Wednesdays with Winemakers – Jeff Gaffner
Jeff Gaffner is an extraordinary winemaker. His highly intuitive approach to his craft along with a formidable skill set has impressed me for years. His winemaking days began in 1981 at Chateau St. Jean, under the tutelage of legendary Richard Arrowood. With sixteen successful years under his belt and a great deal of critical and consumer acclaim, he started his own brand, Saxon Brown. He is also a consulting winemaker for several luxury labels such as Black Kite Cellars, Hestan, Ram’s Gate and Xtant. He treats each brand and grape variety he works with the utmost thoughtfulness and careful consideration and the results are spectacular.
Why did you become a vintner/winemaker?
By accident. Starting working at a few different wineries and vineyards as a kid/young man and fell in love with it.
If you weren’t a vintner/winemaker what would you be and why?
Baseball coach. Love the game and teaching baseball. Baseball teaches you so much about life and how to overcome failures. Ex. the best hitter ever failed to get a hit 6 out of 10 times.
What is your greatest strength as a vintner/winemaker?
I’ve done almost everything from the vineyard to the bottle.
What is your biggest weakness as a vintner/winemaker?
Not sure. I guess wanting to make too many different wines.
What’s the one professional mistake you made that would never repeat?
Not starting Saxon Brown sooner.
What is your proudest achievement?
My two sons!
What was your scariest vintage to date?
1989! Not even close. 2011 was a cake walk compared to 1989.
What is your favorite word or saying?
Fall in love with what you do.
What is your most prized possession?
My great grandfather’s pocket knife. From what I’m told we’re a lot alike.
What’s the oddest thing about you?
I ask lots of questions. My father gave me one of the greatest gifts with knowing it. He would always tell “if you don’t know it, figure it out.”
What song best sums you up?
This may be the hardest question, I have no idea. I listen to music every day and every day I have a favorite.
What is your favorite memory?
I have four. The days my sons were born. A day in Hawaii. And my first kiss with Tracey.
Which of the five senses is your strongest?
What is your biggest motivation?
Joy and fear of failure.
Which bottle(s) of wine would choose to be stranded with on a deserted island?
Not a fair question to a winemaker. Too many choices and not a big enough island.
What is the difference between a good and great wine?
Great wine can and should always tell the vineyard’s story and how the winemaker views the site. It should have a soul.
Name three individuals you would like to have dinner with?
Henry Aaron, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and my father.
Who is your winemaking hero?
So many. My first: Richard Arrowood.
What does the concept of “balance” mean to you?
In wine – a wine you can have by itself or with a meal.
What is the one thing you want people to remember about your wine?
I hope they have a sense of place and time. I want my wine to seduce you and draw you in. But most importantly I want them to be a gateway to a great day, meal, evening with people you love. A great bottle of wine can help create a wonderful memory with family and friends.
Best comment made about your wine? Was it by a consumer, trade or press?
“Your wines are seductive.”