Hey Maura, take us back to your earliest experience with wine, where were you, who did you drink it with, what was going on?
I didn’t come from a wine drinking family so I wasn’t exposed to it when I was young. One of the first wines I ever tasted that really made me take wine more seriously was a Grosset Springvale Riesling from Clare Valley, Australia. I was fresh out of college working my first harvest abroad in Barossa Valley, Australia and sharing the wine with other interns in the valley. The searing acid in Clare Valley Rieslings was addictive to me.
Shortly after, I visited Clare Valley with two other Riesling fanatics. One being Sam Smith of Smith Madrone, and we did what we called a “Riesling speed tasting”. We went through 11 wineries in Clare Valley and tasted all the Riesling we could in 1 day. Our enamel has never been the same, but that is really what got my on my path with Riesling. I did a harvest in Germany that September.
Being a winemaker and winery owner sounds exhausting! Why do it?
I can’t think of many other professions where your true love and interests are the same as your career. Also, being married to a winemaker, (Charley Johnson, the other half of March Wines and Assistant Winemaker at O’Brien Estates), wine is frequently what we are talking about. Having a partner in the business and working together has what has kept us afloat. We split the tasks and work with our strengths – thankfully Charley is a great winemaker and accountant!
At the end of the day, wine is about getting together with friends and family over some delicious food and opening a bottle. The fact that we get to share a bottle that we put so much time and love into is one of the best feelings.
What’s the toughest part of being an owner of a winery?
Time! If only I didn’t need 9 hours a night of sleep a night we would be unstoppable!
You seem to be on a mission to bring a bottle a Riesling on every table. What draws you to this varietal that you travelled the world exploring?
Well, Riesling is such a unique varietal that is generally misunderstood. People don’t understand that it can be balanced and not just a sugar bomb. The fact that I was able to work with it in Australia, Germany, New Zealand, and now in California just shows its flexibility. It is an expression of the site but also of the winemaker. It’s also really fun to make! It can be made at all levels of sweetness, depending on the balance of acidity, pH, phenolics, and sugar. Riesling also pairs with a variety of food, so there is no excuse not to open up a bottle!
You have a unique wine made with the St. Laurent grape, tell us more about that varietal and why you decided to use it.
St. Laurent is an Austrian varietal that is known for it’s high color, low tannin, low alcohol, and high aromatics. When pouring it for the first time, I describe it as a Gamay-esk Syrah that can be enjoyed with a slight chill. We decided to add it to our portfolio in 2018 a few reasons. The main reason is there is only one vineyard of St. Laurent in California farmed by the master of St. Laurent himself – Dale Ricci. When the fruit was available and offered to us, we HAD to jump on it. St. Laurent also just fits so well next to the Riesling in our line up. Both wines are cooler climate, highly aromatic, lower alcohol wines that have a freshness and brightness that we really enjoy in wine. We also realized it would be a great varietal to make a Rose out of, and it was! It sold out in a few weeks, so next year we are going to make a little more 🙂
Your top 3 favorite wine regions and why?
Today I am feeling: Mosel, Sancerre, and Sonoma Coast. All regions are highly aromatic, mineral driven and the briney-ness in Sonoma Coast Pinots and Syrah are to die for. I can drink wines from these regions any day of the week.
Let’s play a quick game, we’ll give you 3 celebrities and you tell us what wines match their personality
Since I believe Riesling is truly a wine for everyone.
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Grosset Clare Valley Riesling. Little spicy and zingy
Lebron James: Albert Boxler Riesling from Alsace. All around superstar
Joe Biden: A classic Trockenbeerenauslese. A little sweet, a little tart, and even better with age.