Weekly Interview: Mikael Sigouin

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 03-09-2012

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Mikael Sigouin, the winemaker of Beckmen Vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

While the vineyard’s focus is on Rhône vaietal wines, Mikael and company also source first-rate Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc.

Born and raised in Hawaii by his Hawaiian mother and French Canadian father, Mikael developed his love for wine through European wine-laden holiday dinners with his father’s side of the family.  Through a number of years in the hospitality business, Mikael finally got the wine bug on a trip to Napa Valley in 1996.  His insticts told him to move, and thus in California he landed.

A few years in Northern California proved worthwile while working for beverage distributors, but it was time Mikael take another leap, moving him south to Santa Barbara to work harvest at Beckmen.  After making himself indispensible, Steve Beckmen gave him a position in their tasting room, which Mikael was managing by 2000.

In 2001, Mikael was appointed to assistant winemaker, where he worked alongside Steve. In 2005, Mikael decided to branch out by becoming the associate winemaker at Fess Parker winery. This experience reinforced everything Mikael had learned at Beckmen. In 2007, Mikael rejoined the Beckmen team, giving Steve more time to manage the winery’s estate-vineyard program. Currently, Mikael oversees all daily winemaking operations at Beckmen, and produces Rhône varietal wines under his own Kaena lablel.

Check out our interview with Mikael below the fold.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

We believe in looking to the Old World for inspiration. At our Purisima Mountain Vineyard this is exemplified by our biodynamic certification—essentially, we are farming the way the ancients did. In the winery, we use native yeasts, especially for our reds, because we think they really underscore the essence of our terroir. They create a much more complex, multidimensional wine, but that complexity all comes from the vineyard. While we do look to the Old World for inspiration, you still have to keep one foot in the modern world to ensure a quality product. We believe in lower sulphurs and less manipulation, but we still use a state-of-the-art filtration system.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

Jada 2009 Hell’s Kitchen.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

Didier Dagueneau, because he made the best Sauvignon Blanc I ever tasted, JL Chave, whose wines are the essence of pure Syrah, Guigal, for the La La wines, which are such benchmarks, Chapoutier, because he’s all about biodynamics, and Olivier Humbrecht, because I love Alsace.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

Scott Hawley of Torrin in Paso because he doesn’t take himself too seriously and because he makes great wines. Julien Barrot of Domaine la Barroche in Châteauneuf-du-Pape —I met him at Hospice du Rhone—Châteauneuf-du-Pape has a whole bunch of exciting young blood winemakers right now. The guys of Dragonette Cellars for the love and care they put into their Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc.

How do you spend your days off?

I spend time with my wife and my two young children, Lulu and Lincoln. I also like to get together with other winemakers, we have barbecues, talk about wine and winemaking, and just hang out.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

A 1999 JL Chave Hermitage for its true purity of Syrah. The 2003 Pur Sang from Dagueneau for its layers of flavor.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

With two little kids, my cellar hasn’t been getting the kind of love it deserves the last several years, so it’s not in the best of shape right now. The most expensive wine is a 9 Liter bottle of 2000 Grenache and Syrah I made for my wedding day. It is priceless.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

I’m going to assume we are not picking one of our own wines, otherwise our Purisima Mountain Vineyard Grenache would be in the running. I love Grenache! One of the reasons I became a winemaker is because you get to drink a lot of great wines—especially from your own region. But I also think as a winemaker it’s important to expand your horizons and look at wines from other countries, so I’m going to say a Châteauneuf-du-Pape Grenache or Grenache blend and an Alsace white.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

In broad strokes, it’s trying to make our wines better and better every year. Specifically, I can’t stand sulfide problems.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?

If you’re ruling out our own region, then Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Again, Grenache is my favorite grape, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the essence of Grenache. Plus there is so much bang for your buck there, the wines are really sensual, and you get the best of all worlds in terms of balance, acidity, great fruit and tannin weight.

Is beer ever better than wine?

The only time beer is better than wine is during harvest.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I’m part Hawaiian, and was born and raised in Hawaii.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

Probably saving lives as a fireman in Hawaii.

How do you define success?

Happiness.

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