After being really impressed with the new wines at Wit Cellars, I had to catch up with their talented winemaker, Flint Nelson. Flint has a longstanding history in the Washington wine community, previously working at Hogue as well as Kestrel for many years. Flint is an awesome guy that has a range of international experiences as well, working harvests in Chile and South Africa. He talked about his wines and the recent vintages that Washington has been blessed with. I think you will really like hearing more of his story. Here is my interview with Flint Nelson, head winemaker at Wit Cellars.
WWB: How did you first decide to become a winemaker?
FN: I knew that when I was in high school I wanted to do this. I was either going to be a dentist or I was going to make wine. Something pushed me towards making wine. It is artistic and not a recipe and it is different every time. I am creative and I love to have a creative outlet, so I think wine lets me do that. I used to paint and I enjoyed that but wine is my creative outlet now.
WWB: Can you talk about your first jobs in winemaking?
FN: I went to work at Columbia Crest, right out of college in 1991. I worked for Joy Anderson, who is still the Snoqualmie winemaker in the lab and then I went to Hogue Cellars. They didn’t really have a job for me but I was working on the legal side of the winery. So I did that until something became open and then worked in the lab as the lab supervisor. I worked my way into winemaking. Then I went to Paul Thomas and was the assistant winemaker there. Then I went to Apex and was the winemaker there and then Kestrel for the past 12 years. During that time I did some internships in the southern hemisphere in Chile and South Africa, so I had a wide range of experiences. My wife is an associate winemaker for Charles Smith and we met at work and talk about wine all of the time. She works on the east side in winemaking and viticulture.
WWB: What are some of the biggest challenges with starting WIT Cellars?
ML: Of course one of the biggest challenges is coming up with enough money to make it happen. We have to sell enough wine to pay for the grapes and the barrels. That is super important. Packaging and supplies is expensive too. Right now I want to make sure that I do right by the growers and the people who trust me with my grapes. There are a ton of challenges but the financial costs is right up there.
WWB: Can you talk about the past three vintages and what you can expect from this vintage in 2016?
FN: 2016 has been interesting. It has been so hot here in eastern Washington this year but now it is super cool. We are going to retain the acidity and will allow the grapes to hang longer and have more flavor development, so I think that 2016 is going to be a beautiful year like 2007 or 2009 where the wines just have this softness and elegance about then. I am really excited and this is one of the ideal growing season . 2014 and 2015 were very hot vintages here in Washington and we picked early. That kind of weather wasn’t ideal for the white wines but I think that this year we will have better whites this year. I think the red wines will improve as well because will have the time to hang and develop nice acidity. Another thing that will help is with the ripening process because the less ripe berries can catch up with the more ripe ones. The weather here has been cool so the ripe ones don’t fall apart. The hot vintages, those are delicious wines that are ready to drink and are highly popular with consumers.
WWB: Do you have any favorite wines of the world or producers do you gravitate towards?
FN: In the summer I love Roses from Provence and I love Vino Verde from Portugal. I just had a wine the other day that was a Cabernet Franc from Argentina which was aged in concrete and it just blew my mind. There are so many amazing wines from the world. Apparently for this Cabernet Franc, the concrete vessel had no temperature control and the wine was aged in there for a year without temperature control. This is fascinating because the concrete vessel was stored outside and not in the direct sun but it was in the ambient temperatures. It is pretty hot in Mendoza so I thought that was really intriguing wine. I get excited about trying some funky or strange wines as time goes on. That wine was certainly eye opening. My wife had an internship in New Zealand two vintages ago and it was a Nautilus Pinot Noir and it was one of those moments that was so beautiful. I tend to really enjoy wines from New Zealand. We gravitate towards wines that showcase the vibrancy of the site, such as Spanish and Italian wines. I hope to bring that same vibrancy to wines I make at Wit Cellars.