Loren Sonkin has been a long-time contributor to IntoWine.com. In addition to his frequent appearances as a panelist on IntoWineTV, Loren writes columns on both French and Italian wines, contributes wine recommendations, vintage guides, and provides the wine/food pairing knowledge behind the IntoWine Wine & Food pairing tool. In other words, he does it all. So when Loren told us he was venturing into winemaking himself with his own label, SonkinCellars, we jumped at the chance to be the first to taste his barrel samples on IntoWineTV. Though the wine, Persona, is not due for release until 2011, we are excited to catch up with Loren about this new venture.
What inspired the name SonkinCellars?
Obviously, the winery is named after me. The name was decided on when a group of investors approached me to create a wine. They were familiar with my tastes from Intowine as well as Internet Bulletin Boards. They asked me what kind of wine I would like to create and said that the wineries name should reflect that vision. I was a bit uneasy about it at first, but I do agree that it allows those people who know me, to have some level of confidence in the wine.
How did your foray into winemaking come about?
SonkinCellars Persona was recently reviewed on IntoWineTV, watch now
Somewhat answered above. The idea of creating a wine in Ohio was discussed, but I really wanted to do something different. Ohio is making some very good wines, but not in the style I wanted to make. Crushpad offered us the chance to make that wine while living a couple of thousand miles away. Plus, they had contracts with some of the very best Syrah vineyards in the world.
Describe your winemaking philosophy:
I believe in letting the vineyards express themselves, but then taking those expressions one step further thru blending. Blending, I believe, allows the best attributes of different vineyards to be combined synergistically. This is nothing new, but lately, the concept seems to be a bit out of fashion for top quality wines.
What are your long-term goals for the brand?
I would like to see us having three price points. An everyday wine that retails for under $20 and a very nice wine that retails for under $50 and possibly a high end wine. I would also hope to eventually add a white wine and perhaps some Grenache to our line of Syrahs.
Why the focus on California Syrah blends?
They are my favorite wines and the wines I believe provide the best value to the consumer. I almost always approach our wines as if I were an unbiased consumer and deciding for myself whether I would want to buy this wine.
When it comes to winemaking, what's one thing you know now that you wish you had known before you started?
Chemistry. I wish I understood microbial life and the science behind fermentation more.
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?
I think Parker has done a great job. Anytime you reach the top of your profession, people will take shots at you. When you consider that wine is subjective, of course many people will have other opinions. Some of those people have found that there voice can be heard by a larger audience if they attack Parker. He is certainly an easy target. I think Parker is consistent. He likes what he likes. He is honest and tells you that. That's all you can ask in a critic. If you disagree, it’s just as helpful to know the wines he likes, because, more than likely, you will not. As for the 100 point scale, it helps put tasting notes into some context. It is very useful for that. Some take it to be an absolute which is silly. Wine is subjective. What does a 90 point wine mean? You need to read the notes to see why a particular wine is a 90 point wine for a particular critic.
Lastly, where can your wines be purchased?
We have a mailing list that, for now, is still open. It can be found at www.SonkinCellars.com