Denis Malbec, Malbec & Malbec Cellars and Consulting Winemaker (Napa Valley). Nicolas-Alexandre Marquis de Ségur, le Prince des Vignes (1695–1755). He was the winemaker/owner of Château Lafite, Château Latour, Château Mouton and Château Calon-Ségur. He also owned the land that would later become Château d’Armailhac and Château Pontet-Canet. Château Latour stayed in his family until 1963!
Bob Betz, Betz Family Winery (Washington). There are so many great winemakers to learn from:past pioneers who pushed the limits of what was known then, and current stars who make the best wines in history. But I’d have to choose André Tchelistcheff for the sheer curiosity and excellence he brought to our craft. Well-educated and steeped in French wine culture, he nevertheless challenged himself, the wine protocols of the time, and what had come before him, to put his signature on new techniques and methods, across any number of wineries and countries.
I had the thrill of learning lessons from him at Chateau Ste. Michelle, where he consulted while still winemaking at BV. Humble, charming, opinionated, frank and always a gentleman, he taught lessons beyond the vineyard and cellar. Working a stage with him would be a lesson in quality, experimentation and life.
Brian O’Donnell, Belle Pente (Willamette Valley, Oregon). It may be a somewhat obvious choice for a pinot noir producer, but for me it would be Henri Jayer. I only know him by reputation, but he seemed to be a very thoughtful winemaker who pioneered many techniques that we take for granted today. It would have been very interesting to be part of this innovation.
Lynnette Hudson, Lynnette Hudson Wine Consulting (Auckland, New Zealand). Without any doubt I would have loved to have done a stage with Noel Ramonet. He is the quintessential Burgundian farmer, very relaxed, down to earth and genuine, and he produces some of the best white Burgundies ever. I would love to have worked with him to see if his winemaking approach is as relaxed and intuitive as he is. I am sure it would be, as so often you can see a winemaker in his or her wines. I would not only like to understand him and his winemaking practices better but would also hope that some of his relaxed nature could rub off on me.
Bernard Hervet, Domaine Faiveley (Burgundy, France). My first important meeting with a great and intelligent vigneron was in 1977 with Henri Plumet at Domaine du Chalet Pouilly. He was a scientist and a winemaker, and I was so happy to listen to him with all his knowledge. He explained to me both the simplicity and the complexity of chardonnay growing in a great terroir, and the chemical and physical reactions during the process of vinification and elevage.
I have still in my cellar some bottles of his Pouilly-Fuissé from the 70s: absolutely gorgeous!
Dawnine Dyer, Meteor Vineyard, Dyer Straits Wine Co. (Napa Valley). Can I twist the question and answer it with examples of a couple of real-life/life-long “stages“? Zelma Long, an early woman winemaker who I met working at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1974 and whose great curiosity, methodical focus, and passion for winemaking has been an inspiration to me over the years. And Edmond Maudière, the peripatetic winemaker for Moët & Chandon who was my mentor in the early days of Domaine Chandon and to whom I owe so much. Both provided me with a lot of wine wisdom over the years and, I guess, prove the point about the value of a fortuitous internship.
Now, you asked about a stage that never was but that I would have found interesting. I once had a chance to meet Henri Jayer, whose impeccable Burgundies are legend. Meeting and tasting with him was truly memorable and I would love to have been able to shadow him (what a stagière gets for his or her low-paid efforts). He integrated vineyard and winemaking to the extent that they really couldn’t be separated . . . and the result was great wines. I’d like to have internalized that earlier.
Pietro Ratti, Renato Ratti (Piedmont, Italy). My best stage was the one I did at Domaine Dujac back in 1989. The experience was great, not just for the interesting work but also for the warmth and kindness of the entire Seysses family. I still keep the connection with them after so many years.
Thanks to the generosity of Jacques Seysses, it was a great opportunity to taste so many good wines, also from other producers from all over the world. This is something I’ve learned to do myself and that I will never forget.
Anthony Hamilton Russell, Hamilton Russell Vineyards (Hermanus, South Africa). I would like to have worked a harvest under Lalou Bize-Leroy at that stage in her winemaking career when she was in the process of converting to biodynamics and questioning all the old practices. We are learning our own way into biodynamic farming and winemaking and this experience would have been extremely useful.
Laurence Féraud, Domaine du Pegau (Southern Rhone, France).I have done a stage that I remember well and fondly. I was 17 years old when I worked at Pierre Bérard at Domaine de Terre Ferme in Bedarrides. Pierre owned a large vineyard. He was a winemaker and also a négoce. He was the best taster and blender. A minimum of three times a week I had to taste wine in the laboratory. Pierre blended many wines and had glasses ready to ask me which wine was the best and why. He taught me how to develop my palate and make me think about how to build a wine.
It is why today I am passionate about blending wine. There are connections between a cellar wine chef and a kitchen cooking chef.