As part of our special Washington Wine Month feature for August, we bring you an interview from another huge player in the Washington Wine Industry. Juan Muñoz-Oca has a longstanding history in the Washington Wine Industry. Originally from Mendoza, Argentina, Juan grew up around a winery and learned about wine from a young age. Since moving to Columbia Crest in 2003, Juan has produced some incredible wines for Columbia Crest. Juan talked about the incredible range of wines that Columbia Crest produces and how he sees some of the recent vintages. He was a delight to talk wine with. Here is my very special interview with Columbia Crest head winemaker, Juan Muñoz-Oca
WWB: How did you first decide to become a winemaker?
JMO: I always wanted to be in the wine industry, like a wine-grower or winemaker. As a kid, we spent a lot of time around grapes and wineries as my grandfather was a cellar master, a vineyard grower and made his own wine. The idea of transforming grapes into a wonderful elixir that is a representation of the place is really exciting to me.
WWB: You have been working with Columbia Crest since 2003 and have seen many special vintages in Washington. Do you have any particular favorite vintages for red and white wines? How do you rate the recent hot vintages, 2014 and 2015 for red and white wines?
JMO: Right now I’m loving reds made in the mid 2000’s, for example the 2005 and 2006 vintages are showing especially great with refined tannins and freshness. I loved the whites wines we made in 2011.
WWB: I have been enjoying Columbia Crest Grand Estates for more than 15 years. Can you talk about the attention to detail in these great value wines that are some of the best red and white wine values in the United States?
JMO: I would first and foremost attribute most of the quality and value of our wines to the terroir in Washington State. The conditions in which we grow our grapes allow us to deliver refined wines that become a terrific value proposition. When it comes to the winemaking that we do at Columbia Crest specifically, I think part of the success is the fact that we make wines the same way we were making them in the early 80’s, same techniques, same attention to detail, although the volumes have change. We think and act as a small winery despite our size.
WWB: You are originally from Mendoza and spent time as cellarmaster for Bodegas Toso in Argentina. You obviously were exposed to great Malbec wines. Can you talk about the differences in aromatic and flavor profiles between Mendoza Malbec and Columbia Valley Malbec? Do you see Washington having a great potential for Malbec moving forward with these warm vintages?
JMO: I grew up in Mendoza, and actually learned how to make wine by making Malbec. I think there are two main differences between Malbec from Mendoza and Malbec from Washington. 1) elevation: growing Malbec nested against the Andes at ~3,000 or 4,000 feet allow Argentine winemakers to expose their canopies to a different intensity of UV radiation, developing tannins differently during the ripening season, 2) clonal selection: Argentines have been selecting cuttings from the best plants for generations, that selection is showing refinement and lots of concentration, which translate into the wines.
That said, Columbia Valley Malbec (in my opinion) gives Argentine Malbec a run for its money, Malbec grows beautifully in Washington, developing tremendous depth of flavors due to the swings in temperature between day and night, and the fact that we can plant Malbec on its own roots. We also deliver great value as Argentine Malbec does. I’m bullish about Malbec in Washington, I think it is one variety that can create a truly unique expression of itself when grown in the Columbia Valley.
WWB: When you are not enjoying Columbia Crest wines, what are some of your favorite wines of the world?
JMO: My wife is also a winemaker, so we try not to drink too much of our own wines to avoid a “house palate”. We try as many wines from the Pacific Northwest as we can to keep up with what’s new and exciting, yet when not drinking wines from the northwest, we drink Argentine wines and also a fair amount of Spanish wines.