Interview: Educated Guess Winemaker, Barry Gnekow

Well known Winemaker, Barry Gnekow, joined Douglas Lober, Founder and Chief Sales Officer at today to discuss the business of winemaking. Barry is known for his involvement in with such brands as Educated Guess, Laurel Glen Vineyards and J. Lohr Winery. Laurel Glen’s 2010 Cabernet was just given a 92+ point rating and their inaugural vintage a 94+ score by Robert Parker.

1. What/Who inspired your unique names and label designs?

Ideas can come from anywhere but it’s really up to people with a good marketing sense to usher it through the design process and I think they need some “street cred” to get support from owners, salespeople, winemakers, buyers, and ultimately the consumer.  Bill Leigon is one of the best I’ve seen at this (J. Lohr, Ariel, Hahn, Rex Goliath, Cycles, Jamieson Ranch)  and Michael and David Phillips have hit a major home run with 7-Deadly ZN.  They don’t all work but you have to keep trying and not give up. The best ones are viewed as a “work in progress”

2. What makes you the one of the best consultants in the biz?

Well I’m not rich so I wouldn’t go that far but what does make me different from most winemakers is the 3 years I spent on-the-road as, in effect, national sales representative for J. Lohr between stints as assistant winemaker and head winemaker.  It was a true education in the way the wine biz works and drove home that as a winemaker I have to please the buyers and the consumers with how the wine tastes. It sounds simple but the wine has to taste good when it’s opened 3,000 miles away.  The consumer does not care what you or the wine went through……it just has to “taste good” or you don’t have a business.

3. Do you have a target price point in mind before you make your wines?

Always, always, always!

4. What makes a winery successful?

The engine has to be “firing on all cylinders”. But there are some key things you have to have. #1. Good tasting wine #2. Sales to support the operation.  I often say if you have sales you can work your way out of almost any problem. You can hire the right people, get financing, get grape contracts, replant vineyards, pay lawyers, accountants, consultants, etc, etc but you always be looking for ways to make the wines taste better so be open to new ideas and techniques.

5. Is there a demographic you have in mind for your wines?

Yes but you always get surprises.

6. It seems you have very loyal customers and fans.  What do you think that is attributed to?

As far as winemakers go I had a stint in sales I learned that you only have a few seconds to talk to a buyer and they don’t have time.  The label has to carry the story and the wine better over-deliver on quality for the price.

7. How did your first job at J Lohr shape your career?

Absolutely, it was a start-up with alot of mistakes and I got to see all that from my lowly position as assistant winemaker.

8. How do you connect with your consumers?

Wine has to taste good now…..immediately when it’s bought.  Something like 95% of all wine bought on Saturday gets consumed Saturday night…….the rest are “auctioned off” when their owners die and the family liquidates the cellar……..LOL

9. What was your most memorable wine experience?

#1.Billy Bobs Cafe in Dallas/Ft Worth Texas!  It was 3 acres of nightclub with live bull riding and 3 different venues for bands. This man who called himself “Billy Bob” (I don’t really know who he is/was other than the fact that he owned the restaurant and was filthy rich! This was in the early 80’s and around the Texas and Oklahoma oil boom years.  I didn’t know him but I did know he had way too much money!  Well I was there and Billy Bob He was drinking a “61  Lafite in a shot glass, over ice as an aperitif before lunch…..said he liked the “taste”…….

#2. Tasting RO (reverse osmosis) concentrated wine for the first time and thinking this technology was going to change everything.

#3. Working on a ZN blend with Joseph Smith using Flash Detente wines and realizing the palate was kind of “exploding in the mouth” going “vertical” instead of “horizontal”.

10. Do you have an ultimate favorite food and wine Pairing?

Any heavy red with BBQ Kobe beef tacos.

11. When you’re not making wine, what is your favorite thing to do?

Warm water surf…..all it takes is one wave….just one good wave and I am at peace with the world.

That concludes our interview! Thank you Barry for your time and insight into your world of winemaking!