IntoWine recently caught up with Brotherhood Winery's Winemaker, César Baeza to discuss wine and his thoughts on current trends in the wine industry.
What prompted you to pursue winemaking as a career?
I was born and raised in Chile, a country that’s always been proud of its wines. Back then, Chile was producing “artisanal” wines, using minimal technology.Winemaking, and all it encompassed, always intrigued me. Growing up, I looked forward to vacationing with my family on a relative’s “fundo” (farm) in Cunaco, complete with a vineyard and crushing facility. While there during Easter, harvest-time in Chile, I loved sampling the “chicha,”(fermenting grape juice).
In the University of Chile, I studied “Agricultural Engineering” and when it came time to declare a specialization, 6 classmates and I chose “Viticulture and Enology,” a course of study now one of the most popular in Chile. At that time I was almost a pioneer. I pursued my career with a passion and this took me to the next level – postgraduate studies in Spain and France. Even today I am hungry (thirsty) to learn all I can as a winemaker to keep current, and even ahead of the trends. Someone said, “If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.” It’s not a job I chose, but rather, a lifestyle.
Describe your winemaking philosophy:
Minimum intervention. Wines begin in the vineyard. What makes a good winemaker is knowing how to blend the flavors of different grapes to achieve the perfect balance. I like wines that are pleasant to drink by themselves as well as with food. And I’m very adamant that a varietal wine should reflect the true characteristics of its variety and terroir. Take Pinot Noir, for example. I don’t think Pinot Noir should be planted in a warm climate where the fruit won’t develop the characteristics of the varietal.
For certain wines, like the varietals, I’m very conservative and feel strongly that they should be true representations of the traditional characteristics of that type of wine. Yet for other wines I’m very creative in developing unique non-traditional wines. Someone can come to me with an idea for a wine geared to a specific market and I can translate their idea into a viable product.
What are you most proud of so far in your winemaking experience?
I think I’m most proud of my accomplishments while working for PepsiCo in charge of Research & Development for the Wine & Spirits Division. Often I had to work in difficult conditions to develop wines in Eastern European countries for the U.S. market so PepsiCo could barter its concentrate. We were the first to import European varietals like Chardonnay, Cab. Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, etc.. Prior to this, these wines were named for the region they came from or with fantasy names. The brands of varietal wines I helped develop for PepsiCo, like Premiat from Romania, Trakia from Bulgaria and Duna from Hungary, became value brands, household names in the 80s, for their quality/price ratio.
And I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished here at Brotherhood, America’s Oldest Winery, which had been known for its specialty wines, like Holiday, May and Rosario. I developed a full line of premium varietal wines, including wines like Riesling, Merlot and Chardonnay. And in 1988 when I came to Brotherhood as an owner/Winemaster I came out with a wine called “Mariage” which was 4-year old Chardonnay I found aging in the cellars, blended with a young Cabernet Sauvignon. Mariage was so well received that I believe it gave birth to the whole category of this type of wine from California subsequently named “Meritage”. And I’m proud of our award-winning Brotherhood Pinot Noir because it‘s such a difficult wine to make, requiring expertise and tricks of the trade. And we were the first to have an ice wine in New York made from the Riesling grape. And finally, I am proud that over the past 20 years, often working with very limited resources, I have been able to keep Brotherhood, America’s Oldest Winery, not only afloat, but in the spotlight as a trendsetter and thriving enterprise, often against all odds. How about “sustainable” history?
Tell us about the people who influenced or mentored you as a winemaker?
I’ve been very fortunate to have been influenced and mentored by some of the best in the wine business, starting with my Enology Professor, and friend, Alejandro Parot, in the University of Chile, and in Spain, my professors, Luis Hidalgo (Viticulture) and Conchita Llaguno (Sensory Evaluation & Chemistry).
Upon arriving in California I was helped by Dr. Olmo at UC Davis who sent me to work and study under the guidance of Professor Vince Petrucci in Fresno State University. Dr. Petrucci took me under his wing and became not only my mentor, but a very dear friend. Later on, working under Master Winemakers such as Bud Berg (former Master Blender for Christian Brothers) I learned the art of blending and Joe Cagnasso (former Champagne Master for Gallo) who taught me hands-on, practical winemaking, the art of filtering, and all the different methods of champagne making. Later on, while working for PepsiCo International I was inspired by winemakers around the world, always learning something from them. In Burgundy, France, for example, Roland Thevenin, then owner/Winemaster of Roland Thevenin Wine and Chateau Puligny Montrachet, shared his techniques with me for making Burgundian-style Pinot Noir. And at PepsiCo I reported to Jan Buchel, a top flavor chemist who taught and inspired me in areas that winemakers normally don’t have access to – combining chemistry with sensorial analysis. I learned about flavors and he learned about wine from me. All of these relationships helped form me into the winemaker and person I am today and I hope that I can also inspire and mentor others passionate about wine.
Tell us about your wines:
At Brotherhood I like to say we have a wine for every palate, every pocketbook, every season, every reason. We produce over 20 different wines, each with its own character. Our premium varietal wines reflect the terroir of the different sub-regions of New York. Our wines are more European Old World in style than Californian or New World countries because our climate is more like that of Spain, Germany, Italy and France. Our theme is that no one leaves Brotherhood without finding at least one wine they like. This is what makes Brotherhood successful – that it’s not only a fun place to visit but offers such a huge variety of wines.
What is next for Brotherhood?
Brotherhood has tremendous potential because of its long history and its location so near one of the largest wine markets in the world, a little more than an hour north of Manhattan. While here at Brotherhood with its underground cellars, the largest in the country, we can introduce visitors to New York wines and at the same time learn from these consumers who we now have in front of us, witnessing their reactions and comments firsthand. We can get valuable insight into what they like and don’t like which we can use for new product development, an area we specialize in. While here, we can introduce the new wine consumer to the world of wines in a non-intimidating and friendly atmosphere. Brotherhood produces wines for every level of interest; ranging from beginner wines, sweet favorites like May and Rosario, to our sophisticated, award-winning varietals like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.
We are working hard to make Brotherhood, America’s Oldest Winery, a complete destination, with a gourmet restaurant, the Vinum Café, already operating, boutique gift shops and catering facilities for weddings and corporate meetings and events in-season.
While we continue to grow we remain focused on being environmentally responsible and always conscious of reducing our carbon footprint. We recently completed the installation of an 80KW solar electric system to help offset the electrical needs of our bottling plant. This system is clean, quiet and has zero emissions. You’ll see some of the newest technology in place at America’s oldest winery, right here and local. Brotherhood’s future is exciting and I’m proud to be a part of it.
When it comes to winemaking, what's one thing you know now that you wish you had known before you started?
I don’t know how to answer this question. You always learn as you go since wine is “fashion” and “fashion” changes as styles change. What people liked in wine when I started studying winemaking is no longer in vogue. For example, in Chile, up until the mid-70s, to be considered good, white wines had to be yellowish in color and somewhat aged which today would be considered “oxidized” and “defective”. In winemaking you have to keep up with the trends.
The only “regret” I have is that I didn’t always have access to the advanced technology and equipment available today like our cross-filter, equipped with a micro-computer that self-cleans, is automatic and eliminates all kinds of potential filtration problems.
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?
Robert Parker happens to be very successful at what he does because there are people who like what he likes and others who are influenced by him. But I detest his system. It doesn’t represent what the consumer really likes. It’s imposing someone’s taste on someone else. And it’s terribly elitist.
How have point systems like Parker’s impacted you as a winemaker/producer?
Not at all since I don’t pay attention to them.
Rising wine alcohol levels are a hot topic these days in wine circles. What are your thoughts on the subject?
Wines with high alcohol percentages are geared to a specific type of consumer and Robert Parker, but I don’t necessarily agree with this style of wine. I think they are overdone. There is always room for some products like this but we don’t have to make all wine like this.
Lastly, where can your wines be purchased?
Of course at Brotherhood you can experience our wines, taste them and buy those you like. However, we are expanding our distribution channels, working through distributors who sell to retail stores. Presently, select Brotherhood wines can be purchased in quite a few states. On our website you’ll find an ever-growing list of our distributors at:
Our wines are second to none and we are ready to compete with the wines of the world and open new markets. This is our goal.