Changing winemakers is never easy. After all, our business is predicated
first and foremost on producing outstanding
wines that satisfy our customers each and every
vintage. So when Bill
Knuttel, our winemaker since 2003, decided to pursue his consulting
business, the search was on. And what an
exhaustive search it was! In fact, a good chunk of 2011 was spent looking for the
next great Dry Creek Vineyard winemaker. We
spent hundreds of hours in interviews, tastings,
discussions, more interviews, fact checking,
pondering…you get the idea. We did our
homework. And finally, Tim Bell rose to the top
of the list.
Tim joined us just before harvest last year and officially took the reins
from Bill in January 2012. Tim has more than
20 years of winemaking experience at such
esteemed California wineries as Kunde Family
Estate and Freemark Abbey in Napa Valley.
Experience, however, was just one of many
factors as to why Tim was chosen for the job.
We could wax poetic for quite awhile about what
a great guy Tim is and how fond we are of him –
but we thought it would be much better to hear
from him in his own words. Earlier this year,
after the official baton was passed, we sat down
with Tim for some one-on-one time to find out
what makes him tick.
Q. So Tim, why winemaking? Where does the passion come from?
Well, this might sound just a tad cheesy, but the honest truth is that
I’m sort of a romantic at heart. I find a lot
of beauty in things. I love music. I have a
passion for the outdoors. I feel deep
connections to things of simplicity. I think
that really speaks to how I feel about wine.
There’s so much beauty and romance surrounding
wine. It’s the vineyards, the wide open
country, the beauty of the surrounding hills and
valleys. I’m passionate about taking grapes
from these places and being respectful to them
and creating a wine that has meaning and care
put into it.
Q. Wow, Tim. That’s pretty great. We love passionate people. Can
you tell us more about your early years – where
did you grow up? How did you get your start in
the wine business?
I was born in Iowa, the youngest son in a family of farmers and
laborers. I think a good bit of my creative
side came from my upbringing. My parents worked
hard all day and found some joy in music at
night and in church. Music is a huge part of
our family gatherings today - lots of singing
and people playing different instruments. My
family is very down to earth – salt of the earth
kind of people.
As I grew up, I hung out with a pretty eclectic mix of friends. I found
myself, though, more often than not spending
time with my intellectual buddies – sort of
science geek type personalities. I suppose
that’s where I got a lot of my stimulation for
chemistry and lab work which are important parts
of being a winemaker.
My start in the wine industry was a bit unusual by winemaking
standards. From the age of 18 to about 28 I was
in the retail side of the business as a store
manager and wine buyer at a large retailer in
Southern California. I think this was where
I realized that wine has a great history and
romance (as well as science) behind it. Also,
this is where I had my wine “moment.” I was at
this trade tasting and tasted a super Tuscan
called Viticcio Prunaio. I was blown away. It
was a symphony of flavors and layers. It was
such a moment for me; it was profound. That’s when I
knew I wanted to be a winemaker. I attended the
University of California at Davis from 1990 to
1994 and did internships at Franciscan Winery
and Mt. Veeder Vineyards, as well as Gloria Ferrer Wine Caves.
My first full time job was at a winery called Arroyo Seco which was a
custom crush facility in San Martin near Gilroy,
CA. I refer to this period in my career as my
boot camp training for winemaking. During
harvest, the facility operated 20 hours a day, 7
days a week. I learned a lot in a very short
period of time. Also, I was never so tired in
my whole life!
How would you characterize your winemaking
I’m looking for boldness and intensity in the aromas and flavors but a
wine that never loses its balance. I’m not
making a cocktail; I’m making wine that goes
with food. That syncs up with Dry Creek
philosophy. Ripeness and full body are
important but the wine should have good acidity
and tannin structure.
We’re sure you’ve thought about this. Why Dry
Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and the Bordeaux varieties are wines I love to
make and wines that Dry Creek Vineyard has
championed for 40 years. It’s so satisfying to
work for a family and be involved from grape to
glass. I feel like I am really in line with the
family’s vision for the winery going forward.
It’s not often that you get to work for people
who are willing to give you all the tools
necessary to make great wines. Plus, the Kim,
Don and Dave are really passionate about making
great wine – as am I. This is a great situation
Q. What is your long term outlook? Do you see
any significant changes on the horizon?
First of all, I’m not here to reinvent the wheel. I want to stay within
the house style of wines. These wines have
made Dry Creek Vineyard successful for 40 years
so there’s no reason to try and fix something
that is not broken. That being said, I will
always strive to produce the best possible wine
and make suggestions for improvement. There are
some areas that I think I can be of assistance.
For example, some more attention to detail in
the vineyard with different pruning techniques
or canopy management, particularly in the
Endeavour vineyard, are just a few thoughts that
come to mind. Really though, it just comes down
to having a dedicated focus to Dry Creek
Vineyard. It’s all about planning, precision and
What is your "desert island" wine?
Zinfandel is for sure my favorite grape variety but Cabernet is a very
close second. I love Zinfandel because it is so
versatile. Hopefully, I don’t get stranded on
a desert island but if I were, Zin is definitely
the wine I’d want to have in lots of supply!