Co Dinn, head winemaker at Co Dinn Cellars, is former winemaker at Hogue Cellars. Co has more than 25 years in the wine industry, including 17 years at Hogue Cellars and 7 years in Napa Valley. Co Dinn was a blast to talk wine with. I met up with him at Taste of Washington and found him to be incredible humble and articulate. Co has worked at some of the great Napa wineries, including Sterling and Trefethen, before coming to Hogue. A few years back he left his position at Hogue to start his own winery. His new release wines were excellent, all coming from the Yakima Valley. Co is a great champion of Yakima Valley fruit. These wines are structured and balanced, with terrific richness and mouthfeels. The Chardonnay, Cabernet and Syrah releases have a very old-world edge to them. Co also serves as consulting winemaker with Cote Bonneville, working with superstar winemaker Kerry Shiels. I think you will really enjoy hearing more about Co and his esteemed Co Dinn Cellars wines. You can learn more about his wines at http://codinncellars.com/ Here is my interview with Co Dinn:
WWB: Can you talk about how you decided to become a winemaker? What were some of your first inspirations in wine?
CD: I discovered wine while living in Tulsa, OK of all places. I was working in the oil and gas industry and was not inspired. I quit my job and decided I was going to do something more interesting (to me) with my life. I had made beer and was fascinated with the process. I figured that SOMEBODY has to do the intriguing work of making wine, so I wrote to UC Davis about enrolling in the master’s program there. Dr. Ann Noble sent me back a letter outlining what I had to do in order to apply: take about a year and a half of chemistry, physics, microbiology and math. So I did. I was then accepted in 1990. I went on to do my master's thesis in Dr. Noble's lab.
My first inspirations were wines of the world tasted while perusing The New York Times Book of Wines by Terry Robards. It was a self-guided tour of wines of the world, mostly reasonably priced. One wine that stood out was the 1986 McDowell Valley Vineyards Syrah. That was the first "wow" wine for me. I tasted it at a pouring in Austin, Texas. Later, at Davis, I found a wine shop with a stash of that same wine gathering dust and I think I eventually bought it all, one bottle at a time!
WWB: What was it like working in Napa at Sterling and Trefethen?
CD: Sterling was great, as they received lots of very high quality fruit from all over the Napa Valley, so I got to see, smell and taste a wide variety of very good grapes and taste the wines made from them. My third harvest was in the lab and I got to make the research wines and hone my lab skills.
Trefethen was the part of my career which was really an apprenticeship: I did all the lab work, the filtrations, the tastings, the harvest sampling. The expectations were very high and my bosses Peter Luthi and John Cole were great role models and mentors. In four years a newbie out of Davis was built into a capable winemaker.
I was involved in a very serious, structured tasting group for several years in Napa and this was key to really developing my palate beyond technical tasting and helped me to form my stylistic preferences and understand the broader world of wines outside the ones we were making.
WWB: I have enjoyed your wines from Hogue for many years including some of your exceptional bottlings, the Terroir series, from the Champoux vineyard as well as Red Mountain. Can you talk about some of the advantages of working at Hogue for many years and some skills you picked up in terms of winemaking and vineyard management?
CD: First of all, the team at Hogue was fantastic: Mike Hogue, Norm McKibben, Wade Wolfe, David Forsyth, Tony Rynders, Nicolas Quille, Rick Hamman. All great professionals and still all key members in the PNW wine scene. We did a very thorough job of research of viticultural and winemaking which few wineries of any size could match. I learned a huge amount. Additionally, I had the privilege of working with fruit from many of the best vineyards in the state, and really getting to know the growers and their vineyards and regions.
I learned about how to deal with each vintage, whether cool or hot, dry or wet, freezes and frosts. I learned about how to manage our abundant tannins with finesse to create structured yet supple wines. I got to experiment with all kinds of oak and to learn the coopers and forests I preferred. I got to see the progression in viticulture from 1996 through 2013 which encompassed not only phenomenal growth in acreage, but also a revolution in irrigation, canopy management, siting and clones. I learned how to remain calm and focused with $30 million worth of wines fermenting knowing that they were my responsibility. I learned that the best way to get what you need in the vineyard is through calm, thorough and timely dialog with the grower, as well as being out in the vineyard with them on a regular basis.
WWB: Co Dinn focuses on Yakima valley wines. What draws you to working with Yakima valley fruit as opposed to fruit from Walla Walla or Red Mountain?
CD: The Yakima Valley in general is a moderate climate: and within that I can find cooler areas and warmer areas. I can be near the vineyards which is essential for monitoring and picking decisions. What I really like is the sheer variety of sites, slopes, soils and mesoclimates, low rainfall, moderate wind, good water and experienced growers. Some of the best vineyards in the state are Yakima Valley vineyards, and they are typified by balance, suppleness and nuance in reds and vibrancy and balance in whites. I feel that I can make my best wines in the style I prefer by focusing on the moderate and diverse Yakima Valley. Walla Walla is a two hour drive for me and I feel I need to be close to the vines to do my best work.
WWB: Your 2013 'Roskamp Vineyard' Chardonnay was polished and layered with a lovely texture. Can you talk about this awesome Chardonnay bottling and the vintage? Are you excited about your 2014 Chardonnay in the barrel?
CD: The vintage was warm and early. However this north slope is protected from the afternoon heat and is very uniform. The Dijon clones 76 and 96 in the field blend are typically delicate and flavorful. The grapes are whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented in primarily (75%) older Burgundy barrels. Much care is taken over the life of the wine to get complexity and texture from sur lie while protecting the wine from oxidation. It is bottled unfiltered after 17 months in barrel. This leaves it with a flavor and texture as if you were tasting directly from the barrel. Not common in most Chardonnays. The 2014 was just bottled and is very similar (exciting!), though the 2013 has an added nuance from a year in bottle.
WWB: What are some of your favorite wines of the world? What tends to be in your cellar?
CD: I like variety, intensity, typicity, complexity. I tend to rely on the advice of the sommelier as I am always up for trying something new or different. I'm still enjoying tasting Syrahs from any quality region. I would love to travel in Spain and Portugal to learn more about their wines as they recently have piqued my interest. My own cellar contains vintages of new and older wines of my own and consulting clients as well as those of winemaker friends whose wines I admire. Since I don't make Pinot Noir I rely on a supply of Tendril from Oregon and Talisman from California, both highly recommended! And of course there is a selection of fine local beers!