Wednesdays with Winemakers – Austin Peterson
Austin Peterson is one of the most thoughtful winemakers that I have ever met.
Austin’s father and mentor, Tom Peterson, was a winemaker whose impressive career included growing grapes for Beringer Vineyards. Subsequently, he became VP and GM of Beringer’s luxury wine division.
While at UC Davis, Peterson partially paid his tuition by making small lots of his own wine. Post-graduation, he traveled and worked harvests in Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa and France, where he learned from the famed consultant Michel Rolland.
These days, Austin Peterson’s wines are among the most sought-after in the country. His unwavering commitment to viticulture and love of farming heavily contributes to his uncanny ability to extract the essence of fruit in the cellar. He crafts exceptionally harmonious, sensationally seamless and highly memorable wines.
Why did you become a vintner/winemaker?
I grew up in a winemaking family; however I never thought I would be in the business. I was studying mechanical engineering at UC Davis and thought I would take an Intro to Wine course just to check it out. That first class was instant confirmation for me. What I had grown up around was what I really wanted to do.
If you weren’t a winemaker what would you be and why?
Probably a farmer. I love playing in the dirt, creating something and being able to see the day’s progress.
What is your greatest strength as a vintner/winemaker?
Curiosity and variety of experience. I have worked in all sizes of cellars all over the globe. Being able to look at each step of the process through multiple lenses has been a tremendous help to me.
What is your biggest weakness as a vintner/winemaker?
My desire to make sure everything is done to the highest level – delegation is not my strong suit.
What’s the one mistake you made in the cellar you would never repeat?
There are too many to list.
What is your proudest achievement?
The 2011 Ovid. That year presented a number of challenges and wasn’t one were I was certain of how it would turn out. I am thrilled with the wine and proud to see that all the effort and thought that went into each step of that vintage from pruning to bottling really paid off.
What was your scariest vintage to date?
2011. It was a vintage where you were in uncharted territory for Napa. You really had to trust your intuition and hope that the decisions you were making were right.
What is your favorite saying?
“Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
What is your most prized possession?
What’s the oddest thing about you?
I prefer pie to cake.
What is your favorite memory?
While I was in college I would spend the summers working in a winery or vineyard and then spend the evenings making a little wine for myself to help pay for school. I have wonderful memories of spending late nights at my parent’s neighbor’s cellar sharing a bottle of wine and dinner with them as we crushed fruit or pressed a lot. There were a lot of laughs and stories, just a wonderful time.
Which of the 5 senses is your strongest?
Observation. Not a sense, but important because it requires all 5.
What is your biggest motivation?
That there is so much to learn and discover.
Which bottle of wine would choose to be stranded with on a deserted island?
What is the difference between a good and great wine?
Great wine has depth and character, balance and expression of place. It’s the difference between a simple paragraph and an eloquent poem.
Name 3 individuals you would like to have dinner with?
- H.W. Crabb, he planted and established much of the Tokalon vineyard.
- Emmet Rixford, he wrote The Wine Press and the Cellar at about the same time as Crabb was planting Tokalon.
- Agoston Haraszthy, founder of the Buena Vista winery. Having that history around the table would be amazing.
Who is your winemaking hero?
I have a lot of winemaking heroes, my father being one of them.
What does the concept of “balance” mean to you?
Having all things there in proportion; no elbows sticking out in one direction or another.
What is the one thing you want people to remember about your wine?
Hopefully that they enjoyed it!
Best comment made about your wine? Was it by a consumer, trade or press?
“That’s delicious!” – My mother.