Home A Life in Wine A Life in Wine: Andrew Nalle: Philosophy, Wine, and Cooking

A Life in Wine: Andrew Nalle: Philosophy, Wine, and Cooking


Meeting Doug and Andrew Nalle

from left: Doug Nalle, Andrew Nalle

The Nalle label began in 1984, with Doug Nalle starting to make wine under his own name after over ten years in the industry already. Son Andrew Nalle grew up tasting wine with the family, working with the Henderlong Vineyard (which the Nalle family now owns), and seeing the work his dad did with winemaking. Since 2002, Andrew has been slowly taking over the winemaking in the family after earning an undergraduate degree in philosophy (my favorite), studying abroad in Sydney, and working harvest in South Africa.

I was able to spend several hours each with both Doug and Andrew talking with them about their work in wine. Tomorrow, I’ll share more about Doug’s wealth of experience in the industry (Nalle makes some of the finest Zinfandel), as well as their view on old vines. Today, I’ll post what I learned from listening to Andrew.

Listening to Andrew Nalle

After spending time talking about old vines, and his experience studying philosophy, Andrew begins to tell me what made him turn from the style of life found in university, to what he does now–make wine.

“I like the creativity of making wine most of all, and the self discipline of it seems to work for me.

“I like to travel and see how others do their wine. But I can’t be away too long, now that I’m more involved in the winery. So, on vacation, I always go to a wine area.

“But, we definitely have a system down here. Dad is adamant about how wine should be made. But, the truth is, I agree with him. It matters where the grapes are grown, and the person making it has to really pay attention. You have to know when to rack it, fermentation… pressing… you don’t want to press it too heavy. Someone has to have skill–it matters in fine wine. To start, you need great fruit. Right now people like to talk about less manipulation or intervention, but it’s the wrong word.” Andrew pauses here. He agrees with the idea of not manipulating the wine, but disagrees with the implication that that means you don’t do anything. He starts again, “you need to pay attention”

outside the Nalle winery

“It’s fun. It’s a challenge. If you like to get things just right, and then people come in later and taste with you, and recognize it… it’s really nice.

“Sometimes I feel like, why are you trying so hard? I guess, I want a little more refinement. The kinds of wine we’re making are for people that know their palate. It’s about making a good product that people can enjoy. For me, it’s like cooking. It’s nice when the chef is right out there, and you can see him cooking. But, really, people just want to know it’s a good meal, and then enjoy and talk to each other. It’s about making a good bottle of wine that can be really special to somebody. I worked in restaurants in college. That helped a lot to making me want to come back here. Growing up in it [in winemaking, and the Dry Creek Valley area], you’re used to it. But seeing people in a restaurant get so excited about a good wine with the food…

old vine Zinfandel planted in 1932, Henderlong Vineyard

“Food, it’s everyday. Wine, you have to be way more patient. It’s a slow process of waiting on flavors, to see how it all integrates. In restaurants, there are recipes, but there is also the feel. I enjoy that. How personal it can be. It’s like there is a recipe, but the winemaker does have a huge stamp on it. Like in the Old World, a father does give his recipe to his son [like Doug to Andrew], but everything keeps going, maybe the vineyard changes, but there is also this consistency to it. People can count on that. It’s comforting to people.

“People say all the time, you’re really lucky to be doing this. I am. But I want to keep improving, to keep making the wine better. It’s fun to hear that, but you can’t get too caught up in that. You’ve got to stay hungry. Ultimately, it’s fun to create.

old vine Carignan planted in 1932, Henderlong Vineyard

“If I didn’t grow up in a winery, I’d probably be working in a restaurant, and making wine on the side.

“It’s nice to have put in my apprenticeship now. Because, in the beginning, you have to put in so much patience. It’s not like cooking, in a way, because if you mess up, you can’t just start over. It takes years. You need time underneath you. Older winemakers have time beneath them. Maybe something you make, you put five years into, and then five years later, it’s still good. It takes time to get that. To not worry as much and trust it. You can’t just teach that. You have to put the wine and the time in. It’s always been fun for me, but it’s nice now to have more experience to enjoy it in a new way now, to have more confidence.

Andrew’s dogs (they’re oh my gaw awesome)

“We always say it is about the wine. The wine has got to be good. We’re doing this for people to have a great glass of wine. But it’s clear there is all this other stuff that goes into it too.

“When I’m cooking, every little flavor detail, what kind of rice I’m using, where I harvested the veggies, what spices, and how much… I just want to spend all my time in that. I want to do it again and again. I’m not okay with eating hot pockets every night. It’s like that here [at the winery]. Still, you can recognize that it’s Nalle wine. A lot of why I’m winemaking is really about cooking.

outside Nalle Winery

“I was doing philosophy, and then I realized, why am I looking so hard for what I want to do when it is right here, and I really wanted to work for my family. It is the best. They supported me so much, and so it just seems natural to want to do this for my family. Family is another layer of why I came back. I like being near them.

“Studying philosophy made me acknowledge more how special this is. Not everyone grew up like this. For me, this is how I grew up, so it’s really normal. You know, doesn’t everyone just taste wines at dinner, and travel to all these wine countries? Growing up like this got me into traveling. We’d see all these different wine shops, and restaurants. Then, you see all these people, and places. I realized from that, we’re all so different, and all human. It does have an effect on people–seeing it, the vines, where they grow. They’re taking that with them in the bottle. It’s pretty amazing seeing how excited people get.

“With philosophy, it is so hard. You have to start from the beginning, and there are so many questions. You need a whole life to do it. Wine, this seemed natural for me. But studying philosophy, I realized there are so many questions. And from that I started to think it isn’t about asking why but about how we live our lives. And that made me think about what I can contribute to things. For me, living an authentic, a good life was in making wine. This was more natural for me, and I think maybe I am good at it. I want to make my life better, and I want to make my family’s life better.”

Thank you to Andrew Nalle for taking the time to talk with me. I very much appreciate hearing your story. You make a wonderfully vibrant while focused zinfandel.

Thank you to Doug Nalle.

Thank you to Michelle McCue, Anne Alderete, and Dan Fredman.

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