It is my deepest pleasure to share this exciting interview with you all. A winemaker that needs no introduction, Josh McDaniels served as assistant winemaker at Leonetti before taking over at Doubleback and Sweet Valley Wines. If you haven’t had the last two absolutely incredible releases from Doubleback, you are missing out on some killer Cabernet. The latest 2013 Doubleback Cabernet (WWB, 94) is an intense, hedonistic gem of a wine. I had the chance to sit down with Josh and talk wine. I found him to be incredible humble and a delight to chat with, as he talked about his roots in the industry and how he learned from superstar winemaker Chris Figgins. Here is my new interview with Josh McDaniels. I hope you enjoy!
WWB: What was it like growing up in Walla Walla during the wine boom and seeing the town change?
JM: As a kid growing up in Walla Walla and seeing the very beginnings of the wine "boom", I really embraced the change and was fascinated by what it did and brought to the town. I always saw a very qualitative and collaborative approach to the growth. The wine industry is extremely competitive, and so am I, but the competition seemed (and still does) more about Walla Walla as a whole being competitive with the rest of the wine world. When I noticed that, and saw the quality oriented changes, in every small detail of growth, I was hooked and immediately immersed myself as much as possible.
WWB: Can you talk about how your education at the Walla Walla Enology and Viticulture Center prepared you for working at Leonetti, Sweet Valley and Doubleback?
JM: I actually worked in the wine industry, and started my own small label before I enrolled in the Enology and Viticulture Center. I think that beforehand experience really rooted me with some great fundamentals prior to getting a more formal education. Initially, the college did not want to accept me in to the program due to me being 19 years old, but eventually my longtime mentor and friend, Chris Figgins, went to bat for me and I was accepted- it was a different time! The program, however, was a great rounding out of my prior experience and gave me the tools I needed to be a successful winemaker. The late Stan Clarke had a fantastic and realistic viewpoint on the wine industry that I very much appreciated. When he sadly passed away, it was a unique year in which we had numerous industry members come in to teach classes and I think that in itself was very interesting and beneficial.
WWB: I found the 2013 Doubleback Cabernet (WWB, 95) to be an absolutely scintillating new release Cabernet. Can you talk about this special wine and the vintage, as well as the winemaking behind it?
JM: The 2013 vintage was another great growing season coming in between a string of great growing seasons. We always approach our winemaking to be more of an elegant and restrained style of wine. It would have been easy for our owner, Drew Bledsoe, to come in, slap his name on a bottle, and make really over the top, extracted, over ripe and oaked wines but that is not what he wants and I have been excited about that since the inception of the project as it is what I was used to with the Figgins Family. I think the 2013 Doubleback really exemplifies that notion of finesse and elegance, especially as our Estate fruit percentage continues to make up a higher percentage of the blend- something we are extremely excited about.
WWB: What was it like working under Chris Figgins at Leonetti?
JM: I have the utmost respect for the entire Figgins family. Chris's Dad, Gary, and my Dad worked at the Continental Canning Co. here in Walla Walla when I was little and so in that regard, I felt like I could relate to having humble beginnings. They're success over the years has been well earned and to be able to be a student in their cellars was a tremendous experience that I did not take lightly. Being so young when I got in the wine industry, their style of winemaking was truly engrained in to me from the start and I really appreciated my almost 10 years of time working under Chris. From the vineyards, the winemaking and the business of a winery, he was a fantastic teacher.
WWB: What are some of your other favorite producers of Washington wines and wines of the world?
JM: Some of my other favorite Washington producers are the likes of Gramercy, Abeja, and of course all of my friends in what we call the "Young Guns" group. Outside of Washington wines, I have lately been loving Oregon Pinot Noir such as Bergstrom and Soter. Abroad, I have become a compulsive shopper with Master Sommelier Ian Cauble's "Somm Select" which I have recently been more in to Right and Left Bank Bordeaux, and the Northern Rhone valley. Lastly, I spent some time working in Argentina for Paul Hobb's Vina Cobos and so am always a fan of their wines as well as the likes of Achaval Ferrer down in Mendoza.