We had a conversation with Laura Barrett – a passionate winemaker in Northern California. She currently works at Clif Family Winery where she helps make organic wines through sustainable practices. She spoke to us about the sustainability at Clif Family, why she loves the science of wine, and what she wishes more people knew about the art of making wine for a living.
When did you first know that you wanted to become a winemaker?
I first became interested in wine during my third year of college. I was studying chemistry and quickly realized that I did not want a career in a laboratory setting. I was too far along to switch majors, so I promised myself that I would finish my degree, then find an interesting application; one that balanced science with people and the outdoors. After graduating, I traveled to the southern hemisphere where I worked the harvest season picking grapes at a small winery on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. I fell in love with the industry and became fascinated with fermentation science. It was here that I realized winemaking would be my career.
In your opinion, what is the most fascinating thing about wine?
The most fascinating thing about wine is the science! Fermentation, wine stability, tannin and pigment, oxidation, grape biochemistry….it’s all fascinating!
What is something you wish more people knew or understood about your job?
Harvest only happens once a year and every vintage is different. What’s interesting about this, and what most people do not consider, is that a winemaker with 25 years of experience has only made wine 25 times. It’s not a lot. So, we need to remember every move, every heat spell, every stuck fermentation, and how we handled it in order to make good decisions on what’s happening today.
What is the most surprising (in a good way!) wine you’ve had recently?
The most surprising wine that I have had recently was Belavoda, a red blend of Plavec and Vranec from the Tikves region of Macedonia. So many names I had not heard before and it was delicious.
You’ve been in the wine industry for 15 years – what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned or piece of advice you’ve been given over the course of your career?
As winemakers, we make hundreds of decisions on every single wine we make. The most valuable lesson I have learned over the years is that sometimes the best decision is to do nothing. There are times to intervene, but the very best wines I have made were a product of patience.
Why do you feel it is important to incorporate sustainable practices into the winemaking process? And how is Clif Family Winery doing so?
The starting point to incorporating sustainable practices into the winemaking process is farming our vineyards organically. There are many good reasons for this, but the most simple and powerful reason is to keep harmful pesticides out of our wines. All of our Estate vineyards at Clif Family are CCOF certified organic and we make every possible effort to source from organic grower partners.