A self-described hedonist, Ryan Raber describes his winemaking as “art.” He notes that while science is imperative in the wines, intuition, experience and trusting one’s palate is paramount in winemaking. Ryan crafts his Tertulia Cellars wines from three exciting and unique vineyard sites. I have recently visited Tertulia, as well as area vineyards, and was really impressed with the new lineup and how each wine showcases the unique terroir of each vineyard. Ryan has crafted a very strong lineup of new releases that impress from stony Marsanne to bright Rose to rich Syrah. If you haven’t had a chance to check out their new wines, the range of vineyards and terroir is absolutely worth seeking out. Thoughtful and easy to approach, Ryan has a great story in wine. He also shares my love for Domaine Tempier. Here is my interview with Ryan Raber, winemaker at Tertulia Cellars.
WWB: How did you first get interested in winemaking? Who were your initial inspirations?
RR: I was 23 years old when I first became interested in winemaking. It was the artisan/creative aspects that interested me. I come from a family of chefs and artists on my mother’s side of the family plus my father was always building something in his woodshop. I would say it was my family that inspired me. Creating something tangible and pleasing to the senses made me think originally I would be a fine artist. I was also interested in food. I would taste something and try to recreate it. What was interesting about winemaking is you can never recreate the same wine twice. It is more like sculpting, chipping away at the pieces till the marble begins to take on a life of its own.
WWB: How do you describe your winemaking style?
RR: I tend to make wines lower in alcohol, more old world acids and tannins. I am trying to make wines that are an expression of the land and varietals. My co-worker and friend Kristine says it best “we make elegantly approachable wines for the sophisticated palate”. We accomplish this by using tried and true old world winemaking techniques.
WWB: You produces a gorgeous 2017 Tertulia Cellars Rose (WWB, 90) that showed nice astringency and purity of fruit. Can you talk about the winemaking behind this gorgeous, stand-alone Rose?
RR: For our Rose we pick the grapes between 18-21 brixs depending on how they taste each year. I believe that is lower than most domestic Roses. This makes for bright acids and low alcohol wines. Since making our first Rose in 2007 we have cut down on the skin contact. Now we crush the grapes and go directly to press. I think having a little Tempranillo in our blend adds a little bit of astringency. Heck maybe this next vintage we will try pressing one lot with whole clusters to get a little lighter color. It’s always fun to try new things as long as it’s in moderation.
WWB: What are the challenges with making wine from three very different estate vineyards?
RR: Every vintage offers its own challenges. Having the three vineyards in different terroir means you have to really be dialed in on what is going on at each site. One vineyard may have some issues with winter damage while another might be over vigorous. Having Ryan Driver and his team is a blessing. He really knows what we want out of the vines each year and how to coax the best out of them. Each year both of us gain a little more experience and hone our craft to make better wines. My favorite things is when I taste the grapes and say, hey this block is ready can you pick tomorrow and Driver says, we can pick today if you want. Timing is everything. We are getting the grapes in at the perfect ripeness for our style of wines each vintage. We are also really lucky blocks seem to come in about every three days so we can give each lot of wine all the love they need in the cellar.
WWB: What are some of your favorite producers of wines from the Pacific Northwest and wines of the world?
RR: I really love Woodward Canyon. They make wonderful wines and have had years of experience working with the same fruit. Not to mention they are very gracious people. I was once asked early in my career, how do you get to be like Leonetti or Woodward Canyon. I said ask me again in 30 years after making great wines and having a wonderful relationship with customers just like they have. Fingers crossed I am on that path. My favorite producers in France would be Domaine Tempier in Bandol as I have found those Bandol wines to be rustic and beautiful. I also love producers in Saint Emilion. I once visited Cheval Blanc and got to taste their wine. It was a once in a life time opportunity. I felt like I was on holy ground! I may have snuck an extra taste when no one was looking.