With the declaration of “Shelter at Home” keeping us all away from wineries and tasting rooms, we thought that the next best thing would be an interview with a local winemaker. So pour yourself a glass of Enoteca Five wine and join us as we get to know Michael Chalkley, owner and winemaker at Enoteca Five.
With person-to-person contact currently forbidden, we carried out our interview with Michael via email, which was cumbersome but did not require any mask or hand sanitizer. Here are our questions and Michael’s thoughtful replies:
How did you get into the wine business? Did you expect to be a winemaker from an early age? How did you settle in Livermore?
I got into the ‘business’ initially in 2006 at the Wine Commune, the online equivalent of eBay for wine, as their Wine Auction Manager. A Home Winemaker since 2004, ultimately I took an internship with Dashe Cellars in Oakland for Harvest 2008 where I learned the commercial side of winery operations. I really never wanted nor anticipated making wine, being in the wine business, none of it. On the contrary, I spent most of my life in pursuit of a career in the Music Industry; working at KFRC, BMI, Mix Magazine, BAM Magazine online, operating a small Independent Music Label, performing, and college radio. Winemaking happened a few years after my son’s birth in 2001. I’ve always been a wine lover, collector, and see the craft/art as similar to music. Plus, I guess you could call me a foodie as my wife and I both enjoy the food/wine intersection. In terms of landing in Livermore; in 2012 I moved my winery from Rock Wall in Alameda to Livermore at a shared winery.
Are there other winemakers who helped you along the way?
Yes, absolutely. Initially, when I was an intern at Dashe Cellars I met Shauna Rosenblum while she and her father were starting up Rock Wall. She later offered me a position as Rock Wall’s Cellar Master in 2009. While at Rock Wall, I was offered an Assistant Winemaker position with R&B Cellars, owned by Kevin and Barbara Brown. In 2010, Kevin offered to let me make a small lot of my own wine under his Bond; a two-barrel lot of Cabernet Franc from Lodi. And so was the beginning of my venture.
Are there particular regional styles that influence your work?
Without a doubt I make wines that are New World, California style: strong aromatic profile, big flavor, and long in finish. We do not use a lot of new oak, but use it judiciously. We like to use 100% French Oak for our reds, and recently with our Chardonnay we’ve moved more towards a CA style as opposed to Burgundian, using more American and Hybrid (French and American) oak, and blending with small amounts of stainless fermented wine.
What are your favorite varietals? Do you prefer to create “pure varietal” wines or blends?
Cabernet Franc is the reason why I became a winemaker. It’s always been a personal favorite, and so it made sense to me that I make an attempt to craft it in a style I personally like. Although, we’ve made different styles of Cabernet Franc from a New World CA style to a European style (both Bordeaux and Chinon/Loire). When I started the winery I felt strongly about being a Cab Franc-only (centric) producer; focusing almost exclusively on it. However, I’ve learned that great Cab Franc cannot exist in the bottle without small amounts of Merlot. In my opinion, they’re the Fred and Ginger of winemaking; they ‘dance’ extremely well together. So, as we’ve evolved as a winery, we’ve added other grape varieties to our lineup like Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. I prefer pure varieties over blends.
Are there any emerging wine trends that interest you? Any changes in what your customers ask for when they come in?
Not really. Honestly, trends move faster than we do so I try to stay away from that. I’m a creature of habit so I use similar principles each Harvest. Other than social media and the use of the digital domain to have a greater reach, I stick to the familiar. The main request I get from customers is that I make wines from Livermore Valley vineyards. So, in 2017 and 2018, we did, adding Ghielmetti Vineyards Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in 2017, and Sachau Vineyards Merlot in 2018 (to be bottled in June 2020).
Although it is very early to say, how is your most recent harvest working out? Any stand-outs that are really exciting you?
We’ve been very happy with the results of Harvest 2019. Our production included Zinfandel from Duarte Vineyards in Oakley, and Chardonnay from Riva Ranch in Monterey County. We purposely harvested the Zinfandel in at a much lower sugar (brix) than in the previous two vintages so we could craft a lower alcohol, elegant, more classic style Zinfandel (think floral with cracked white pepper instead of a massive fruit/oak bomb). In terms of our Chardonnay, we opted to barrel ferment the entire lot in a combination of new custom made 300L American and American/French hybrid barrels. CA style for sure. Stay tuned …
What’s something exciting or unique about your winery that you would love for our readers to know?
Since we’re a small winery in terms of annual production; somewhere currently in the 300 to 500 case range, we’re able to offer visitors a tasting flight that often includes samples (barrel tastings) of wines still aging, yet to be released as a way to showcase and compare the current releases against what’s coming next. Most wineries reserve barrel tasting for special events/visitors.
How is your winery handling our “shelter in place” situation?
Per government recommendations. (Nod nod, wink wink.) All of our current releases and our library wines are available for purchase securely online on our website www.enoteca5.com. During the COVID 19 Coronavirus Quarantine, we’ve decided to offer local pickup for customers who want to do so, while shipping has been waived for all other purchases.
Where can we find you, how can our readers connect with you?
Our Tasting Room is currently open one weekend per month, and By Appointment during the rest of the time, which we post on Social media: Facebook and Instagram, as well as through our email list. Our wines are currently only available direct from us at the tasting room or online. Some local restaurants like Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyards carry our wine on their lists.
Many thanks to Michael Chalkley for taking time to share his background and perspectives. Hopefully we can meet again in his tasting room soon!
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