Written by Sydney Tess, Erosion Tap Room Associate
Hey fellow wine sippers, if you’re reading this, welcome to Erosion. This is our very first run at blogging so bare with us. This quarantine has been rough. I miss having a valid excuse to put on jeans, but most importantly, I miss being able to spend time at our beautiful Taproom, meeting beautiful people everyday. Although I will say, it has really shed light on how our community has come together to support one another. But, while we’re all stuck at home and trying to find things to do, or drink, check out our latest offers like our “Treat Yo Self Package” which is packed with some goodies and wine of course. Oh and don't forget to mark your calendars for July 1st because our 250 mL 3 can packs will finally be available for your enjoyment!
To begin, this blog series will feature local winemakers and cellar workers to get a better understanding of the different perspectives of those just getting into the industry and those who are much further along in their career. In today’s blog, I spoke with Daniel Fromberg, Cellar Tech at Girard Winery, and Nile Zacherle, Winemaker and Viticulturist at David Arthur Vineyards, to learn more about their journey in the wine industry.
Perspective I: Where it all starts, production.
Daniel Fromberg, a Southern California native, grew up outside of Los Angeles surrounded by family and friends that knew and appreciated wine, however he had yet to realize that he would soon share that same appreciation. Fromberg ventured to Sonoma State in 2013 after graduating high school not knowing exactly what he would study, but he soon found himself in a wine business program where his curiosity about the industry started to brew and his dreams became apparent. While he was still unsure of where this program would lead him or if he was really interested in the business and marketing side of the industry, Fromberg enrolled in one of the final required classes for the program that focused solely on the production side and he learned the basics of the manufacturing process from harvesting and crushing the grapes, to the fermentation and bottlingprocess, which ultimately was the factor that led himinto his career path now and helped him start dreaming about what could come next. He states,“My first dream was to taste the wine that I actually got to make myself. I wanted to compare the wine I made during harvest to the wine I tried from previous years and I think taking the production class really drove me to that conclusion and I am grateful to have the opportunity to be able to live that dream every day.”
Fast forward to 2017, Fromberg was nearing graduation and had one last task to do before completing his programーwork his first harvest. Fromberg found himself at Thomas George Estates, where all of his curiosities and interests would all finally come into play. Luckily for him, he was the first intern they hired that year which allowed him to work side by side with the cellar master for a couple months before harvest started, who would guide him in learning the ins and outs of that particular facility and the specific wine work that includes gassing, topping, and sanitizing barrels and tanks, and other proper care that is a necessity to wine. While working here, he quickly realized his love for wine and knew he wanted to continue working in this industry. In his words:”This is where my love for wine sparked. I’d like to think I got lucky because I got the opportunity to learn a lot when working side by side with the cellar master and I learned quickly that every winery is different, there will be a various amount of procedures that will differ depending on the facility you are working in so I’ve found that the best advice is to trust the process and listen to the guidance that is given by those above you; cellar master, winemaker, etc.”
As much as he would’ve loved to have stayed with Thomas George Estates, it was evident that he would have to continue working harvest for different wineries before he would land his first full-time cellar position and a few months later, he was brought aboard at Girard Winery in Calistoga. Hoping that he would prove his work ethic and ability to quickly learn new skills, Daniel utilized the knowledge he had learned from his previous role and quickly began learning how different a large scale production is run versus how things were done at his previous job where wine was produced on a much smaller scale. Because Fromberg has been dedicated to giving the craft his all, and paid very close attention to details involving the wine work that needed to be done daily, he was able to adapt to the new environment and became an asset to the cellar team and landed his first full-time position in the industry where he continues to works tirelessly everyday amongst the rest of his team to ensure that the wine is being cared for properly.
Wine production can be stressful because there is an incredible amount of patience and care that goes into it nonstop. Because of this, cellar workers do their best to ensure the ultimate safety and care for the wine during daily procedures like gassing, topping, and other processes. Fromberg attempts to put that in perspective for us and shed light on the key factors that affect the efficiency of their daily routine and issues that could surface during harvest. ”A good day at work is when everything is moving smoothly in the winery. There are no issues with lines we’re using while we’re sulfuring or sanitizing tanks, no holes or cracks are found when topping barrels. During harvest, a good day is when the grapes come in and get processed through the crush pad with no problems and getting done with a 12 hour shift knowing that you crushed 70 tons successfully and being able to enjoy some ice cold beers afterwards. A bad day is quite the opposite, not being able to crush the targeted amount of grapes and having to have a second shift to finish, having issues with the lines and going home thinking about all of the things you could’ve done better, but hey, It’s a learning process to say the least and we realize what we need to fix the following day.”
So what is it that Fromberg enjoys so much about the wine industry and his role as a cellar worker? Fromberg says,“Aside from working in one of the most beautiful places in the world, I am appreciative for the opportunity to work with a very talented winemaker, Glenn Hugo, who I am confident makes outstanding wine, and allowed me to come be a part of the wine production process here at Girard. I love being hands on with the wine, I love seeing it grow throughout each stage. I love being able to be a part of the decision making that goes through picking which wines we like and making certain blends. It’s extremely satisfying to see it go from the grape to the juice to fermentation to finished bottled product. It's enjoyable to see the hard work put in become something those enjoy all over.”
After a few years of working in the wine industry, Daniel has set his mind to working his way to one day becoming a cellar master where he’ll continue to live out his dream of creating wine not only he enjoys, but those around the country.
Perspective II: The winemaker
Nile with his better half, Whitney Fisher, Winegrower at Fisher Vineyards.
Nile Zacherle, winemaker and viticulturist for David Arthur Vineyards and Brewer / Owner of Mad Fritz Brewing Co., also took the time to speak with us about his perspective as a winemaker in the industry. Nile Zacherle became infatuated with fermentation at 18 years old during his experimental homebrewing days with his father. Nile inevitably found himself studying beer and wine at UC Davis from 1994-1997 where he would complete the Masters Brewing program. While his intentions were solely focused on the brewing program, Zacherle shared another passion: winemaking. In 1996, Zacherle’s desire for winemaking became real to him. He says, “I got pulled in by my interest in fermentation, then I worked a vintage in 1996 in Napa Valley doing experimental/research winemaking/lab analysis on hundreds of lots which got me a solid practical base and really sparked my interest in winemaking once I learned the breadth of it all. We were working on new ‘at the time’ areas like: lysozyme, co-pigmentation etc….Now stuff that’s commonly used or understood. It really spiked my interest.” Zacherle continued to feed both interests by working harvests and other internships throughout college until he landed his first brewing gig for Anderson Brewing Co.
Following graduation, Zacherle began brewing for Anderson Brewing Co. but after some time, he eventually found himself back in the wine game.“After brewing at Anderson Valley brewing company after college and making the same beer over and over again as well as the detachment from the raw materials, It really pulled me back to winemaking as well as the desire to travel around the world and work for other wineries, this was 1999, so I jumped from the brewery to Navarro Vineyards as a harvest enologist/intern and never looked back …until we started Mad Fritz beer with the same approach to beer as we do with wine.”.”
With Nile’s technical knowledge of the winemaking process, his understanding of quality control, and his solid cellar knowledge from working multiple harvests, he was able to quickly excel in the transition from brewing to winemaking.“This gave my technical side a physical foundation to assist and demonstrate techniques in the cellar to push quality in the right direction. Being able to lead, train and teach certainly helps verses being someone that just directs without a solid practical handle on what it takes.”
So what does a good day and a bad look like for Nile? He says: “Having a harvest day completed seeing the tanks resting or blowing off fermentation aromas, filling barrels, being sticky tired yet excited about what decisions will come from the following days as well as how it will all fit together. Probably the worst day is working super hard completing a wine from grape to near bottling only to have it contaminated with TCA or corkiness with a filtration from a third party. This was early on in 2005 and was before we figured out how to remove it. Also as bad was when we discovered TCA at Chateau Montelena and I had to break the news to the ownership about it and begin the clean up process of a 19th century building!”
A truly inspiring takeaway from Zacherle’s story is that he was able to combine both of his passions and create a very unique experience for guests in Napa Valley. His love and passion for winemaking stems from:“Working with a place and time, a vineyard or winery estate, and pushing quality through farming techniques and organic inputs. Wine is a reflection of place and time although through process and observation you can push and illuminate personality as well as vintage. That’s probably what I like the best. Other positions as a winemaker where I worked with different sites as well as growers I do miss although working off one estate as I do now at David Arthur Vineyards is the cap stone for sure.”
Nile left us with some wise words: “Hey, loving fermentation is what it's all about…I don’t really find myself as passionate about distillation but enjoy the results. I think fermentation is really the process that is exciting, not only seeing these fungi ferment but what they create. We owe them some love as without them we wouldn’t have these great products that come from it. We simply feed them and let it go…Could you imagine life without them….That fact is they’ve added to our life for centuries and humans have figured out how to harness the process to add to our lives, yeast…they do entertain us!”
We would like to thank Daniel Fromberg and Nile Zacherle for their participation in our first of many blog posts for Erosion. While we know that these are only two perspectives of individuals and their growth in the wine industry, we also recognize and respect the incredibly talented winemakers throughout Napa and Sonoma County who have their own unique individual stories. We all appreciate the passion and endless hard work that goes into winemaking. Be sure to add Girard Winery and David Arthur Vineyards to your list when planning your next trip to Wine Country, whenever that may be!