Get the Dirt about Playground Cellars from winemaker Joe White

28 Apr

playgroundpeople1. What was your first vintage year? 2013

2. How many cases do you make per vintage? About 100

3. Do you have a Tasting Room? Unfortunately we don’t have a tasting room and can not accommodate appointments at this time, but hopefully soon.

4. How did you get your start in the winemaking business? We’ve always enjoyed and studied wine. Then about 8 years ago my wife changed careers and became a Sommelier, worked in tasting rooms, and helped manage a wine bar specializing in limited productions wines. Life’s path brought us to Napa Valley and almost immediately we began to make wine in the garage, usually from what our friends had left in the vineyards after harvest. I also switched careers and started to work in friends’ vineyards and at various wineries. At the same time, we would come across amazing barrels of wine, purchase them and play around with blending, eventually sharing our finds with friends. We decided that we can continue to play around with these one-of-a-kind finds and should share these gems with a broader audience. Hence the concept for Playground Cellars was born.

5. What wine made you want to become a winemaker/start your own winery? This is a tough question, there was and is so many. But the underlining theme between them all is that the wine and winemaker pushed the envelope by incorporating different techniques that really brings out the character of that varietal.

playgroundwinemaking6. What varietals do you work with? Which varietal/wine is your favorite to make? We work with all varietals we can get our hands on. In the garage it has been Gamay, Petite Sirah, and Cab Sauvignon. But for Playground Cellars right now working with the Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon for our first vintage was fun.

7. What vineyards do you source from? Why? Our wine has come from Paso Robles and various AVA’s in the Napa Valley. All single vineyard. We are excited for our Howell Mountain Cab which was a fluke for us to find because for one year that very small unique vineyard fell out of contract.

8. What type of oak treatment do you use? Why? Our three 2013 releases all used a percentage of French Oak and either neutral or American after that. This either helped bring out more of the varietals character, added complexity, or mellowed out a characteristic.

9. What do you love about your winemaking region? What makes it different special? Most people think of Napa Valley and they think big Cab country. And those people would be correct if they stuck to the normal tourist spots and routes. But there are hidden gems throughout the Valley where experimentation continues, where working with little known varietals happen. There are also special vineyards and even various meso and micro climates within vineyards that dramatically change the wine. Finding these special gems and bringing them to market is what drives us.

playgroundlabel10. What’s the story behind your name/label? Question #5 really answered some of the story. The actual name Playground Cellars came about one evening when enjoying some wine we blended and bottled while watching our then 5 year old son Jack play on his play structure in the backyard. My wife and I commented to each other on his playground versus our playground. We realized the definition of Playground “is a place where a particular group of people choose to enjoy themselves” fits perfectly into what we are trying to accomplish and fits into our goal of having people play with their palate when it comes to wine.

11. What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you about the wine business before you started your own winery? That Patience is a necessity and your patience will be tested. The balance of working with what mother nature hands you and knowing when to allow mother nature to work.

12. Most importantly, what’s so great about being small? What can you do as a small winemaker, that wouldn’t be possible for larger wineries? For good or bad, being small allows us to experiment and be creative. We do not have to follow a standard. I’ve seen larger wineries and their winemakers following a standard to produce the same product year in and year out regardless of what the harvest brought in. From a business finance perspective it makes sense but the creativity is sometimes lost.

13. How do you view the future in the wine industry for small-lot winemakers? I believe it is cyclical; you have growth then consolidation followed by growth again. I believe we are in a growth phase currently.

14. Have you noticed any changes in the market for small-production wineries? Growth again, retailors want unique offerings for their customers. And customers are seeking to try different things.

15. Any other thoughts on the wine business in general? Access to small lot wines is easier than ever before. Opportunities for small wineries to sell their wine are becoming more prevalent and easier as well. I hope this continues.

For more information about Playground Cellars, please visit their website or follow them on FACEBOOK.

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