IntoWine recently caught up with george wine company's winemaker and founder, George Levkoff to discuss wine making and his thoughts on current trends in the wine industry.
What prompted you to pursue winemaking as a career?
I became a winemaker as a result of an epiphany I had at dinner in late 1994. The restaurant was Joe’s in Venice, CA, and the meal was tuna foie gras. My friend Mark brought along two bottles of pinot noir from Williams Selyem, Rochioli Vineyard 1991 & 1992. The meal which I had many times before, never tasted better, and I proclaimed that one day I would make wine like this in Healdsburg, a town I had never visited. Four years later I sold my house and quit my job, and moved to Healdsburg.
Describe your winemaking philosophy:
My winemaking philosophy is to make wine as it is made at Williams Selyem, where I worked the harvests of 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002. The wine is made using gravity, is not pumped, and is unfined and unfiltered. The wine is made in the vineyard by Mother Nature under the care of professional grape growers, and I merely guide the grapes into the bottle gently and efficiently.
What are you most proud of so far in your winemaking experience?
I’m proud of all the complementary emails non-relatives take the time to send me after consuming my wine.
Tell us about the people who influenced or mentored you as a winemaker?
The reason I make wine is because I was moved by the wine produced by Burt Williams, the original winemaker at Williams Selyem. Bob Cabral, the winemaker who took over for Burt, has interpreted this style to me the past thirteen years. He has shown great patience with all my questions, has encouraged me, and has been a great friend, as has Burt.
Tell us about your wines:
george wine company only makes pinot noir from the heart of the Russian River Valley. Grapes are purchased from five farmers all in close proximity to one another. The wines are all made the same way, but taste differently because each grape grower has a different philosophy to farming.
What is next for George Wine Company?
george wine company began in 2003 with a little over one hundred cases, and reached it’s initial goal of one thousand cases in 2009. Perhaps the number of employees at george wine company will double in the future with the addition of a second person.
When it comes to winemaking, what's one thing you know now that you wish you had known before you started?
You can’t please all the people all the time.
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?
As I understand it, The Wine Advocate started out as a free newsletter over a quarter century ago, and built its reputation over the years with interesting writing and lack of conflict of interest. The readers chose to give them influence. If consumers or winemakers choose to follow an opinion, that’s their free will choice. Whether it’s 100 points, 10 points, or A/B/C/D/F, scores allow the reader to judge relative opinion from a particular source. I make wine I enjoy drinking, and find people with a similar palate.
How have the points systems like Parker’s impacted you as a winemaker/producer?
george wine company generally doesn’t seek critical acclaim from journalists. The company has been built on word of mouth, grass roots support. The critics for george wine company are people who order george pinot noir, and the chefs, sommeliers, managers, and servers who choose to put george pinot noir on their wine list to complement their cuisine.
Rising wine alcohol levels are a hot topic these days in wine circles. What are your thoughts on the subject?
george wine company has never been a fan of high alcohol. The key is balance. Some adjust their style of winemaking to current trends, and change style over time. george wine company has a low alcohol/low oak style where the fruit is the key.
Lastly, where can your wines be purchased?