blue collar wine guy who has been in the biz for over twenty years. I work at a store in a tourist destination stop. I work hard at finding the best wine for the money. I love the challenge of learning my customer's palate so I can find the best wine for them, whether it is Petrus or white zinfandel. Cheers!
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