The Weekly Wine Journal was lucky enough to catch up with Jeff Mangahas, wine-maker for Hartford Court Wines at a recent tasting at AZ Wine Company in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Jeff took over as chief wine-maker in April of 2006 and since then he has managed a seamless transition. The 2007 Land’s End Pinot Noir and the 2007 Velvet Sisters Anderson Valley Pinot Noir both received 94 points from Wine Enthusiast. The 2007 Arrendell Vineyard received 95 points from Wine Enthusiast. The 2007 Four Hearts Chardonnay received 96 points from Robert Parker. These are some seriously impressive results from a fairly shy and very humble guy. I wanted to use my brand new shiny flip cam for the interview, but Jeff was a little camera shy, but he kindly allowed me to record the audio of our conversations so I could transcribe them later. He did allow me to film his address to all the attendees of the wine tasting, which you will find directly below.
How did you get into wine?
“… growing up once I got out of college I started to earn some money, started to eat out at restaurants in Seattle and it was just sort of a natural extension…both my parents were great cooks so I leaned how to cook at a young age, and going out to restaurants with my then girlfriend, now wife…we would go out to eat and order wine…and having a scientific mind I said “wow this is cool I can taste these different flavours and it was very interesting so started to dig deep a little bit more and started to read wine magazines and at that point I just said “wow I want to learn more and more about the process” and I became more and more interested..that kind of developed over 9 years, and I would go up to Woodinville and taste different wines from Washington and then began investigating Oregon Pinot Noir and all these other wines that were nearby. And then I started to collect wines and actually travel more…the great thing about moving out East was the great wines available in the great restaurants of New York City and being exposed to the whole world of wine. Not just the Washington State wines but all the wines. Not long after I graduated from college I travelled to France and I went to Bordeaux! To taste wines! And I was 22 years old! So basically I had a real sincere interest in wine. I had a good career as a researcher, published papers ect but then decided I needed something a little bit more…I thought what else can I do…I love wine, love food, love eating and decided to go back to and get a degree in wine making in about 1999/2000 and my wife and I moved to California, and I got a masters degree.
Did you find your Biology background really helped?”
Jeff: Absolutely, really really helpful actually. The UC Davis program where I went is very scientifically orientated and you need a lot of biology and chemistry in order to get into the program. And I had all of that but I needed to learn about the craft and get out into the world and work the harvest and learn about real wine making. And even today I’m really into the numbers, but the more and more you get into it, it’s more about the craft of wine making. If anything, having a science background has taught me to have a very detail orientated approach, making these wines is very detail orientated, and that’s a good trait to have.
Explain the concept of High risk high reward
Jeff: That’s a term that we use that’s sort of akin to people in the sense that sometimes you have to undergo some kind of adversity to be who you are today, in order to grow as a person and be wise
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?
Jeff: Ya exactly. And high risk high reward is along those lines, where when the grapes grow in very risky places like where a lot of our vineyards are…very cold, wind swept, challenging, low vigor, and out of that you can make some of the very best wines
So if it works then it really really works, and if doesn’t then just don’t use it
Jeff: Exactly. I like using that analogy of people, where you’ve got to struggle to create character and it’s totally true in wines, and Pinot noir is along with Chardonnay, one of the greatest variety’s to be, that can be so expressive of place. Certainly the structure of Pinot noir, its not super big with dark fruits
So that leads me into my next question, do you think it’s a characteristic of the grape, the Pinot Noir, or is it more to do with the location…that that location is the only location the Pinot will thrive?
Jeff: It’s definitely the area and the soil because, there are so many different effects, for example if you’re in a cold spot the fruit set can be very different, and how much drainage there is in the soil can determine how concentrated the fruit can be. Soil has the biggest influence in quality of the wine and the personality of the wine, by far. And my job as a wine maker is to listen to what that particular vineyard has to say based on all its influences, its Terroir, and listen to what it has to say express that and not mask it with my skills as a wine maker
So your job is to sense the Terroir and go with it instead of trying to force into a direction you want it to go
Jeff: Exactly and each year it’s different, the weather and the soils and the climates are a little different depending on how much rainfall we get in a particular year, all those things can influence the vintage
Has there been a lot of rainfall this year?
Jeff: This year we’re actually normal, the past 3 years have been extreme drought years, that’s changed the complexion of the wine, subtly, but enough that I can taste that in a wine
Would you like more rain?
Jeff: Great wines are about low vigor and getting concentration in the wine and generally we don’t want overly rainy, it’s great when we get a lot of rain in the spring time but you don’t want rain in the summertime, bottom line is you want stress on the vines to make the best possible quality
Besides wine, what other adult beverages do you enjoy?
Jeff: I enjoy a lot of things…during the wine making process we drink a lot of beer…there’s a saying that it takes 5 gallons of beer to make 1 gallon of wine…
You drink beer to..?
Jeff: It’s refreshing
Clears up your palate a little?
Jeff: No its more just for fun, I also like a lot of Bourbon’s, single malt’s.
So overall how did the 2007 vintage go?
Jeff: The growing conditions throughout the season were perfect, it was a drought year, 2007 was a drought year, there was moisture in the ground, but not an incredible amount. There were no issues with flowering so we had good fruit set, we had an ample amount of fruit on the vines, not too much, not too low. The early growing season was perfect, it was a long season, there was no rain through the growing season and during the harvest there was no rain, so basically we could pick when we wanted to. Typically there are actually some heat spikes in the beginning or end of August or early September where it’s like you panic a little bit and you don’t want the fruit to become too too ripe…so when you don’t have these huge fluctuations in temperature you can harvest when you want to in the most optimal and most pristine conditions. That’s what made the vintage spectacular, the growing conditions, the harvest conditions, everything was ideal across the board.