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Our Conversation with Dylan Lundstrom, Owner of Aubry Wines

Our Conversation with Dylan Lundstrom, Owner of Aubry Wines

Melier
How are you doing, Dylan?

Dylan
Yeah, good. Good. Excited to be here.

Melier
Tell people who you are, your background, and how did you ultimately get into the wine space?

Dylan
I grew up in California, central California. I cut my teeth in the restaurant industry. That showed me wine, introduced me to wine, kind of a soft introduction when I was 18 and could serve the tables but couldn't try the product. And I developed this interest. I ended up walking into a Wines of the World class just out of curiosity and realized that most wine regions, international wine regions, were close to coastline that I was interested in for surfing. So Australia, South Africa and all of that was opened up.

Early on I traveled quite a bit for wine. So I did New Zealand, Australia, and then did a Master's degree in Europe, and spent time in France and Portugal. Went throughout Italy, Germany, Slovenia. Saw these somewhat obscure wine-producing regions that have this really deep history that you don't necessarily hear about here. France, obviously, Portugal, Italy, those are major producers, but seeing some of the stuff on the outside of that as well and watching how many vintners are going back to traditional ways of making wine.

So I worked in a few internships out in the field and started advising a few customers throughout Napa Valley. And then I took on the Aubry project in 2019. Cab being Cab up in Napa, where Cab is king, I figured let's just start at the top instead of biting off pieces around the edge. So I went all-in.

Melier
I have to imagine that going right into that space in a particularly crowded market like Napa and with Cabernet, you sort of have to go all in, right?

Dylan
There's no half-assed way of doing it well. I kind of found a back door and that's how I got there. And now that the business is up and running, I'm starting to create these relationships and found that there's desire for more wines like Aubry out in the marketplace. So once you kind of start the engine, it takes on its own life and starts going in new directions. And the backdoor that I found was, I did all the farming. And so I was out in the vineyard and I controlled my inputs. I did everything organically. I was able to make the wine the way that I wanted it to be made. I was able to pick on the dates that I wanted it to be picked. And this is for a really small lot, which is about two tons of grapes.

Melier
How much does that make in terms of bottles?

Dylan
We had 1,200 bottles, so 100 cases. Okay. And controlling all of that allowed me to get my hands on Cabernet from Coombsville, which is this up-and-coming, exciting appellation of Napa, and do it in a way that wasn't totally cost prohibitive because lands, grapes, everything up in Napa can be extremely expensive, as you know.

Melier
What did you like about Coombsville specifically?

Dylan
I spent 2018 with Steve Mathiason out in the field and then in the cellar. Having farmed with him organically, he leased a vineyard over in Coombsville. That area was interesting. It butts kind of right up to Carneros. So it's more insulated from the bay than Carneros is, but it is one of the closest appellations to the bay. So it has that diurnal effect of cool air coming in at night and warming up during the day, but it just doesn't get as hot as up valley.

So even, you start talking about like Rutherford, Yountville, all the way up to Calistoga, they're accumulating a lot more heat up in that direction, and so the maturation of the grapes is going to be different. And with climate change, heat spikes put a lot of stress on grapevines. The hotter the climate is, there's going to be these huge spikes of stress on the vine. Coombsville is not going to accumulate really any of those or fewer of those than areas further up the valley. So, finding these sites that are less prone to this extreme stress, you want some stress, but not this extreme stress that we've seen these temperature fluctuations over the last couple of seasons. That cooler impact of Coombsville was really what drove the nail into that appellation and where I set my sights for the Aubry project.

Melier
So does that mean that looking forward, let's say, 10, 20 years, assuming these heat spikes increase, does that mean that you think Cab production will get pushed down valley? Or how do you see that affecting how wine is made generally in Napa?

Dylan
It could. There's a few guys that are doing some really interesting studies and planting grapes in new areas. My master's degree was in France, and I have a friend that's based over in Finland. And so one of my metrics over there is just like always checking in with him and it seems like every year he knows of a new viticulture project that has creeped a little bit further north. The guys in Napa are doing work starting up in Calistoga and working their way down, as well as looking at some of these other varietals that have grown historically over in Italy and hotter climates. How that's going to play out over the future, that's anyone's guess.

Melier
So how does that differential in climate, relative to being up valley and the hotter regions, how does that impact the wine you're making and the style you’re going for?

Dylan
So the warmer the day is, the more sugar the plant is going to be able to create. So the further north you go in the valley as it gets warmer, you're going to create the potential to have sugar wines which turn into higher alcohol wines. Once you go to the extremes though, you're talking about like desiccation of the berry and you're losing dehydration, so you're losing water from your berry. It's concentrating your sugars and it allows you to get beyond what's known as physiological ripeness, and you're going beyond to create those bigger, stronger, like big Napa Valley wines.

Working in a cooler climate combats that a little bit because your ripening period is going to be a little bit longer and with my style I pick a little bit lower. So, lighter, cooler, a little bit more approachable style of Cabernet.

Melier
Yeah, it's a really, really good wine. I remember my wife and I had that at the Coombsville Growers event. I think that was at the Napa Country Club. What really stood out to us was just how unique and pleasantly soft it was. I'm not sure I would have guessed even that it was a Cabernet if I'd had it for the first time without looking at a label or talking to you.

Dylan
Yeah, yeah, I get that. It's definitely an acid-driven wine. I don't know that you've had the 2020. The 2020 is a little bit more full-boded because 2020 was a fantastic growing season right up until the end, and that's when the fire started. We had that huge heat spike. We’re fortunate it has no smoke taint at all, I think that comes down to proximity of fires and the compounds that can actually impact your grape.

Melier
So what type of wine drinker is gonna enjoy your wine the most? Is there a sort of general profile you could curate for that?

Dylan
I think so. If you like Left Bank Bordeaux, you might love this. Something like that. And with that lighter style, I think you can attract customers that have been accustomed to drinking this bigger style. And so coaching people through that and talking through the wine and people actually trying it and understanding how the wine was made, I think is huge and getting people to enjoy that style.

Melier

One thing that I've seen is that consumer preference is shifting somewhat, but I think there's also a lot of perceptions, not all misguided, certainly, around what a particular varietal of wine or a particular region of wine will look and feel and taste like. I think the obvious example of that is Chardonnay and the kind of ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) crowd. We get a lot of folks at our events that when we're pouring white wine, the only thing they'll tell us is, oh, I just don't want Chardonnay.

And nine times out of ten, that's someone who's thinking of a super buttery, super oaky “traditional California Chardonnay”. There are obviously a lot of people who love that. My wife loves those. But a lot of people kind of think of, you know, they want something a little bit more Burgundian, a little crisp, a little more mineral driven. And it feels like a lot of where my personal feeling is that where wine kind of needs to go is helping people and providing a scaffold to explore different styles of the variety of regions that they're more accustomed to. What do you think?

Dylan
And bashing some of the perceptions they might have about those. Yep, absolutely. Totally agree with that. When you go somewhere and you taste wine, or you know, at an event or a restaurant, people often have expectations like "Cabernet tastes like this, Pinot like this", all based on personal experience. To me this, this is an opportunity to change things in the industry and introduce people to an entire spectrum of what something like Chardonnay could be like: all the way from Chablis to super butter, super ripe California style. 100%.

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