Interview and tasting with Joel Gott of Joel Gott Wines
(April 5, 2001) 30-YEAR-OLD JOEL GOTT:
1. Makes some of California's best Zinfandel...
2. Co-owns Calistoga's coolest grocery, the Palisades Market...
3. Runs Napa Valley's hottest burger stand, Taylor's Refresher...
4. Operates the car wash next to Taylor's...
5. Heads up an export business while he's not doing all the above...
6. Got up at 2 this morning to fight a vineyard frost out in Amador...
7. Is cooking dinner tonight for the St. Helena firemen...
No wonder he talks so fast! And Lord
knows how he found the time to talk with us for an hour. But look, there he is
and here we sit at a picnic table in front of Taylor's. The sun is shining,
the Ahi Tuna Burgers taste fantastic, the Zin is inky nectar and I'm
scribbling as fast as I can.
APJ: So what is marvelous stuff we're drinking, Joel?
JG: It's our 1999 Dillian Ranch Zin from Amador County.
That's the place that got hit with the freeze this morning. Second morning
in a row. I hope it's warmer tonight. (It was.)
APJ: Tell me about the vineyard.
JG: It's a great site, out in the gold country, located in
the most northern and eastern end of the Shenadoah Valley.
APJ: How old are the vines?
JG: There are 12 acres, planted between 1920 and 1948. The
best were planted in the '30s.
APJ: Low yields?
JG: Yes, and they get even lower, because the wind can
really blow out there. It can literally knock half the flowers off the
vine. In '99, we only got about 3/4 of a ton per acre.
APJ: What's the price going to be?
JG: Suggested retail is $25 a bottle. We also made a
1999 Zinfandel Blend for $15.
APJ: I'm liking this stuff more and more. What goes
into the blend?
JG: The fruit comes from vineyards I like in Napa, Amador
and Lodi. It's our way of trying out different vineyards and establishing
a relationship with the growers.
"A lot of older farmers remember me from back
when I was riding the arm-pads of the tractor...four
APJ: How do find these growers? And what's your secret
of forming good relationships?
JG: Well, my family's been in the business for five
generations. So a lot of older farmers remember me from back when I was
riding the arm-pads of the tractor. I was four years old -- rode the
tractor all day long. I loved it!
APJ: Tell me more about your family. Who does what?
JG: My mom started Montevina out of our basement. My Dad
co-founded Corbett Canyon, then sold out after a couple of years. He was
also the first cellar employee at Sterling, and went on to become the CEO.
APJ: Yikes! Anybody who doesn't make wine? What about
JG: She's the winemaker for Joseph Phelps. Sarah Gott.
APJ: You're surrounded! So I guess there's a lot of
wine talk at the dinner table.
JG: You should hear all the arguments about wine. Thank
God Phelps doesn't make Zinfandel!
"I'll keep experimenting until I do something
so bad that I sink the winery."
APJ: What do you argue about?
JG: I like to try new things -- some work, some don't. But
I tell my family, "I'll keep experimenting until I do something so
bad that I sink the winery."
APJ: How long have you personally been at it? And what
do you make besides Zinfandel?
JG: Let's see. Ten years ago, I started making Sauvignon
Blanc in 10 gallon jugs, just for fun. That led to Pinot Grigio, then
Syrah, then Zinfandel.
APJ: Anything else?
JG: Chardonnay. Half of it's barrel-fermented and the
other half made in stainless steel. The blend has a nice bite to it.
APJ: Let's talk about Taylor's. It's been around longer
than you. How did you get into this business?
"[Robert Parker] named us one of his Best Meals of
the Year and...I had to teach all the kids at the counter how to explain
that we don't take reservations."
JG: Back when we were still in school, I used to tell my
brother, "The wine business is too tough. Let's start a restaurant.
We'll get rich the easy way." (Laughs hard.) Anyhow, we bought
Taylor's in 1999. I thought we'd just have to fix a few things and we'd be
humming along. Turns out we had to replace nearly everything. As soon as I
thought we were done, another hole would open up. We needed 2 architects
and 3 engineers.
APJ: Is anything left that's original?
JG: Maybe 30 planks and that green cement pad in front.
APJ: But now you're really cooking.
JG: Yes, things really got crazy after this big, friendly
guy started eating here. He came back maybe 6 times. Really seemed to
enjoy the food. Then a friend across the street came over and asked me,
"Do you know who that is? It's Parker."
APJ: Robert Parker the wine critic?
JG: Yes, but my friend has an Asian accent, so I didn't
quite understand the name. Then all of a sudden it hit me. "Oh,
APJ: And then...?
JG: He named us one of his Most Memorable Meals of 1999
and all hell broke loose. I had to teach all the kids at the counter how
to answer the phone and explain very nicely that we're a roadside stand
and don't take reservations.
APJ: Any celebrities show up?
JG: Robert Redford and Joe Montana have been here often.
They come up to the counter like everyone else.
APJ: Let's talk about your other businesses. How long
have you run the Palisades Market?
JG: We bought it ten years ago. It was an old health food
store. But the Car Wash over there may be the most interesting business of
all. Whenever anyone needs quarters or dollars, they know who to come to.
APJ: So that's your favorite business?
JG: Maybe the boat detailing business I ran with my
brother when we were teenagers.
APJ: Sounds like hard work though...
JG: Oh no! We hired other kids to do the work.
APJ: Joel, this has really been a pleasure and I
k-n-o-w you have other things to do!
TASTING NOTES: The **1999 Joel Gott Zinfandel Amador
County Dillian Ranch is a big black bombshell of a wine. Aromas
of plum and blackberries, very thick and peppery on the palate, with a
good finish. Alcohol is around 15%, but in balance with the fruit. Drinks
well now and will probably continue to do so for the next few years. We
also tasted the ***Ahi Tuna Burger, California Chicken Sandwich, Rings
and White Pistachio Shake at Taylor's. Heaven!
For more information about where to buy Joel Gott wines,
see his website, gottwines.com.
Taylor's Refresher is located on Highway 29 in St. Helena, across the
street from Merryvale Winery and Tra Vigne. Palisades Market is located in
Calistoga, on the eastern end of the main drag.
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