Each week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses 16 questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Jim Law, the owner of and winemaker for Virginia’s Linden Vineyards.
Four years ago, Bruce Schoenfeld, the wine and spirits editor of Travel + Leisure, named Virginia as one of the world’s top five new wine travel destinations. In his piece, Schoenfeld paid particular attention to Linden Vineyards. “Shocking as it might seem,” he wrote, “I actually prefer Jim Law’s 1999 Chardonnay from Hardscrabble to just about any California Chardonnay I’ve had in the past five years.”
Schoenfeld was onto something. I’ve sampled Linden’s wines on a number of occasions — and they’ve always impressed. All three Chardonnays — the Avenius, Boisseau, and Hardscrabble — along with the winery’s late-harvest Petit Manseng, would convert just about anyone who doubts the potential of Virginia as a world-class winegrowing region.
On the East Coast, at least, Jim Law is a legend. He first planted grapes at Linden in 1985, and made his first wine in 1987. He teaches seminars on winemaking, runs a highly selective apprenticeship program, and writes about his craft prolifically. His book, The Backyard Vintner: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Wine at Home, is a favorite among at-home winemakers. Check out our interview below the fold…
What’s open in your kitchen right now?
My kitchen counter is littered with sample bottles of 2010 Linden red wine lots. After blending trials, I like to bring leftover samples down to the house to taste in a different environment. I also have the remnants of two rieslings from a meeting/dinner with one of my apprentices: Pichler (Austria) and Wienbach (Alsace).
How did you decide to pursue a career in wine?
My parents were wine enthusiasts and wine was usually on the dinner table, so it rubbed off early in life. After college I was an agricultural Peace Corps Volunteer in Congo where I developed a passion for fruit crops. Upon my return to the States, I blended my two interests. Just to make sure this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I spent a cold winter in Indiana pruning vines and loved it.
How did you learn to make wine?
I learned the basics as a cellar rat in Ohio, but it took decades to slowly begin to understand the subtleties of fine winemaking. My biggest regret is that I didn’t apprentice in France early in life.
How do you spend your days off?
I live on the farm in the mountains and my happiest days are during snow storms when I am cut off from the rest of the world and can cross-country ski, read and make bread.
I must have read Emile Peynaud’s “Knowing and Making Wine” dozens of times, especially during crush. I was also greatly influenced by Warren Winarski’s intellectual pursuit of terroir.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
I have had an apprentice program in place for ten years and many of the “graduates” are doing some amazing things. In some cases I am now learning from them.
What mailing lists, if any, do you purchase from?
My cellar is overwhelmingly European, so mailing lists aren’t an option. We hold a retailer’s license, so I buy most of my wines from distributors and importers.
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
Best is impossible to answer, but there is only one empty bottle that sits on my desk and that is a 1991 Corton-Charlemagne from Leroy. The most interesting and influential was a barrel sample of 2005 Petrus.
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
1985 Leoville Las Cases is the oldest. Latour would probably be the most expensive.
If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
Even though my cellar is Bordeaux heavy, I would choose a 2002 Pommard or Volnay for the red and a Wienbach riesling for the white. They are both very food versatile.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
Risk balance: trying to do as little as possible in the cellar without putting my wine in jeopardy.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?
For reds it is Bordeaux and for whites it is Burgundy.
Is beer ever better than wine?
I enjoy a lot of beer in the summer and during crush to quench thirst. In that situation, it is better than wine.
That I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and after living two years in a remote village in the Congo, my home and life style is monastic-like. My one material splurge is wine, which I justify as professional R & D.
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
Probably agricultural development work in the third world.
How do you define success?
Content with who you are and happy to start a new day and go to work.