I was thrilled and honored to have Drew Voit of Harper Voit Wines (Harper is his middle name) as a guest speaker for a late April Wine Talk Wednesday, Wine Library's weekly informal seminar and sampling. Harper Voit is a tiny winery in the Willamette Valley, producing Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc.
The quality of his wines speak for themselves. Each bottle speaks volumes on Oregon's Willamette Valley and its subregions. Drew, too, spoke volumes! That night, our attendees asked some of the best questions I've heard at a Wine Talk. Really, an amazing night. As hostess, I waited graciously until the crowd cleared to ask my questions and get to know Drew a little bit better.
Stacy: So, why Pinot Noir? Are you a masochist?
Drew: Maybe a little. I have grown to love the challenge of Pinot Noir. It is finicky and fussy. It works in so few places on Earth. From early on in my career, it seemed like a wine that people spend their whole lives pursuing and never completely figuring out. That suits me well, as I have no hobbies and I don't sit still well. Plus, I think you would find that most winemakers have a deep and abiding love of Pinot Noir, even if it isn't what they make for a living.
Stacy: Continuing with the topic of masochism, which also ties into the who did you prep and clean for to build your resume so you could launch your own label?
Drew: I worked 5 vintages in California while I was at University of California at Davis. The most formative ones for me were at Piper Sonoma, a sparkling producer in the Russian River Valley, and Joseph Phelps in Napa. However, my full time career has been entirely in the Willamette Valley. My first full time job was at a winery called Silvan Ridge/Hinman Vineyards in the southern Willamette Valley, where we made pretty much every variety grown in Oregon. I came to decide that Pinot Noir was the only red wine that really spoke to me, and after 6 years there, I moved north to join the winemaking team at Domaine Serene. Four great years there as Associate Winemaker led to my first full time Winemaker job with Shea Wine Cellars from 2008-2012. I launched my label in 2009 and left Shea to focus on it in 2012.
Stacy: How did you get into wine? Did your parents take you to wineries as a kid? (Mine did.) When did you know you wanted to study wine and make it for a living?
Drew: My folks didn't really drink wine. I went off to college at Davis to study chemical engineering but took a harvest job at a very large winery in Lodi, CA, in 1993, the summer after my freshman year. I dragged hoses and cleaned tank and equipment on the graveyard shift. It was meant to only be a summer job to save money for college, but my curiosity was piqued. I took one class in the Viticulture and Enology department the next year, and that was it. I was hooked. I switched my major and never looked back. I moved to Oregon in 1998.
Stacy: What was the very first wine you tasted? Note: there is no need for this to be sophisticated.
Drew: Probably something terrible. I don't recall. I'm sure it wasn't sophisticated.
Stacy: What was your epiphany wine?
Drew: There have been a few. Somewhere around the age of 18 or 19 I remember convincing a friend who was old enough to buy wine to go and buy me a few bottles from the supermarket across the street from the apartment I lived in during my sophomore year of college. I'd gone into the store and made a list, and then sent him in to get the wines. He got a few of them right. I remember two of them distinctly, Stag's Leap Petite Syrah and Joseph Phelps Le Mistral, a Rhone style blend.
The first truly great wines I got to experience once I had a basic understanding of wine tasting was a vertical of Rubicon from 1978-1988 that was put on for the winemaking students. That was the first time I really got to get a sense of the continuity and the effect of bottle age.
The really big epiphany for me was a tasting in 1995 put on by a fellow student who had just visited Oregon. He had returned with Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs from the 90-93 vintages and invited a group of students to taste. I still have those notes. The notebook I used then is open to that page and sitting in my basement wine cellar. The wines perplexed and engaged me. I didn't know anything about Pinot Noir at the time, but the sense of elegance, and the balance and tension of the wines really struck me. Specifically, my favorite of the tasting was the 1992 Elk Cove La Boheme. That led to a road trip, and then several more. By the harvest of 1995, I knew I would be headed to Oregon when I finished school, and in 1998, I did. That individual tasting changed my life completely.
Stacy: If you weren't a winemaker what would you be doing?
Drew: I've never done anything else, so its hard to say. I love to cook and I used to fantasize about going to culinary school and pursuing a career as a chef.
Personally, I am glad he is a winemaker. I brought home a bottle of his Pinot Blanc right after our seminar. As a former cellar rat, I needed to ask this final "bonus" question:
Stacy: What music do your wines listen to?
Drew: My two very capable winemaking team members usually set the playlist in the cellar, but when I choose, its often either 1970's/early 80's punk, or something like Elvis Costello or Gram Parsons
Again, I'd like to thank Drew for coming out to Springfield, NJ. Wine Library currently carries his Pinot Blanc Surlie 2014, Pinot Noir Strandline 2013, and Pinot Noir Perrydale Hills 2013.