Get the Dirt with winemaker Phillip Kaplan of Velvet Bee Wines

10 Jan

VelvetBeePhillip1. What was your first vintage year: 2012

2. How cases do you make per vintage? On average, about 300.

3. Do you have a tasting room?
No, but people can make an appointment through the website,

4. What wine made you want to become a winemaker/start your own winery? A key early influence was a visit to Navarro Winery in Philo in the late 1970s. Great vibe, outstanding wines and the Bennetts exuded passion for what they were doing.

5. What varietals do you work with? Which varietal/wine is your favorite to make?
I work with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc (all sourced) and Zinfandel from my backyard vineyard in Los Olivos. My favorite is the Pinot Noir. To paraphrase Forest Gump, pinot noir is the box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. I like working with the same vineyard over several years to learn what changes and what stays the same.

VelvetBeeVyd6. What vineyards do you source from? For Pinot Noir, we source from Sta. Rita Hills vineyards close to the Arcadian Winery on Santa Rosa Road where we make the wine. Chief among them are Bentrock and La Encantada. For the Chardonnay, we source from Sta. Rita Hills vineyards Rita’s Crown and Radian. For the Sauvignon Blanc, we buy from vineyards in the Happy Canyon AVA, including McGinley. From the estate Zinfandel, we make about 30 cases of Rose each year. This site is better suited to picking the grapes at the lower brix numbers needed for the crisp Rose style we are making.

7. What type of oak treatment do you use? Why? For most of the wines, we use about 20% new French Oak (Seguin Moreau medium toast barrels) and the balance is neutral oak. On occasion, (for the 2013 vintage of the Chardonnay), we have done part of the batch in stainless steel and part in oak to intensify the fruit flavors.

8. What do you love about your winemaking region? What makes it different special? I don’t have the experience to compare making wine in other places, but I like that the Santa Ynez Valley is welcoming and pretty unstuffy and people with a lot more winemaking under their belts have greatly helped me along the way.

VelvetBeeLabel9. What’s the story behind your winery name / label? Velvet Bee is a tribute to the pollinators in the lavender field in front of our Los Olivos house and a suggestion of the finesse we hope the wines convey.

10. What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you about the wine business before you started your own winery? They told me, I just didn’t listen.

11. 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? The genius of a big wine operation is that they can replicate an outcome, year after year, despite variation in the grapes. That is how the brand is developed. Customers know, within tight variations, what they are going to get and come to expect it. That is also the bane of big wine. As a small shop, I have style objectives, but I can and do try to vary what I do. I think it results in wines that have greater interest.

12. How do you view the future in the wine industry for small-lot winemakers? Events like this festival are crucial. The survival of small wineries depends upon the ways to put our wines in front of people and get the story out.

13. If you had to choose another wine region to work in what would it be? I am working on my French, that says it all.

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