Interview with a Winemaker Pt. 1


Every Tuesday, I have the pleasure to label and chat with our winemaker, Ben Stuart. Sometimes we talk about books and what’s going on with our lives, but we mostly talk about wine. For those of you who have been enjoying our wine in the Tasting Room, you know that Ben Stuart, a graduate from Walla Walla Community College, has been making our wine for about four years. Ben came to Burnt Bridge Cellars in 2015, fresh out of his Viticulture and Enology program with a mission to make great wine. However, Ben wasn’t always into wine, and didn’t always know he wanted to be a winemaker.

Ben graduated from University of Oregon with a degree in Business Administration. From there he worked in sales, marketing, journalism and PR. It took him from Oregon, all the way to Alaska, and back to Oregon.

After a roller coaster of different jobs and career paths, Ben asked himself the hard question, “What do I really want to do?” Ben always loved the idea of making booze for a living, and has been brewing his own beer since his 20s (he even made beer for his wedding!).

“[I] never really understood how that could be a possible career path, especially within the wine industry, until I stumbled across the amazing program in Walla Walla,” Ben said.

Moving to Walla Walla from Portland isn’t an easy feat, but Ben, his wife and 6-year-old-son took a chance on this program and relocated for Ben to pursue his degree in Viticulture and Enology at WWCC, with plenty of excitement and doubts in tow.

This is what Ben to say about the “aha!” moments in his career:

“During school, I remember tasting a Horsepower Syrah that was poured from the owner/winemaker of Cayuse Vineyard, Christophe Baron himself, from an unlabeled bottle before he officially launched the brand. It smelled like horse manure and marijuana and it couldn't have smelled or tasted any better."

“The other happened just the other day. A longtime friend and his buddies stopped by and we tasted some of the soon-to-be-bottled 2017 wines from Burnt Bridge straight from the barrel. Let's just say they liked them,” he said.

These moments reinforce that Ben made the right decision, changing his career path and becoming a winemaker, but let’s just say we can all agree and we are very happy that he’s at Burnt Bridge Cellars crafting compelling and complex Rhone and Bordeaux style wines.

Since starting at Burnt Bridge, his first job post wine school, Ben’s confidence in wine making has grown exponentially. Wine making is a careful and particular science involving grapes, heavy machinery, and a lot of hard labor.

“I've learned to worry a little less and listen to the wine a little more, if that makes sense,” Ben said.

And to me, it does. In order to make good wine, you have to pay attention to the grapes and what they need to make great wine. When is the right time to harvest? Does this grape need more punch downs than another? Should we bottle this one first? How about making this one our tap wine? It’s all about listening the wine and letting it take control. Ben’s attention to detail and confidence in wine making has led him to the wine we know and love today at Burnt Bridge.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next part, featuring Ben, our winemaker and his answers to a series of wine related questions!