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Work Hard, Play Hard, Eat Well, Says Oregon Winemaker Spencer Spetnagel

Photo for: Work Hard, Play Hard, Eat Well, Says Oregon Winemaker Spencer Spetnagel

16/12/2022 When I finished my degree I packed up my car and drove to Sonoma, CA to get my foot in the door of a cellar - “Spencer Spetnagel”

Tell us a little about your background and journey into winemaking.

From Chattanooga TN. Not exactly the heart of wine country. I ended up waiting tables in fine dining in Atlanta at University. This is where I was first truly exposed to wine and started diving in. The more I learned the more I was hooked. I knew I never wanted to work in a cubicle and everything about the production of wine fit perfectly my personality. Dependent on Mother Nature, it takes plenty of physical labor to get the job done, everywhere you grow wine is a gorgeous part of the world, and every winemaker just wants you to enjoy the fruit of their labors with loved ones and gorgeous food. It seemed to tick all the boxes. So, when I finished my degree I packed up my car and drove to Sonoma, CA to get my foot in the door of a cellar.  

Durant Vineyards

Image: Durant Vineyards; Source: Instagram

Your current role and what does your day look like?

Winemaker for Durant Vineyards - Dundee Hills AVA - Oregon, USA

I get to work early and typically start the day with a walk in the vines with my dog. I'm focused on the winemaking portion of our property. My time is filled with logistics and admin duties with plenty of babysitting the wine in barrels and tanks. Tasting takes up some portion of most days. At a small family-owned business we all wear numerous hats, so every day of the month can look different from the rest.  

What inspired you to become a winemaker?

The finished product, the people, and the places.

 Spencer Spetnagel

Image: Spencer Spetnagel; Source: Instagram

How do you think a winemaker can help in driving marketing and sales personally?

Especially at a small winery, this is true. Everyone wants to connect with the wine that they are drinking as wine is tied to a sense of place more than any other product in the world. The soil the wine is grown in though is equally important to the winemaker that coaxes the grapes into wine. The personality of the winemaker tends to show up in each wine they make. The more you want the connection to a wine, which is always going to help drive sales, the more meeting the winemaker or learning about the winemaker will help customers understand the wine that is in front of them. Understanding=Connection when customers make a connection to the wine they have in front of them they are much more likely to take some home.  

Define a good winemaker

Do not try and do too much. We are here to give nudges if absolutely necessary, but the best winemakers I know allow each vintage to shine through and allow the wine to be made in the vineyard first and foremost. You must approach wine with focus and intention.

What is the hardest part of a winemaker's job?

The unknowns. No matter how many ferments you have taken to dry there is always something new each year that you are not expecting or does not follow conventional wisdom. The learning in this industry is never finished. This is also one of the best parts of the job. There is always something new to learn. 20 years later and the process is only more enthralling than when I first started.  

 Spencer Spetnagel

Image: Spencer Spetnagel; Source: Instagram

What do you do when you are not working/making wine?

Play outside in the Pacific Northwest. Hiking, skiing, swimming, ultimate frisbee, disc golf. Generally sharing in the bounty of this gorgeous part of the world. From the food that is grown within a stone's throw to the beer, wine, liquor, ciders, and vistas that envelop our region the PNW is world-class at providing a home.

What are the current challenges winemakers are facing according to you?

Climate Change and the unknowns of what things will look like in 20+ years. When you plant grapes you are thinking about 30 years down the road and right now we have no idea what that could mean.  

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What skill or topic you are learning currently in wine and why?

Lately, I have been focused on the acidity of the wine. What the interplay is between Tartaric, Stems (Potassium), Malic, Concrete, and oak, and what all of those separate entities will mean when put together in different proportions for the finished product? To know exactly where wine will end up depending on its chemistry at harvest. It still seems to surprise me a little every year.  

What is your idea of a good life?

The life I am living. Work Hard Play Hard Eat Well. Don't let work completely consume you. Find the balance between family and work.

Who are your top 3 sommeliers whose work you admire?

Andy Fortgang

Chevonne Ball

Chris Tanghe

Your favourite 2-3 wine books?

Kevin Zraly: Windows on the World-Complete Wine Course

Jasper Morris: Inside Burgundy

Richard Smart / Mike Robinson: Sunlight into Wine

Header Image: Spencer Spetnagel; Source: Instagram

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