The Wine Country Online

Meet the Makers:
An Interview with David Munksgard
Iron Horse Vineyards

        It is a splendid fall day to be out in the countryside. The rolling hills of Iron Horse Vineyards are ablaze with the colors of a fine old Turkish carpet. Summer's green grape leaves are now frost burnt to shades of red, gold and orange.

     I have my favorite vantage spots here. I return to them seasonally like the resident gray squirrels to the walnut trees behind the barn. I know where to look for that perfect nut of fall color. I know where to look because I have been working here on this lovely ranch for the past four harvest seasons.

     Although I am not involved in the winemaking, my friend David Munksgard has always been happy to have me tag along as he orchestrates the process of transforming the fruit of two hundred and forty acres of vines into the deliciously distinctive wines of Iron Horse Vineyards.

"David, how did you come to your career and to your passion for the art of making wine?"
Photo by Andy Katz
"My wife Page and I were running a restaurant in Virginia in the mid-1970s. It was decided we would like to add a list of wines to our menu, and I got chosen for the task of learning about and choosing the wine."
Jack:"Obviously it was a subject you enjoyed."
David:"Yes. Later, just after our first son was born, I had been working for a land surveying company."
Jack:"I assume that was not the job of your dreams."
David:"No, and one day I came home from the job to find a 'For Sale' sign up in front of our newly purchased home. That was a little surprising. But not as surprising as the news that Page and her mother had conspired to help me follow my heart by preemptively enrolling me in the enology program at CSU-Fresno."
Jack:"Wow, that's what I call support!"
David:"Page is a determined and supportive woman."
Jack:"How did you come to be here at Iron Horse?"
David:"In 1980, right out of school, I went to work for Chateau St. Jean, specifically to help develop their sparkling wine program. I was with them for nine vintages. Then we went to the Fingerlakes region of New York State for a few years, and came back to California and Iron Horse for the 1996 vintage."
Jack:"At Iron Horse you make both sparkling and still wines. How do you manage to keep track of all the various processes and methods involved? It seems a complex task."
David:"I work in concert with winemaker and Iron Horse partner Forrest Tancer and with the able assistance of our cellarmaster Rigo Moreno. This year Josh Gruber is with us as an intern from U.C.-Davis, and he has been of enormous help through this harvest of 1999."
Jack:"Considering the necessary time it takes to produce wines of excellent quality, I believe I am still waiting to taste some of your work from your first vintage of 1996."
David:"That's correct, as far as sparkling wine is concerned. The only sparkling of mine to have been released is the 1996 Wedding Cuveé."
Jack:"I know that one. We are hoarding a few bottles at the house. It is delicious, but it's all sold out here at the winery."
David:"Oh, well, you will have to wait for May of 2000 for the release of the 1997 Wedding Cuveé. The 1996 Brut, Blanc de Blanc, Rosé, and our Late Disgorged Brut you will also have to wait for."
Jack:"Well, it's worth the wait. And in the meantime, I'm quite content to enjoy your still wines that are now available, as well as the terrific sparklers that were made by your predecessor, Raphael Brisbois."

"Speaking of still wines, you make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from here in Green Valley, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Viognier and Sangiovese from Forrest Tancer's T Bar T Ranch over in Alexander Valley. I have had the wonderful opportunity to taste all of your wines from the vintages of 1996, 1997 and 1998, and have followed them from the picking of the fruit to the barrel and then to the bottle. May I ask what your winemaking philosophy is that allows you to craft such consistently delicious wines from all these varieties of grapes from two distinct growing regions?"

David:"Well, first there is location--location, soil and management practices that yield top quality grapes. And then there are the winemaking practices, the picking and handling of the fruit, the careful control of temperature and fermentations. I very much believe in a hands-on approach. I demand maximum control of and involvement with the wines at every step of the process. This ensures all the best from our vineyards winds up in the glass. With fresh, lively fruit and soft tannins, our supple, rich and well-rounded wines don't just make themselves. We work hard to get what we want."
Jack:"And I, for one, am glad you do. And I look forward to doing a little barrel touring of your 1999 vintages as a special 'Y2K' treat."

     Iron Horse Vineyards invites you to visit the winery, open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Please call ahead to make an appointment if you would like to join one of the informative weekday tours.

Jack Burton   

Iron Horse Vineyards
9786 Ross Station Road
Sebastopol, CA 95472