417 Wines' Chris Ball Discusses His Winemaking Tangent

IntoWine recently caught up with Chris Ball of 417 Wines, the producers of Tangent Cabernet Sauvignon, to discuss his foray into winemaking:   

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How did your foray into winemaking come about?

 I was first really exposed to wine while studying Architecture in Sienna, Italy.  After I came back I began developing a taste for what I appreciated, which in turn led to collecting wines, and eventually the desire to make wine…specifically wine in the image of what I enjoy.  My good friend David Dain of Dain Wines has served as a mentor as well as consultant on our inaugural release of the two 2007’s

What inspired the name Tangent?  

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

My first wine is called Quatre…the French word for ‘four’.  I made it with three other friends and we use four Bordeaux varietals from the Red Mountains of Washington.  While talking about the process with another friend and comparing notes on the intricacies and nuances of Washington vs. California, we started talking about making a California Cab.  The next thing you know our tangent had turned into ‘Tangent’.

The Tangent 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was recently reviewed on IntoWineTV, watch now

Describe your winemaking philosophy:

As an Architect I am influenced by all built environments, both good and bad.  You take what you can from history; mix in your own creativity and interests to create your own style.  I look at winemaking in the same way.

What are your long-term goals for the brand?  

Ultimately Tangent is our flagship wine that we will make every year.  Our goal is to try different varietals and learn from the diversity we create to be more balanced winemakers.  2010 will be our fourth vintage, as we just completed blending on the 2008 and plan to bottle this fall.

Why the focus on alternative white wines?

I assume you are referring to the ‘Quatre blanc’.  I am really intrigued with French wine…Quatre was our version of a French Bordeaux, so naturally Quatre blanc is our interpretation of Chablis.  Our challenge was to express the citrus and fruit qualities while balancing the minerality and acidity.

When it comes to winemaking, what's one thing you know now that you wish you had known before you started?

I think we felt that we needed a 15% or 15+% alcohol level to make style of California Cabernet we were after.  What we have found is that there is more balance and food-friendly characteristics at 14.3% to 14.5%, and still all the bold structure we wanted from the beginning.

A hot topic in wine circles is the "Parkerization" of wines. Some people claim his 100 point scoring system has been an enabling factor for consumers as they navigate the endless array of brands from which they can choose. Others claim his influence has negatively impacted wine quality as producers are increasingly crafting their wines to earn a high score from Parker at the expense of making the best wine they can with the fruit and resources they have available. Given this, what are your thoughts on Parker and the 100 point scoring system?

Well let’s face it; he is one of the most respected wine critics in history.  Just like anything, critics have differing opinions and styles.  Just as my architecture is more suitable to some tastes rather than others, so are some wines to Robert Parker.  All the critics rate differently, and rate different styles and types of wine in their own way.  I think any vehicle that helps the consumer differentiate their choices is a good thing; the challenge is for the consumer to find the critic that best emulates their palate.

Lastly, where can your wines be purchased?

www.417wines.com