Wednesdays with Winemakers – David Tate
David Tate, a native of British Columbia, Canada, is the Proprietor and Winemaker of TATE. For nearly 20 years, he has worked all over the world in many facets of premium wine production. As well as hand-crafting TATE wines, David is the winemaker and manager for one of the most renowned boutique wineries in the Napa Valley, Barnett Vineyards, where he has produced multiple vintages of critically acclaimed wines.
Prior to his work with Barnett, David was the assistant winemaker at Ridge Vineyards for five years atop Montebello in the Santa Cruz Mountains; his years with Ridge laid the groundwork for David’s commitment to quality and understanding of what it takes to produce premium, world-class wine with a sense of place. In addition, David has worked in the Barossa Valley, Australia; Provence, France; Canterbury, New Zealand and has traveled to every fine wine region in the world. David graduated from Brock University in 2002, with an Honors Degree in Enology and Viticulture. David’s research work has been published and he is an advocate for wine education, helping to teach portions of the Wine and Spirits Education trust in his free time.
Why did you become a winemaker?
It was a fortuitous accident. After hitchhiking most of North, Central and South America I decided to take my travels to Australia. I was in need of a job and decided I wanted to work on a farm. Upon applying to an agency that places workers on farms, I had a choice between a pig farm or a vineyard.
If you weren’t a winemaker what would you be and why?
My initial dream was to be a Conservation Officer in Canada, to protect animals from poachers and the forests from companies stepping out of bounds. I respect the need for industry and respect hunting, but believe conservation needs to occur for the future.
What is your greatest strength as a winemaker?
‘Hands on’ is an overused term, and seems to apply to people who write work orders and returns to see if they have been carried out. Whenever possible, I am on the crush pad or in the cave physically working.
What is your biggest weakness as a winemaker?
I have a very hard time delegating, which leads to me doing some hands-on-things that I should be allowing others to do.
What’s the one mistake you made in the cellar you would never repeat?
Having worked with a great winery, Ridge Vineyards, that uses American oak, in my first year I trialed American oak on some of the Chardonnay here at Barnett Vineyards–it did not yield the same results.
What is your proudest achievement?
One is that after ten years of working for Barnett Vineyards I look back and see how I’ve changed the entire landscape of the winery, vineyard and the wines. The other is the foundation and success of my own label Tate Wines. It is easy to sit back and not pursue dreams, and it was a giant leap to found my own label, but one that is paying off.
What was your scariest vintage to date?
It is weird to say 2007, since it was a great vintage in the books and it was a great vintage for me. However, it was the first vintage on my own as a head winemaker. I had a great cellar worker with me, but no one to turn to discuss steps, and how things were turning out. Ten years later, I am happy that I was able to swim not sink during that vintage.
What is your favorite word? Saying?
Live by the score, die by the score. I should preface this by saying I immensely appreciate the amount of work and tenacity that goes into being a wine critic. As well as that we get very good scores, and more importantly I appreciate the descriptions, but if a number out of one hundred is what you sell your wine on, then you should not be in the business and might not be one day when your number is low.
What is your most prized possession?
My cherry red 1970 Volkswagen Westphalia bus. There is nothing like rolling the windows down and cruising in it on a sunny day.
What’s the oddest thing about you?
I don’t like bubbles. Everyone loves Champagne and Sparkling wine, except me.
What song best sums you up?
Small Town – John Mellencamp, this song just sums up for me that great feeling of rolling down the windows on my VW bus and heading somewhere simple on vacation.
What is your favorite memory?
Fifteen years ago selling everything I have and getting in my car to drive from Ontario, Canada to California. I was so filled with excitement and fear at the same time.
Which of the five senses is your strongest?
My sense of smell over taste. The aromatics of a wine can sell me over the palate of a wine.
What is your biggest motivation?
Calculating out the amount of wine I make a year, and adjusting for wines put away in the cellar, on average 225 bottles of wine that I have made are drunk a day. The idea that these bottles are opened amongst friends and families enjoying life is immense motivation to me.
Which bottle(s) of wine would choose to be stranded with on a deserted island?
At first it may seem egotistical to say one of my Cabs but if I was truly stranded on a deserted island, I would want to reminisce about the great farmers, employees and all the people I get to work with who all contribute into what makes a great bottle of wine. I think that is more important than saying a famous vintage of a famous label that I have no personal connection to.
What is the difference between a good and great wine?
Very good wines can be made by big wineries that delegate style, production numbers and are carried out via work orders. Great wines are made by people, a great grower and a great winemaker.
Name three individuals you would like to have dinner with.
Dead: Churchill, Hemingway and my Grandpa. Alive: Justin Trudeau, Anthony Bourdain.
Who is your winemaking hero?
Eric Baugher, with great adversity he persisted with kindness.
What does the concept of “balance” mean to you?
Everything, and when someone says “your wines are so balanced” it is the biggest complement. It is not just the acidity balancing out the tannins, it is the aromatics properly in play with the palate. It is the finish of the wine matching all of the aforementioned.
What is the one thing you want people to remember about your wine?
That our farmers farm, and that this winemaker actually makes the wine. That although I make the wine in my style, I am making it to be enjoyed by the people who support us.
Best comment made about your wine? Was it by a consumer, trade or press?
My wife! She says that She fell in love with me before she ever met me after tasting my 2007 Merlot.
Also by my niece, she sent me a card saying “Thank you for sending Mommy wine” and drew a stick figure of my sister with a huge smile and a glass of wine in her hand!