Editor's Note: We here at K&L pride ourselves on having the inside track on great new wines coming to market, particularly small production wines like this new project: Redemption. Interested in learning more about their tasty new addition to our inventory, the 2007 Redemption Monterey County Pinot Noir, we put together some questions from proprietor Chris Cutler. Here is what he had to say.
K&L: How did you decide on the name Redemption for your new label? How does the concept of redemption inform the winemaking decisions you make?
Chris Cutler: Redemption is a term that I hold near and dear. To me, it signifies new beginnings, persistence, hard work, focus and victory. It's a positive thing--a chance to prove your worth. I don't view Redemption as a type of punishment, or in the negative light, like "revenge" or "vengeance." What I have learned is that Redemption means something personal to everyone I speak with. To some, it has a very spiritual, biblical connotation. To others, it is the liberating feeling of getting even. To others, it is simply the nickel you get back when you return an aluminum can. That's ok with me. In fact, it is exactly how I think people should feel about wine. It is a personal thing. Colors, smells, and tastes of wine conjure up completely different images and descriptions based on an individual's own personal experiences. There is no right or wrong answer--only subjective interpretations. The artists I work with are given full creative authority to express how they view Redemption. It has been really fun seeing what they come up with and I look forward to future releases so I can continue to include new artists in the creative process. In the actual winemaking process, "Redemption" has to do with discipline, commitment to the best quality product and to constantly try and make a better wine. Each year at harvest new batches of grapes are picked, which will have similar characteristics as their predecessors due to consistent soil and climate (terroir) conditions. However, each new vintage "redeems" itself with personal character traits that belong entirely to that particular place and time. It's a beautiful cycle that keeps us coming back year after year to explore the nuances of each wine we drink.
Your website and the materials you sent talk about the confluence of art and culture and wine; how do these things come together for you? How do you choose the artists you'd like to represent the wines.
This is discussed briefly above. I think the bottom line is that art, culture and wine are all forms of artistic expression. Small changes to a painting, sculpture, song, movie, or barrel of wine will tremendously affect the outcome of each. They all represent a time and place and take on different meanings to the observer. I select the artists involved in the Redemption project based on their design sensibility as well as their ability to work with different mediums. For instance, Gary Taxali, who designed the first label for the '07 Monterey Pinot, did so by first silk-screening onto a dusty book he found in an antique store in Rome. He is a master at taking distressed materials (paper, canvas, book covers, etc) and bringing them to life with different textures and whimsical images. He then brought in icons, the "simple formula" for victory and his own personality to create a design that people can gather around and discuss over an intimate evening. My next artist, Thomas Campbell, is a self-taught photographer, filmmaker, music producer, sculptor, painter, surfer and doodler. I was thrilled to receive his support for the project and eager to see what he would come up with for his label. The finished result is a sewn-together collage of Chinese currency, symbolic stamps and clips from his own paintings, which achieve a balance indicative of our wines at Redemption.
Describe the winemaking philosophy at Redemption. Do you use native yeasts? What is the barrel program like? Do you fine and filter?
Our goal is to strike a balance between "Old World," food-friendly wines with finesse but in a "New World" style, meaning deeper color and slightly bigger mouthfeel. In order to retain acidity, we pick at the crack of dawn, we then hand-sort, leaving some full berry clusters, then use 25% new oak (75% "neutral") so as to show off the varietal characteristics of our wines. There is a slight amount of filtering at the beginning of our production process, but so far we have not found the need to fine before bottling.
What did you do before you got into the wine business?
I spent two years after college living and working around the world. I taught English in Korea, I opened a hostel in Malaysia, I surfed in Peru and sailed home from Costa Rica. I think I spent a lot of time avoiding the inevitable, which was the next five years of working in technology systems and sales for start-ups and established firms here in Northern California. Seeking Redemption, I entered the MBA program at Stanford GSB in 2002. I studied various business models, industries and professional options. It seemed to me that most people at business school were tired of investment banking or management consulting and looking to switch to private equity or venture capital. I wanted nothing to do with any of these things. I was drawn to the wine business and wanted to find a way to own a winery without the usual $10M needed to buy land, grow grapes and compete for shelf space. I left business school the summer between my first and second year and started a boutique private label business called Canvas Wines. As a "negociant," I would gather requirements from clients, deal with compliance issues, then bottle and deliver a finished product, thus making it possible for hotels, restaurants and corporate gift buyers to create their own brand of wine without all the hassles of winery ownership. The business went well and I ultimately sold rights to the brand which enabled me to focus efforts on my passions, which are art and Pinot Noir... Redemption.
How did your experience living abroad influence the style of wine you seek to make?
I guess the one thing I strive to achieve with my wines is balance. I want the wine to be food-friendly, which means nice acidity, not too much alcohol or over-bearing fruit. This is consistent with the Old World mentality and wines I have tasted throughout France, Italy and Spain. That said, I would be lying if I didn't also want the wine to stand out, show-off a little bit, in a Robert Parker, New World sort-of way. This is most likely due to the exposure I have had to wines from Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and right here in Northern California.
Do you plan to branch out to other varietals?
Presently, we are focusing on Pinot Noir from the best appellations in California. I do not see usbranching out any time soon.
What are your production goals? How many different wines and how many cases of each?
We only bottled 392 cases in 2008. We will do 1,000 cases in 2009--half from Mission Ranch Vineyard in Arroyo Seco (Monterey), and the other half from one other vineyard source in Northern California (cannot disclose yet). Our goal is to have 3,000 cases by 2010 from 3-5 vineyards. We will continue to best represent the earth and elements of the appellation we are bottling, continue to support innovative artists and continue to have as much fun as possible in the meantime.