2012 November by Curt Dahl
One of my favorite things to do at J&C besides building beautiful wine rooms is to conduct interviews for our blog. I always find myself learning so many different things after spending time with interesting people, and our latest blog certainly fits that bill: Jayson Pahlmeyer.
Pahlmeyer happens to be one of my favorite wines (Robert Parkers as well) and one of my favorite people. He is still full of energy, inspiration, knowledge, and of course vigor. How else do you describe a former trial attorney who smuggled French clones so that he could create the first “California Mouton?”
J&C will be offering some amazing Pahlmeyer wines directly from Jayson so if you have an interest please let us know.
I caught up with Jayson and he was kind enough to share some of his stories:
What age were you introduced to wine?
I grew up in the industrial city of Oakland, California, home of the Hells Angels, the Black Panthers, and a little law firm by the name of Hoss and Pahlmeyer. Neither of my parents drank wine or had any interest in it. I just became intrigued by the whole idea of wine, and still am to this day. We are just about to commence the 2012 harvest and my amazement is still the same, that you can take a simple grape growing on a vine out in the dirt, and make it into an elixir like Pahlmeyer red and pour it into a big huge glass, pour it in and realize you don’t even have to drink it to just fall in love with it because of all the wonderful flavors and character you get out of the glass… and that is what just set me off on the odyssey.
I asked Helen Turley (his winemaker for almost 15 years): Robert Parker would always describe our Merlot with flavors of chocolate…he would describe it like “liquid snickers” and I said to her how the hell did we get this? Her answer was God only knows, it’s just mother nature…and that just boggles my mind! This is my 26th harvest and even today I am still blown away by all of the different flavors.
How did you get in the wine making game?
From a curiosity intellectual level, from tasting wine and collecting wine. I got into the game as a consumer…my first wines were Robert Mondavi Cabernets…I started taking my own tasting notes (he still has massive volumes), where I was tasting it, where I bought the wine, who I was tasting it with, what I paid for it, my analysis of when the wine would mature…I was and still am obsessed. It’s my passion and I love it. I would spend every waking moment tasting wine, even started a tasting group in law school. Some of his professors even joined…(I asked if it helped in his grades. His reply…it didn’t hurt!)
Are you involved in the wine making process?
I have never held myself out to be a wine maker…I know a damn lot about wine and I participate in the blending sessions but I never dictate the final blend. I am smart enough to let my wine maker do that. I have had a wonderful string of wine makers starting with Randy Dunn, Helen Turley, and then Helen Turley’s protege Erin Green…can’t do better than that! Same thing happened with how I started making chardonnay. It started with the wine maker from Merryvale, Bob Levy, who then went on to fame and fortune at Harlan Estates. He was the one who made the ’91 chard that was chosen by Wine Spectator as the wine of the year and was featured in the movie Disclosure with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore.
How has Napa and wine making changed over the years?
Well, it started off as farms…and you were a farmer. Then farmers started making grapes and then eventually wine. Fast forward to today and most of my competitors are very wealthy in another field and they make what I call “statement” wines. They are usually not in it for the profit which makes it hard on a guy like myself. It’s just another trophy with their name on it. It’s VERY capital intensive.
Are there any areas which you think are still up and coming?
Sonoma County…it’s still very raw with huge opportunities.
Thoughts on the 2012 growing season?
AWESOME! INCREDIBLE! It’s just fantastic and you will be hearing alot about it (following 2 rough years in 2010 and 2011).
Thoughts on Robert Parker leaving?
It’s kinda got the wine world upside down…Parker had a certain kind of wine he loved (which included Pahlmeyer) and now Galloni takes over with an entirely different palate, and he is in the process of anointing various wineries with the mantle of 100 points that never even got reviewed by Parker because Parker did not like them. So you are seeing a real flip flop where some 100 point wines for decades may be receiving 85 and vice-versa. It’s going to be very confusing to both the consumer and of course the wine makers.
Are you adjusting your wine making in any way?
No sir, steady as she goes. My wines have always been what I like and fortunately they have been successful.
If you could have dinner with 2 people, who would they be and what would you drink?
Muhammad Ali and Bill Clinton. I always thought Ali was “the greatest” and Bill Clinton just seems like such a cool guy…and what I would like to do is pour 1997 prop red and the 2007 prop red. I would start with the young wine then finish with the more mature wine..I would have big, rich, heavy food which really compliment my wines. Ribs, pulled pork, and smokey barbecue.
Any kids following in your foot steps?
Yes, Cleo is starting to take the reins and will soon be the face of Pahlmeyer. She now runs the tastings and the tours. Ralph is on the East coast and in finance…AND an eleven year old who just causes trouble! And most important is Basso, who works in the winery, who is our 6-year old pug.
What’s on the horizon for Pahlmeyer?
We have gone through a big change. I am 67 and my job is to bring young new blood into the company which starts with Cleo and our new wine maker in Napa and another 32-year old for our vineyard in Sonoma. So we are revitalizing our company with new young blood.
What’s the importance of cellaring wine?
Well, I can tell you that the importance of cellaring wine goes back to your question about who I would like to have dinner with and what would I serve. You would need proper storage to be able to serve a 1997 bottle of wine. If you are going to collect wine, it has to be stored properly with temperature, humidity, and of course as little natural light as possible. It’s crucial.
And I have to say Jayson looks dapper in the Joseph and Curtis Custom Wine Cellar shirt!!