© 2013 Eight Arms Cellars. All Rights Reserved.                                 2961 California Street, Berkeley, CA 94703

(510) 932-3019

Below is an interview conducted by Sagi Solomon with winemaker Iain Boltin. It appeared on OpenBottles in May 2009 as part of their Meet the Winemaker series.

One of my favorite things about running a wine social network is getting to meet the people behind the wine. Each bottle of wine is a reflection of a winemaker’s passion for the art and science of winemaking. Unfortunately, few people get to experience this passion first-hand. I believe that getting to know the winemaker is an important part of experiencing a wine – much like knowing the story behind a song or understanding the inspiration behind a painting.

In an effort to give more people a glimpse into what’s it’s like to be a winemaker, I decided to ask the winemakers who participate in our community if they’d be interested in sharing their insights with the rest of us. Thankfully, they were.

The first person to volunteer was Iain Boltin, owner and winemaker of Eight Arms Cellars. I asked him a number of questions about himself, his work and his prediction for the future of the wine industry. Here’s what he had to share:

SAGI: What do you find most rewarding about being a winemaker?

IAIN: There is nothing like the smell of the winery during crush. The air is thick with yeast and the aromas coming off of the fermenting bins are heavenly. Every day during crush when I get to the winery, I am like a little child who can't wait to take the lid off of a candy jar and dip his hands in. Opening up the fermenting bins in the morning, getting close and smelling the fermentation, looking at the beautiful color of the must and tasting it is pure joy. Even though I totally understand the chemical process of fermentation, it still amazes me that grape juice can somehow evolve into wine. And the fact that the basic principles of winemaking haven't changed in thousands of years, really makes me stop and think — with all our modern technology and fast pace of life, winemaking is one of those great professions where you can trace the lineage back to the dawn of civilization and somehow know that what I do today — when I make wine — is connected with how our ancestors made wine. To hold a glass of fermenting grape juice in one's hand — to look at it, smell it, taste it and know that a winemaker hundreds, if not thousands of years ago would have had a similar experience — now that's rewarding!

SAGI: What do you find most challenging about being a winemaker?

IAIN: The most challenging thing about being a winemaker would have to do with the size of my business. Because I produce such small quantities, I pretty much have to do everything myself, from making the wine, to sales and marketing, to office work, to creating and maintaining my website. Making the wine only happens once a year and that is really the most fun part, but for the rest of the year it's all about maintenance, care of the wine and sales, sales, sales. Sales calls can definitely be daunting — especially since I am just starting out. There is an incredible amount of really good wine on the market and it is a real challenge to differentiate my wine from everyone else's — especially when I am pouring only one wine for a buyer to try after he/she has just tasted through a wine rep's portfolio of maybe 10 or 12 wines. But all I do is remind myself that my wine is great and can stand up well to anything a rep is pouring and to just forge ahead.

SAGI: What impact do you see the Internet having on the wine industry as a whole?

IAIN: The Internet has made access to information so much easier. Where as before a winery could be local — by having a web presence, I can now reach anyone, anywhere in the world. It is a great way to get information out and by having a great website, I can drive potential customers right to the information without having to print up a lot of marketing materials. I can also update information much easier and have all current information available for my customers.

SAGI: What impact do you see social networking having on your business?

IAIN: Although I use an email list, I find that social network sites such as Facebook, are sometimes more effective. It's easy for emails to get "lost" in someone's in box and sometimes it's a challenge to get people to open them. However, if I send an update through Facebook, I've noticed a more immediate response to the information.

SAGI: In your opinion, what characteristics should a good wine have?

IAIN: A good wine should have balance between the fruit and the acidity. Acidity is the backbone to a great wine. If there is not enough, then the wine can seem flat and flabby in the mouth whereas too much can make it too harsh to drink. By finding the balance, the wine will come alive in your mouth. I like the red wine I make to not only have a nice amount of fruit character to it, but also to express the terroir of the vineyard where the grapes were grown. I think wines should be interesting and have the potential to evolve in the glass. I like to keep the oak in the background and not have it as a predominant feature. It really should just be there to support the fruit and give the wine the structure it needs. Tannins in red wine are also important — they need to be round and soft, almost silky in the mouth. The best way to achieve this is to harvest the fruit when the tannins have matured. Barrel aging will then add structure to these tannins and if the right barrels are used, with just the right amount of finesse, I can create a wine with all these components in balance.

SAGI: Which do you prefer, a 90+ rating from Parker or 25 positive reviews from your customers? Why?

IAIN: Positive reviews are great and can generate some excitement about a wine, whereas Parker's opinion is that of only one person (but a very influential person at that!). The reality is, when I'm out selling the wine, there are a lot of stores where a 90+ review will be the deciding factor as to whether I can get shelf space. I don't make my wines to suit one person's palate, but I am also mindful that a lot of consumers find choosing wine a confusing and daunting task — and for those people a score of 90+ points can tip then in favor of purchasing my wine over someone else's. A Parker review can really help move bottles, which can lead to more people trying and enjoying my wine. I'd rather make a wine that I know will be enjoyed by a lot of people rather then chasing the big score but I have to stay aware of the reality of a very competitive market. It's a delicate balance that needs to be reached.

SAGI: Do you have a favorite wine that you like to serve your guests?

IAIN: I'm always proud and happy to serve Eight Arms Syrah. I've put my heart and soul into making my wine and it almost feels like I am introducing someone to my child when they try my wine. I love pouring at events and having people discover my wine for the first time. On another note, I love dessert wine and always enjoy pulling out an interesting bottle to try. Some of my favorites are the fortified wines from the Rutherglen area in Australia — they are truly nectar of the gods.

SAGI: Do you have a wine that is your guilty pleasure (that is, a wine you really like but don't often admit to liking)?

IAIN: I love the taste of fermenting grape juice (it may be a guilty pleasure but I'd always admit to liking it!). There is a point where it is still sweet but has just a small amount of alcohol in it (about 5-6%). It's the point where it is no longer grape juice but not quite wine. It's thick and murky and full of yeast, but it sure does taste good. In the Czech Republic they call it Burcak and there is a festival every year dedicated to drinking it. Whole towns stop what they are doing when the winemaker declares the Burcak ready and they spend the next few hours drinking and celebrating the harvest. Hopefully I will get there for it one day!