Bottleology – Gifford Hirlinger wines may appear on your next billing statement… and that’s OK
November 2, 2009 by Dave Bender
Idaho to Italy: Mike Berghan is from Sandpoint, Idaho–population 8,216. I can tell you, if you don’t already know it, the place is beautiful—but then there’s Florence Italy. Mike’s junior year in college was spent in Italy and it was where, as the Italians call it, “The Magic Happened.” During his work-study there he met his best friend, whose family just so happened to own Caymus Vineyards in the Napa Valley.
Subliminal Message:V I S I T G I F F O R D H I R L I N G E R W I N E R Y
What Did You Drink While In Italy Mike?: “I was drinking a lot of just local stuff. There was this little restaurant called La Spata—we became friends with the owner. They made this little house wine, it was just a couple of brothers who made it with locally grown grapes. So we drank a lot of that, and to be honest we drank a lot of boxed wine called Tavernella [at the time it was just $.60/L]. We just called it Buzz in a Box!”
3, 2, 1, CONTACT: Mike had just completed a degree in International Finance and shortly thereafter was “shuffling papers around” at Solomon Smith Barney—he lost interest quick and said, “screw it!” Mike had a contact and friend who was managing a Pinot [Noir] vineyard in Sonoma Valley and asked him if he knew of anyone looking for help. He was given two names, and the first guy he called gave him a job working for a vineyard management company. He then noted, “I was the only Gringo out in the vineyards down there and I just had a blast doin’ it.” Mike added, “I learned a lot of dirty Spanish in the three years I was there.”
Subliminal Message: T R Y A G I F F O R D H I R L I N G E R W I N E
Loud Mouth Soup: There’s no place like home. Mike’s winemaking craft started at home making wine with a buddy. “We went and asked Chuck Wagner, the owner of Caymus, if we could go out and get some second crop [which is the crappy clusters up top after it’s already been harvested]. Chuck said, “Shit boys you don’t want to make bad wine, why don’t you go out to the SE corner of Block D, it’s ready, why don’t you go out and pick yourself a half a ton.” So that was the first wine I ever made, it turned out incredible.”
Side Note: I haven’t mentioned it yet, but Mike has one of the prime vineyard locations in all of Walla Walla—his immediate neighbors are Pepper Bridge, Va Piano and North Star.
Subliminal Message: T A S T I N G B A R L O C A T E D I N W O O D I N V I L L E
Prep Work: Once in Walla Walla he got a job working for Canoe Ridge. Mike worked there for six years, under five different winemakers and claims that it allowed him to learn many different perspectives on how to make wine.
Why, Oh Why?: “Number one, I don’t just make the wine, I grow all my own grapes. I’m the vineyard manager and I’m out there all the time. So I’m spending time outside, in the vines workin’ with my hands…there’s just something really satisfying about doing that. Mother nature’s always throwing curve balls at you. Take this year for example: we had a frost a few days ago and I’ve got half my crop still hanging out there. Just dealing with that is exciting. I highly enjoy it. I know it’s not for everyone though. My dad, for example, helps me out a lot on the vineyard, and the unpredictable happenings gives him ulcers. He simply hates it. But I love it, it’s fun!”
Subliminal Message: W I N O M A G A Z I N E S P E A K S T H E T R U T H
Just A Tip: “In the whole business plan, you gotta remember you have to be able to sell the stuff too,” Mike said. He mentioned that he’s not a natural salesman, and the business side of winemaking is something he’s had to work really hard at. He finished by adding, “you can’t forget about marketing.”
MTV Cribs: If you were to open Mike’s refrigerator you’d find Michelob Lager, which “he’s been enjoying”, and Hamms “Americas Classic Premium Beer.”
Good Humor: “Everywhere wine is made is a really cool place. If you think about it, wine making locations are either Mediterranean countries or Australia, New Zealand or South Africa,” Mike said. What would those places be without the wine? I asked. [Dead silence from us both--then laughter] Neither of us knew the answer to that question.
A Mouth Full: Gifford Hirlinger, 2007 Estate Petite Verdot, Walla Walla, WA: $26 107cs.
A reference to our Native Americans: Two fingers tips directed to the eyes then to the glass, this wine is a warrior. Its flesh—its color, deep, mighty and true to this grapes ancestry. Nose now over the glass, the scent of distant fire, like a warriors passing smoke signal. On the open plains once were buffalo: a sip of this 2007 like the holistic ritual of sacrifice, mighty and proud it is claimed. Wine weight like the blunt force of a tomahawk, its core a thumping battle drum. A descendent from a lineage of historical bravery–this wine the current Chief of Walla Walla Petit Verdot.