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Q&A with Production Winemaker Joel Wright

Jun. 9, 2020

Q&A with Production Winemaker Joel Wright
Joel Wright joined the winemaking team at Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars in July 2018. Joel is a Washington native and earned his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Washington. Post-graduation, Joel worked as a chemical analyst in Seattle before finding his way to the winemaking world.

We caught up with Joel in between blending trials to learn a bit more about him and how he came to be a winemaker. 

You developed your love of wine while working as a chemical analyst. What drew you to the winemaking profession? A friend of mine, who happened to be a winemaker, reached out to see if I was interested in working harvest in the lab because he knew I liked wine. I interned that harvest and fell in love with the whole process.

How does your chemistry background/experience help in your current winemaking role?
It is very useful to approach problems/situations that arise in the winemaking process from an analytical perspective. Coming up with quick calculations on the spot is useful as well as having a good understanding of converting metric and standard.

What does a typical day look like as a production winemaker for Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars?
During harvest, it begins with punchdowns and pumpovers (which breaks up the cap of grape must formed during fermentation). Tasting through each specific lot that we are in the process of making. Pressing grapes. Processing new lots coming in by weighing and destemming them. Finishing up the day with punchdowns and pumpovers again. Outside of harvest, my day’s activities include: doing lab work on the wine we are aging in barrels, blending (first in the glass, then the tank), racking the wines, and bottling.

What is a common misconception about your job?
That all a winemaker does is blend and taste wine. In truth that only makes up roughly 10% of production. The majority is cleaning and upkeep of the wines.

What is your favorite part about being a winemaker?
I enjoy the variety. Everyday is different, and the activities range from academic to very labor intensive.

Favorite thing to do when you're not making wine?
Cycling through the Walla Walla Valley, working in my garden at home, and enjoying my family.

What’s Your Favorite Wine You’ve Made for Amavi Cellars So Far?
Definitely the 2018 Sémillon. Because this was my first harvest working for Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars, I will always have a place in my heart for the 2018 vintage. The 2018 Sémillon was the first wine I helped produce for Amavi Cellars and the first to be released. This was one of the most ideal ripening seasons in recent history for the Walla Walla Valley, making for one of the region’s most expressive examples of Sémillon. It’s delicious, vibrant, and finished by a lemon twist. 

What do you wish more people knew about the Sémillon varietal (besides how to pronounce it)?
I wish more people knew about the varietal in general. I think most people feel comfortable drinking wine that they know and if they don’t have a good understanding of what Sémillon is, a delicate, crisp, floral delicious wine, they are less inclined to try it when they see it in a store. Conversely, it’s always fun to introduce customers to a new wine they’ve never tried before.

What's your favorite food pairing for this Sémillon?
A caprese salad made from heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.

Have more questions for Joel that we didn't ask? Send him an email at joel@amavicellars.com! And if you're craving some 2018 Sémillon now, get your hands on some here.