Bob Blue

Founding Winemaker, Bonterra, California

Founder, 1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel

When coming up with a new method for winemaking, such as using bourbon barrels for aging, where do you find your inspiration?

Similar to trends we see in the culinary space where consumers are interested in crossover experiments like fusion cuisines and exotic flavor-enhanced traditional fare, there has also been a demand for innovation in the beverage industry. We’re curious, and we like to push the status quo. We began aging Zinfandel in bourbon barrels as an experiment, and were blown away by the complexity and depth of flavor we discovered. Bourbon barrel aging is interesting because it is so powerful, and the reaction of the wine in the barrel is very fast. From a winemaker’s standpoint, the changes happen quickly, so you have to taste often and be very engaged with the process, working at a different cadence than regular winemaking.

How do you think American wines have developed the past 20 years, and where do you see them going from here?

In the US, we see a lot of interest in premium and above wines, which means consumers are investing more in their wines than ever before, and we also see a movement away from seasonality and tradition. Whereas before folks would stick to tried-and-true varietals and styles for certain occasions and seasons, we’re now seeing people jettison these notions and drink what they want, when they want. It’s very exciting, and we look forward to continuing to meet consumers where they are, and offer them quality wines that resonate. Looking ahead, sustainability and selectivity will be key factors as folks continue to seek out quality products with strong sourcing stories that showcase alignment with their values.

What are the most important things that winemakers have to think about today? Sustainability? Grape purity? Sourcing and supply chains?

We see the climate crisis as a key risk for all business, and certainly wine. That’s why our business sits down with legislators in our state and in Washington, DC to advocate for legislation in support of climate-smart practices for businesses, farms and society. We work with our grape suppliers to help them convert to sustainable practices, now with 90% of our supply chain certified. And all of that happens before we get the grapes into the winery! We’re laser-focused on quality for our wines, and quality of life for our colleagues. As a Certified B Corp, we’re held to higher standards for governance, worker fairness, environmental protection and community support—and we will continue driving on all these areas as essential counterparts to the everyday project of making wines people love.

Bonus question! Have you ever traveled to Norway, and where would you like to visit? 

Yes! I have been to Norway about five times starting in about 2001. Always to Oslo, which is a really enjoyable city to tour and enjoy great food. But on my most recent trip, just before the pandemic, I was able to fly from Oslo to Trondheim for a special dinner with consumers.  The city is beautiful and so interesting.  And then we drove out to Hitra island to see crab processing and have a lunch out on the island.  I loved the auto touring experience through the countryside, the tunnels and finally out to the beautiful seaside. Now on my dream travel list is to return Norway and drive the country on a vacation.