Get the Dirt About Volatus Wine from winemaker Hal Schmitt

13 Sep

20150829_Harvest1-1311. What was your first vintage year? I started making wine in Paso in the fall of 1998 with Midnight Cellars. The first Volatus vintage was 2004. The 2004 Reserve was a 50/50 blend of Malbec and Syrah. Still tasting great!

2. How many cases do you make per vintage? We make between 500-600 cases each year. Usually about 125 cases of white and the balance red.

3. Do you have a Tasting Room? We do not have a tasting room yet. People can make an appointment to taste with us via phone or email; 805.550.4274 or

4. How did you get your start in the winemaking business?

I started in the business as a visitor to Paso Robles. At the time I was flying fighters, FA-18 Hornets, for the Navy out of Lemoore. We would come over to Paso for fun. In the summer of 1998 I was out tasting on the west side and met Rich Hartenberger from Midnight Cellars. He poured me an unreal 1995 Cabernet Franc and I was blown away. I offered to help if he ever needed it and, fortunately, a few months later he called and I worked my first harvest. From there I worked at the winery as much as possible and purchased most of the winemaking texts from UC Davis. As long as I was not on deployment with the Navy I was in Paso learning and making wine. After leaving the Navy in 2007 I came to the central coast to make wine full time.

5. What wine made you want to become a winemaker/start your own winery? Midnight Cellars 1995 Cabernet Franc was the wine. It was a complete awakening as to what wine could really be. Still tastes great too!

20150829_Harvest1-366. What varietals do you work with? Which varietal/wine is your favorite to make? On the white side I work with Viognier and Grenache Blanc. For reds, I enjoy Malbec, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet, Grenache, and Tannat. I have always loved Malbec and just finished fermenting a killer 2017.

7. What vineyards do you source from? Why?  I’ve been fortunate to source Viognier from Caliza Vineyards for four years and the resulting wines are tremendous. For the reds, I try to use Willow Creek, Templeton Gap, and El Pomar district fruit as much as possible. We have a small estate Zinfandel vineyard but it is only on its second leaf. Will have fruit next year.

8. What type of oak treatment do you use? I like oak. Moreover, I find it essential to make many of our wines more accessible earlier. I’ve always made big wines, but I don’t want to wait decades to drink them. I think oak is the perfect match for big Paso reds.

I use almost exclusively new French oak. Our 2015 Pinot Noir is on 70% new French from Seguin Moreau. The 2014 Fox-3 is 100% new French from Vallaurine (a Rhone valley cooperage). The 2014 TOPGUN Cuvee is on 90% new French and 10% new American from multiple barrel companies.

9. What do you love about your winemaking region? What makes it different special? To me, Paso Robles is still the wild west of winemaking; anything is possible. We are blessed with an incredible climate, great soils, and the best topography. With that said, the freedom we have to create and experiment in Paso is what I like most. Where else could an ex-fighter pilot not blessed with millions of dollars step into the industry and make it happen?

PinotNoir201510. What’s the story behind your name/label? Volatus means flight in Latin. My background is not wine but as a Navy pilot. I flew FA-18 Hornets and Super Hornets for the Navy and served two tours as a TOPGUN Instructor. When I started the wine label I wanted something aviation related but not immediately apparent. Over the years we have made the Volatus label more and more about aviation and flight and the branding works very well.

11. What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you about the wine business before you started your own winery? I was fortunate to have many advisers (Rich from Midnight, Joe from Grey Wolf, Norm from Darkstar/Level 3 and others) who gave me incredible advice. Interestingly, all of them told me the most important thing was that it cannot be about money. The wine business at our level is about passion for wine and Paso Robles. If it was about money no one would ever do this (unless they started with an extra ten million or so.)

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?

As a small producer and business, I like the control I have over every facet of the operation. In addition, we are a very non-fragile business and can easily adapt to and improve from stressors and changes.

13. How do you view the future in the wine industry for small-lot winemakers? It is going to be tough. Seems the consolidation of the market has driven the price point the overwhelming majority of consumers desire very low. Everyone always says they want to support the little guy but the reality seems a bit different.

14. If you had to choose another wine region to work in what would it be? I would be in McClaren Vale near Adelaide Australia. Killer Shiraz and it’s Australia!

For more information about Volatus Wine, please visit their website or follow them on FACEBOOK.

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