Wine 101 with John Falcone

Wine 101 with John Falcone

John Falcone is our General Manager & Director of Winemaking at Gainey. He oversees all operations at the winery and provides crucial direction to the winemaking team.He began making wine in Santa Barbara County in 2001, following a 13-year winemaking stint in Napa Valley. Having garnered consistent critical acclaim for his wines over the years, John remains focused on “making wine in the vineyard.” We like to joke that he has a PhD in wine because his knowledge of wine runs a wide depth and breadth.

  1. In non-scientific terms, can you explain how grapes get turned into wine?

The grapes produce sugar, and yeast converts that sugar to alcohol.  We use cultured yeasts that are engineered to handle the resulting alcohol by product; otherwise indigenous yeast will get the wine fermenting, but it is riskier.

2. How does the type of grape influence the taste/feel/texture of the wine

Every grape variety has its own character which creates the unique flavor/texture to the wine. The grape variety is the most influence component of taste in the wine. Location of the grapes is critical. Whenever you are talking about a great wine, you’re talking about location. The best wines are always tied to a place.

3. Does soil make a difference?

Yes. Typically, the wine grapes do best under well-drained soils.  Over time, the vines start to have more distinctive flavors from the soil type they are grown in, but this is more the romantic belief and there are some scientific arguments against this.  I think the final decision is in the taste of the wine.  

4. What’s the best way to develop one's sense of taste?

Using a wine aroma kit is really helpful. Essentially you match up aromas from vials in the kit that are common to many of the grape varietals.  This helps with aroma sensory, but tasting is more complicated and learning where certain sensations on your tongue are can be valuable. You can also develop your sense of taste simply by tasting a lot of wine! And taste them with someone who’s experienced. Take a sensory class. Here at Gainey we offer a blindfolded tasting class that does this exact thing to help you learn.

5. What is the best way to handle wine?

My rule of thumb is opposite of what most people hear. Decant young wines (1-3 years old) versus old wines. Young wines react better to having some oxygen.  Young wines will open up more, it makes them friendlier to drink.  An old wine, (10-year or older) once you open it, will change more dramatically in as little as thirty minutes. It can have a big difference in flavor and aroma. Don’t decant unless you are ready to start consuming it.  Also decant off the sediment which many old red wines have.  I think decanting old wines and letting them sit out for 1 + hours is a mistake and you often lose interesting characters from the immediate opening of the bottle. This is a common belief to open and let an old wine breath before consumption. It’s all about oxygen. When you add oxygen to an old wine through decanting, it can fade and lose it characteristics quickly. A young wine can benefit more from the oxygen. Think of a wrestling match with a high school kid vs an 85-year old man, who’s going to be injured more easily? The 85-year old!

6. What do you look for when evaluating a bottle?

I look for a certain varietal that I want.  Then I look for a more classic wine label (no critter labels!). Finally, I check the price points (typically $15-60 a bottle) because you can typically can find highest quality wines in that price range.  Too often wines over this range are not better just more brand recognition.

7. What is the biggest challenge in making wine?

Farming. There’s so many unknowns of farming grapes. There is the weather, pests, gophers, squirrels, and diseases. All these things happen with farming grapes and most of it is out of our control.

8. Why does it matter what temperature we store wine?

Typically the warmer the wine is, above 65-degrees, the quicker it ages. If it gets too hot (over 80 degrees) it can spoil the wine with off flavors and aromas. Proper storage is critical. If you are going to drink the wine within a year, between 55-70 degrees is okay. Long term it has to be be 55-60 degrees or it will age more rapidly. The other common poor storage issue that is detrimental daily temp changes from high and low. It’s better to have a steady 70-degrees on the warm side of storage, than swing from 55-degrees to 80-degrees routinely.


Tags: wine 101 , winemaking , winery , santa ynez valley , gainey vineyard , wine questions , wine , wine tasting