Starting as a cellar worker in 1973, Doug Nalle's winery is on land that has been in his wife, Lee's, family since 1927. A real family run business as not only is his wife an equal partner, their son Andrew makes the wine with his father and other relatives run the vineyard. He graduated with a Masters degree in Enology in the late seventies, and served his apprenticeship at Balverne Winery, before taking full control of the company bearing his name in 1990. His wines are small volume production, high quality wines, of which their Zinfandel is most famous.
What marks the Nalles out from other producers is that their wines are always lower alcohol, with levels around the 14% mark, enabling Doug to show elegance in varietals that may not be normally known for that quality in California.
I asked Doug six questions...
What is your first memory of drinking wine?
At home at the age of 14. My mother enjoyed a glass of Lacryma Christi now and then and so did I. My dad was a good ol' Kentucky boy who preferred Jim Beam.
What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge for Californian Wine in the next couple of decades?
With climate change, warmer nights have lowered acidities (not a good thing in my opinion). Non-irrigated vineyards have fared better. Many newer vineyards are dependent on irrigation. With imminent water shortages winegrowers may be forced to limit irrigation which could, ironically, improve wine quality.
If you had to make wines in a different country, which would it be and why?
New Zealand, especially Hawkes Bay region which is similar to Sonoma County where, exposure, soil and proximity to the Pacific Ocean allow for myriad microclimates.
Aside from your own wines, what do you like drinking?
Champagne, Cru Beaujolais, Bert Williams' Pinot noirs, dry Alsatian Rieslings.
Describe yourself in three words.
Introspective, self-motivated, irreverent.
Name three people, real or fictional, living or dead that would be guests at your dream dinner party, and what would you be drinking?
Jesus of Nazareth, Chairman Mao, William Shakespeare. We'd start with water which Jesus would transform into a 1955 Krug Jeroboam. I'd ask Mao to choose a Burgundy (what do you bet he knew the difference between Corton and Chambertin?) and Bill his favorite grog; then we'd go straight to a magnum of 1959 d'Yquem. Wouldn't much matter what we ate. Maybe some sashimi and Belgian fries for ballast.