Please remember to approach the world of wine responsibly
15 Questions for Andy Smith and Dumol
1: Obviously, the first thing to ask is how a Scotsman ended up making excellent wine in Sonoma? I worked part time in Oddbins in Edinburgh during University & wine took a hold of me. I toured European regions followed by Napa/Sonoma in 1992 & decided to become a winemaker. I worked in NZ, Aus & Napa vintage-hopping between 1994 & ’98 including getting my viticulture/enology degree in NZ graduating in 1997. I came back to Calif, this time to Sonoma in 1998 to work for a CHD/PN specialist & met the founders of DuMOL in 1999. Became a partner in 2005 and just completed my 22nd harvest making the wines. With two new partners we bought out my founding partners 5 years ago. Edinburgh is still home though!
2: You source your grapes from a variety of vineyards. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this?
50% of our vyds are Estate-owned, 25% are leased/planted by us & 25% are purchased from long term grower/partners. This balanced mix gives us many options for both single vineyard wines of site expression plus blended cuvées where we show more of a DuMOL singular house style. Neither approach is automatically superior but certainly my finest fruit comes from our Estate parcels. When you’re offered absolutely pristine, world class Chardonnay fruit from the likes of Hyde, Charles Heintz, Ritchie and Lorenzo vineyards, for exampleyou don’t turn it down.
3: Is there a varietal you’d love to work with, but know that it would be difficult to grow perfectly in California? I’ve made pretty good/experimental mountain-grown Sonoma Nebbiolo but the choices of vine material available here are poor. I’ve grown/produced 3 vintages of Sonoma Coast Mencia which is a personal passion project & seems to be perfect for this climate and soils. My great love is German Rieslinga wine style that’s impossible to reproduce, so just content to drink it instead.
4: If you have any, how do you spend your downtime? I’m a masters swimmer so you’ll find me year-round in the (outdoor) pool at 6am, 4 times a week. There’s incredible hiking to do in coastal Sonoma too.
5: Which other winemakers do you admire and why? There are too many to count but:
Jean-Marc Vincent in Santenay for his spirit and innovation in the vineyard.
Tim Schafer-Fröhlich in Nähe whose wines are thrillingly intense and deep.
Philip Togni on Spring Mtn – my favorite Napa Cabernet, an original pioneer.
Steve Kistler – a quiet and brilliant man whose wines have always done the talking.
6: Is it possible to make an artisanal wine at a low price? It’s very difficult as the quality coming out of the vineyard will be necessarily lower, so compromises in the winery always need to be made. The more you have to compensate for weaker original grape quality, the further you land away from great artisan wine. There’s the occasional fluke, but with cheap grapes farmed to a price point, long term consistent “world class” quality is very rare.
7: Imagine that I’m taking you out for a thank you meal. What are you eating and what are you drinking? Traditional Northern Italian/Piedmontese food with old Barolo or modern Nordic with young dry GG Riesling.
8: Which of the wines that you have produced typify Andy Smith?
All our wines are an intimate expression of who we are & what we love. Some recent releases:
DuMOL 2017 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast – dense/deep and taut with incredible clarity of flavor and long echoing finish.
DuMOL 2018 Finn Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley – effortless quality, simultaneously succulent & vibrant with lift and energy. Deep fruit offset by woodsy complexity & fresh acidity.
DuMOL 2016 Estate Vineyard Syrah, Sonoma Coast – deep, pure and elegant. Soaring cool climate aromatics, power and precision.
DuMOL 2018 Montecillo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Moon Mtn – incredible complexity of mountain-grown old vine ruggedness, succulent blackcurrant fruit and savory underbrushy characters.
9: When I visited a few years ago, it was to the facility on the edge of Windsor. Are there plans to open a tasting room? We have a hospitality program/room where we see mailing list customers & trade.
10: What would make your life in the vineyard better? Comprehensive immigration reform & electric-powered tractors.
11: With climate change becoming an ever present part of Northern California winemaking what steps are being taken to protect the vines from events such as wildfires, and how has this year’s vintage stood up? With climate change the extremes are becoming even more extreme. Dry years are now fully drought conditions, wet winters mean flooding, heat spells last 7-days not 3 and are more frequent. Vines themselves are resilient and Calif has always had fires, yet we’re at a point now where extreme vintage conditions can smother/obscure specific vineyard character – all it takes is a dry season then a 5-day heatwave just as the fruit is approaching ripeness. Labor shortages means harvesting quickly is more difficult, so fruit can quickly over-ripen on the vine. Then there’s fires and possible smoke-compromised fruit. 2020 was the most challenging & surreal vintage in my 25yr career but I’m happy with what’s in barrel. We harvested early and FAST so the wines are bright, energetic and vivid. It’s the smallest crop in memory so there’s great natural intensity. No smoke-taint in my cellar!
12: What was the last thing that really made you laugh? Old sketches of Morecambe and Wise on YouTubetimeless and my late-Dad’s favorite.
13: How much intervention is at work in the Dumol vineyards? We practise precision viticulture with as light a touch as warranted according to the season. We react to the conditions as they present themselves & don’t follow a standard recipe. The goal is always absolutely pristine grapes on the day of harvest. There are certain fundamentals that we always adhere to: no herbicide, no tilling, returning nutrition to the soil to compensate for the crop that’s been harvested. We prune short in the winter and seek to harvest what we’ve grown rather than relying on intensive fruit thinning pre-harvest which wastes the vine’s energy. We try to protect the clusters from the sun as much as possible. There are many nuances at play. I’m a Scots pragmatist and avoid dogma.
14: The wines and reputation of Dumol have grown so much. Where next for the winery? Incremental improvements in the vines where potential quality is created and set: a lighter hand that allows the needs of the vine in that vintage to dictate the method. Refining extraction during fermentation – we find ourselves doing far less extraction every year and the wines show this in their suppleness and flow. Tell our updated/current era DuMOL story more vividly without any bs ego-driven “wine-speak”.
15: Are wine writers a necessary nuisance for the wine industry? No, I enjoy engaging and telling our story, but there’s too much band wagon jumping and not enough original/distinctive thought in wine writing. I always think wine writers should work/observe a harvest so they can speak with more understanding/authority over the choices that are made during harvest – it’s a real insight. And, the wine tasting note is the lowest form of literature known to man.