Wow, is it really almost Thanksgiving? Yikes… Since the month is flying by, I’m excited to share the next participant in my ’12 Questions’ series before December is upon us. This month’s Q&A is with winemaker Jeff Pisoni, who makes wine from the grapes grown on his family’s well-respected Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards near Monterey. After earning a degree in Enology, Jeff worked at wineries such as Peter Michael and Bernadus before transitioning to make wine with his family full-time, including the Pisoni Estate, Lucia, and Luli labels.
For Luli, Jeff and his family partnered with Master Sommelier, Sara Floyd, to make hand-crafted wines at a reasonable price. Last year I was able to sample a few of the wines from the Luli collection and was impressed by the quality of these Central Coast wines. The Chardonnay is a full-bodied but vibrant wine made using a blend of neutral oak and stainless steel, and the Pinot Noir (their easy-drinking signature wine) would be perfect for this week’s Thanksgiving meal. Both wines are gaining popularity on wine lists not only for their great price, but also because they pair well with food. For Luli, Jeff and his family also produce a Rosé, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc (which are all under $20).
You might remember last year when I wrote about Luli Chardonnay and William Shatner. If you missed it, you may be wondering what Shatner has to do with anything? Well, Luli wine was actually featured on his ‘Brown Bag Tasting’ web series, in which he blind tastes wine with different celebrities and asks them to describe the wine using nontraditional wine terms. William Shatner tasted the 2013 Luli Chardonnay with actor Misha Collins, and it was pretty entertaining. But enough about Shatner, let’s learn more about Jeff!
Keep reading to hear what Jeff likes to drink off-duty, the answer that’s probably winning him points with his wife, and why his party trick is quite popular amongst his friends.
12 Questions with Jeff Pisoni
What’s your current job title?
How did you get started in the industry?
By immersion—My father introduced it to me at three years old. No kidding! My brother and I would help stomp grapes every year growing up. Then at school, I was working harvests while studying for my Enology degree.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
Tasting 1982 Chateau Latour—when I was 15. My Dad started collecting wine early. The wine itself was inspiring, but I was also fascinated by the Chateau, it’s history, and all it stands for. (looking back, that also may have been my father convincing me to be a winemaker. It worked!)
Do you have a go-to wine and food pairing?
Rosé and pizza margherita. Simple and works great.
What’s the strangest word/s you’ve used to describe the smell or taste of wine?
Sweaty . . . “locker room” sweaty.
Which wine varietal do you think is underrated?
Semillon. It’s a significant component in the dry white wines of Bordeaux, and especially in Sauternes. Yet, with the exception of very few Chateaux, most of the wines are not regarded with very much esteem. And particularly with Sauternes—the wines are very challenging to produce and can be so enchanting. They deserve much more recognition.
Is there one person in the industry you really admire and/or has been a role model for you?
My wife. Her journey to become a winemaker is extremely admirable. She is a native of Colombia and went to France before even studying French. Then she graduated from the prestigious university of Bordeaux, worked all over France and now makes great wines here in California.
When you’re all wine-d out, what is your drink of choice?
A fresh margarita or a hoppy IPA.
Favorite place in the world you’ve visited?
Medellín, Colombia. The wonderful culture, the beautiful geography and now the food and wine scene! I’m glad my wife is from a place that I ended up loving so much. I highly recommend visiting.
If you had to describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?
Focused, creative, thoughtful
Do you have a random talent or party trick?
I like making cocktails—In a way it’s like blending wines (seeking balance, harmony) but with an entirely different level of complexity and a wide variety of ingredients. My friends also appreciate it!
What 3 things would you take on a deserted island with you other than water?
A big knife, binoculars and my winery boots—they’ll survive through anything.