University of California Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office University of California
The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California
The Wine Spectator California Wine Oral History Series
LAUNCHING BORDEAUX- STYLE WINES IN THE NAPA VALLEY:
STERLING VINEYARDS, NEWTON VINEYARD, AND FORMAN VINEYARD
Interviews Conducted by
Copyright <0 2000 by The Regents of the University of California
Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing leading
participants in or well-placed witnesses to major events in the development of
northern California, the West, and the nation. Oral history is a method of
collecting historical information through tape-recorded interviews between a
narrator with firsthand knowledge of historically significant events and a well-
informed interviewer, with the goal of preserving substantive additions to the
historical record. The tape recording is transcribed, lightly edited for
continuity and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The corrected
manuscript is indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and
placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and in
other research collections for scholarly use. Because it is primary material,
oral history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete
narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in
response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved,
All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement
between The Regents of the University of California and Richard
Forman dated February 15, 1999. The manuscript is thereby made
available for research purposes. All literary rights in the
manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to The
Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley. No part
of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written
permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library of the University
of California, Berkeley.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be
addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Bancroft Library,
Mail Code 6000, University of California, Berkeley 94720-6000, and
should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted,
anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.
The legal agreement with Richard Forman requires that he be notified
of the request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Richard Forman, "Launching Bordeaux-Style
Wines in the Napa Valley: Sterling
Vineyards, Newton Vineyard, and Forman
Vineyard," an oral history conducted in
1999 by Carole Hicke, Regional Oral
History Office, The Bancroft Library,
University of California, Berkeley, 2000.
Richard Forman, 1999.
FORMAN, Richard W. (b. 1944) Owner, Forman Vineyard
Launching Bordeaux-Style Wines in the Napa Valley: Sterling Vineyards,
Newton Vineyard, and Forman Vineyard, 2000, viii, 149 pp.
Childhood in Oakland, CA, and education at UC Davis; working at Stony Hill
Vineyard and Robert Mondavi Winery, 1967-1968; developing Sterling
Vineyards, 1969-1978: barrel fermentation in French oak, second Merlot in
Napa valley, travel and research in Europe; partner and developer of Newton
Vineyard, 1978-1982; owner of Forman Vineyard, 1983 to present: finding the
property, innovative building, equipment, tunnels; thoughts on public
taste, avant-garde winemaking in Bordeaux-style wines, Cabernet Sauvignon,
Interviewed in 1999 by Carole Hicke for the Wine Spectator California
Wine Oral History Series, the Regional Oral History Office, The
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
TABLE OF CONTENTS --Richard Forman
INTERVIEW HISTORY vii
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION viii
I BACKGROUND 1
Family Roots 1
Growing Up in Oakland and Grass Valley 3
University and Graduate School, UC Davis 12
II EARLY WORK EXPERIENCES 16
Summer Jobs 16
Stony Hill Vineyard, 1967 18
Robert Mondavi, 1968 19
III STERLING VINEYARDS, 1969-1978 21
Hiring On 21
Designing the Plant 22
First Crush at Schramsburg; Pioneering Barrel Fermentation 25
An Early Merlot Varietal 29
Travel and Research in Europe 30
Pioneering Winemaking Techniques; Importance of Barrel
1976 Trip with Dan Duckhorn; Other Trips 35
David Abreu s Farming Business 40
First Wines of Sterling 42
Chardonnay sans Malolactic 45
Different Techniques Required in California Vineyards 48
Taking Risks, and a Hands-On Management Technique 51
Sterling Wines in the Early Seventies 53
Plant and Equipment 58
Winemaking at Sterling Mid- to Late Seventies 62
Decision to Join Newton 63
IV NEWTON VINEYARD, 1978-1982 66
Vineyard Property 66
Planting the Grapes 68
Building and Equipment 72
Cooperage: The Forman Barrel 74
Winemaking Techniques 76
The 1979, 1980, and 1981 Wines 78
Dissolving the Partnership 80
V FORMAN VINEYARD, 1983 TO PRESENT 83
Selecting and Developing the Vineyard Property 83
Consulting for Woltner and Charles Shaw 88
1983: A Crucial Year 89
Building an Efficient and Innovative Winery 90
Wines of 1983 to 1986 101
Canopy Management 103
Pioneering Introduction of Petit Verdot 104
Merlot and Cabernet Franc 106
Association with David Abreu 106
Rutherford Star Vineyard- -Chardonnay 109
Forman Wine Library 113
VI EVOLUTION OF PUBLIC TASTES AND WINEMAKING TECHNIQUES 115
Cabernet Sauvignon 118
Vineyard Management Tools 121
Forman Vineyard: Present and Future 122
Wine Industry Overview 124
TAPE GUIDE 128
Forman Vineyard publicity (various) 129
The California wine industry oral history series, a project of the
Regional Oral History Office, was initiated by Ruth Teiser in 1969
through the action and with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, a
state marketing order organization which ceased operation in 1975. In
1983 it was reinstituted as The Wine Spectator California Wine Oral
History Series with donations from The Wine Spectator Scholarship
Foundation. The selection of those to be interviewed has been made by a
committee consisting of the director of The Bancroft Library, University
of California, Berkeley; John A. De Luca, president of the Wine
Institute, the statewide winery organization; Carole Hicke, series
project director; and Marvin R. Shanken, trustee of The Wine Spectator
Until her death in June 1994, Ruth Teiser was project originator,
initiator, director, and conductor of the greater part of the oral
histories. Her book, Winemaking in California, co-authored with
Catherine Harroun and published in 1982, was the product of more than
forty years of research, interviewing, and photographing. (Those wine
history files are now in The Bancroft Library for researcher use.) Ruth
Teiser s expertise and knowledge of the wine industry contributed
significantly to the documenting of its history in this series.
The purpose of the series is to record and preserve information on
California grapegrowing and winemaking that has existed only in the
memories of winemen. In some cases their recollections go back to the
early years of this century, before Prohibition. These recollections are
of particular value because the Prohibition period saw the disruption of
not only the industry itself but also the orderly recording and
preservation of records of its activities. Little has been written about
the industry from late in the last century until Repeal. There is a real
paucity of information on the Prohibition years (1920-1933), although
some commercial winemaking did continue under supervision of the
Prohibition Department. The material in this series on that period, as
well as the discussion of the remarkable development of the wine industry
in subsequent years will be of aid to historians. Of particular value is
the fact that frequently several individuals have discussed the same
subjects and events or expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from
his or her own point of view.
Research underlying the interviews has been conducted principally in
the University libraries at Berkeley and Davis, the California State
Library, and in the library of the Wine Institute, which has made its
collection of materials readily available for the purpose.
The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed
significantly to recent California history. The office is headed by
Willa K. Baum and is under the administrative supervision of The Bancroft
The Wine Spectator California Wine
Oral History Series
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY INTERVIEWS
Interviews Completed as of November 2000
Leon D. Adams, Revitalizing the California Wine Industry, 1974
Leon D. Adams, California Wine Industry Affairs: Recollections and Opinions,
Maynard A. Amerine, The University of California and the State s Wine
Maynard A. Amerine, Wine Bibliographies and Taste Perception Studies,
Richard L. Arrowood, Sonoma County Winemaking: Chateau St. Jean and Arrowood
Vineyards & Winery, 1996
William Andrew Beckstoffer, Premium California Vineyardist, Entrepreneur,
1960s to 2000s, 2000
Philo Biane, Wine Making in Southern California and Recollections of Fruit
Industries, Inc. , 1972
William Bonetti, A Life of Winemaking at Wineries of Gallo, Schenley, Charles
Krug, Chateau Souverain, and Sonoma-Cutrer, 1998
Albert Brounstein, Diamond Creek Vineyards: The Significance of Terroir in the
Charles A. Carpy, Viticulture and Enology at Freemark Abbey, 1994
John B. Cella, The Cella Family in the California Wine Industry, 1986
Arthur A. Ciocca, Arthur A. Ciocca and the Wine Group, Inc.: Insights into the
Wine Industry from a Marketing Perspective, 2000
Charles Crawford, Recollections of a Career with the Gallo Winery and the
Development of the California Wine Industry, 1942-1989, 1990
Burke H. Critchfield, Carl F. Wente, and Andrew G. Frericks, The California
Wine Industry During the Depression, 1972
William V. Cruess, A Half Century of Food and Wine Technology, 1967
Jack and Jamie Peterman Davies, Rebuilding Schramsberg: The Creation of a
California Champagne House, 1990
William A. Dieppe, Almaden s My Life, 1985
Paul Draper, History and Philosophy of Winemaking at Ridge Vineyards: 1970s-
Daniel J. and Margaret S. Duckhorn, Mostly Merlot: The History of
Duckhorn Vineyards, 1996
David, Jean, Peter, and Steven Ficklin, Making California Port Wine: Ficklin
Vineyards from 1948 to 1992, 1992
Brooks Firestone, Firestone Vineyard: A Santa Ynez Valley Pioneer, 1996
Louis J. Foppiano, A Century of Agriculture and Winemaking in Sonoma County,
Richard Forman, Launching Bordeaux-Style Wines in the Napa Valley: Sterling
Vineyards, Newton Vineyard, and Forman Vineyard, 2000
Alfred Fromm, Marketing California Wine and Brandy, 1984
Louis Gomberg, Analytical Perspectives on the California Wine Industry, 1935-
Miljenko Grgich, A Croatian-American Winemaker in the Napa Valley, 1992
Joseph E. Heitz, Creating a Winery in the Napa Valley, 1986
William H. Hill, Vineyard Development and the William Hill Winery, 1970s-
Agustin Huneeus, A World View of the Wine Industry, 1996
Maynard A. Joslyn, A Technologist Views the California Wine Industry,
Amandus N. Kasimatis, A Career in California Viticulture, 1988
Morris Katz, Paul Masson Winery Operations and Management, 1944-1988, 1990
Legh F. Knowles, Jr., Beaulieu Vineyards from Family to Corporate Ownership,
Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi, California Grape Products and Other
Wine Enterprises, 1971
Zelma R. Long, The Past is the Beginning of the Future: Simi Winery in its
Second Century, 1992
Richard Maher, California Winery Management and Marketing, 1992
Louis M. Martini and Louis P. Martini, Vine Making in the Napa Valley,
Louis P. Martini, A Family Winery and the California Wine Industry, 1984
Eleanor McCrea, Stony Hill Vineyards: The Creation of a Napa Valley Estate
Justin Meyer, Justin Meyer and Silver Oak Cellars: Focus on Cabernet
Otto E. Meyer, California Premium Wines and Brandy, 1973
Norbert C. Mirassou and Edmund A. Mirassou, The Evolution of a Santa Clara
Valley Winery, 1986
Peter Mondavi, Advances in Technology and Production at Charles Krug Winery,
Robert Mondavi, Creativity in the Wine Industry, 1985
Michael Moone, Management and Marketing at Beringer Vineyards and Wine World,
Myron S. Nightingale, Making Wine in California, 1944-1987, 1988
Harold P. Olmo, Plant Genetics and New Grape Varieties, 1976
Cornelius Ough, Researches of an Enologlst, University of California, Davis,
John A. Parducci, Six Decades of Making Wine in Mendocino County, California,
Antonio Perelli-Minetti, A Life in Wine Making, 1975
Louis A. Petri, The Petri Family in the Wine Industry, 1971
Jefferson E. Peyser, The Law and the California Wine Industry, 1974
Joseph Phelps, Joseph Phelps Vineyards: Classic Wines and Rhone Varietals,
Lucius Powers, The Fresno Area and the California Wine Industry, 1974
Victor Repetto and Sydney J. Block, Perspectives on California Wines, 1976
Edmund A. Rossi, Italian Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry, 1971
Edmund A. Rossi, Jr., Italian Swiss Colony, 1949-1989: Recollections of a
Third-Generation California Winemaker, 1990
Arpaxat Setrakian, A. Setrakian, a Leader of the San Joaquin Valley Grape
Elie Skofis, California Wine and Brandy Maker, 1988
David S. Stare, fume Blanc and Heritage Wines in Sonoma County: Dry Creek
Vineyard s Pioneer Winemaking, 1996
Rodney S. Strong, Rodney Strong Vineyards: Creative Winemaking and Winery
Management in Sonoma County, 1994
Andre Tchelistchef f , Grapes, Wine, and Ecology, 1983
Brother Timothy, The Christian Brothers as Wine Makers, 1974
Janet and John Trefethen, Trefethen Vineyards, 1968-1998, 1998
Louis (Bob) Trinchero, California Zinfandels, a Success Story, 1992
Charles F. Wagner and Charles J. Wagner, Caymus Vineyards: A Father-Son Team
Producing Distinctive Wines, 1994
The Wente Family and the California Wine Industry, interviews with Jean,
Carolyn, Philip, and Eric Wente, 1992
Ernest A. Wente, Wine Making in the Livermore Valley, 1971
Warren Winiarski, Creating Classic Wines in the Napa Valley, 1994
Albert J. Winkler, Viticultural Research at UC Davis (1921-1971), 1973
Frank M. Woods, Founding Clos Du Bois Winery: A Marketing Approach, 1998
John H. Wright, Domaine Chandon: The First French-owned California Sparkling
Wine Cellar, includes an interview with Edmond Maudiere, 1992
INTERVIEW HISTORY by Carole Hicke
Richard Fonnan grew up interested in the outdoors, in chemistry, and
in trying out new experiments. He was a natural to become an innovative
and precedent -making winemaker in the Napa Valley.
After studying food science and enology at the University of
California at Davis, with early work experiences at Stony Hill Vineyard and
Robert Mondavi Winery, he took up Peter Newton s challenge to build and
develop Sterling Vineyards, starting in 1968. At Sterling he began
processes which were new for the Napa Valley, but not for French wineries,
such as barrel fermentation for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.
Traveling to France with increasing frequency, Forman found more and more
ideas that he liked, and he put these ideas into practice. At Sterling he
made the second-ever Merlot produced in the Napa Valley.
After Sterling was sold to Coca-Cola, Forman went into partnership
with Newton in 1978 to develop Newton Vineyard, where he cleared and
planted the vineyards, built the winery, and continued to make wines in the
Always an individualist, Forman finally decided to produce his own
wines from his innovative and efficient winery built above St. Helena. He
is especially proud of the tunnels there, where he can store barrels
without stacking them. He carries his Cabernet one step further toward the
French style by adding a small amount of Petit Verdot--one of the many
examples where his leadership has been followed by other winemakers.
Forman was interviewed in his beautiful home, which is built above
the winery and includes his office. The interviews took place on February
24, March 3, and March 19, 1999, following in general the outline prepared
and sent to him. I reviewed the transcript for clarity and sent it to him,
but in spite of repeated requests, he failed to review it himself.
The Regional Oral History Office was established in 1954 to augment
through tape-recorded memoirs the Library s materials on the history of
California and the West. Copies of all interviews are available for
research use in The Bancroft Library and in the UCLA Department of Special
Collections. The office is under the direction of Willa K. Baum, Division
Head, and the administrative direction of Charles B. Faulhaber, James D.
Hart Director of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Carole Hicke, Interviewer/Editor
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office
Room 486 The Bancroft Library
University of California
Berkeley, California 94720
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[Interview 1: February 24, 1999] II 1
Hicke: Let s start with when and where you were born.
Forman: I was born on May 18, 1944, in Oakland, California.
Hicke: Now I m going to back up a little bit and ask you to let me know
about your ancestors.
Forman: I don t know an awful lot. We have a small family, I guess you
could say. My father, Robert White Forman, was born actually in
Hayward. It was in 1905 he was born. I never did meet his
father, but his father was named Dick, Richard, whom I was named
after. He was an engineer. I think one of his projects was
Boulder Dam. He died relatively early, and I never did meet him.
Hicke: Can you tell me why your name is spelled without the "e" as in
Forman: Well, it s just a spelling. There are various spellings. I am of
English parentage, and the English spelling of Forman is without
an "e"--as far as we can determine, anyway.
I didn t really know my grandparents very well. Then my dad
lived with his mom up in Hayward.
Hicke: What did your grandfather do in Hayward?
Forman: I m not even sure he lived there. On the other hand, on my
mother s side, her father was a doctor in Pomona.
## This symbol indicates that a tape or tape segment has begun or ended.
A guide to the tapes follows the transcript.
Hicke: You re a Calif ornian.
Forman: Yes, true. My mother s mother, whom I certainly never met because
she died when my mother was only seven, was--I m not sure what she
did. I think she was kind of into acting. I know she was very
interested in the theater, which is why she made my mother,
Hicke: What was her maiden name?
Forman: Wallace, a pretty English name. So anyway, my grandparents I
didn t spend much time with. Really no. My father had no
siblings, so there were no relatives there, and my mother had one
brother by the name of Caleb. But they called him Kay. Let s
just say his name is Kay, K-a-y, I guess. He was quite an
entrepreneur in Pomona and had all sorts of ranching projects and
one thing and another, and did very well for himself, I believe.
Flew airplanes and had sailboats and did lots of things. He was a
nice guy. He s now dead as well. My mother is really the only
surviving one. My mother is ninety-one, and she s quite active.
She lives out in the Walnut Creek area, Danville area actually, on
the Crow Canyon Country Club fairway there, in a condominium.
She went to school in Pomona, Pomona College, and had a
teaching degree and taught nursery school classes for a while.
She did that up in the North Bay, not down in Los Angeles. Went
to school at a convent for a while, I know. Had an interesting
background. My mother s father, my grandfather, was very
interested in horses as well, so she rode horses a lotkind of
English-style horse riding: jumping and so forth.
Anyway, my mother had some interesting experiences. She d
tell me about growing up in the orange grove. I ll never forget
the story she told one time that some poor Mexican was just
screaming and yelling outside the window. Evidently, he d drunk
methyl alcohol instead of alcohol. I don t know where in the
devil he got it, but she said it was the most awful thing she
could ever remember as a child.
She used to really enjoy riding through the orange groves.
In fact, another interesting part of her childhood was knowing
Will Rogers. She used to know him quite well. He lived close to
them. She said she used to love to go over and sit on the porch
and talk to him, and he was very friendly with her and obviously
quite a personality. That was kind of fun for my mother.
My grandfather was very affluent. He had done quite well in
the medical practice and had done also extremely well in real
estate, so they lived fairly well.
Hicke: Did she tell you any stories about Will Rogers?
Forman: Oh, I m sure she has in the past and, you know, I didn t pay much
attention to it when I was younger because he didn t mean very
much to me. Now I know what a personality he was. I heard and I
realized, because she mentioned it, that he was obviously
important, but it didn t really make much difference. I suppose
if I asked her now- -haven t thought about it in years, but if I
asked her now she probably could recall something.
Hicke: I ll bet she could.
Forman: But we haven t talked about it in years and years.
So that s not an awful lot to say about my grandparents
because we didn t do much together.
Growing Up in Oakland and Grass Valley
I grew up in Oakland. Went to Oakland Tech. In fact, my father
went to Oakland Tech, which is kind of interesting. But I think
it was a very good school. I enjoyed it. I had a lot of good
friends. We enjoyed living in the hills of Oakland. It was in
the area, actually, that a few years ago had that horrible fire.
We had a terrific home. There s another story which I ll relate
in a moment, but I had burned it once myself with my chemistry
lab. But it burned a lot more severely with the Oakland fire
anyway, and it was kind of sad to see it go.
Were your parents still there?
No, they weren t, fortunately. We had sold it. But it sat up on
one of the ridge lines and just had this magnificent view of San
Francisco. I ll never forget. My bedroom had these windows that
looked over the entire bay. I remember going back there recently,
just to see, because it was sad to see where the fire hadwhat it
had done. I m standing approximately where the house was, looking
out over. It was just remarkable to remember how the view was.
It was dazzling.
How many places you ve been where there are views?
have a magnificent view of Napa Valley here.
Yes, I must like views, that s true. But growing up, I was lucky
also, but I had a lot of fun in the city of Oakland, particularly
where we lived, because--! don t know--I had a very creative mind,
I guess, and I had friends who were the same. We found lots of
things to do. Lots of trouble to get into.
Hicke: How about an example here?
Forman: As I said, I was very interested in chemistry at a very young age.
Unfortunately, one of the paths that it led me to was a
fascination with pyrotechnics. Even in junior high school I would
find these books and various recipes. In those days, it was very
easy to get chemicals. You could go to these chemical supply
companies, which we found out about. We d just go down. They
would have no problem selling you these incredible chemicals.
So we d go home and we d manufacture all these wild things.
At one point, I was trying to make a chemical called mercury
fulminate, which is a frightening chemical, highly explosive.
It s a detonator chemical, and it required 95 percent ethanol as
part of the reactant to produce it. That was hard to get, so I
decided I d make it, so I concocted a sugar solution with
nutrients. Mind you, I was only about thirteen years old, but I
figured out how to do it, and I distilled quite a large quantity
of it. I had about a gallon to distill again, to get high proof.
I was doing it, and unfortunately the flask broke, and I was
stupid enough to be doing it with a flame, and it lit on fire- -lit
me on fire, too. Fortunately, I didn t get scarred, but I was
burned pretty nastily on my face and arms.
My parents weren t home. It was on a weekend, and they were
over at some neighbor s house a couple of miles away. So I ran
down the street to a friend of mine s house, whose father was a
doctor, and he took one look at me and we went to the hospital,
but in the meantime the house burned up! It didn t burn right to
the ground, but it took six months before we were back into it.
It was pretty much gutted. That s one of the examples.
But we had lots of fun.
Hicke: I was really asking for examples of the things you did, but that s
an example, I guess. You said you did a lot of things with other
Forman: Well, we d hike all around the hills, and we d have forts in the
craziest places you could think of. We enjoyed--well, like all
kids, you know--riding your bicycle all around. I remember riding
through the cemetery, which was quite a wonderful cemetery in the
Oakland hills. I remember we used to have fun going out at night
on the weekends with a flashlight and going into the old part of
the cemetery, where these old, old crypts--honestly, it was the
most frightening thing you could think of as a young kid.
loved it. We loved to tantalize ourselves with the fear.
Hicke: Like for Halloween.
Forman: Yes. Anyway, we were always very busy. And then I started to say
I was also lucky in that I was able to have fun even in a city, as
most people would think you could only do in the country. I
always found places to go, places to hike, forts to be built,
things to do that were recreational, not in a sports sense but in
a venture sense, even in the city.
But my mother was very determined for our family- -which
consisted of my brother, who is five years older than I--
Hicke: His name is?
Forman: Peter. He s a dentist. They thought that it would be nice to get
out of the city for weekends and summers, and so she was
determined to find a summer home. At about age seven for me, she
began looking around for the family to find a summer home. It s
really intriguing. She started looking in the Napa Valley, of all
things. One of the places she looked at was Schramsberg. It was
for sale. God knows, I wish she had bought it.
My father determined that it was too hot here, and there
were too many rattlesnakes. He hates rattlesnakes. And there s
no fishing here, so we couldn t fish. It s really too close to
the Bay Area. It s too warm. So she said, "Fine, I ll forget the
Napa Valley," which is really a coincidence that it started there,
not having any idea that I d land here.
So she went up to the foothills above Auburn in the Grass
Valley area, and we did ultimately find a fantastic place: this
wonderful, old, six-gabled house that a woman artist and her
husband artist had built. Had these beautiful grounds, with big,
giant cherry trees all around. It was really a wonderful place.
It had been the site of an old gold mine and so there were lots of
gold mine timbers in the house.
We proceeded to make a beautiful estate /summer home out of
it. My mother was a fabulous gardener. She had a vegetable
garden that would have dazzled Sunset [magazine] in every given
year that she did it. It was amazing. She d be up at five in the
morning every morning, tending to that. People wouldn t believe- -
Hicke: You mean up in Grass Valley?
Forman: Up in Grass Valley. We d go up there as soon as school got out--
my brother and I and my mother would go up, and my father would
work in the week and come up on the weekend. We d spend the
entire summer up there. During the school year, we d go up
occasionally on weekends. We had a great time. This was a
complete fascination to me because there was so much to do. I had
tons to do in the Bay Area; now, given the country environment and
the time that we happened to land there, when the little towns
were just getting over the gold-mining erasome of the mines were
still operating; if they weren t operating, they were just closing
down. The town was old and more or less unsecured and insecured
as far as having tight regulations and everything, so I was just
I d get on my bicycle and ride over to these mines and go
into all the crazy places they had and all the labs. They were
closed, and I would be able to get in and look at it all. I mean,
I was just in heaven. I d go into tunnels. I remember crawling
through the roots of trees the animals had dug out through the
shafts and getting down into these big caverns and all. It just
went on and on and on. It was so much fun.
And the mines were a tremendous fascination to me. I loved
the tunnels, and I loved all the sort ofthis was low-grade ore,
so they all used the cyanide treatment plants. They were like big
fermenters. That whole process, the cyanide fermentation of the
pulverized ore and all that--I got very fascinated with the
chemistry of it.
Hicke: More chemistry.
Forman: More chemistry, yes. I was just really delighted with it.
Hicke: I m surprised they weren t fenced.
Forman: No, there was nothing. You could go and do anything. There were
no locked doors. It looked like they just walked and abandoned
them. The labs were there. It was crazy. It was a paradise. I
remember the old assay still had all the old papers on the desk
and everything. It was like everybody had just walked away.
It s a museum now. It s all a museum. As a child from
about seven to about sixteen or seventeen, I had free access to
anything and everything, and it was untouched. It was just
absolutely a delight to me because I had a very inquisitive mind,
and I was always wanting a new adventure. I had good friends who
loved the same thing.
Hicke: So you had a set of friends up there as well as--
Forman: No, I would import them. My father would come up and bring a
buddy of mine for a week or so, and he d stay with me until he
came back the following weekend. We got into all kinds of trouble
and had lots of fun, just having a good time, the way young kids
do. We were able to do more and get away with more than we
possibly could now. You can t go anywhere or do anything of the
nature that we did.
We had a wonderful lake on the property, and so we had
boating, and we had--my brother and I--we had lots of places we
could fish, and so there was fishing and just unending hiking, and
so that was great for me. I had both country life and city life,
and I think was very enriched for it.
Hicke: Yes, it sounds like it.
Forman: One of my first experiences with fermentation was--my parents were
big entertainers. Mother is still a fabulous cook. They were
very social and did, as I say, lots of entertaining. We always
had a black lady living with us that helped my mom. This one gal
named Dorothy--she was a wonderful woman--! don t know how she
knew about it because she didn t drink alcohol herself, but she
told me that you could ferment the fruits on these trees.
One day I decided that sounded like a great idea, so I
picked as many of the cherries as I could pick from all the trees.
I was probably only eight or nine years old. I crushed them all
up, and I fermented it. It was the most fun thing. I was totally
fascinated with this fermentation process.
Hicke: That was an early start on your career.
Forman: Yes. Then I took it a step further a few years later, once I
really understood the process. We had these huge blackberry
patches. My brother dug a frog pond down there, and so we had
opened up a lot of paths to it. We went and picked just cardboard
boxes full of these blackberries one year. I fermented those, and
then I took it a step further, and I actually distilled it. So I
made this blackberrywhat could we call it?--a liqueur, except it
wasn t sweet- -blackberry brandy, really. So that was fun. I did
that probably at age fifteen.
Hicke: Did you taste it?
Forman: Oh, yes! My brother drank a little bit of it. I didn t care
about drinking the stuff; I was just fascinated with making it.
Hicke: Oh, that s amazing.
Forman: So that was one of my first introductions to fermentation. It was
interesting enough that I knew someday I d want to do something of
that sort. I always knew, from I guess probably--! don t know
what ageeight, nine, ten, somewhere in therethat I liked
chemistry. Something about it fascinated me. I always had a
little chemistry lab and then a bigger lab, and then I was
interested as I said, I was fascinated with explosives, so I did
a lot of explosives chemistry.
I learned a lot from it. I did some very sophisticated
things way too sophisticated for the time, and it was highly
dangerous; but you don t know that. My parents hadn t a clue of
what I was doing. So I got away with it. I m lucky I got away
with it, but it also taught me a lot. Then the fermentation sorts
of things were interesting to me.
I got interested in gold, and so I started doing these gold
analyses of the soil around there. I fiddled with all kinds of
stuff. Eventually, I knew I was really going to do it.
Obviously, these kinds of classes, right from junior high and high
school, were the ones I liked most. All the science classes, I
was fascinated with.
Hicke: What kinds of science did you take?
Forman: Everything, everything that was offered: biology all the stuff
that was offered.
Hicke: Any particular teachers that were influential?
Forman: Well, not until I got into college, really. They appreciated the
fact that I was interested in it, but I don t remember anybody
really promoting anything for me or encouraging me in any sort of
way. I had enough encouragement on my own. I was fascinated with
it. It was fun to me.
Hicke: Did your family drink wine?
Forman: No, no, my family didn t like wine [chuckling]. They were of the
old school. They were bourbon drinkers. I guess when they
entertained sometimes they drank wine. They ultimately stopped
drinking hard liquor and started drinking wine once I started
getting into the business, but that was a long time after. No, I
had no influence of wine around the family. They knew nothing
about it. So I came by that strictly through chemistry and my
interested in agriculture and being outside and one thing and
Hicke: Did you ever find any gold?
Forman: Yes. I had a buddy of mine. We made some really neat equipment.
God, we worked so hard on this thing. I recall what happened to
it the first day, too. I was so mad. We worked for about two
weeks, manufacturing this gold dredge, and we were all set to take
it up and go into this creek that we thought we d have good luck
with. My brother was going on a fishing trip, and he backed over
the thing and crinkled it all up. I could have killed him. I ll
never forget it. So we spent another day or two uncrinkling it,
and we went up and checked out for gold. We had the right
equipment, but the pumps we had wouldn t work, or the creek wasn t
right, so we never really did get anything, but it was good
experience. We had a lot of fun doing it.
Hicke: Making the--
Forman: Yes, making the thing and getting out there and doing it and
seeing how it was done, talking to other people who had done it.
Hicke: Did you do much reading?
Forman: I didn t read very much in my youth.
Hicke: I guess you were too busy.
Forman: Yes, I really was. I wasn t a reader per se. I am now. I don t
reach much in the summer, but I read all through the winter and
spring when I m not so busy all day.
Hicke: But you didn t go and get books on how to--
Forman: Oh, yes, of course. Oh, yes, we read up on gold mining. I read a
lot of chemistry books, but that s hardly reading. It was
fascinating. God, at age fourteen or fifteen, I d be up at the
engineering library at Berkeley. I learned how to get these
books, and I d go in and I d read all this stuff. I was
fascinated with it. So that interested me, but not novel-type
Hicke: I d call that reading.
Forman: Well, it was reading, yes. I certainly could read. I read an odd
set of stuff, but I did.
Hicke: Are there any of your friends that you particularly remember?
Forman: Oh, sure, all of them. A guy named Fritz Henshaw--he was very
clever. He was a good builder. He ended up going to Berkeley and
getting a degree in electrical engineering. I don t see him much
anymore, but he s still a good friend. And a good friend of mine,
named Phil Crane--he and I are concocting a business together
right now, trying to sell wine to Japan with a special label that
he s come up with. He has a valve business that takes him to
Japan often, and so we re kind of working together. I still see
him, a great guy.
Hicke: But he s going to sell your wine?
Forman: No, not my wine. We re going to try to buy probably bulk wine and
use his special label for it, kind of a celebration wine, he calls
it. He s got an idea, and I just offered to help him. Whether it
will go anywhere, I don t know.
And then another friend, Frank Potts, became a dentist. I
still see him--oh, I don t knowevery two or three months.
Hicke: Not on a dental basis, I trust.
Forman: No, no, not with my brother being a dentist.
Hicke: Oh, that s right. Is he up here?
Forman: He practices in Concord, California.
Hicke: How nice.
Forman: So yes, 1 still do see at least a couple of the old buddies that I
had in high school. Obviously, you get out of high school and
college and you go to another community, and you make new friends.
But I am still close to at least a couple of them, which is fun.
We have lots of memories, and we laugh like crazy every time we
see each other. It s a kick.
Hicke: One other thing that I find kind of fun to find out is what kinds
of foods people like. You said your mother is a great cook.
Forman: Well, yes. And because they entertained and liked to cook so
much, at a very young age we learned to eat everything. We
weren t fussy kids, and we ate pretty fancy food. I mean, I
remember my brother and I would be delighted to think that we were
going to have eggs Benedict for breakfast or fried oysters and
chicken livers and green fried tomatoes for breakfast. We thought
that was just super. So we ate sophisticated food.
My brother and father, actually, more than I were great
fishermen and hunters, so we d eat a lot of wild game: deer, wild
ducks, salmon, what have you- -everything from stuffed lamb hearts
to the normal things. We just thought that was great.
And a lot of vegetables because my mother was such a
vegetable farmer. Every single year of my entire life, I would
either have a garden in conjunction with my parents or on my own,
so I ve had fresh vegetables every summer. I always look forward
to that. I love them.
Hicke: You re spoiled!
Forman: I know. I love them. I really look forward to the first of the
tomatoes and all the special things that I grow. So it s hard to
say that there s anything that I don t like. I really love
quality food. I mean, you can see that I like to cook by the pots
that I have. [points to the kitchen] I m into it. Those are by
no means just decoration. I use them all.
Hicke: They re very decorative, but if you use them all, then I m really
Forman: I cook a lot. I m into cooking with good, fresh ingredients. I m
not what you call a fancy sort of French-style chef. I don t like
to do elaborate sauces and all those things. I like to do good
ingredients, cooked tastefully with good flavors. I m not a
recipe follower. I kind of invent things. Just like my
chemistry. I like to taste things and kind of get an idea of what
I think I like about the thing and then try to create something on
my own that s around, rather than pick up recipes and follow them.
I don t have the patience for that for some reason or other.
Hicke: You re creative to cook that way.
Hicke: You re taking full advantage of being in the Napa Valley, where
Forman: Yes, we have good food. This is every bit as nice as Provence in
the south of France. We have all these wonderful olives. We have
everything, really, that they do. It s incredible. We have some
great garden food here and farmers markets, which supply
wonderful stuff during the summer, and obviously, all the great
wine and so forth.
Hicke: Okay, so you liked the science courses in high school probably the
Forman: Oh, sure. The junior high school was so simple. I was still
interested in it, but the high school chemistry was really
fascinating. I loved that.
Hicke: Did you learn anything that you didn t already know?
Forman: No, it was pretty simple. I did well in it, obviously. At that
point, it was just fun that I did know it all, and it was kind of
Hicke: You got to mess around in a lab.
Forman: Yes, and I liked it. I had a better lab in my home than the high
school had. But it was still fun.
University and Graduate School. UC Davis
Then, of course, I went to college. I actually started off at San
Jose State [University]. I m not quite sure why. I guess a lot
of my friends lived there, and I thought, Well, that sounds good.
I was there for a year in the chem department, and one of the
professors, a guy named Wilkinson, said, "You know, Ric, you do
really like chemistry. I can see that. You do well in it." And
he said, "What do you want to do with it?" He kind of said, "Are
you interested in straight chemistry as a research chemist, or
what would you like? How about wine? Are you interested in
"How about wine?" he said. I said, "What does that have to do
with chemistry?" He said, "There s a great deal to do with
chemistry. There s a whole department at [University of
California at] Davis that s involved in it." I instantly knew
that that s what I wanted to do, so I applied to transfer and
fortunately had the grades to transfer, and so I transferred to
Davis and got right into their Department of Food Science, with
the idea that eventually I would get into the enology program.
But they didn t have a fermentation science course curriculum to
graduate in then. It was food science. So I did all the food
science classes in undergraduate school, and then went to graduate
Wait a minute,
You said there were some of your professors that
Oh, I m sorry. I think this was this one guy at San Jose who
quickly re-routed me and got me interested in focusing on what
direction I d like to take the chemistry. I knew very well, right
out of high school, that when I went to college, chemistry was
what I wanted to do. My major was picked probably three years
before I went to college. So that was simple. But then what 1
was going to do with it, I really didn t know. That I didn t have
any idea, but the more I thought about it after talking to him,
the more I realized that I really didn t want to be in just sort
of research lab. I needed to be outside a lot. I like the out-
of-doors, which is obviously coming from my childhood background,
being outdoors all the time, doing things. And I liked
agriculture because I was fascinated with the way my family had
always had agriculture, even though it was just gardens. That
So Davis s ag department was definitely where I needed to
go. And then, when I thought I could get into the wine business--
I like not only chemistry but the biochemistry, bacteriology part
of it fascinated me as well, so I had it all.
Hicke: Any professors at Davis that you recall?
Forman: I was impressed with [Maynard] Amerine. Amerine was very nice to
me. I ll never forget the first day, taking his Vit [iculture] III
class, which I ended up finally being a reader for, or a TA
[teaching assistant] or whatever you want to call it. But I ll
never forget him coming into class. I was very impressed with him
because he was so dignified. He just had an elegant appearance
and manner to him. He also reminded me of a guy who was a friend
of my parents whom I just happened to like very much, a guy named
Len Richards. He was one of my favorite friends of my parents, so
he had this charisma of looks just reminding me of someone whom I
had liked from my family, but also he was impressive because he
spoke so articulately. He just really looked important, and I
realized that this was a step in a very important direction.
I immediately took it seriously because of him, and then I
realized, after seeing all the other professors, that I was
focusing on something that was really pretty intense and not
general in the sense that chemistry was but that there was
direction to it. Yes, I was really excited about it and almost
fearful because it was so intense and focused in the direction
that it was. I felt the specialization immediately.
Hicke: Do you recall anything specifically that you got from him?
Philosophy of wine--
Forman: I remember going into his office, and I just remember admiring him
because he was obviously so important and well liked in the
industry. I admired the way that he tasted wine once I finally
got into the classes. Not only did he understand how wine was
made, but he understood the history of wine, and he understood the
elegance and the environment that wine achieved if you really
appreciated it, and the people that were associated with it all
around the world.
He would encourage me. He would say, "Ric, you re doing
well, and if you continue to do well, someday the wine business
will allow you not only pleasure but affluence, and you will live
very well by it." I believed him, and I just felt that he said
that s the way it will be, and it has.
Hicke: That s a great characterization of him.
You just sort of captured
Forman: It is. I always thought he was very special, which he was. I
mean, everybody felt that way, but I saw it within the first five
minutes. I think I have good intuition. Even then, at a young
age, I had it. I realized that it was important immediately. So
he was the most important.
I liked all the others . I remember a guy named Min
Forman: Min. He s a Japanese guy. He was the lab assistant to Hod Berg.
He was really encouraging to me. I ended up living with him and
his family for a while. He was great guy, a lot of spirit. I
think he works for Gallo [Winery] now. He left the university and
worked for Gallo, but he was very sharp. Very, very nice to me,
and 1 liked him a lot, so he was encouraging.
Dr. [Ralph] Kunke was wonderful. He became a really good
friend and my graduate advisor. I liked Ralph a lot. He was so
nice to me and also very encouraging. He was fun. We could go
out and laugh, and he also taught me a lot and was very kind and
reassuring in my research project. So he was very important to me
as well. I admired him. A different sort altogether than
Amerine, but 1 liked him.
I also felt that [Vernon L.] Singleton was probably one of
the most intense and creative professors there. Great precision.
He was very serious and had a unique sort of approach that no one
really had spent much time on, working on his polyphenolics . I
think I took the first class on polyphenolics that he taught. He
sort of invented the class, and we were the pioneers of it. I
thought that was good.
[A. Dinsmore] Dinny Webb was a great professor, too. He was
really nice to me. I remember he d tell me about how his son was
working hard in the chem department, and if you work hard, you
make it. He was very fatherly to me about continuing there. I
remember having a discussion with him about going to graduate
school, and he encouraged it and said that it was a good idea and
that you have to work hard, but it will pay for itself in the end.
They were really nice professors. They were very serious,
but they were very personable. It was a small department.
Hicke: How many in a class?
Forman: Oh, I think in a graduate class we d have five, six people in it.
My colleagues in the classroom were David Coffrin and Mills
Fenghi, Richard Nagaoka, Justin Meyer of Silver Oak, Pete Stern,
and Rich Kunde. Five or six others, maybe seven or eight. That
was about it.
Hicke: You had an interesting class.
Forman: Yes, yes. You hear some of these names, and we re all around
here, still doing it. So it was a good class. It was great.
Hicke: This is graduate school now.
Forman: Graduate school, yes. And it was a little bigger in
undergraduate, of course, because you were mixed with all the
other classeshistory or one thing or another, which was a mixed
bag of everybody, but the campus was neat. I really enjoyed it.
It was a nice place to live. I could go both back to the Bay
Area, where my family lived, or I could go up to our summer home,
which I was halfway between. That was nice.
But I was really getting ready to leave by the time I was in
graduate school. I was fascinated with it and did well. I did
Hicke: What year did you graduate?
Forman: I graduated in December, half year, in December of 1969.
Hicke: This was under-
Forman: Graduate school, master s degree.
II EARLY WORK EXPERIENCES
Hicke: When did you get your bachelor s?
Forman: Oh, I must have gotten that two years previous. By that time-
that was six years of school--! was pretty well ready to leave. I
had thought about getting a Ph.D., but I thought No, I really
don t need that. And while I was in school, I was very fortunate.
I had worked for a couple of wineries. I worked for Stony Hill
[Vineyard] in 1967. Fred McCrae was very, very good to me. I
really admired Fred, and I liked him a lot- -he and Eleanor both.
He taught me a lot .
And then I worked for the harvest of 68 at Robert Mondavi
[Winery]. That was a wonderful influence as well.
Hicke: We were talking about whether you were going to go for a Ph.D.
Forman: Oh, yes. I just realized that I really wanted to get out and
work. I was lucky because the industry was just beginning to take
off at that point, and there were new wineries being established,
and they needed winemakers. And so at one point I had Peter
Newton, through a relation, actually, on his wife s side--Sloane
Upton, who owns Three Palms Vineyard, who was taking some classes
at Davis and had met me. He encouraged Peter, Peter had talked to
Amerine, and Amerine had suggested that he talk to me.
So he came and interviewed me for the job of building and
running Sterling Vineyards, the same time Billy Jaeger came and
wanted to know if I wanted to be the winemaker for Freemark Abbey,
and Bob Mondavi, after I had worked there a season, wanted to know
if I wanted to be the winemaker or at least assistant winemaker at
Robert Mondavi. So my God, here I am at school, thinking, Is this
what it s really like? How could it be so good?
I was really looking forward at that point to getting out
and doing something.
Hicke: Yes. Before we get you out, let me back up. Is there anything
more to be said about what you did at Stony Hill?
Forman: Oh, sure. There s a lot more. We should not pass that up. That
was important. I could go back even further than that. I see in
the outline you ve made here: what sort of things did I do, what
sort of employment did I have while I was growing up? Well, I
worked one year--
Hicke: I wasn t going to ask you that because I figured you didn t have
Forman: No, I did. It s kind of interesting. One year I worked on a
construction project for a company called C. Norman Peterson.
They built sewage treatment plants. That was just straight
carpentry construction. I did that one year in high school.
Forman: Yes, summer. I spent the summer doing that once I was finally too
old to just go to the summer home and sit. Once I had a driver s
license, the family felt I better start working, and so it was
good. So I did that one year.
And then the following year I had a wonderful job working at
UC Berkeley in the Chem Department storage room. This was the
year they were tearing down the old chem building, and so I was
busy all year going into all these incredible labs in the old Chem
Department. Remember that old brick building? Did you ever see
Hicke: I don t think so.
Forman: Oh, my God. It was a wonderful building. It was so much fun.
And I can remember going through it even before I worked there,
because I used to go up on weekends and go into the building and
kind of go in and just befriend some of the research students in
there and have fun talking with them. I just loved the building--
the whole smell of it, and the whole thing was utterly fantastic.
I remember the old building that had this glass roof on it
and all these steam pots, and all these guys were doing all this
research. A professor named Rappaport had a greenhouse, and
Rappaport s greenhouse was full of all these poppies. I guess he
was doing studies on alkaloids. One of my jobs was to take all
these poppies and get rid of them and clean out all these labs,
all this stuff. Threw half of the stuff away because it was so
old. I just stocked my lab completely with all this stuff. I had
so much fun. That was wonderful.
Hicke: How did you get that job?
Forman: My brother s girlfriend worked in the department there. She went
to Berkeley, and she said, "During this summer we re going to tear
down the old chem building, and there s going to be a ton of stuff
to do. Are you interested?" Of course, I could hardly wait. So
that was a good job.
And then the following summer I worked at Weibel [Champagne
Vineyards] on the bottling line. I thought I was going to work in
the winery. I wasn t able to because there just wasn t enough to
do, so I ended up doing construction and work on the bottling line
there. That didn t last very long.
Stony Hill Vineyard. 1967
Forman: It was the summer after that that I finally worked at Stony Hill.
That was then starting to be significant. I was at Davis at that
Hicke: How did you get that job?
Forman: Again through Amerine. He d [Fred McCrae] go to Amerine every
year and say, "I want one of your graduate students or one of your
students." He d be interested in... so Amerine chose me again. I
had a great time. I lived in their newly built barn. I was the
first person who lived there. It has been used for thirty years
since for their Mexican help, but I had the initial live-in. I
moved up there and lived down there on the ranch and made the
harvest of 1967.
It was extremely enlightening. A lot of things I learned
there. He told me the importance of keeping everything clean and
having sound fruit. He said, "If you have sound fruit"--
Hicke: Sound fruit?
Forman: Sound, good fruit. "You probably won t make bad wine." I learned
that rule very early on. I was introduced to the barrel
fermentation phenomenon, which was really not very much dealt with
at Davis, so that was fascinating to me. And being introduced to
the production of Chardonnay and the way they did it at Stony
Hill. It was a very hands-on, very traditional system.
Hicke: Traditional in the sense of the French--
Forman: Yes, very Burgundian system, really, except that he didn t use
Burgundy barrels. He fermented in barrels. I think it has gotten
way more traditional now, as are many of the wineries in
California. But his approach to it was still, nevertheless,
pretty classic. It was a wonderful way to start. Even though I
had been taught all this technology at Davis, I was able to do
some of the more traditional things along with my ability to point
out to him and do various things that I had learned already as far
as the technology goes. I helped him, and he helped me.
Hicke: Are you saying that technology and things that you learned at
Davis were a little bit different from the way he was doing
Forman: Oh, definitely. And certainly influenced me, as did, finally, my
ability to travel at an early age on Sterling s behalf. It
influenced the way I make wine very, very seriously, and I think
it had an effect on a few of the people who saw what I was doing
and the way wines are being made now in California.
But anyway, we were all just starting here. He had been
doing this for some time, but all the new wineries had just begun,
and so they were ready to see what was going on. So that was
Robert Mondavi, 1968
Forman: Then going to work at Robert Mondavi the next summer was also a
wonderful experience for me. Totally different. Much more
technology there. A lot of big, fancy equipment that I otherwise
hadn t worked with. Of course, Davis didn t have any pilot plants
equipped the way they are now, so I had never seen this equipment.
It was a wonderful chance to see how pumps worked and how the
Hicke: Was he doing a lot of things that were different?
Forman: Bob was very automated. He was out there buying this equipment,
and all the first stuff that had ever come into California. He
was using these nice, stainless-steel tanks, which very few people
had started using. He had gotten good presses, and he was
interested in centrifuges and all the sorts of things that nobody
else had really paid much attention to, so he was one of the
beginning technologists, really, as far as the California wine
I must say, I recall that it was a bit scattered around
there. They were always doing too many things at one time. I
learned that they were just full of energy and had lots of good
ideas but that they probably took on too much at once, and so I
learned those were some of the things I didn t want to do in the
future, that I wanted to be more organized.
Hicke: More focused.
Forman: Yes, way more focused,
to and not to do.
So it taught me at a very early age what
Hicke: Was Warren Winiarski there then?
Forman: Warren was. I ll never forget Warren being on top of the tank and
Warren said, "Well, now, Ric, we re going to pump these tanks
over." I said, "That s great. I know in theory what it means,
but how exactly is it done?" So he and I get up there, and he d
show me this and that and the other thing, and he had really only
learned it the year before himself. There was a time that he had
come to me and started asking me questions. I remember he used to
want to borrow chemicals from me and asked me how this was done
and asked me how that was done. So he wasn t really that
knowledgeable himself about making wine. He was just really kind
of an assistant, learning himself at Robert Mondavi.
Hicke: Was Zelma Long there?
Forman: Zelma? No, she came just a little bit later. It was Mike
Mondavi, me, Warren, Brad Warner had just started there, and a few
other guys. That was it. I remember Bob would come out and stand
on the press with me and talk about what was going on and what I
thought, and we d taste wines. We had a wine that he bottled
before that was a Sauvignon Blanc. He brought it down and said,
"Ric, what s wrong with it?" He said, "It s all fizzy." I said,
"Well, I ll tell you what s wrong with it, Bob. I think it s got
some sugar in it and you didn t sterile- filter it," which was the
problem. They were just learning there. They didn t have it down
right yet. But they were very excited about the new Napa Valley
III STERLING VINEYARDS, 1969-1978
Forman: So then I went back and finished with graduate school and had to
make a decision at that point where to start working. The offer
that had been made to me by Peter Newton, who was at that time
contemplating building Sterling Vineyards, was by far to me the
most exciting because it offered me the chance to really do it
totally on my own, and I wasn t frightened of that. I didn t
really want to go and work somewhere else with someone else. I
really had, for some reason or another, enough confidence that I
wanted to do it my way.
I never was- -kind of all the way back into my childhood--!
never really liked the Boy Scouts, I never really liked camp. I
didn t like regimentation, and I didn t like people to have a
program for me. I was really more interested in diving in myself
and doing my own investigation and kind of running my own show.
Hicke: The views are so much better up there at Sterling! [laughs]
Forman: Yes, definitely. So I wasn t frightened by it. I guess they
detected that, and they detected a degree of confidence.
Hicke: Had he talked to anybody else?
Forman: He must have. Yes, actually, they tried Philip Tonne, but they
never got along. The winery wasn t built or anything, but Philip
came aboard and was going to do some things with him, but they
wore each other out, I think. I guess I was the next one, and I
Designing the Plant
Forman: So I graduated in December, and they started off--
Hicke: This is 69.
Forman: In 69. We decidedfor the rest of the winter I began doing
research on equipment and traveled to all sorts of wineries and
asked lots of questions.
Hicke: Give me an example. Where did you go?
Forman: Oh, I went down to the Paul Masson [Vineyard] plant to look at all
the fancy equipment, I spent time with Martini [Winery], I went up
to Parducci [Wine Cellars], I went to Gallo, I went to Beaulieu
Hicke: Were all these people willing to--
Forman: Yes, they were all very friendly. Bill Fuller was extremely
friendly, at Louis Martini, I remember. And then 1 would travel
to the various equipment companies. I remember going to Missouri
and looking at the Paul Muir stainless steel company, trying to
get an idea of all this equipment. I don t know how really,
honestly, I did it, because I didn t really know what I was doing.
Hicke: They don t teach you that in school.
Forman: No, but I realized I had to do it, and I asked a lot of questions
and put a lot of ideas together, and I ended up designing this
first plantgetting the equipment and ordering all the stuff that
Hicke: What were your objectives and goals?
Forman: This is kind of how it evolved: By far the most important thing
that really happened was my association with Dick [Richard] Graff,
who had come to Newton at the same time I had joined Newton and
asked Newton if he would help sponsor Dick in a barrel and winery
equipment company that he wanted to get started in conjunction
with his running the very small, at that time, Chalone Vineyard.
Peter thought that could be very advantageous. He liked Dick.
Dick and I had gotten along. We had met each other at school.
And so Dick and I launched off in the spring. I actually
got married to Joy, my wife--
Hicke: What was her maiden name?
Forman: Dale, D-a-l-e. So I married Joy, and we took off on a honeymoon
to France. And then she came home after two weeks, and I stayed
for an additional six weeks with Dick Graff, and we researched all
of Europe. We went to all these equipment companies, all these
barrel companies. We went into Italy and mostly France. Of
course, I had practically never been out of California at this
point, and so I was absolutely dazzled with the ability to go to
Europe and then overwhelmed with what I learned. I mean, I went
from this strict chemistry, technological background, other than
what I learned at Stony Hill, to seeing what tradition really was.
It just struck me, at age twenty-four, completely that that s what
I wanted to do. I knew instantly that that was the way I wanted
to make wine.
Hicke: What did you do about language?
Forman: I had French in high school, and I had a little bit of a knowledge
of French. I m much better now than I was then. I continued to
study it. I m not fluent, but I can kind of muddle through. But
Dick and a purchasing agent for Sterling International, the parent
company of Sterlinghe spoke fluent French, and Dick spoke quite
good French, so we had two French-speaking people on the trip, so
it made it pretty easy.
Hicke: That covers French, but what about German? Did you go there?
Forman: Dick was not bad at German. He actually took us to this amazing--
did you ever meet Dick?
Forman: Did anybody? They didn t get him before he died?
Hicke: No, we didn t get an oral history with him.
Forman: Oh, what a shame. He was without a doubt the most brilliant man
in the industry. Utterly unbelievable.
Hicke: He was on the list, but we just didn t get to him.
Forman: What a shame. He was fabulous individual, unbelievably brilliant,
genius-level brilliant, and very, very creative and very
innovative and very energetic. Couldn t say enough about him.
Incredible man. Awful, awful situation, that accidental death he
So we went over there, and we had this tremendous time. I
came home with a total feeling then that yes, I was very happy
that I had this technological background because it gave me a
foundation to know when I was getting over the edge or not with
tradition, but the tradition was what I wanted to do, making wine.
Hicke: Can you explain why?
Forman: I don t know. It just had that charisma of something done and
makes you feel that that s what you want to do. I knew I wanted
to make wine, but then all of a sudden I realized that when I saw
the traditionboth how it looked, how it felt, the hands-on
abilities that allow--
Hicke: And the taste.
Forman: And, of course, the taste. I had been impressed with the taste.
I wanted to create to those things. I really wanted to create
something classic. And so I came home. Of course, my first
project was to make Chardonnay, which was the thing coming in
first. I didn t have a winery set up yet, and I was frustrated.
Equipment was on its way, and they were building all this stuff.
Jack Davies at Schramsberg was kind enough and he knew Peter
Newton well and said, "Look, you ll have to make it here. The
grapes are getting ripe. What are you going to do?"
Hicke: Were these their own grapes?
Forman: Yes, they were Sterling s grapes. Sterling had planted vineyards
before they had a notion to do a winery. They ran an extremely
successful paper company, Peter Newton had, and this paper
company, which was really a bulk-trading paper company they buy
paper in bulk and trade it all over the world, so it was kind of a
brokerage business. He ultimately did then set up paper plants in
England, but it was very successful. It was based in San
Hicke: Just a second.
Forman: It was very successful. It was based in San Francisco, and, you
know, they were of an age and an affluence at that point where
they all kind of wanted to get away, as everyone does if you can
afford to. They had bought summer homehe and the two officers
of the company bought summer homes in the Napa Valley and got
involved in planting vineyards. It was fun for them. They were
interested in it. And before they knew it, they realized that
they could afford it, and they thought it would be fun to build a
winery. And that s when I came onto the scene.
Who were the other two partners?
There was actually only one partner. It was Mike Stone. He was a
partner with Peter. And then Martin Water field was their
comptroller, but he was very close to them both. He was not a
partner, but he had a house up here as well. He actually was one
of the men who was most influential in the exterior design of
Sterling Vineyards. He, Dick Graff, and I basically designed and
put Sterling together.
When you built it up on that hill, did you envision the cable car
to get up to it?
No, that was Martin s idea, totally Martin s idea,
clever, very clever indeed.
He was very
So anyway, backing up, we built a temporary plant at the
bottom of the hill before we had any of the concept of what to do
at the top.
First Crush at Schramsburg; Pioneering Barrel Fermentation
Hicke: Did you get the first crush in now?
Forman: Yes, we were starting. I tried to crush and couldn t get the full
harvest, or the beginning of the harvest, at the initial plant,
which was nothing more than a pad and some tanks sitting out in
the open, with a crusher and so forth, and a trailer for an
office. But it just wasn t complete in time for the Chardonnay,
and so we went up to Schramsberg, where I had had a small
relationship a year before because while I was at Robert Mondavi
in 68, Sterling had grapes brought to Mondavi to be custom
crushed. And then we put them in the new barrels, which I ll
never forget, actually, putting into the tunnels previous to the
I remember Joy and I--and we weren t even married yet--and a
good friend of ours, Chick Hudson, had spent a weekend up there
because the container of barrels had come in, and we laid all the
cardboard down. I remember rolling them into the lower tunnel and
being so excited that I had these brand-new, French barrels.
Nobody had these barrels in the Napa Valley, and I had this new
container of new French barrels. I ll never forget putting them
into the tunnel. It was about the most exciting thing I could
ever imagine. The charisma of going into a tunnel and having this
wonderful new wood and knowing that I was going to put Chardonnay
and ferment it in there, which nobody else had ever even dreamed
of doing, in new barrels. So I could hardly wait.
We did that actually for the red grapes that we had made at
Mondavi, custom-crushed for Sterling s account. We put that wine
into those barrels.
Hicke: Cabernet [Sauvignon]?
Forman: It was Cabernet and Merlot. We put that into those barrels. And
then the new Chardonnay barrels came. Of course, the previous
year they were also put into the barrels. They were not intended
to go in with Schramsberg, but we had to because the grapes
weren t ripe. And so--gosh!--I had these pumps all set up and
everything, and I was going to use their crushing equipment. I ll
never forget. I had all this brand-new hose, and I had to lay it
from the little crushing and pressing area that Schramsberg had in
the upper tunnels all the way down to the lower tunnel, where I
was going to ferment the juice. They didn t do that sort of
thing. They fermented in stainless up there. But since I wanted
to ferment in barrels, I had to go to the lower tunnel.
I remember the morning the grapes came in, and before the
grapes came in,, I had all of this hose, this beautiful hose, all
laid out from one tunnel to the next. And who comes along but
this guy named Hugo. He was actually quite a town character at
the time. You can see him in paintings around. But Hugo drove
in, wearing these white coveralls, and he drove this old Chevy
truck with a little trailer. He had all his equipment on it.
Here he comes. He sees the hose across the road, thinks nothing
of it, and drives right over my hose and dents it in about ten
places and puts cracks in it.
Honest to God, I almost cried. I could have killed the guy.
How could you do such a thing to me? I m all set up, and you know
how excited I was, and really my first harvest on my own. And he
comes and wrecks it.
What did you do?
Oh, we taped it up, and I was just sick. I had to buy new hose,
and we made it work, but it was an awful start. So we pressed it,
and I thought I knew what I was doing.
I have a question before you get too far.
kind of barrels these were.
You didn t tell me what
Forman: These were classic Burgundy barrels, with the wooden hoop and all.
It looked just as though you were in a Burgundy cellar. That s
what was so exciting.
Forman: So we got the equipment going, and Jack helped me with the
equipment and so forth. We pressed it and away the juice went,
settled it. The next morning it went down into the barrels, and
it fermented away, and it made just an absolutely wonderful wine.
1 remember Dick Graff coming up and tasting with me, and we both
just smiled and thought, Well, this is it. This is what using
these barrels and good grapes and fermentation and so forth does.
Hicke: Was that after three months?
Forman: This was after about a month. It was very good. And then I
remember, at the time, the university was putting on a tasting.
It was hosted at Robert Mondavi s. This was the following March.
Of course, the rest of the harvest took place, and there s more
perhaps that we can talk about, about that, and the rest of the
red grapes came in, because the plant was ready at Sterling
But Chardonnay remained up there for some time, because it
was fermented there. But we had a tasting in March of the new
Chardonnay. There was a number of wineries that participated, the
ones that were around- -Freemark Abbey, Beaulieu, Christian
Brothers, Martini, Heitz, and us, I guess--and Inglenook. They
wanted to taste all the new wines. They thought it would be
fascinating for everybody to bring these new wines and taste them.
I was making wine the way I felt that was traditional in
Burgundy. I was leaving the wine with the lees, and I was doing
things that no one would ever dream of doing: leaving the
fermenting in barrels, which none of these people had done; new
barrels on top of it all; leaving the wine with the lees; not
racking it and getting off all these lees.
So I brought this wine, and my wine was the only one on the
table that was cloudy. The rest of the wines had all, of course,
as California was in those days: as quick as you could get them
filtered, the better; and store them in oak uprights or stainless
steel. And so we tasted them all, and I could hardly wait to have
everybody taste this wine. Gosh, everybody s wine was so clear,
and that made me a little nervous. And then all of sudden,
everybody s wine was real polished and fruity, and mine had this
sort of stale smell, because I had taken the sample out the day
before, and I now know, but anytime a new wine has yeast or any
sediment in it, it doesn t travel well. It ll have this sort of
stale, metallic sort of smell if it gets sunlight on it. So it
had the sunlight on it, and I was just horrified. My wine looked
awful. It totally destroyed my sense of security and that I had
done the right thing. And I wondered then, "My God, have I stuck
my neck out and done something absolutely awful?"
I called Dick, and Dick said, "Don t worry. I ve been doing
this at Chalone. It works. Don t worry. It s just that you took
the wine full of sediment." I knew in theory that was it, but I
had a heck of time convincing everybody else there. They all felt
so sorry for me because the wine looked awful. You can imagine:
my first wine [laughter].
Hicke: Ruined your day!
Forman: More than that! I came home, and my wife just said, "My God, what
happened to you?" I said, "I don t know. I think I ve blown it.
I think I ve really made something awful." But I stuck with my
guns, I stuck with the traditional method, and eventually fined
it, eventually bottled it, and I remember tasting it with all the
rest of the wines, and it was so superior. The wine was
absolutely elegant. It was just stunning. It was everything I
wanted it to be. It truly had that French Burgundian taste.
Hicke: Oh, great!
Forman: So by hanging in thereand then I really had confidence. Other
people tasted it and, of course, as we know, barrel fermentation
now is being done. But Dick and I were the first people to do it
and to really do it properly. It caught on.
Hicke: Documenting those events is one of the reasons we re here. Before
we get too far, can you tell me: is there any particular reason
that the people at Sterling planted Cabernet, Merlot, and
Forman: Peter was English and really liked Bordeaux wine, number one. He
liked European wine; that s what he grew up with. He saw that
Chardonnay was catching on. He knew what Fred McCrae had been
doing, and he was a visionary and realized that it would catch on.
He knew Cabernet was what the Valley did well with. Obviously,
Beaulieu had set the pattern with that, with making world-class
Cabernet ever since the forties. So Cabernet was a natural.
An Early Merlot Varietal
Forman: But he went further and said, "You know, I think Merlot would be a
good grape." I wanted to agree with him. I was enthusiastic
about it, particularly since I had spent time in Pomerol on the
first visit. So I was very much in agreement with him. We even,
at his encouragement, tried to bottle one early on, 1969.
Hicke: A Merlot varietal?
Forman: Yes, a varietal. Louis Martini had done one in 67.
Hicke: I just read--I think it was in this morning s paperthat you had
the second one.
Forman: Yes, so I had had the second one. It was made in a different
style. It was made in my traditional Bordelaise--as I was
traditional Burgundian in Chardonnay, I was Bordelaise in my
thinking as far as how Cabernet, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc were
produced. We had Merlot and Cabernet. We later added Franc and
even later, Petit Verdot, at my encouragement. But Merlot was the
most innovative, of course, at the time because nobody was even
thinking about Merlot; it was all Cabernet here.
Peter said, "They make wonderful wines in Pomerol and St.
Emilion. Why don t we bottle some Merlot ourselves? People might
be fascinated." I sort of resisted, and then I said, "No, I guess
you re right. We will, and I ll try to do something special with
it." I did. The 69 was all right, but the 70 was really quite
wonderful, and from then on, it turned into an incredibly good
wine. It had uniqueness. People thought it could stand on its
own. I made a very stylish wine from it.
I remember going into 1978, encouraging [Dan] Duckhorn to
get involved with it. Took him to Bordeaux and introduced him to
the people. And he really started popularizing Merlot more than, I
would say, Sterling did. Then, of course, we know where that has
gone at this point.
Hicke: Yes. Well, he made only Merlot for--
Forman: For a while, and that was kind of my encouragement, telling him to
do so. Christian Moueix actually went to Davis with me. I wasn t
really close to him, but I knew him, and I knew him, and I knew he
was an important figure in the Bordeaux region, and became, of
course, much more aware of it once I traveled to Bordeaux and
visited him now and then. He was kind enough to allow me to spend
time in some of his cellars, and so I learned the techniques of
racking and brought home for the first time also the Bordeaux
system of racking and fining in barrels and racking out of the
head of the barrel, using air pressure. Of course, everybody
thought, again, I was nuts-- just as they thought I was nuts
fermenting Chardonnay in barrels.
But, again, now it s all caught on, and that s, of course,
the only way people make classic Cabernet in California now. But
I remember even having to convince Dick that this was the way it
needed to be done. I remember bringing all of his crews from the
various wineries that he had at that point, with the Chalone
group. I d bring them into the cellars and train them how to rack
out of the head of the barrel and how to do all the techniques
that I learned.
Hicke: Did you actually learn that?
Forman: I was able to work in the cellar at Chateau Trotanoy, Moueix s
cellar. The guys there really showed me exactly how to do it all.
They would allow me to do it, and so I learned the physical way of
doing it. So it was wonderful. I d bring these barrels home and
drive holes in the head of them. Everybody thought I was crazy to
rack a barrel that way. What in the world was I doing, racking
that wine with air pressure and coming out of the head of the
barrel, doing all these crazy things?
But it made a difference. It made a subtle difference, but
it was a difference. It just added that little touch of
refinement to what I already felt was important, as blending
Cabernet and Merlot and Cabernet Franc and eventually Petit
Verdot. I was convinced that a Bordeaux-style wine could be made
and even made to a more high degree of refinement than had been
done previously in California, by using some of these techniques.
Hicke: Okay. I think we went by these too fast. Could you elaborate on
these techniques one by one, and explain how they were done?
Forman: Let s take a break for a minute.
Travel and Research in Europe
[Interview 2: February 25, 1999] //#
Hicke: This is February 25th now. We re on our second interview.
You made some notes, and I wanted to go back and try to elaborate
on some of those topics. I m hoping that whoever transcribes this
is able to pick it apartlike throw them all out on a sheet and
then put the like parts together, because we ve been a little
scattered. I would certainly like to see this whole thing
collated, so to speak, so that we have a uniformity of
progression, I guess, from where we started through my life as a
The transcriber will transcribe what s on the tape,
rearrange some of it if you like.
Forman: Yes, that s fine, that s fine. I ve done this enough times, and
when somebody does it verbatim or they do kind of the flow as it
came, it s very disjointed. I don t know whether there was a book
or there was something that was done that way, and I was really
upset about it, that they didn t take the time to at least get it
back to me and let me say that I didn t want to have it sound
exactly like that. You almost sound illiterate sometimes if they
take it verbatimbecause we don t talk the way we write.
Hicke: That s what I was just going to say. You sound perfectly fine,
but when you look at it in writing--
Forman: No, no, it doesn t make sense, no no. Conversations don t go the
way one writes.
Hicke: Yes. Okay, I ll just kind of let you go your own.
Forman: We made a note there.
Hicke: Yes, we wanted to go back to early days at Sterling and talk about
your trips to Europe.
Forman: What I saw in Europe, exactly. Obviously, going to school and
making the decision to get into the Department of Enology and
Viticulture and see it through all the way to graduate school was
an important phase and decision in my life. It set me into one
direction which was obviously very important. So that was an
important decision for me.
The next most important thing that guided me was going to
Europe, and so I think it s probably not just enough to say that
it dazzled me, but why. I guess it has a lot to do with
aesthetics, as much as it does practicality of the matter. Going
there and seeing the way the vineyards, for instance, were so
neatly laid out to me was very, very meaningful. I liked the
symmetry of it all. I was astounded at the thought that the
French, who are obviously very economy-minded people, would go to
the effort of spending that tremendous amount of money in the
close spacing and the elaborate trellis systems and the massive
amount of care that it takes to tend these vines .
You see, in the normal course of things in those days in
California on an acre of land we had 450 vines. You looked at a
comparable plot of land in Europe, and we had 2,000 to 3,000
vines. That s a big multiplier. I now know because I came back
with this notion as well. I planted probably the first close
spacing at Sterling because of that and because I was fascinated
with it and fiddled with it for years. Of course, now, again, the
whole Valley is going to this close spacing.
Hicke: Did you look at the soil?
Forman: Well, yes. Also, I was absolutely enthralled, particularly in
Bordeaux and in Burgundy, with the soil types and where they were
planting the land. You d go, for instance, from Bordeaux city up
through the Medoc, and you d see this rather nice, low- lying land.
It would be not planted in grapes, in a similar manner that we
would see in California or in the Napa Valley where it would be
planted in grapes. They only planted areas that were very well
drained, and when they were well drained they also had extremely
austere soils these gravelly- -looked like river beds. I thought,
Wow, this is interesting, this notion of planting on the austere,
not the rich soils. That has to have something to do with it.
Hicke: There s even a winery there called Little Pebbles--! ve forgotten
what it is in French.
Forman: Yes, Ducru-Beaucaillou, the Cru of the Beautiful Pebbles, exactly.
Ducru has a wonderful plot. So I got to know Bordeaux very well,
and I realized that the grandes crus were always on these knolls
and always had sort of watersheds that even the knoll itself could
drain into it. These were important factors.
It was understood, too, as well, that the close spacings and
the no- irrigation there were coupled with the fact that they got
more rain. That was just about the time that actually in
California we were able to do drip irrigation so that that was a
factor that was going to come into play here.
But getting back to what my impressions werethe soil types
and the beautiful slopes of Burgundy were down in the palm of the
slope, where the soil was both well drained and somewhat rich- -was
where all the grande crus were, so I was fascinated with this and
realized that-- [pause]
Hicke: Did you take notes?
Forman: Oh, yes. I have notes and notes and notes I d write and write,
kind of summaries of each trip, at the end of them all. I don t
know where they are now, in the archives at Sterling, I suppose.
Then the next thing that 1 think impressed me was just the
charm of the old buildings, the old stone buildings. I really
liked that. It just had a feel of solidarity and a feel of
longevity and of having been there for a long time. It was a
tremendous statement to me that wine was important, that it was a
tradition, that it was part of their heritage and they were proud
of it, and that they really revered it. It was just this national
sort of symbol of France and the other countries surrounding it
that were involved in wines. So the buildings impressed me. I
liked it. I liked the way they were laid out. I liked the charm
of them all. I liked just their feel.
Hicke: Are you talking about Bordeaux or Burgundy?
Forman: Both. I loved the little villages
were very, very neat--the way they
streets, and under every house was
garage had a press in it, and that
and they made them totally by hand,
on top of where they worked, which
finally to do here.
in Burgundy. I thought they
were tiny and the winding
a cellar, and every little
they made these small batches
They lived there. They lived
is, of course, what I came back
So this whole family feel, this whole approach of living the
business, basically, was so different than what I had come away
from at school with chemistry labs and research and technical
papers and seeing big wineries that have big equipment and kind of
corporate-run mentalities in California. So that obviously was
just a total opposite of what I expected, and I liked it, and I
kept thinking about it. It was one of these charismatic feels
that you came back wanting to be part of.
In the cellars, I loved the barrels, which I otherwise had
become a little familiar with, having worked at Stony Hill
previously, but he had old whiskey barrels and a hodge-podge of
things and no French oak and disjointed things that had been there
for twenty years before, and I think some of them still are!
So these beautifully made barrels and the fact that many of
them were new and the beautiful way they d be laid out,
particularly in the chais of Bordeaux were these long rows of
barrels with glass bungs on them, and their hand-done equipment.
I remember watching some of the wines being racked. In those
days of course, this was thirty-some years agothey d have these
hand pumps similar to this one sitting up in the corner there? Do
you see that thing?
Hicke: Oh, yes.
Fonnan: I bought that there. That was actually a brand-new pump. Those
would add air pressure to the barrel, and the wine would be racked
from barrel to barrel. God, I was just fascinated with the hand-
tending of these things. It again showed the care of the product
and the really closeness that they felt. And that impressed me.
And I looked at these big oak fermenters, and I looked at
how they were kept and the various equipment that was so different
from the equipment that we have here. The whole package
eventually created a new philosophy for me, which otherwise wasn t
really well formed anyway, having just come from school. I would
have thought that I would have come away with this chemistry,
technological, let s go and make the better wine through
technology from school because that s all I had known.
And bang! I almost forgot that. It was always in the back
of my mind, and I think it s good that it is, because that s
something you never get if you don t go to school you wouldn t
get that in the field. So I had this background that gave me
security in knowing why things happen, and if there was something
wrong, I had the tools to solve the problems and get in and fix
Pioneering Winemaking Techniques; Importance of Barrel
Forman: But I knew I didn t want to make wine that way. I knew I wanted
to make wine the way it had been made in Europe, even though
nobody here did it, really, in any true form. And I wanted to try
to make a statement here with what we had, with our fruit. Peter
Newton at Sterling was thrilled with the idea that I wanted to do
that because that was his feeling and the reason wine was a
romancing subject to him, and so he said, "Go for it. Do what you
need to do."
And then Dick Graff came along and helped me, because he had
the same feelings, and he was dedicated to trying to make Chalone
into a Burgundian winery. So the two of us did a lot of research
together, bought a lot of barrels, studied what they did with
barrels. It wasn t just to get barrels but once you had a barrel,
what did you do? We brought a number of them in, sold them to a
number of wineries, and they always misused them. They didn t get
There are certain ways that barrels should be cleaned; there
are certain ways that one needed to go into the barrels. The
first barrels that were introduced, basically by Dick Graff s
company and Sterling and me, were almost always abused because
they came with the thought of Yes, this is something we have to
change, but they used old technological sort of mentality with the
barrels. They d take fresh wine and filter it, and then put it
into these brand-new barrels, and the wine would turn out tasting
like sawdust, it was so strong.
They couldn t get the feeling of putting fresh juice into
barrels and letting it ferment, leaving it with the lees--this
wanting to be clean in California, or get the thing processed.
This processing mentality in the wine business had to change. So
we slowly talked to people that we sold barrels to and said,
"Look, you ve got to do this; you ve got to that." We ourselves
were continuing to experiment with it. We d go a little bit
further each year and take the step one bit more.
It made a dramatic change in what California Chardonnay and
California Cabernet began looking like. All of a sudden, there
was this extra bit of spice, this extra bit of richness, this
intrigue that had not existed before. So we had the fruit, and,
of course, the fruit is number one. I suspect and I ve always
said that 75 percent of the quality of wine is really from the
fruit and the vineyard in which it is grown. This 25 percent is
what we can do in the winery to take it a step further or to guide
it and to make what we re really interested in making. It can be
straight, simple wine or it can be fancy wine or whatever.
Before you get too far, let s keep in mind--I know you took other
trips to Europe and taught your philosophy and spread it around.
At some point, let s go into that.
That is true, right. Where were we?
subjects I wanted to talk about?
What were some of the other
1976 Trip with Dan Duckhorn; Other Trips
Hicke: Do you want to talk about your trips with other people?
Forman: I could, sure. Probably the most important trip that I have in
mind right now that I took was with Dan Duckhorn. He had
expressed interest. We were friends, simply because of living in
the same valley and running into each other. He had a really keen
desire to make wine. He had gotten into the bench graft business
coming from the banking business, of all things. The bench graft
business was interesting to him, the viticulture side was
interesting. But he wanted to take it a step further for himself
as well and wanted to investigate the possibilities in making
And so he asked me if I would give him some guidance. He
was fascinated with the Merlot that we were making at Sterling and
felt that it had a place in California s wine portfolio, if you
will. He said, "Look, take me to Pomerol. You seem to be the one
that has gone more than anyone else that I know in the Valley, and
you re comfortable with it. You like it, you understand the
Bordeaux philosophy maybe more than anyone at this point, and
would you take me and show me what s going on?"
I thought that sounded like fun, so we took off. This was
probably in 1976, I would think. I lined up a number of visits in
Bordeaux. We actually went to Burgundy as well, but Bordeaux is
the one that really stuck with him. Had a lot of fun. He was
just fascinated in the very same way that I was. The buildings
were very interesting, and I think if you look at his building
now, he s done a lot to sort of capture that low chai, Bordeaux-
He immediately grasped the notion that thin-stave, Bordeaux
barrels were important, as opposed to just what everybody really
wanted, being these thick- staved- -when Californians wanted
barrels, they couldn t get away from the thicker-staved sort of
bourbon barrels that they d been using, and so they always wound
up with what the Bordelaise called export barrels.
I told a number of people, including Dan--and I think he was
one of the first to get it--that the thin-staved barrel was more
important, because in making the thin- staved barrel they didn t
have to put as much heat with the barrel, and there was a total
different flavor of toast. It was what we really liked when we
tasted these French wines, this flavor of violets.
Forman: So there were little, subtle things like that. He came away
realizing the same things I did when I started: that there was a
tremendous tradition there and there were ways of doing things
that if you paid attention to it, could make a big difference.
And so he came back and started producing Merlot in 1978 from
grapes from Three Palms [Vineyard], which was quite a miracle that
we were able to get for him, because Three Palms was controlled at
that point by Sterling. It still is, for that matter.
I m not sure how we did it, but they allowed him to buy a
small bit of Merlot
Hicke: Sterling did?
Forman: Sterling did.
Hicke: They didn t have a contract?
Forman: They had a contract for life for it. Newton secured that very
carefully. I honestly can t remember the details of how that came
about, but he was able to get it. The 78 Merlot was an instant
success. He did it properly. I guided him a bit. Phil Baxter at
the time was helping him as well. The team of us made a very
impressive wine, and he continued to do so and does right up to
today with that adherence to Bordeaux tradition, in the same
manner that I did.
Hicke: Anybody else? Did you finish with that?
Forman: Yes, I think I said enough. No, actually, I generally went by
myself. The other person I ve influenced in a massive way--I
guess I ve done it so often that I don t even recall it, but it
seems like part of what I ve donebut David Abreu is a very close
friend of mine. He s probably the premiere viticulturist now in
the Napa Valley as far as premium grapes are concerned. He was a
native of St. Helena and really had no formal education per se but
was interested in farming and started withas he came out of the
Vietnam affair- -out of high school, Vietnam, and then came back
and wanted to do farming and farmed for the H&W Ranch.
And realized that he liked it, was associated with Chuck
Wagner at Caymus [Vineyards] and enjoyed his relationship there
and the ability to learn from the farming that they d been doing,
and finally decided that he wanted to get into farming on his own
and farm for other people as a businessvineyard management
company, if you like. So he asked me what I thought about it,
because I had become acquainted with him at this point, it was
about 1980--at Newton. I said, "Yes, I ll help you out."
I agreed to join him as a partner in his first venture,
which was running the Inglenook Vineyard. And then, about the
same time, I said, "You know, David, we have to go to Europe and
I ll show you some of the things I ve seen. I think you ll be
fascinated with it." He was indeed just enthralled with the whole
thing. The same concept that hit me in the early seventies hit
him immediately, this notion of the French taking the vines and
making them literally behave in an entirely different way than we
do. This very, very close attention to training, to trellising,
to vine care, and the whole effect on the fruit and the way one
deals with the land was impressive to him, and he really, I think,
was determined to come back and see if we couldn t put some of
these notions to work in the Napa Valley.
I helped him do so and guided him in it. David is a very
astute man, and he learns quickly. He s very fastidious, and he
developed a whole system of vineyard management around these trips
and around our knowledge that we would gather. We would go and
spend hours in the vineyards, particularly Bordeaux, and take
meticulous notes and take roll upon roll of pictures and talk to
the farm workers.
I was, at least at this point--! m now capable enough, I
guess, in speaking French that I can get some stuff out of these
workers. And we found that it was probably almost more fun to
talk to the workers than to talk to the owners because they d tell
us different things. We weeded out all of the whys and wherefors
of how these vineyards functioned. For eight, ten years now we ve
been doing this. We ve gained a great deal of knowledge.
Do you go every year?
Every year. I went three times last year. So I spend a lot of
time in Europe. It s very important. It s very influential on me
and how I maintain my philosophy of winemaking.
You learn something new every time?
If you don t learn, you reinforce the old things, and you come
back with a strong conviction to continue with what you re doing.
Hicke: I d like to ask a question I ve wondered about. In Europe they do
something I think they call hedging? They clip the vines right
across the top.
Forman: We now own a machine that we bought in Pomerol that does it. All
of our vineyards are hedged. When you come through, it looks very
much like topiary bushes. They re absolutely perfectly hedged.
What we re trying to maintain is a meter of growth between the
fruiting bud and the top of the canes, and we want about thirteen
inches wide, thirteen-inch density canopy, one meter high. So it
comes along and hedges the sides and hedges the top. By so doing,
we get just the amount of light necessary. What you re really
after on fruit is dappled light. You want about a leaf and a
half, so to speak, of maximum shade over the fruit, so you d like
bits of light hitting the fruit at all times and hitting all of
the leaf surfaces.
This idea of this massive, lush canopy that we ve had in
many California vineyards is absolutely dead wrong. This is the
reason the vineyards are so carefully tended and so carefully
hedged and have these thin, vertical trellises. It s because they
realize that light is the element that s needed for vines to
function. They have leaves, and the leaves can t function without
light, and so every effort is made to get all the leaf surface
exposed to the maximum amount of light. By so doing, you
concentrate its effort, and therefore the components of the fruit
and the health of the vine.
That s what it s all about, really.
Has machine hedging now become more prevalent?
Oh, yes, the machines are coming in here as fast as they can get
them in. You ll drive up this Valley, and every close vineyard
now is properly hedged. I think we brought the first machine in,
but there are a number of them now. Unfortunately, a lot of it on
terraces and so forth still has to be done by hand, but all of
these vertical trellises are hedged. It s just a matter of
practice. Usually three times a year.
I haven t been up here in the summertime for a while.
I d love to take you and show you the Torvillos vineyard we have.
You d be amazed at how beautiful it is. It looks absolutely like
Pomerol. It s a dead copy of every single system, and it s a
spectacular vineyard, I must say [chuckling]. I think it s the
highest-priced fruit in the Valley, too. David and I own it
concurrently. It s just on the ridge above me here.
Where the flag is?
It s a little beyond that. It s twenty acres,
for five thousand dollars a ton.
That s amazing!
It s unbelievable.
What s planted?
We sell the fruit
Forman: Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot--all French
clones. We ve taken it, so to speak, to the next level, I think,
both David and I.
David Abreu s Farming Business
I ve taken to Europe-- just as
astute. He s a very keen
he s very fastidious and comes
the principles that he believes
successful business around it,
society vineyards. He has the
Vineyards, Staglin Family
on the table now, pretty much,
Forman: And David- -getting back to people
Dan is very astute, David is very
observer and a quick learner, and
back and just doggedly adheres to
in and has created an unbelievably
and now farms what I call all the
Araujos, the Harlan Estate, Viader
Vineyard, Cogan- -every fancy wine
Hicke: Araujo, did you say?
Hicke: I had some Araujo Viognier last night, by the glass, here, and it
Forman: I don t happen to like the variety, but I m sure if they made it,
it s good.
Hicke: I never liked it before, but this was excellent.
Forman: Well, he farms that land in a very, very grand manner. It s very,
very expensive. That s another thing about him. I mean, anything
that s good I guess is costly. He s expensive, but what you get
is what you want, usually. As I said, 75 percent of the quality
of these wines comes from the vineyard. Most of it s from the
soil and the exposure, and then the vineyard viticulturist tends
them, and if he does it properly, he gets the maximum out of the
soil and delivers this product to a winery, and there you are: 75
percent of the quality is already in your lap. It s up to you to
take it and not ruin it, and to put perhaps your 25 percent of
additional effort into it to produce something we hope is very
Hicke: I m gathering that this is another thing you learned in France- -
you ve been saying all along that this is one of the things you
learned in France.
Forman: Oh, the fruit is so critical. You see this highly delineated area
in France, where one plot has its own appellation and has its own
sort of level of quality. The stamp is put on it and guaranteed
by the government, and the rules are made. You say why? Do they
do this just becauseis it political? To some extent it was,
particularly in Bordeaux, where they arrived at this hierarchy of
classification. It was done really on price in 1855, and the
expensive wines were the premiere First Growth and on down through
the Fifth Growth, according to price. But price really, in those
days, by and large related to quality as well, and the quality
related to soil, so it does really relate to how good is the piece
We re starting to do that here in the Napa Valley. You see
vineyard-designation labels. We have now zones of appellations--
the Howell Mountain appellation, the Spring Mountain, the Stag s
Leap and so forth, the St. Helena appellation. So we re beginning
to realize that certain areas produce quality which is distinct
and identifiable and is worthy of recognizing, just as the French
do, but we haven t even come close to the detail that they spend,
looking at it.
Hicke: Is that maybe because they have such small amounts of land to work
Forman: They have more than we do. They have a lot more land than we do.
It s just that they ve been doing it for 300 years and paying
attention to it. And I think they take, frankly, their
viticulture areas more seriously than we do. The whole community
in Europe, once they have a viticultural area which they ve known
they ve had for 200 or 300 or more years, the whole community
respects it and gets behind it and doesn t try to out-zone it or
change it for the whim of whomever happens to come and live there,
the way we re doing in all of our nice regions in St. Helena.
You mentioned coming up here, why we can t cut trees down
anymore. There are people who come from other regions and think
this is a wonderful Valley. They love the notion that it s a
wonderful Valley mainly because it has grapes, but they don t want
the grapes; they only want the notion, and they don t realize that
you have to support the grapes and that you have to give
precedence to the grapes. They are what made the region, they are
what we stand for, and they should not be hindered.
And so we have developers who see plots that would make
lovely homes and people coming up and thinking, "Oh, I m in the
Napa Valley. This is great. Don t plant any more vineyards.
Don t take any trees down. I love it, but I love to be in the
Valley." This notion doesn t even come close to being in effect
in Europe. They highly covet their land. They realize that it s
for grapes, and grapes come first. Unfortunately, they don t
around here, and we re going to run into a little bit of trouble.
But here we are.
Hicke: We ll want to get into it a little more later.
Forman: Exactly. So that s traveling to Europe and what it really did for
me and the intensity with which it guided me and formed a
I came to Sterling after having had a couple of what the
French I guess would call stages, training sessions at Stony Hill
and Robert Mondavi.
First Wines of Sterling
Hicke: Now I think we wanted to go back a little over the first harvest
and some of those days at Sterling.
Forman: At Sterling, yes.
Hicke: Are we there yet?
Forman: Oh, I think we could get there, yes. We ve seen how I really
formed my thought process about how I wanted to make wine. And,
of course, clearly it sounds and feels to me now like it s always
been there and, like, what else? But in those days it was the
beginning of a thought process, and so I wasn t totally sure of
myself, although I wanted to do it, and I did it. I had to learn
going along. I didn t just automatically launch into this notion
that I wanted to make classic, European-style wine and there we
go, I went at it.
I stumbled and tried various things and tried to see which
of them was really very adaptable to our type of fruit and so
forth. Made mistakes, clearly, in the beginning. The first
harvest was both very exciting and very frightening for me. I had
never really been left on my own to do this, and I realized we had
spent a great deal of money, totally at my suggestion, and that
the owners didn t know how to make wine either but were completely
trusting in me.
Hicke: Can you describe what a typical harvest day was like that first
time? How you felt?
Forman: I was nervous from the point I woke up until I went to bed, trying
to think about what I should do next. I would plan my whole day
out before I got up and go through each step and figure out what I
needed to do and hope that I had all the equipment necessary and
all of the pieces in line.
I think I learned this technique of planning ahead while I
was at school. I had this research project in graduate school. I
got into a habit--it was not a very elaborate research project,
really. It wasn t really very sophisticated, but I had to invent
it and dream it up and guide it. So I learned the habit of every
morning before I got up, I d spend whatever it took to completely
think through what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it and
what I was going to need to do it, so that when I started I had
That habit carried over into how I ran Sterling, and it has
carried over all my career. I m able to get a lot done and get it
done efficiently and not waste a lot of time, and seemingly
[chuckling], for some reason or other, I always manage to get an
amazing amount done without having had to stay up all night or
work too long. I get things done quickly and efficiently by
planning ahead, I think is really what it amounts to.
So I planned ahead, and I had all this equipment, and I
actually did a fairly good job, surprisingly, without having had
much experience before, other than at Stony Hill and Robert
Mondavi, because everything was there, everything worked,
everything functioned the way it was supposed to.
I m trying to remember some of the things we did. I
remember all the grapes we had to take, because we had Cabernet
and Chardonnay, which they planted new, but we had old vineyards
which ultimately we d rip out, but we had to deal with the wine.
Remember, I mentioned to you yesterday there s one called Pinot La
Fata. There was a guy named La Fata, which is quite a funny name.
There s actually a street in town named after him. Evidently, he
was a botanist. He cloned grapes. One of the grapes he cloned,
he named after himself. It was Pinot La Fata, and it was this
white grape, which is a very funny grape. To me, it was sort of
like Sauvignon Vert. It was a very loose-clustered, pale-colored
grape with almost no flavor. Anyway, we had to make about ten
tons of it. I remember fermenting it and wondering what in the
world I was going to do with it. It had no flavor at all.
Then we had some French Columbard which we had to make. I
made a whole batch of that. And we had Chenin Blanc that I had to
make, and I made a whole batch of that. None of these wines I
really knew what to do with.
Hicke: That wasn t quite your style, was it!
Forman: No, I just fermented them in stainless, and they came out--I could
never seem to make a Chenin Blanc that had much flavor; I don t
know why. Maybe it was the fact that I really didn t like
fermenting white wine in stainless. It went against what I really
wanted to do, and I just didn t see the notion of wasting barrel
space and expensive barrels on these. We had the grapes; we had
to do something with them. So maybe my heart wasn t into it, but
I never made really very good wine.
I remember having to sell it all in bulk. We took it down
to Hans Kornell. He wanted me to bring it down and put it into a
tank. God, I d never figured out how to close one of these wooden
doors on a tank, so old Hans says, "What are you doing?" I said,
"Well, I m trying to close the door." He said, "But you haven t
put Seal-Tight around the door." I remember old Hans showing me
how to prepare the door.
Then I get it done, and here wine comes from the tank truck
in there, and he says, "What in the world are you doing? This
wine is dirty." "What do you mean it s dirty? It s new wine." He
said, "I don t take wine in this cellar with yeast in it." He
said, "What are you doing to me?" I said, "Oh, my God, Hans, I
didn t know it would bother you." He said, "I only buy wine
that s been filtered."
So I get into a big, big hassle with him. Hans was a very
tough character, and boy, he was not pleased with me. I d filled
his whole tank up with this cloudy, yeasty wine. That didn t
please him at all. But we got over it.
Hicke: You were just delivering some wine to Kornell.
Forman: Oh, yes, we did that. Some of the other wines I madeyou know,
the "69, the Chardonnay we mentioned I had to make up at
Schramsberg, and that we ve been through that quite thoroughly.
That was very exciting, and it ended up turning out to be really
quite a nice wine. So all of the ideas worked. From that point
on, I wouldn t dream of making a white wine any other way than in
barrels. I never have, to this day, thirty-one years later. I ve
never made any white wine in anything other than fermenting it in
barrels. It obviously has stuck with me. I think the notion, as
we said yesterday, has caught on, and a few other people believe
it works as well.
Hicke: What else did you make at Sterling?
At Sterling in that same year, 1969, we made all these other goofy
white wines, as I mentioned, and those were fermented in
stainless, but the last to be for me. And then we made Cabernet,
of course, and Merlot. We also had some Pinot Noir, which was
growing at Three Palms, of all places, the absolute worst place in
the world for Pinot Noir to be grown.
Where is it?
Three Palms Vineyard is just on one of the last bends of the
Silverado Trail as it comes around to Dunaweal Lane. It s just in
back of Sterling. It s a unique swathe of ground, having been
sort of criss-crossed over the eons with Selby Creek, and so it s
very rocky. It s rocky in the same way that Rhone soils are
rocky. It has all these round, river- run, hard rocks, and very
gravelly, well-drained soil. It s a super place for grapes, but
it s for grapes that require heat and exposure, not sensitive
grapes like Pinot Noir. The Cabernet and Merlot and Franc and so
forth do marvelously there, but the Pinot Noir was just a joke. I
don t know why they ever planted it. That came before me.
So I tried to make Pinot Noir at Sterling. Actually, in
1971 we made quite a unique one. It was a California-style Pinot
Noir. It s still very viable. It s unbelievable,
dark, and uniquely spicy and flavorful. It worked,
call it Burgundian Pinot Noir, but it worked.
And that was from that vineyard?
Yes, yes. But that only happened occasionally.
It just goes to show the winemaker can do a few things.
It was tannic,
I wouldn t
Chardonnay sans Malolactic
Forman: A few, I suppose. I suppose. But the real excitement there was
these Chardonnays that I was able to produce, actually, also from
an area that really isn t very good for Chardonnay, the Calistoga
area, but this treatment in barrels and sur lees and so forth was
making very good wine.
I will mention, as long as we re talking about Chardonnay
again, that I early on deviated in one very--I suppose you could
say strict way from the Burgundian method. Of course, all
Chardonnay in Burgundy goes through a malolactic fermentation.
While I was being traditional in every mannerfrom the crushing
and using settled, free-run juice to putting juice directly into
barrels, yeasting in barrels, leaving the wine with the lees for
up to five or six months in barrels and stirring the barrels the
only thing I decided I didn t want to do was malolactic.
Dick Graff was a real proponent of that. He said that no
malo was important. I think in his area in Chalone, it worked
because they had high acidity. But I just didn t feel that
Chardonnay, particularly grown in Calistoga, had enough acidity to
produce a balanced wine if the malo took place. So I always
inhibited the malo, using reasonable amounts of sulfur dioxide. I
think my wineswell, even today some of them are still viable. I
think they were then and still are better in this region for it.
I think the malo has been taken to extremes. It sort of was
turned into a buzz word by the wine writers and the notion of
having malo on Chardonnay was the thing to do. In only very few
places in California, I think, is it successful. I think it turns
the wine into an unbalanced product. It makes it overly sweet,
with lazy flavors. It doesn t have that distinct, crisp,
mineral-y quality that you like in a white wine. And the wines
practically don t age at all. Most California Chardonnay are
The no-malo wines I made at Sterling and the no-malo wines I
made at Newton and the no-malo wines I m still making, no matter
where the grapes are grown, seem to have tremendous ability to
age. I mean, they re ten-year wines easily, in many cases,
sometimes more. They do develop this wonderful creme brulee
character that you get from malo, but get it with age rather than
from the malo, and they retain the acidity, which gives it the
mineral quality that you re after.
I really like white wine with acidity. Probably the only
Chardonnay that I really am fond of are Chardonnays made in
Chablis because they have this nice mineral-y quality. I realize
that the California market wants something a little richer, so I
do pick the grapes quite ripe. Did at Sterling, did at Newton,
have here. And so I get a very rich wine, but this no-malo has at
least the wine balanced with acidity, and it manages to handle the
oak much better. It certainly ages more gracefully and produces,
I think, a final product which has a lot more intrigue.
Actually, I wrote quite a long paper on the subject for the
Napa Valley Wine Library. I went into a lot of depth about why
you do, why you don t. Somebody was interested in really learning
about why, I think, so they could look up
Hicke: About what date was it?
Forman: I have it in there, and I ll give it to you. It was kind of a
neat article. It really went top to bottom on malolactic with
Chardonnay in Europe and California and why it was done, in the
same manner we re doing it as an interview, but it turned out
pretty well. So I ve really been very emphatic about staying with
that conviction, that malo is no good for the region that we re in
here. I think, actually, the public is now getting a little tired
of these massively heavy, oaky, sweet Chardonnays. They re
starting to say, "You know, I like these wines that don t have
malo." It s coming back in fashion, you know? Don t throw your
bell bottoms away.
Forman: I may have started something with the sweet Chardonnay as well.
Jess Jackson of Kendall- Jackson [Vineyards] came to me right in
the midst of when I was having trouble with my partnership with
Newton. Just as I bailed out of the partnership, he asked me to
come and consult for him. This was some of the first wines he had
made up in Lake County, and he was just getting started with
Kendall-Jackson wines. He said, "Ric, I ve got some problems. I
know you have some problems with your partnership, which I may be
able to help you with"--because he was an attorneyand he said,
"I have some problems with the wine that maybe you could help me
with. Could we trade thoughts?"
I said, "Sure, Jess, I d be happy to." So I went up there
and discovered that he had tank after tank of Chardonnay that had
stuck during its fermentation. It was left sweet. I did the best
to retrieve as much of it as I could. But in the end, he had let
it go for so long that we were unable to get a lot of the wine to
go to dryness, and so I encouraged him to buy some wine from
Tepiscay, which turned out to be very good wine and so good that
he ended up buying the vineyards.
We finally had to make some blends. I told him, "You know,
I don t think, Jess, that the public is going to mind this. Why
don t you go ahead and blend some of this sweet wine in there?
It s not my style, by any means. I can t stand it. But," I said,
"I think the public is going to like it." Wouldn t you know it,
they flipped over it. It became the new thing, this sort of
subliminal sweetness in Chardonnay, and people just went crazy.
It was almost the same thing that happened with Bob Trinchero s
White Zinfandel. They flipped over it, and it became the new wave
in Chardonnay, and Kendall- Jackson was at the forefront with it.
Hicke: I ve heard it said that people like to say they like dry wine but
Forman: Well, they do. Californians--they say warm and want cold; they
want dry but really have sweet. We re a soda-pop-bred society,
and it s tough for us to get into the real wine-drinking habits
and styles that the Europeans have because we haven t been brought
up that way.
Hicke: It takes some education.
Forman: Yes, it really does. You really have to know wine to like it.
The more you know wine, the less you want these sweet, heavy
wines. You want something to reach for and something that has
intrigue and something that doesn t assault you when you drink it.
Bigger is not better.
Hicke: It s an intellectual challenge.
Forman: It definitely is, and unfortunately, the current wine writers are
promoting again this massive character, and it really saddens me.
It s something I think we could end with, but I m deeply worried
aboutbut that s a subject to wrap up with, I think.
Hicke: You were talking--
Forman: We ve worked Chardonnay and my theories and developing ideas on
how it evolved for me throughout the various places that I ve
Different Techniques Required in California Vineyards
Forman: The Cabernet is, of course, very, very important, too. We did
make Cabernet and Merlot at Sterling. I tried my best to produce
something that was different than what had been produced here. I
tried to take what I had learned and observed in Bordeaux and see
what it did with the grapes here. I think it was more challenging
than the Chardonnay. It s odd that the Chardonnay should have
turned out to be immediately recognizable as a Burgundian style
and that it was easier.
The Cabernet turned out to be a much bigger challenge. The
flavors were more diverse, depending on the vintage. I didn t,
let s say, get it quite as quickly with that, or what I tried
didn t work as well as I d wanted it to. I had to continually
experiment with those. I m trying to remember the 1969 wine.
Hicke: Yes, what was wrong with it?
Forman : Well, some of the problems with it- -I don t think I really
understood thoroughly the maturity level that was necessary. I
don t think I really got that for a long time on these red grapes.
In Bordeaux, the grapes don t ripen quite as readily as they do in
the Napa Valley, and so these grapes are staying on the vine for a
long time, and they re being picked in Bordeaux sometimes by need,
because of the weather, and sometimes simply because they are
maturewith less sugar, but yet the grapes are fully mature,
meaning that the tannins have softened, the flavors are fully
developed, the anthocyan and pigments are there, and even though
the grapes are 22, 21-1/2, 22-1/2 sugar, they are mature.
So I was assuming that perhaps this was enough in
California, and picking the grapes with 22-1/2, 23 sugar was
really picking green grapes in most circumstances. And so the
tannins were hard, and the flavors were somewhat green. It just
wasn t that round, supple wine that you were looking for. And so
I had to learn this. Gradually, as I went along, I did learn it.
I began picking, by 1973 on, much riper grapes.
In some cases it required grapes that were 25, 26 sugar,
which was not what I was after with alcohol, and I would add a bit
of water to it, which was legal and is still. But I realized
finally that California ripened grapes brought sugar on quickly,
but it didn t necessarily ripen the fruit. And so I was having
to, again, stick my neck out and say, No, I know everybody is
traditionally picking Cabernet at 22-1/2, but if we have a healthy
vineyard, it needs to be more than that. So I really did try it,
and I think some of the wines from 1973 on actually are still
very, very viable, and they re delicious.
Hicke: Did you have a vineyard manager?
Forman: No, I did pretty much that myself, guided some of the people.
Towards the end there, we did take someone on, but I began guiding
the vineyard as well as the winery.
But I ll tell you one of the things I did then that I now
have learned much later on in my career that was a mistake: even
though I realized the grapes were not mature and required much
more sugar and time on the vine to reach maturity, the chemistry
still bothered me. I didn t like seeing these high pH s and low
acidities. And so I was in the practice of adding a great deal of
acid to these wines, both before fermentation and after. The
wines were--phew! --they were powerful wines. They had this pretty
strong hit of acid, combined with a fairly forceful, full flavor--
granted soft, big tannin, but just the same, they required so much
time to finally soften.
I m now realizing that these acid additions aren t
necessary, that the wines really do become balanced with a little
less tending to the acidity and that they do age fine and they do
hold up and have a stable cycle in their development, so I ve
backed off a bit from that. I think a lot of California
winemakers have. I think we were in the practice, as I was, of
worrying too much about the pH.
Hicke: As a result of your classes in enology?
Forman: Oh, yes, it s a result of what you learn in school, that pH is
very important to control the microbiology of the wine, the color
of the wine, and that it s very risky to have a wine that s
somewhat out of balance in pH. But if you look at the Bordeaux
wines, they all have relatively high pH s. I don t know why early
on I didn t get that. It s something that really kind of bypassed
me. I didn t pay enough attention to it. And it took time to
Hicke: You had to wait ten years to see what happened.
Forman: That was it. I think it s amazing how some of the wines at
Sterling are still very, very viable and wonderful. I don t think
they might be had I not added so much acid, but I think they would
have been nicer wines earlier on. So it s just something that you
learn over time. You force yourself to change, even though you
have this thing in the back of your mind that tells you, "Oh, but
be careful; you know the risks that go along with leaving a wine
with high pH," but again you say, "But I want the flavor," so you
weigh back and forth and try it. If it works, you go with it.
It s kind of this risk winemaking, really. To go out and
get these grapes fully mature and leave them in a somewhat natural
state is very risky. But it s in the end, if it works, the
ultimate flavor, what you re really after. That s what I think
premium winemaking is all about. It s knowing how to deal with
the risks and guide it along and avoid the risks because you know
what s going on with the wine, in order to get the product that s
very special in the end. It s easy to do it in a safer manner,
but the end result is not a very exciting wine.
Taking Risks, and a Hands -On Management Technique
Hicke: One thing that I wanted to ask you about was taking risks, because
you re taking enormous risks.
Forman: Yes, you take a lot of risks. You take a lot of risks leaving
these wines with the lees, the Chardonnay. You take a lot of
risks keeping them on the vine for a long time. You take a lot of
risks in the cellar with wines that are perhaps not exactly at the
right acidity level that would guard them against microbiological
problems, and so forth. But if you re aware of the danger points
and know how to watch for them and prevent them by simple
attention, you can get through it.
Hicke: So you just have keep things clean?
Forman: Well, you have to keep things clean, and you have to--you know,
it s really one of the reasons I spent so much time myself in the
cellar at Sterling. Sterling only had usually three guys helping
me. They were high school graduate kids, basically. They had no
technical background. There was never an operation in the cellar
that I wasn t there doing it myself. It s finally why I decided
to leave. I just got tired of making 75,000 cases by myself.
But I would be there. I would do it. I would make sure
that all the rackings were done properly. I would make sure that
when they topped, they topped properly. I knew the chemical
analysis of the wines because I did it all myself. I had no lab
assistant. I did everything. And I watched over every single
part. I would climb all over the racks and taste the wines. I
would be everywhere, at every point, and do all of the jobs right
along with the cellar crew. I was part of the cellar crew. I
would run the press always by myself. I never let anybody else
run it. I did all of the important steps--! was there to do it
and finally decided I just couldn t do it anymore, and so I left.
It s still that way [sighs]. Here I am, fifty-four years
old, and I m still running this winery by myself. I have no
employeesat this one, none. I m getting a little tired of it,
and I ll be glad when my son comes to join me. But this is the
point I m trying to make: I can, for instance, rack Chardonnay and
the last, final racking- -because I fined it so carefully--! can do
in a manner that will allow me to filter the wine through a .45
micron filter. I do this because, of course, I have no malo
fermentation and I have to sterile-filter the wine to assure
myself that in the bottle the odd malo bacteria doesn t begin
But if I were to allow just, you know, a normal cellar crew
--a Mexican cellar helper or an American, it doesn t make any
dif ference--they wouldn t take the care. They wouldn t know how
to run that pump. They wouldn t be as mindful of the last barrel
as they are the first barrel. But if I do it myselfbecause I
know if I don t get it right, I m going to suffer the
consequences I get it done. And so I can take risks where I
wouldn t dream of allowing someone else in a winery to take risks
because I know what to look for and I m guiding it.
These are the differences. They add up to this ultimate
quality. It s hard to articulate and hard for people to
understand. I used to, for instance, sell some of the fruit that
I finally bought a vineyard from, Star Vineyards. I d sell it to
Shaw [Charles F. Shaw Vineyard and Winery] and I d sell it to--I
think Ridge [Vineyards] bought some. Who else bought some? I
can t remember. A few people bought it.
But particularly at Shaw, where I was consulting, I d tell
them all what to do. Of course, there, because I was a
consultant, I wasn t doing it. I d tell them to do precisely what
I do myself here, and when I d taste the wine, they were two
different wines. Unless you do it yourself, it s not going to
work. And so I ve been very strict in adhering to that principle
all my life and career. I think my wines, no matter where I ve
made them, kind of have my stamp on them.
Again, I don t know how I can articulate what it is I do. I
just do it. I do it myself. That s probably the most important
point. And there are lots of little details along the way that it
probably would never even be able to talk about because I do them
so patently that I can t remember that I do them.
Do you keep notes?
Yes, I have a log. They hated me when I left Sterling. I never
kept any notes, and so there was nothing to guide anybody after I
left about what went on. I kept it mostly in my head. But since
I have been here, I keep a log. It s fascinating. I make notes
on my impressions of things; obviously, the analysis of things;
and all of the important things the weather, what it was like at
the time, what went wrong, what went right, why, what would I do
next. I mean, it s a whole thing. Sometimes my mood--it s almost
like a diary. I ve got two volumes of it, which do give this
detail. It would be fun for people to read if they could read it
I think [Andre] Tchelistchef f did this and had sort of a
treatise on how he made wine. I don t know whether it s written
or it s available, but I bet it would be fascinating. But yes,
you re right, that does tell you how I think and how I make wine
because I do write these things down.
Sterling Wines in the Early Seventies
Forman: So I made some Cabernets that were interesting at Sterling. Oh,
I ll never forget: The second year I had one of the biggest
disappointments in my career, I think. I had two real serious
problems with wines that I producedtwo outright, total failures.
One was the 1970 Cabernet. I did allow those grapes to get
very ripe. I guess I was catching on quicker than I think I was.
And the vintage of 1970 was rare in itself because we had that
severe frost, and it knocked the crop down. I think we had
twenty-three straight days of frost. You know, there wasn t
enough water. There just wasn t enough fuel. There wasn t enough
anything to take care totally of all the fruit. So everybody was
dealing with a tiny harvest.
It was a very warm year, and we made just very extracted,
very delicious, wonderful, wonderful wines--one of the best
vintages the Napa Valley had seen in many years. I managed to
spoil the whole batch, which was shocking. How it happened: At
the time, we were growing, and we had ordered some oak upright
tanks, which I was thinkingbecause of the size that Sterling was
going to try to achieve that we had to put wine right after
harvest into oak upright tanks for a period of time, because I
didn t think we were going to have space to have all the barrels.
I was going to see what would happen if I aged wine in oak
upright tanks for a year and then in barrels for the second year.
I ve since given up that practice and realized that it s not the
way to go. But it was part of my I didn t want to do it, but I
had to compromise in some respect so that I could get everything
into the program that they wanted at Sterling.
We ordered these tanks from a company called Marcheve in
France. Clever old Marcheve delivered the tanks and installed
them just in time for the harvest, so I really didn t have a lot
of time to pay attention to the quality of the tanks. For that
matter, they looked fine. I soaked them up, rinsed them out, and
bang! --put the new harvest into these tanks.
Within a week, the wine starts smelling like smoked bacon.
I thought, "My God, what in the world is this?" There were great
concerns. I of course took the wine out of the tanks, but by then
the wine had this smoky taste. It was almost a creosote taste. I
had Tchelistcheff over, I had some of the professors from the
university over, and we looked at the tanks. We finally decided
that what had been done was the wood that had been used to make
the tanks was not properly air dried. It was green. In the
process of firing the tank and bending it, this green wood
produced this creosote-like character in the wood. It wasn t
recognizable just smelling the tank. It really kind of had a
smoky, normal tank smell, but the minute you put wine into it, it
extracted it from the depths of the wood where this creosote stuff
had been formed. And so the entire batch was ruined, one of the
best wines. It would have been very exciting in my career.
It was bad, but it wasn t that bad, so we put it in barrels
and we aged it. Today I never would have bottled it, but we were
not sophisticated enough, nor was the public sophisticated enough,
to know it. So we decided to try it. We bottled it, and, God,
every time somebody would taste it, they d say, "You know, I
really like the flavor of this" because the flavors were great.
The richness, I mean, the extract. "But what s the smoky
character?" I can t imagine how we allowed ourselves to do it. I
always knew it, and I would always cringe.
Even today, once or twice a year today, still, somebody
says, "You know, I ve got a bottle of that 1970 Cabernet. It
still has that smoky character." I thought, "Oh, my God, do you
have to keep reminding me of that?" It was devastating to me to
think what happened. So that was a terrible one.
Did you have recourse to the barrel maker?
Oh, yes. We sued them, and we got a lot of money out of them. We
got all new tanks and everything, but still, the wine was they
lived with it financially; I have to live with the fact that the
wine is still out there. I just dreaded it.
What could have been.
Yes, what could have been a wonderful vintage. What it did was it
made me more alert. You learn by mistakes, and clearly I made a
lot of mistakes when I was starting out.
What mistake was that?
Oh, I should have paid more attention to the way the water tasted,
but I hadn t enough experience. I just didn t have enough
experience to know that those flavors weren t going to be right.
I hadn t smelled enough new tanks, you know? Where was I going to
get the experience to do that? I had only been making wine for
two or three years. So I was inexperienced, and it was my fault
for not probably realizing that it was different and that perhaps
I should have somebody else taste it.
But 1 was under the gun also. The wine was there; we had no
place to put it. One of those things you say, "Oh well, I guess
it ll be all right," when you shouldn t have. I didn t have the
maturity level or the experience to deal with it. Clearly, today
I wouldn t do it. But then, there we are. That s how we learn.
And I ll have to say, on Newton s behalf and Stone, the
owner and everythingthey realized that I had made a big mistake,
and they were very decent about it and never once really
reprimanded me, never once. They were very good to me, I ll have
to say. They really were. 1 was lucky that way.
So we went on. And then 1971 rolled around, and we had ten
days of rain before the Cabernet was harvested, so that was a
Hicke: The Chardonnay was okay?
Forman: The Chardonnay was fine. The Chardonnay was wonderful wine. But
the red wasno, that was 72; 71 they just never got ripe again.
I don t know. We had too much crop, and we made this very thin
wine that had an aroma of orange peel. I ll never forget it.
God, I thought, when am I ever going to make good wine here? I
was really starting to wonder.
Sixty-nine was an experimental year; 70, I destroyed with
the smoky tank; "71, the grapes never got ripe. Seventy-two, we
had ten days of rain. The only wine I made in 72 that was really
spectacular and today it is still a wonderful wine was what I
called Merlot but in fact it was 60 percent Merlot and 40 percent
Cabernet 60 percent, and in those days you could call it if it
was 51 percent. What it was was pre-rain grapes. It was the Bare
Flats Merlot and the Three Palms Cabernet. These were both just
wonderful wines, very intensely dark, very concentrated, fully
ripe. I put them into all new barrels, and they handled the wood
fantastically, and the wine today is miraculous. It s amazing how
wonderful it is.
So that was successful, but the rest of the wines were
terrible. At least that made me feel good. And then, in 1973, we
had a normal year. I d had plenty of experience to know when to
pick and when not to pick, and I decided as well to finally launch
into what we would call the Sterling Reserve, and I would pick the
best lots from each vintage and make a small quantity of wine
which would go directly into barrels instead of into the uprights
first and would be treated precisely as the wine was treated in
Bordeaux, which was something I had wanted to do ever since day
one. But I really couldn t do it until I felt that the grapes
were ripe and until I had had enough experience.
So we created this Sterling Reserve, and it was to be the
first year in my career to make wine the way I really wanted to,
as it was made in Bordeaux. From that point on, we made Sterling
Reserve, and going from there to Newton and from Newton to here, I
have made only that style wine avoided the upright portion, used
only new barrels, and used the barrel-racking techniques and the
fining in barrels and so forth.
That was really wonderful. And thankfully, the vintage
turned out to be beautiful. The 74 rolled around, and it was
even better. The 74 Reserve today is still one of the classic
74 wines. It s wonderful wine. And we really went along, and
life was getting better.
Hicke: What about the Sterling regular, other than the Reserve?
Forman: Even the regular is nice, yes. They re both nice. But the
Reserves are very special. The Reserves were the wines that were
the pick of the litter, so to speak, and went directly in the
barrel. So I stuck my neck out and made the blend early on, which
was also very untypical of California. I still do it. It s
pretty much what would happen in Bordeaux. So the Reserve wines
were wines that aged as the final blend and were very much hand-
done winesusually bottled unfiltered. I still bottle wine
sometimes filtered, sometimes not, but I pay attention to the
microbiology and let that be the determining factor of bottling,
rather than the clarity.
I ve managed to master fining to a point where the wine is
always clear and that s a subject that I d love to talk about
later, about clarity of wines and filtration. I have a real
opinion on that at this date.
Hicke: Do you have anything to do with determining the price niche or the
Forman: Newton did that. This will be fun for people to hear. I remember
when we came out in oh, I guess it waswhen was it? Between 69
and 72. I remember having a very important discussion with
Newton and Stone. My opinion finally was asked, and I remember
being astounded at what they wanted to do and was not for it but
ultimately gave in to it, and that was how we were to price the
They said they wanted to charge five dollars a bottle for
it. I [chuckling] said, "You can t charge five dollars a bottle
for it. Nobody will buy it. That s way too expensive."
[laughing] Isn t that classic? I said, "Beaulieu Private Reserve
is four- fifty a bottle. How in the world do you think you re
going to charge five dollars a bottle and have people swallow that
one?" Isn t that amusing?
Hicke: That is. How things have changed!
Forman: Now if you don t charge seventy- five dollars a bottle, you haven t
arrived to the party yet. It is a very amazing thing to look at
and realize that this was twenty- five years ago, and we were
looking at five dollars as being a high price to charge. God,
what has happened!
Hicke: Did it sell?
Forman: It sold. Everybody loved it. Merlot was popular. It really
charged right along.
Forman: We were discussing the wines at Sterling and the Cabernets and how
they evolved and how I finally managed to get, by 1973, both ripe
grapes and a system and finally a wine that I was really happy
with because I was doing it the way I had originally observed in
Bordeaux and I wanted so much to do myself.
Hicke: Can you tell--I guess you must be able to--what it s going to
taste like in fifteen years?
Forman: Well, you can get some idea. I don t know if I was able to then.
I think I can now. I don t know. I m able to--as any experienced
winemaker is--I m able to look at brand-new wines, wines that have
just finished malo, perhaps, and look through all of the fresh
fermentation, yeasty, odd aromas and see what s behind it, look at
the texture, the structure, and the flavors and the aromas and see
what might go together and determine what the final product will
Hicke: You have to be able to do that in order to blend it, right?
Forman: Yes, you do. You definitely do.
Forman: So Sterling was really becoming very exciting for me. I was
getting confidence in myself by the time the 73 vintage was
completed. I saw then that I could deal with the volume, that I
could produce unique wines. I was beginning to understand the
vineyards, I was understanding the maturity level that was
necessary, Sterling was becoming recognized as a new producer of
quality wine, so I was having fun. We were planting new
vineyards. I was getting more involved in viticulture.
Hicke: Deciding what to plant and where?
Forman: Well, I made those decisions along with the owners. We talked
about it. We knew what we wanted to produce. I think we made
some mistakes in the early days, planting so much Chardonnay up
there, but it still made a very unique wine. It was sought after
and it had its own style, so it wasn t perhaps as bad a mistake as
you d otherwise think.
Plant and Equipment
Hicke: We never really talked about the building, designing the winery.
Forman: Yes, designing the winery was a lot of fun. It was really
fortunate that we were able to start the winery on nothing more
than an open pad and a tilt-up building at the bottom of what was
going to be the secondary winery, the final winery. I could test
this equipment that I had. It was never going to be in its
permanent location, so I could change it, I knew, if it was wrong.
Actually, we bought a used press. I can t imagine why we
kept it for as long as we did. We bought the old Wilma-style
bladder press. I think we bought it from Robert Mondavi. Yes,
exactly. It was the press that I had used at Robert Mondavi.
They were upgrading. They bought a Bucher, which I wish we had
had the good sense to buy, and we bought Robert Mondavi s old
And we bought a brand-new Healdsburg Machine [Co.] crusher
and a Healdsburg piston pump for the crushing equipment. And then
we bought Miiller and Valley Foundry fermenting tanks- -of course,
with all the temperature-control jackets and so forth, which were
relatively new in those days but available, at least.
Hicke: You made all these decisions?
Forman: Yes, I had to go around, find these companies, and decide on where
to put the valves and what type of valves to have and what kind of
pumps to get and so forth. So we bought pretty much what was
available in those days. It was rather standard equipment: piston
pumps, centrifugal pumps, and the bladder press, the Healdsburg
Machine crusher- -which was a good crusher; it s a very good
crusher. There are better crushers now available, of course, but
in those days it was a very decent crushervery, very well built,
very easy to clean, relatively gentle on the fruit.
So we designed this plant with tanks ranging from 10,000-
gallon capacity down to 3,000-gallon capacity, with stainless
steel wine lines and must lines going to all the tanks. It was
quite fun installing all of this and seeing how it worked. We
operated it for- -let s see, 69, 70 and 71, and in 71 we began
building and designing the winery that s now at the top of the
hill. The old pad then became, after the new winery was done, a
To build the new winery, obviously, we wanted to put a great
deal of thought into it- -more, certainly, than we had on this pad
to get started at the bottom. Again, I did a lot of research,
traveled to Europe, looked at more detail with the equipment that
was available, talked with people around here about what they
liked and what they didn t like.
Dick Graff at that point had started working with Newton on
his barrel project. He and I would do the research for it and
gather barrels and so forth in Europe to sell in California. Dick
and I would spend sessions together, laying out a winery on this
unusual, sloping hill that we thought would be functional from the
point of view of making wine. We worked on the interior design.
A fellow named Martin Waterfield, the comptroller for
Sterling International Paper, Newton s company, was a very clever
sort of amateur architect, I guess you could say. He put a facade
around the interior working design that Dick and I had worked on.
So we came up with this sort of segmented winery that stepped down
the hill, where we had at one level the fermentation and crushing.
We put the crusher in a pit so that we didn t have to elevate the
grapes coming up out of the receiver hopper, which I thought was
an important thing and something that I had observed in Bordeaux
and thought that that would be important, so that was unique.
And we went from there into levels that dropped slowly down
the hill. We had barrel rooms. I had observed in some of the
I m trying to think where I saw this. I knew we had to stack
barrels. I hated the thought of having to do it, but I knew we
had to conserve space and stack barrels. But I didn t want to
stack barrels on top of each other. I guess I did a lot of
research on material handling companies. They had available at
the time what we call a cantilevered rack. I was the first,
certainly, to bring those into the Valley and thought that this
had to be a much better way to store barrels than to stack them
one barrel on top of the other.
I wanted to be able to get to the barrels, I wanted to be
able to roll the barrels upside down and wash them, I wanted to be
able to get into each barrel and inspect it. And so I was
determined to find a system of stocking barrels without actually
putting them on top of each other. These cantilevered racks
really worked. They were both more attractive to look at and
very, very functional.
Hicke: Can you describe them?
Forman: It was an upright beam with arms going off in opposite directions.
On these arms, rails were attached. These beams were built of
such a strength that they were able to actually extend out and
hold the weight of a line of barrels on top of them. They were
really just an upright post holding a series of rails.
Hicke: Over the lower line?
Forman: Yes, and we had them five high. So the barrels were in fact
stacked five high, but no barrel was ever touching another barrel.
They were stacked on these double-sided, cantilevered racks. They
were really wonderful.
Hicke: Where did you get them?
Forman: I can t remember who supplied them, but there was a metal
fabricating company who put them together for us. They were used
in other industries to stack pallets on. I think, actually, I saw
them at the McGraw-Hill Paper Company. I remember going there and
looking at forklifts and noticing these racks and saying, "You
know, these racks might be useful for barrels." And sure enough,
they did work. I think other people began using them. That was a
So Dick and I laid it all out and figured that it would
work. We hired Keith and Associatesthey were structural
engineers--to draw and design the building. I guess one of his
original buildings on wineries was Chappellet [Winery] , so he had
had some experience putting wineries together. We all worked
together and came up with what today is Sterling Vineyards and
hasn t really changed, really, since then.
It worked. It worked very well. It worked to the point
where I only required three cellar workers and myself to finally,
when I was there, produce up to 75,000 cases in the winery. It
worked really well. We crushed everything and operated the winery
and bottled the wine, did all of the necessary functions with
relative ease. I think it was laid out very, very nicely. Dick
and I were quite proud of ourselves, in the end, for having put a
winery together that was so simple to run.
Hicke: And efficient.
Forman: It was efficient. It was really efficient.
Hicke: I think you said it was Martin--
Forman: Martin Waterfield?
Hicke: Yes, who designed the cable car.
Forman: Yes, he knew that we had to be involved in tours. He was an
astute observer of the Valley and the way it was changing. He
realized that it was going to be very tourist-oriented. Newton,
actually, in his economy sort of sense of how the wine business
should be run, said, "I think if we do this right, we can sell all
of the wine out of the winery." And so they decidedwrongly, but
they decided to gear the winery up so purposely around tourism
that if it was, they thought, properly done, the wine need not be
marketed in any other area. Well, of course, that proved to be
But at least they got the function of the winery to the
level where it really was an exciting place to visit. Martin
conceived of this self-guided tour because he thought that the
tours that currently were available in the winery were boring and
people didn t want to be herded around. So he said, "I think we
can design this whole thing with catwalks and gantries and a fun
ride up to the place, where people will treat this as a
destination point and really have fun, and also be educated."
He was absolutely right. People loved it. I think today,
still, it s probably one of the most fun places to visit. So he
got that right. We did a lot of right things there and in the end
made some pretty exciting wines, towards the latter part of when I
was still working there. I m sure they still are. I think the
wines are different today, but I think they re very good wines.
They don t look like the wines I made. I know that. But, then,
why should they?
Hicke: Well, you didn t leave any notes.
Winemaking at Sterling Mid- to Late Seventies
Forman: No, I didn t. That really irritated them. God, I ll never
forget. A guy named Theo [pronounced TAY-oh] Rosenbrand was
chosen to take my place, along with Sergio Traverse, so they hired
two winemakers to take my place- -why, I m not sure- -but they did.
They were just infuriated to think that I left absolutely no
notes. Theo thought it was absolutely ridiculous- -Theo, of
course, was the chief cellar master under Tchelistchef f at
Beaulieu, so he had been responsible for really doing all the
mechanical things necessary to make all the Beaulieu wines. So he
came with a lot of training. He thought that the way I had made
wine at Sterling was total nonsense. He couldn t understand the
barrel-to-barrel techniques, and he couldn t understand fermenting
Chardonnay in barrelsall of the things I did, he said didn t
I remember he made the first wines there, and they were
almost total flops compared to what had been made there. I
thought that was very amusing. And they ultimately didbecause I
left a guy in the cellar named Bill Dyer, who became, actually,
the chief winemaker there some years later. But he brought them
back to making wines the way he and I had made wines. I think
they found that it worked a little better with their fruit and
with the way the winery was laid out.
Hicke: He was there, watching you?
Forman: He was. I trained him. I had a most unfortunate circumstance,
oh, about three years before I left. I had a cellar crew who--
well, I don t know. Maybe because I spoiled them. Who knows what
the reason was? Maybe because they were not old enough to really
understand what they had. But they became disgruntled with the
pay scale and the benefits and one thing and other, and they just
got more and more difficult to work with. I suddenly realized
that they weren t doing what I really wanted them to do. Or, if
they were doing it, they were doing it begrudgingly.
And so I said, "You know, guys, "--I didn t even check with
Newton or Stone about doing this, but I took it upon myself, which
was probably a little lofty, thinking back at it, but at any rate,
I said, "Guys, I don t think this job is really a happy one for
you anymore, and I m suggesting that I think you better leave."
So I fired the entire cellar crew [laughing], and I was left with
absolutely no one. Newton and Stone were aghast to think that I
Today, of course, we would have had the labor boards on our
heels in no time. But I think, really, thinking back on it, it
was probably the right thing to do as far as what evolved from it.
This fellow, Bill Dyer, came strictly sort of off the street,
realizing that I needed some help. He had the desire to make
wine. He d fiddled around at working in the cellar at a winery in
Soquel, down in the Santa Cruz area. But he was really just a
philosophy major from University of California at Santa Cruz, I
guess. A really very likeable guy and a guy who was very sharp
and very eager to learn and very enjoyable to work witha step
above the fellows that I had been working with, only because he
was more educated.
And so he jumped in with me, and we quickly found some more
cellar crew, one of whom was Dennis Johns, who of course has gone
to work at St. Clement [Vineyards] and made wonderful wines there.
And a couple of other guys. We kept at it, doing what I had done
in the past. Bill was a very quick learner, so that when I left
by 1978, Bill had fully taken charge and knew what was going on.
While they hired Theo and Sergio to run the place, they were
short-lived there, and finally they sent Bill to school part-time
at Davis and had Bill stay, and Bill was the chief winemaker for
Sterling for a long time, up until about a year ago, when they
fired himfor what reason, I ll never know. I think it was a big
mistake. But it was, as I told him, probably the biggest relief
of his life. He has since agreed with me [chuckling].
Hicke: What s he doing now?
He s consulting.
His wife, Dawnine Sample, is chief winemaker at
I was wondering if that was the same Dyer.
It is, it is. Bill is a terrific guy. Bill has a very good head
on his shoulders and a very good knowledge of how to make wine. I
think they were crazy to do what they did, but that s a
corporation for you.
Decision to Join Newton
Forman: So that was Sterling. By 1978, I had kind of run my stay there.
I had been there for ten years. I got interested in producing
wine on a smaller level. Newton had come back, having left two
years previously, when they sold the winery to Coca-Cola and said,
"Ric, would you like to do a winery together? A small winery.
You design it. Let s go back to what you really want to do, make
the classic wines that you want to make. We ll go out, we ll find
some land, we ll design the winery you want the way you want to
design it, and we ll be partners in this operation, not employer-
I thought, "My God, this is wonderful." My wife at the time
didn t think it was so wonderful because she had trouble with
Newton s somewhat controlling attitude towards me. I was pretty
much mesmerized by him and would kind of follow him and do
anything that he wanted to do. That was a serious problem for me
and my family, but I--rightly or wronglywent ahead and did it
anyway, and joined Newton.
Hicke: Before we get to that, were there any major changes when Coca-Cola
bought the winery?
Forman: No, not really. Coca-Cola went right along with whatever 1 wanted
to do. I had complete control there. See, Stone stayed on with
Coca-Cola. So I still had part of the old feel there. He became
the president. I reported to him, and it was no different,
really, than reporting to him and Newton. So no, the Coca-Cola
crowd didn t bother me at all. They had plenty of money, they
would spend money, they would do what we needed to do, they bought
a nice new press, which I loved. Finally, I didn t have to stand
on that awful old press that I d had for so many years. So no,
they were a good thing for me.
Hicke: What did Newton do? You said he left at that point.
Forman: He left. Newton is a very proud man. The minute he left, he
really didn t think highly of Sterling anymore. He kind of looked
a bit askance at Coca-Cola, I think--the whole concept of it all.
I think he was proud to have owned Sterling, but having backed out
of it, I think he was left a bit empty-hearted when he realized
that he had put all this effort and really wanted it to work and
then, because it was not making financial sense at the time, had
to bail out of it. I think he was saddened by it, but he didn t
want to admit it, that he really did want to be in the wine
He and I still had a good relationship together, and so he
thought, "Well, let s do it. Maybe Ric is ready to leave, too."
And so he pretty much enticed me to leave. I would have stayed at
Sterling, but he enticed me to leave because it sounded like a
Hicke: What year was this?
Forman: This was 1978. I finished the harvest of 78 at Sterling, and in
November gave notice and left. They were not very happy with it
all, but they were very understanding, and what can you do when
somebody feels like they need to go on? It s probably pretty
amazing that right out of school I stayed at a place for ten years
and did get it established and well on its way, so I didn t really
feel like I left them in the lurch. I had a fully trained cellar
crew that knew what was going on. I helped them pick the
winemakers that were to carry on the operation. I didn t leave
them a lot of notes, but I was there to talk to them. They
managed just fine without me.
So I went on to join Newton and was very excited about it.
Unfortunately, my wife was not, and that caused a lot of trouble.
But I was excited about the project and put a massive amount of
energy into developing Newton Vineyard.
IV NEWTON VINEYARD, 1978-1982
[Interview 3: March 3, 1999] it
Hicke: We just had gotten up to the beginning of Newton Vineyard. I know
you had also been buying property here, but maybe it would be
easier to come back to that when we talk about your own business.
Forman: Let s start with Newton. I was at Sterling for two years without
Newton. Newton sold to Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola remained. Newton
suggested that I probably stay there as he left; it would help
him, he said. I was wanting to make life easier for him because I
still had allegiances to Newton, not to Coca-Cola.
Hicke: Why would it have made it easier for him?
Forman: He didn t want to leave them in the lurch without somebody to run
the property. They knew I was capable of running it, obviously,
since I helped build it and ran it practically by myself. He
said, "Stay. They want that. I ll talk to you about
possibilities later," and so I agreed to stay.
About a year into my first year with Coca-Cola, Newton
suggested that perhaps it would be fun to join as partners; why
don t I start looking for property? I did. I looked at a number
of pieces of property and ultimately found 750 acres of property
above Madrona Avenue in St. Helena. It was a hilly property owned
by the Meyer family.
Hicke: Was it planted?
Forman: It had no grapes on it, althoughit was very funny--the realtor
that showed me the property said, "Look, I don t know whether
you re after grapes or not, but this property certainly has no
possibilities for grapes." I said, "Show it to me anyway." I
said, "I don t quite follow. Do you see over there in the brush?
What do you think those are?" He said, "Oh, those are grape
stakes." I said, "Sure they are. There were grape stakes
probably during Prohibition, but the whole place has been taken
over by forest," which is typical of many hillside locations. I
said, "I know it doesn t look like it s easily plantable, but I
see lots of potential here."
Hicke: Is it on this side? [pointing to map]
Forman: Yes, it s looking directly overit s all the hillside land up
there. So I said, "I think it does have potential," and told
Newton so, and of course we looked at it together and thought a
great deal about it. He ultimately made a bid and bought it.
Hicke: May I ask how much he paid for it?
Forman: I don t think he paid a lot. I think he paid about $750,000, and
it was 750 acres, about a thousand dollars an acre, which is
unheard of, of course, today. Not very much was usable for
vineyard, of course. We managed to get--oh, I must have planted
fifty acres of it. I think he has planted an additional twenty.
So it s not a high percentage of plantable land, but just the
same, it was a very good deal. It had two homes on it.
So there we were in 1978, in the spring. He bought the
property, and asked, of course, formally at that point if I would
join him as a partner. I was thrilled with the idea. My wife was
not thrilled with the idea. I probably should have listened to
her. In retrospect, that was a plea on her part that I didn t pay
close enough attention to, and I realize it now and didn t then.
I was so enthusiastic about the possibilities of really being an
owner in a winery and launching off into a project which would
challenge me and which would be of a scale that I could control.
The whole scope of the thing was utterly about as exciting as it
could be for me.
And at that point I was still getting along personally,
myself, with Newton. My wife, as I said, feared him. I didn t
fear him. I found him exciting. He stimulated me and created the
enthusiasm, and he was very instrumental in making me think and
making me stretch, and so I wanted to do it.
And so I said yes. I gave notice to the people at Sterling,
one of whom happened to have been his former partner in Sterling
International. He remained at Sterling after Newton left as well.
Hicke: Michael Stone?
Forman: Michael Stone--and became the president. He soon left as well and
went into the Department of the Army, serving under [President
Ronald] Reagan as the Undersecretary of the Army.
They were not terribly pleased that I was leaving, but I
think understanding. Being a large corporation, Coca-Cola, they
had seen people come and go, and they realized that I had been
there for ten years and that obviously it was what I wanted to do,
and that s what I had to do. So they said, "Go, and have our best
wishes," which I thought was decent.
I jumped right in with Newton directly after the harvest of
1978 at Sterling. So I completed the harvest at Sterling, and on
November 1st left, so the wines were just pressed and just into
cooperage. I left them in the hands of Bill Dyer, whom I had
trained over the last three years and had complete confidence in.
And I helped them find replacement winemakers, as I mentioned
earlier in the interview here, that I felt could helpone being
Theo Rosenbrand, Tchelistchef f s key cellar worker at Beaulieu.
And the other, Sergio Traverse , was someone I had known for quite
a few years and who at that point, I think, was working at
Concannon [Winery] .
So here we are, starting the winter off in November of 1978.
having to figure out what to do with this basically 750 acres of
Hicke: It was hillside.
Forman: Very hillside. There wasn t a flat piece on it. I don t think we
got one flat piece of vineyard on it. Everything was terraced or
in one angle or another, running up a slope or down a slope.
Planting the Grapes
Hicke: What was the soil like?
Forman: The soil was varied. Some of the soils had a lot of clay. There
were other faces that had red decomposed shale. There were
sandstoney soils. We had many exposures, we had many elevations.
We basically had to take the hill and look at it as little,
faceted pieces of land that we could get. It was a massive
challenge for me. I had run vineyards at Sterling, but not as
seriously as I had to take this one on. I had used my technical
background from school to kind of interject ideas on what I
thought of crop level and pruning styles, but I had never really
gotten involved seriously in a planting project, nor in choosing
varieties, cloneswell, we didn t do too much clonal selection in
those daysbut rootstocks.
And the fact of the matter is there weren t very many
rootstock selections, either, because we only used one, obviously,
which is why the Valley is falling apart. AXR was the rootstock
of choice and availability at the time.
Hicke: So you planted everything on it?
Forman: Unfortunately. It has all been replanted at this point. I really
had a big challenge on my hands. I had to first go out and find
somebody whom I felt confident in who could put a team together.
I had met a guy named Lupe Maldonado, a dear friend still today,
who had been at Sterling, and I had kind of watched at Sterling
and realized that he had more intelligence than the average
Mexican vineyard worker. Spoke fluent English, which was helpful.
He just had a nice personality, and I liked him. So I asked him
if he would be interested in joining us. He was.
So he and I put a team of employees together and jumped
right into looking at what was plantable and what wasn t. We
found a fellow who had worked with Sterling, clearing land on the
Diamond Mountain property, who was willing to come and start
clearing for us. In those days, there were no permits required.
We just charged ahead. And so we took all slopes that we figured
were farmable and where we could contain erosion and could farm in
a relatively safe and rational manner.
Knowing that there wasn t any flat, we had to look at all
hillsides. We didn t try to take things that were too severe
right in the beginning, just the more gentle slopes, and started
clearing. The winter was mild that year, and we cleared almost
all winter long and were ready to plant quite a bit of it in the
We developed the lake that was already on the propertyput
a bigger spillway in it, got more water into it, and put this
elaborate system of irrigation--! 1 11 never forget. I thought I
was really more of a plumber than anything that year. I had to
put in miles and miles of irrigation system and had to overcome
huge pressure differences going from the lake all the way up to
the top of the mountain. We were dealing with pressures of four
and five hundred pounds per square inch, which is enormous on big
pipelines. So we had pipes breaking all the time.
I had to figure out how to put ditches through the mountains
and how to put thrust blocks in things I never had to deal with
before and how to put irrigation systems in, and valves. On top
of it all, how to lay out these properties. I was trained by a
guy to work with a transit and to work with eye levels and to lay
out terracesnone of which I had ever done before. But Lupe and
I kind of were taught and taught ourselves and somehow laid out
all of these terraces.
I hired another friend, whom I had met at Sterling, who was
still a very close friend and who does all of my soil contracting
work, Gene Boiadjieff [pronounced BOYD-jeff ] , B-o-i-a-d-j-i-e-f-f .
He s a terrific guy. Very, very bright and capable man with heavy
equipment. And so he came in and did all the terracing. We put
in drainage, and we put in the irrigation, we put in the stakes,
we put in the trellis system, and phenomenally were ready to go
and planted a great deal during the summer of 79.
Hicke: Okay, I have to ask you a little bit more. How did you decide
whether to do the terracing up and down or around? And I want to
know what kind of grapes you planted.
Forman: Okay. We had done quite a project just before I left at Sterling,
at Diamond Mountain. A guy named Chuck Saunders helped lay the
property out for Bill [William] Hill, who had started the project
and then we ended up finishing it once we bought it from Bill
Hill. So I contacted Chuck Saunders who was quite a character, I
must say and he came over. He and I basically did most of the
layout together until I figured I had caught onto the technique,
and then Lupe and I finished.
We just took a hill and in those days pretty much went with
the contour. We d use a hand level or a transit and follow the
contour around and put marking stakes every twenty- five or fifty
or a hundred feet, wherever the visual ability allowed. These
allowed, then, the tracker to come in and cut terraces to our
Hicke: The terraces were how wide?
Forman: Oh, generally the terrace ended up being about eight feet wide
but, of course, depending on the slope, the distance between
terraces could be anywhere from nine feet to fifteen feet. The
steeper the slope, the more distant the terraces would be because
you had to take a cut and form a toe.
Hicke: Would that plant one row of vines?
Forman: That would only plant one row of vines. It s very wasteful of
land, really, I ve since learned, and I almost never cut terraces
now. We go straight up and down the mountain. At the same time,
I came and did my property here, because I had purchased this
piece. I put terraces on this piece. Well, I have since
replanted this piece, and I wiped all the terraces out, and I go
straight up and down the hill, as they would in France. You
actually end up having less erosion by going straight up and down
the hill. You move and disturb much less soil, and you get far
greater density and more use out of the land. I didn t know that
in those days, and so we cut all these terraces, and there they
are. They still remain.
Varietieswe knew we wanted to do Cabernet and Chardonnay--
Cabernet meaning we wanted Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and
Petit Verdot, which I had at that point determined were all very
valuable as blending grapes in and amongst themselves.
Hicke: Did you keep them separate in the plantings?
Forman: Oh, yes. We planted separate slopes, slopes that had the most
extreme exposure and austere soil to Cabernet; the more clay-like
soils, we planted Chardonnay on. One particular soil that was
very rocky, I felt the Franc would do well on. We switched it
around here and there. Of course, most of the production, most of
the planting was Cabernet, because we wanted the Cabernet to
We planted no Chardonnay on the property. However, we did
decide that we wanted some Sauvignon Blanc and planted a fairly
good hillside with Sauvignon Blanc. In retrospect, I think it
would have been much better to plant Cabernet there. I think at
this point, since they replanted, they did put Cabernet there.
Forman: It made interesting wine. Well, it was red soil, fabulous
exposure, and would have produced very high-quality red grapes, I
Hicke: Which would have been a better use of the property?
Forman: Much better use, but Newton wanted Sauvignon Blanc, and I was
fascinated with Sauvignon Blanc. We had no idea at that time
where to get quality Sauvignon Blanc, so we decided to plant our
own. Considering what you can get for a bottle of Sauvignon
Blanc, it was a bum choice financially. I m sure it has been
changed at this point. Interesting working with the grapes, but--
Hicke: Is that because you wanted the Bordeaux varieties?
Forman: Yes, we wanted a Bordeaux theme, but we also realized that we
should think Chardonnay. We bought the Chardonnay from a vineyard
at that time that was called the Adamson Vineyard. It was down in
Rutherford. I since have purchased that vineyard, and I own it
now, along with Reg Oliver. We re general partners in the
vineyard we now call Rutherford Star.
I produced at Newton the first harvest for that vineyard in
1980, and it was spectacular wine, and it s still very good wine;
it hasn t gone over the hill yet. Eighty-one and 82 were all-
some of the best Chardonnay I ever made. They were really very
good wines. Extremely rich, extremely long lived, and very
concentrated that wonderful French Meursault sort of creme brulee
I determined that I liked that vineyard very much, which,
after having left Newton, was very excited to be able to buy,
along with Reg Oliver, who is by far the largest owner of the
vineyard; he owns the highest percentage of it. But it has been a
great vineyard to work with. It has been the vineyard that I ve
made almost alland certainly now, all of the Chardonnay for
Forman Vineyards from.
Hicke: Let s go back to 78 and 79.
Forman: It was quite amazing that I left Sterling in 78, joined Newton in
November of 78, cleared and planted in the spring of 79 the
vineyard, as well as designing, building, and completing the
winery for the harvest of 79. I don t know how we ever did it.
I have no idea how we did it.
This is what happened and what I m sure my wife realized was
going to happen: Newton totally mesmerized me as to grabbing hold
of this project, making it happen, and making it happen today,
rather than tomorrow. And so I worked nonstop to the point of, of
course, forgetting that I had another life; i.e., my family. So
that began to fall apart, which was unfortunate. I did succeed in
finishing the winery.
Building and Equipment
Hicke: Let me ask you about building the winery.
Forman: The winery was an immense task. We determined that we wanted
underground cellars. They ve since dug tunnels, as have I on my
property, but we didn t know that the technology really existed
then. I insisted that I wanted an underground cellar, as did
Newton, so that we could have better control of humidity and more
natural control of temperature.
We had a semi-hillside location that we chose to build on.
We found an excavation company that came in and carved, literally,
a notch into the hill. We put the cellar in the notch, and then
we put a very strong roof on the cellar, and we buried it with
about six feet of soil. It did manage to keep the cellar fairly
cool. We ran into a severe humidity problem, however, that I had
never experienced before and ran into a lot of trouble with in the
1980 harvest. I ll explain that in a minute.
But the cellar was unique. It had compartments that we
could keep at different temperature levels during harvest, which I
did have air conditioning for because I realized that if I was
going to ferment, I had to keep the cellar very cool, so we had
compartments for temperature control and a very simple,
straightforward layout for a winery that was designed to produce,
we thought, no more than about 8,000 cases.
We had a very neatly designed, octagon-shaped crushing pad
directly above the cellar, with around the perimeter of the
octagon, all the fermenters. We bought some really neat--at that
time, we thought crushing equipment. The Demoisi crusher had
just come out. This was the latest technology. Came from the
experiment station in Beaune [France], for crushers. It was
indeed a very good crusher and remains to be so today, one of the
two best crushers.
We bought a membrane press, which was just being offered on
the market as the latest technology in pressing, which it indeed
was as well and still remains to be. So we had great equipment-
nice, small fermenters; good crushing equipment. I designed self-
tilting gondolas which we would haul through the field, and we
could harvest one-ton batches, which was very convenient, I
thought, for quality. We got to the crusher in a matter of
minutes from picking.
So everything was done on a smaller scale than at Sterling
and more in keeping with the tradition that I experienced in
Europe and tried to experience at Sterling, and now felt fully
capable of having a complete handle on.
Hicke: You mentioned that you took new role in viticulture. Is this what
you re talking about: the complete designing of the vineyard and
Forman: Yes. I d never been used to the fact of having to design
irrigation systems and actually install them myself, to the level
of involvement in planting and to the level of involvement in
layout. I was really for the first year a viticulturist, in every
sense of the mannerfrom actually doing the physical work to
doing the layout to ordering all of the supplies. I learned a lot
by doing it. I learned how to be a good viticulturist. Even
though I had the technical background from school, I had none of
the practical background, but I learned in a big hurry.
Lupe was very helpful to me. He came with a lot of
experience and a lot of knowledge. The two of us, I think, did a
fine job. I would have done it differently today than then, but
we always continue to learn if our eyes are open. Things change.
Ideas change. Today we would plant the vineyard closer. We d use
European clones. Obviously, the rootstocks have changed
dramatically. The trellis systems are no longer T trellises; we
use vertical trellis systems. We no longer terrace grapes; we go
straight up and down the hills. The irrigation systems are
somewhat different, although we re still using the drip
irrigation. Fertilizer injectors are now available. I mean, it s
almost like night and day today, compared to then.
But since I ve continued to plant vineyards and actually
joined David Abreu in his original days, with his vineyard
management company, and helped him along through our visits to
Europe, we have both evolved together, and our viticulture is
leaps and bounds ahead of what it was in 1978.
Cooperage: The Forman Barrel
Hicke: What about cooperage?
Forman: Cooperage--! really have stuck with the same coopers from day one
at Sterling through my current practices at Forman Vineyard. We
liked Nadalier then and introduced Nadalier into California, and
I m still using a high percentage of Nadalier barrels for the red
wine. Always chateau barrels, what we call Chateau Barrique. It
was actually a barrel that I invented. I liked the thin-staved
Bordeaux chateau barrel, because I felt that the flavor was
different than the export barrel they were selling when we
originally introduced them into California.
I realized that the smoky, harsh taste of the transport
barrel that they wanted to introduce into California was too
strong, and I wanted to try some of the chateau barrels. Did try
them, found that the taste in the chateau barrels was much more
similar to what I noticed the wines of Bordeaux in Bordeaux tasted
like, realized that the thin staves had a lot to do with it. They
were less difficult to bend, took much less fire, and acquired a
far different flavor because of the firing technique.
So I ordered these barrels. And for some time, the barrels,
of course, came in the traditional manner, with the chestnut hoop
on them, and they looked very fine when you had a non-humid
cellar. But in the humid cellar, these chestnut hoops fell apart
within months. So I said to Jean- Jacques, "How about giving me
the same barrel, but instead of the chestnut hoops put a wide hoop
on the ends." He said, "Great, I guess we ll call it the Forman
Barrel, so when you order we ll know what they are."
And so they did, for about three years, and then other
people started seeing these barrels and wanting them. They
actually started selling a large percentage of these barrels to
the point where now, I think, almost all of the barrels are being
purchased chateau-type, rather than transport-type. Of course,
they had to change them from Forman to something else, so they re
now calling them Chateau Barrique.
Hicke: And you didn t get a patent!
Forman: No. They re even starting to use them in Bordeaux now. A small
point, but I did start something.
Hicke: Fabulous! Do the thinner staves allow more air through?
Forman: Perhaps there s a bit more. That could be part of the factor as
well. But there s a dramatically different flavor. So that was
the Bordeaux barrel.
I ve used other people s barrels. I ve used Demptos, I ve
used Sorie, I ve used Sylvan, and I m using a mixture of other
barrels that I find with subtly unique characteristics, and very
nice as a blending component with, always, Nadalier. I always use
But on the Chardonnay side, I prefer the thicker-staved,
Burgundian barrel, and I ve found through experimenting with many
different coopers that I go back always to Francois Frere as being
the flavor that I like best and that matches my style of
Chardonnay best. These have a totally different flavor than the
Bordeaux barrel. They re very thick-staved. They have a smokier,
more cinnamon-like character, much more aggressive character, I
would say. But it somehow brings out that toasty, creme brulee
character from the fully ripe Chardonnay that I like.
Hicke: What about the reds?
Forman: The reds, always in Bordeaux, the Bordeaux thin-staved barrel.
That also seems to be more appropriate. It has a more violet-like
character, a more vanilla-like character, and that seems to blend
better with the red wines, Cabernet, than that cinnamon sort of
smell that the Burgundy barrels have.
Hicke: I m going to turn this over.
Hicke: In your winemaking, were you doing anything different from what
you had done at Sterling?
Forman: I started doing things a little differently. The Chardonnay was
handled pretty much the same, except for the fact that we were
picking in smaller batches, we were using the Demoisi crusher, and
in fact, yes, I would say there was one dramatic difference. The
Demoisi crusher had the ability to take the de-stemming device
out, and so I was crushing whole clusters, just crushing the whole
clusters without de-stemming them, so we were crushing with whole
clusters. This gave us a clearer juice, added a bit of tannin
material from the stems, and I think did add a different quality
aspect to the juice and wine than I was getting at Sterling.
The barrels were the same. I would say that the other
unique aspect of handling the Chardonnay at Newton versus Sterling
was that I would leave the wines in barrels with lees for a much
longer period of time. At Sterling I was in the habit of taking
the wine off the lees within a month after fermentation. At
Newton I experimented with leaving the wine on the lees. Dick
Graff and I were experimenting with it at the same time, and I
think we were certainly some of the first to try this.
Found that it added a very nice character to the wine. It
lengthened the flavor of the wine and added that toasty Chardonnay
flavor that we were all looking for, that sort of richness that
they were getting out of Burgundy that we never seemed to be able
to get and that this was helping us with. So I would leave the
wine with the lees for up to six months before we d rack it. So
the combination of stems versus no stems at Sterling, and leaving
on the lees for six to six-plus months was, I think, quite a
Hicke: When you say it lengthened the flavor, does that mean it lasts
longer on the palate?
Forman: It s both an actual flavor, and it s the texture that it gives. I
think it gives richer texture to the wine, and it gives that
toasty sort of autolysis character that you get from champagne.
Champagne, after all, is sitting with the lees in the bottle, in
bottle- fermented champagne, for as much as five years. We get
that really toasty, autolyzed yeast character which is, again, a
flavor as well as a richness.
The same thing is happening to Chardonnay, sitting with the
lees in the barrel. It did prove to make the wine far more
sophisticated. It s obviously being used extensively today with
anybody who s serious about making Chardonnay. But it was
considered fairly unique and a bit out there in those days. It
was considered to be risky. Actually, it was barely even
considered! People didn t even know about it. We experimented
with it. Other people heard about it and were interested in it at
the same time, and, just as barrel fermentation caught on, so did
the sur lees technique catch on.
Other practices that I experimented with were adding no
sulfur dioxide [S0 2 ] to the juice before fermentation, something I
didn t do at Sterling but I did at Newton. The juice would
oxidize severely in the press, but this oxidized, polyphenolic
material would settle out during the settling process, and after
fermentation, the wine would become clear, and I think more clear
than had we added S0 2 , which we ve discovered is to be expected.
And I think it would be less prone to oxidation after
fermentation, and it seemed to have less bitter characteristics
than wines fermented with sulfur dioxide.
The risk was that malo would start. I never would at
Sterling, Newton, or Forman or anybody that I would ever consult
for- -encourage malolactic in white wine. The sulfur would have to
be added directly after fermentation. But I did like the result
of it. I m trying to think why I steered away from it, because I
have steered away from it. In fact, this last harvest I was going
to experiment again with it and, in the fury of the harvest, never
did. I had other things I was working on.
Hicke: Are you talking about malolactic?
Forman: No, I m talking about the addition of sulfur with white juice. I
think I was worried basically about the lactobacillus infection,
because there was a real upswing of it in the early eighties or
mid-eighties and into the nineties. So I began worrying more
about that than the oxidation or non-oxidation of polyphenolics.
So I started adding sulfur again when I began working with my
Chardonnay at Forraan Vineyard. But it s an interesting technique,
one I plan on fiddling with again.
Where are we?
The 1979. 1980. and 1981 Wines
Hicke: Well, we ve only gotten up to 1979, as far as I know, the summer.
When was the first crop?
Forraan: The first harvest was 79. We bought Chardonnay, as I mentioned,
from Adamson and liked it very much. We bought Cabernet from--oh,
where did we buy it from?--oh, some of the Carmine grapes. The
Chalone people offered us Cabernet, and we bought some from the
Sea Ranch, which is now the Disney property, Silverado Vineyards.
We bought Cabernet Franc from the Frediani Vineyards up in
Calistoga. We bought some Cabernet from Spotteswood [Winery] .
And we bought Merlot from the Silverado Vineyard Ranch, and we
bought Merlot from the Narsai David Ranch. We bought Chardonnay
also from the Pun Ranch in Rutherford. And we bought Sauvignon
Blanc and Semillon from the Polisa Ranch down in Yountville. I
think those were pretty much all the grapes we purchased,
obviously in the first year.
The 79 wines were pretty attractive, I think. Because of
the problems that I later had with Newton and because of the
difficulties that the whole project was creating for me in my
private life, with my family, my memories of a lot of actual
happenings of fermentation, the season, the experiences, the way
the wines turned out are not as clear in my mind as times at
Sterling or times after Newton.
I would say that one of the most serious problems that I
ever encountered with winecompared perhaps equally to the scope
of the problem that we had at Sterling with the smoky tanks- -was
the catastrophe with the 1980 Cabernet. As I mentioned, we had a
very humid cellar, and in 1980 I determined that I wanted to warm
the cellar for the completion of malolactic in barrels of the red
wine. I also decided that it would be interesting to use glass
bungs as I had seen used in Bordeaux.
What I didn t realize was that the humidity and heat and
glass bungs, which were constantly in contact with the wine but
not creating a tight seal, were posing a very serious threat to
the spoilage of the wine from introduction of acetobacter. Within
one week of putting the wine into barrels, which was basically
directly after fermentation, I noticed that the cellar every
morning had this odd, acetobacter smell. I would look at the
bungs and, sure enough, there was a little ring of slime around
I would immediately every day clean the bungs, thinking that
I was dealing with it and that it wasn t getting into the wine.
By the second week, the aroma was still there and so I realized I
had to deal with this and that I was creating something unnatural
in this environment of humidity and heat and using the glass
bungs. And so I replaced the bungs, but at that point the wine
had already jumped up to almost the legal limit of volatile
I caught the problem, but I didn t catch it in time. It was
sickening to me because the wine was a spectacular wine. The 1980
vintage was going to be--just as the 1970 vintage at Sterlingwas
going to be a wonderful wine. Because of the rapid production of
acetobacter, I actuallywell, I think I pretty much almost
spoiled the wine.
Hicke: You can t innovate, I think, without having things like that
Forman: Today we have the equipment. We have osmosis filters that could
get rid of the VA [volatile acidity] very readily. In fact, I
know a lot of wineries who make very, very high quality wines who
use these for either dealcoholization or getting rid of the
volatile acidity, particularly wineries who age longer than two
years in barrels. It s very useful.
That didn t exist then, and I was trying to do some very
clever things that backfired on me. I learned a lesson, brutally.
Actually, it was in that year that the silicone bungs came out
from Europe. Of course, that solved the problem immediately,
sealing the barrel very tightly. But it was too late, and it was
one of those very sad lessons that I learned.
The wine was not so seriously affectedit was sold in bulk
--but it was spoiled to the point where I could recognize it, and
I wasn t that proud of it. It was kind of like the 70 Cabernet.
It was the second year out. We needed a product to sell; we did
bottle it, and a lot of people liked the wine. But we held most
of it back. I ended up taking the wine back during the
dissolution of our partnership, as part of the settlement of our
partnership, and developed a label around it, which I still use
I had to take the wine. It was bottled. So I had to call
it something. I didn t know what, really, to call it. I wasn t
going to put it under Fonnan. We obviously couldn t put it under
Newton. My winery is on Big Rock Road, so I thought, "Well,
what 11 I call it? I think I ll call it Chateau le Grande Roche,
Big Rock." It was cute enough. I developed and designed kind of
an attractive label. As I say, I still use it for grapes that I
We sold the wine, and, actually, it became very popular at
that point. I sold it at a pretty reasonable price--! think five
dollars a bottle. All the places I sold it to, the people
actually loved the stuff. So I turned a disadvantage into an
advantage by selling it at a reasonable price. It had been in the
bottle at that point long enough. It wasn t all that bad. It
just wasn t the wine that Newton and I really wanted. It wasn t a
disaster wine, but it wasn t our premium wine that we were looking
I took it, and I sold it, and forgot about it.
Hicke: It worked.
Forman: But anyway, getting on to further things at Newton: The red wines
were fermented in these small tanks, kept separately, put into
pretty much all new barrels every years. My racking system that I
had developed at Sterling and learned in Bordeaux was used and
strictly adhered to: racking out of the head of the barrel, egg-
white fining in the barrel. Really nothing too different from
what I had done at Sterling.
Dissolving the Partnership
Forman: And I made some very nice wines 79, 81, 82. The wines were
really quite delicious. The Merlot was very wonderful. These
were all from purchased grapes and really by the time I realized
that I had to leave Newton, the grapes that I had planted were
just coming on, so I never really got to harvest any of the grapes
that I planted. I gather they make quite a nice wine.
Hicke: Did you design the label?
Forman: No, Sua Ha designed the label, Peter s wife. I had nothing to do
with the label. Obviously, these were part of the problems. By
the time 81 rolled around, we had had two vintages. My wife was
pretty fed up with the whole affair, of me having to spend so much
time there. The wine label was supposed to be Forman Vineyard,
and Newton decided he didn t want it to be Forman Vineyard; it was
going to be Newton Vineyard.
I lived with that, but I also realized that there were other
things going on that were not probably going to work out for the
better for me.
Hicke: He must have told you that it would be under your label.
Forman: He had. He made a promise. We even had stationery made. It s
funny. And then that changed. Well, 1 could see how he was
developing the property and how much money it was costing and that
we probably never were going to become profitable, and that the
fact that we were never going to become profitable was not a
concern to him but obviously it was to me, because if I was to
ever really realize the benefits financially from this massive
amount of effort that I put into it, it would mean that we would
have to become profitable.
I just didn t see it happening. So for better or worse-
there were other things that went on that are not necessarily at
this point even necessary to discuss, but obviously, differences
arose, and I was no longer comfortable there. And so, in the fall
of 1982, just after the harvest of 82, I informed Newton that I
no longer wanted to be a partner with him and that I wished to
dissolve the partnership and that I wished to extract from the
partnership what I felt was my fair share of the partnership,
Unfortunately, he didn t agree that there was anything
financial for us to divide. I felt differently, and so the whole
affair had to fall into the hands of attorneys, and we struggled
with it for a year. And in and amongst that time, my family
dissolved, and so there was a period there in 1982 where the
family separated, I separated from Newton, and went on my way. It
was a very black time, I must say, of my career.
But I didn t let it get me down. We ultimately did resolve
the problem in 1983. We didn t leave amicably, unfortunately, but
we left. I began consulting and, in the dissolution of my
marriage, ended up keeping the property which I now live on and
have the winery. And so I began developing Forman Vineyard.
Along the way, I consulted for a number of places, most seriously
with Charles Shaw Winery.
I ended up beginning and really introducing his white wine
programs, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, as well as fine-tuning
and perfecting his theme of producing Camay Beaujolais in the
traditional carbonic fermentation used in Beaujolais. So I worked
with him very closely as the winemaker for 1982, 83, and 84
While so doing, also put together the Woltner Winery, W-o-1-
t-n-e-r, for the people who used to own Chateau La Mission Haut
Brion, and helped design that winery. Hired Ted Lemon as their
actual winemaker, and continued to consult for them. And
consulted a bit for Villa Mt. Eden and Inglenook--all the while
planting my vineyardwell, my vineyard I actually planted in
1979, when I was at Sterling, so fortunately I had that.
Hicke: Yes. Before we go too far, let s go back to your finding the
property because we haven t even talked about that.
Forman: Oh, yes, we haven t even talked about that. So anyway, the Newton
period of my life I m certain there are other things that could
be highlighted, but it was not a happy period of my winemaking
career, and it s probably well enough just to leave it at that.
We found the property, I learned a great deal about
viticulture, we built a unique underground facility, I produced
some wines, had one very unfortunate circumstance with a wine, but
also made some very interesting wines some wonderful Chardonnays.
Some of the best Chardonnays I ever made in my career were made
there. A very unique Sauvignon Blanc and some very nice Merlots
and one or two good vintages of Cabernet. And then it was over.
V FORMAN VINEYARD, 1983 TO PRESENT
Selecting and Developing the Vineyard Property
Forman: But where did I go from there? I consulted and developed my own
property. How did I find my own property? I had determined,
along with my wife, that we wanted probably to get out of town and
have a property in and around the hills of town somewhere.
Hicke: This was in the seventies?
Forman: We began thinking about it in 1976, the year our son was born,
Toby. In 1976, while I was still at Sterling, I started looking
in the hills. Oh, we d look all over, all the way from past
Calistoga to various places realtors would show us in and around
town. I can t remember how I stumbled on this property except
that Vern Halley--a really wonderful guy, still a very close
friend and realtor in townsuggested that I hike up on what s
called today the Woodbridge property but I don t think it had a
name. He just said, "Go hike up in those hills above Meadowood
Lane, above the town of St. Helena. You ll find some old dirt
roads, and see what you think of it. It s not currently for sale,
but I think it will be. It s owned by Harry See," of See s Candy,
actually, and the first owner of the Silverado Vineyards today.
And a guy named Fred Holmes, who was a very interesting guy. I
never met him, but he was very interested in the wine business, a
partner both of Robert Mondavi and [Joseph] Heitz.
So they owned, as a partnership, this hillside above town.
I believe it was four parcels and approximately a hundred acres,
about twenty- five acres a parcel. So I did hike up the road and
wow! I knew instantly that I had found what I was looking for and
that it was exactly what I wanted to develop into a vineyard. I
came up this little dirt road, kind of walked through the trees
into what had been a meadow, looking carefully at what had
obviously also been a vineyard but had grown back into forest and
sort of brush land. But everywhere I walked, I looked down and
all I saw were pink sort of pocky stones, volcanic gravel bed, and
I thought, Wow, this is very unique.
It was the right color. I love the red-colored soils. They
produce really characteristically powerful and long-lived red
wines. 1 saw that the soil was obviously very well drained, that
it had beautiful southern exposure, and that obviously someday,
somebody in the probably pre-Prohibition days had taken the effort
to clear it and probably grown very unique vines, because here and
there I could see vines that had rotted trunks, but I could tell
by the caliper of the trunk that the vines had flourished.
Hicke: You re demonstrating about six inches in diameter?
Forman: Well, yes. Four to six, yes. They were good-sized trunks. Very
well spaced, in the tradition of those days and Europe. Also I
realized, by finding a few stakes here and there and could line
them up, that they had planted this thing on five by five spacing.
I had never seen anything in the Valley that close. The closest
I d ever seen was eight by eight, so five by five spacing was
very, very unique. It meant that the soil had to be quite deep,
because obviously they never irrigated the soil here.
To get a vineyard out of five by five spacing, to grow vines
of this size meant that the soil had to be very well drained and
very deep. And to have that combination also on a hillside
location spelled quality. It was also a size that I thought I
could manage. It looked like it was about five or six acres of
plantable land. It was rolling on part of it, and part of it went
up and had been terraced, it looked like, with brush growing on
all of the terraces.
Hicke: Is this over there? [points out the window]
Forman: Yes, this is that piece, yes. I went after it. Asked the owners,
through the realtor, whether they d sell. They fiddle-faddled
around and ultimately said yes, they would sell. I think I bought
it in the fall of 1977, at a remarkable price. I paid a little
over $3,000 an acre for twenty- five acres, which is utterly
ridiculous today, particularly considering the quality.
And so in 79, while now at Newton, I used the same tractor
driver and tractor to clear this piece as I did Newton, so I was
planting Newton and this at the same time. Planted it in 79--
again, unfortunately, with AXR. I should have paid attention
because the vineyard had been planted with St. George before, and
I should have used St. George. Some of the rootstock was still
growing even a couple of years ago, when I took the old vineyard
out. It survived two vineyards.
So anyway, I planted AXR, because that was the practice in
those days, and used the Martha s Vineyard clone Cabernet, which I
had also used to plant Newton I forgot to mention that, but we
felt that the Martha s clone was unique. I ll tell you why. This
is interesting, too. I never mentioned this. When I was in
school, I wanted to plant a vineyard at my parents summer home up
in Grass Valley. I went to [Albert J.] Winkler at the university,
and I asked Winkler, "If I were going to plant a vineyard, I m
going to plant it up in the Grass Valley area." He said, "That s
probably a pretty good area. It s warm, but it has cool nights,
and I ll bet your Cabernet will ripen and it will produce some
very good wine."
So he said Cabernet would be recommended. He said, "Why
don t you go over to the experiment station in Oakville, and I ll
tell you the row numbers. Get the bud wood from there. We re
taking it out next year, but," he said, "I think this is very
unique Cabernet, and I think it could actually be defined as a
Cabernet clone because its characteristics are unique enough. It
has very pronounced Cabernet character, it has very good balance,
and it has a decent yield. Take it. I like it."
Forman: Winkler had said the same thing to Barney Rhodes the year
previous, and the year previous, Barney Rhodes had taken this
fruit and encouraged- -what s his name?--Tom May and Martha May to
plant the Martha s Vineyard with the same clone, the vineyard that
Heitz makes this famous Martha s Vineyard Cabernet from. So we
both had taken this on Winkler s recommendation as being a unique
clone. Martha s Vineyard was planted, and obviously it produced a
I planted it some 150 miles away, at a 3,000-foot elevation,
up in the foothills of the Sierras. I made only one vintage from
it because Winkler was wrong; it was more difficult to ripen than
he thought. Also, I didn t have the place properly deer fenced,
and one thing and another, and the deer ate it or the birds ate
But one vintage, 1973, I did manage to make a barrel of wine
from it. And that barrel is the most unique Cabernet I ever made
in my life. Amongst its unique characters is its very strong but
not obnoxious eucalyptus aroma, very similar to the way the 1929
and the 1945 Mouton and in many cases the Leoville Las-Cases has
that unique eucalyptus Cabernet character.
Of course, Martha s Vineyard had this very strong eucalyptus
character because it s surrounded by eucalyptus trees. People
always thought that, Ah, that s the only reason Martha s has this
eucalyptus character. But I proved that there is a degree of that
within the clone by planting it up in the Sierras.
This Cabernet I had with a fellow just before last harvest,
1998--a 1973 wine.
Hicke: You opened a bottle?
Forman: I opened a bottle. I opened it at Tra Vigne Restaurant. He said
he had neverand I must say I haven t had it in yearsnever had
such an unusual and incredibly distinct and still youthful
Cabernet in his life. The wine, you would have thought and I had
some of the waiters taste it you would have thought it was
Mouton. It still was tannic, it still had bright red color, it
still had intense fruit. Unbelievable, unbelievable.
So this vineyard clone, Winkler knew and I knew from the
start, was very unique, and I ve used it always in my clonal
selections. I used it at Newton, I ve used it at my Torvilas
Vineyard, I used it at the Forman Vineyard. So I did plant the
entire Forman Vineyard with Cabernet from this Martha s Vineyard
clone, gained through this experience.
The Cabernet Franc I took through a recommendation from
Walter Schug that came from virus-free stock at Gallo, which had
evidently been a descendent from Bordeaux. The Merlot I took from
the Sterling block at Bear Flats, which was originally from
Inglenook and which we now know as Clone 3, also a Bordeaux clone.
And then Petit Verdot I got from two vines from the mother block
at the UC planting of grapes. It was claimed by Olmo to be the
true Petit Verdot of France, rather than the Petit Rougienne,
which is sort of an off -clone of Petit Verdot.
So I had a relatively good selection in the vineyard here
unfortunately, on AXR, but in this great piece of ground. I
remember when we ripped the ground, the rippers went through the
soil like it was butter, and the soil just rolled back and
cultivated exactly like sugar. It was wonderful soil. When it
rained, you d go out there and you d never get mud on your feet.
It was strictly this light, light, pulverized volcanic rock mixed
with this gravel.
I didn t realize how deep it was, but years later I drilled
a well at the end of the vineyard and went 260 feet deep through
this gravel. It s surrounded by much larger rock of the same
material, which draws the heat and it radiates onto this little
bowl, which is then surrounded by trees. It s a very pretty
little piece. Totally an environment to itself and a soil type
which is fairly unique to this part of the base of Howell
Hicke: Did you ever find out who owned the property?
Forman: Dr. Talcott, who lives down the way and grew up here, says that it
was an Italian family, but he doesn t know the name. It was
Zinfandel. There were a few living vines that had grown up into
trees, so it was Zinfandel planted on St. George.
Forman: We were kind of finishing up with Newton. We bought this land
Hicke: And we were taking up Forman Vineyard.
Forman: Yes. So I went ahead and was thrilled about the possibility of
buying this land and bought it when I was at Sterling, as I said,
and then developed it the first year that I was at Newton, in
conjunction with Newton. The same crews were bouncing back and
forth, doing this. Unfortunately, I planted it on AXR. Even
though the expense of replanting it has been absolutely
astronomicalit has cost almost $40,000 an acre two years ago to
replant itwhat I have now is what I really want.
I have the proper trellis system, which I ll explain how we
came by, and I have the proper clones that I want, including the
Martha s. I always have some of that. And yes, the proper
density. And I ve gotten rid of the terraces, and I have the
irrigation system with the right volumes and the right this and
that. I mean, the whole thing is the way I want it now. So I m
sorry that it died, and I had to spend so much money. But now
that I ve redone it, it s going to be a spectacular vineyard that
I can hardly wait for. Even the old vineyard made wonderful
So it was exciting in 1979 to finally have my own piece and
to plant it, to plant the classic varieties on it, and to do in
those days the best I could with the best materials we had. I
went along with the vineyard alone. No house, no winery. At that
time, no real plan to do so because, after all, I was then just
beginning with Newton, and we had what I thought was to be a very
exciting project going.
Consulting for Woltner and Charles Shaw
Forman: But clearly, after I realized that Newton and I weren t probably
going to get along as partners in the same way that we got along
as employer and employee and that ultimately I had to get out of
it, I was very happy to have this to fall back on. I couldn t
fall back on it as a source of income immediately. It was a
source of drain on my income, obviously, because it was in the
This is why I decided that I had to consult and why I joined
with the Woltners, whom I had met in Bordeaux. They came out and
kind of looked me up and asked if I would help them do their
Chardonnay winery up in Anguin, which I didn t agree with, on the
variety, but nevertheless, that s what they were set for. That
Then Charles Shaw, with whom I had been a close friend
before and really wanted to get going on a white wine program, was
very appropriately timed because that I could join with and have
as another source of income to get me by until my own was
producing. And then a few other little tidbit consulting jobs,
none of which I really liked. I decided that being a consultant,
other than at Shaw, was not very gratifying, because you d go and
suggest things and come away finding only that they wouldn t do
them as you suggested them.
Or I don t think really I enjoyed telling people what to do.
I really liked doing it myself, which is one of the reasons I got
away from Sterling. I realized I had come to a point where I had
to begin delegating things. We were growing and growing. You
can t do it all. But I didn t like the feeling of delegating. I
wanted to be there, making sure that it was all done right. I
wanted to do the racking. I wanted to see every part of the
winery. I just felt better at home with it if I was doing it and
really observing it firsthand.
So going to Newton, I thought would be that ability again,
gearing back to the small size. And it might have had we gotten
along. We didn t get along. So going into my own business was
going to satisfy it ultimately, but having to consult in the
meantime, again, wasn t terribly satisfying because I couldn t
really do what I did best: that s make wine, not tell people how
to make wine.
At Shaw it was a little different because I actually went to
work there every day and did the cellar work, a lot of it, myself
and really pretty much took up where I had left off at either
Newton or Sterling in participating firsthand in all the
operations. But sure enough, as time goes on, my property became
more and more developed, and I launched in, in 1983, to the full
blown winery and a place to live above the winery, again to be
This is your third winery, isn t it?
Really, yes, exactly. The fourth, considering Woltner.
1983: A Crucial Year
Forman: Of course, between 1979 and 83--well, no, 85, actually, the
first vintage I produced at Forman Vineyard, but 1983 I had a
second cropthe first crop went to Newton. It was just a token
ton with the grapes. It didn t amount to much. But the first
real crop from Forman Vineyard actually was crushed at Charles
Shaw. That was another nice advantage of working there. He
allowed me to bring the grapes there. And so I crushed them there
and aged the new wine there for the first year, and it was really
very exciting wine. I was absolutely thrilled to see the results
Hicke: This is 83?
Forman: The 83 Cabernet. It still today is just delicious. It s one of
my most prized wines. I did not have Petit Verdot then, but I had
Cabernet Franc and Merlot. We picked the Cabernet separately and
the Franc and Merlot together, fermented it at Shaw, and put it
into all new Nadalier barrels, of course. And the wine was
absolutely delicious. I was so happy with the results. It
actually had some of that Martha s clone eucalyptus tones to it,
not obviously overwhelmed with it but just in the right
proportions. It was beautifully tannic, with long, soft tannins,
and had a gorgeous dark color, and just lively fruitiness. I
thought, Wow, I may be able to make it. It gave me the absolute
encouragement to know that I wanted to charge ahead, that I had
something of value here.
That, coupled with the fact that I was able to buy fruit
from the Adamson Vineyard, which I had done so well with at
Newton, made me feel confident that I could put a package together
slowly but surely that would ultimately take care of me.
Hicke: So that was a crucial year.
Forman: It was very crucial. It was scary. I had stuck my neck out.
Spent a lot of moneynobody else s money. I borrowed it. I had
none of my own. Having just gone through a divorce, I had given
up all my rights to the property in town, so I had nothing to fall
back on there. I did get a small amount of money- -a very small
amountfrom the dissolution with Newton. Didn t go very far, but
it helped. And then my consulting and a friendly bank got me
But all of a sudden realizing what I had in the soil, I
wasn t fearful anymore. I knew I d make it. I had to go through
a lot of hoops to get this place. I had to re-zone the property.
Everybody said, "Oh, you ll never be able to do that." And I knew
somehow that I would because I had to, I wanted to. So I re-zoned
it, which would allow for a winery, got the money from the bank,
went ahead, built the winery, built the winery the way I wanted,
as much as the site would allow.
Building an Efficient and Innovative Winery
Forman: I had, before building the winery, contemplated with the thought
of renting a property that I had originally lived on when I moved
to the Valley. It s what s called Chabot Ranch. Now Beringer
leases the ground, but a woman named Suzanne Bucharaz owns it. I
stayed there both when I was with my wife, Joy, when we were first
married and moved to the Valley, and then again, quite ironically,
when we separated.
Became very friendly with the owner. She s quite a
character, I must say. From an old French family. She remembered
as a girl running the winery, which was built in the early 1800s
on the property. Her grandfather, Chabot, oddly enough, was one
of the Chabots from the Bay Area, which is the name my grammar
school was named after. That really had a lot of coincidence to
But anyway, I liked Suzanne, she liked me, and she said,
"Sure, why don t you go ahead and lease this whole winery from
me." It was a beautiful winery, a gabled winery, stone bottom,
wooden front, which, you might gather, this place now looks like.
And my good friend, Gene Boiadjieff, who I mentioned I was
so fond of, this contractor, I came to and said, "Gene, I need to
build a septic field out in front of this winery I m going to
lease." He looked at me and, in all of his wisdom, he said, "Ric,
there s no way I m going to build that septic field. It s a bum
idea. What you re going to do is take that money and put it into
your own property. Don t be stupid." He just banged my head
against the wall and made me realize very quickly that I had to do
it on my own. With the knowledge that the grapes were pretty
good, I felt confident enough to go to the bank, get the loan, and
start this construction.
Gene, of course, was the one that started the project for
me, because it required unbelievable excavation. I wanted the
winery to look out over the town because the view- -you could see,
before we had done any thing- -through the trees was utterly
spectacular. It was just as though we were an eagle looking down
through the trees over the whole Napa Valley.
Hicke: It is, yes.
Forman: It was a difficult site, but Gene, with his unbelievable foresight
into how projects could be done and his great skill- -
Forman: So Gene, in all his wisdom, knew just how to deal with this site,
which I thought had a magnificent view. But I thought, "My God,
Gene, this is not a buildable site." "Ah, don t worry, Ric. I ll
deal with this. First thing we ve got to do is get a tractor out
here and see what s underneath this." Well, he brought a tractor
out, and one scratch, sounded likewell, it sounded exactly like
what it was. His tooth hit solid rock.
Forman: There was about six inches of dirt and then solid rock. There was
no way, absolutely no way we were going to deal with this piece of
property with anything other than dynamite. And so to me,
enjoying my explosives, I thought that sounded like a great idea!
"What do we do first?" He said, "Well, first we ve got to go out
and we ve got to rent a big dynamite drill, not a little one, a
big one. We re going to have to do a lot of holes here. I think
I know a guy, though"--at the time, they were putting in a
pipeline down the main Silverado Trail. He said, "There s a guy
down there that s doing this explosives work. I m going to get
him up here and ask him what to do."
Well, he was a rascal of a guy, I must say. He was not of
the best character, but he had the know-how, and we weren t
worried about a character reference on the guy; we wanted the job
done. So old Bigley came up. Bigley looked at the site and
agreed that there was nothing else other than dynamite that was
going to touch it. But we were slightly in awe when he told us
how much it was going to take.
He said, "We have to drill, on a grid three feet by three
feet on every corner, a hole probably fourteen or fifteen feet
deep by three inches wide, and at the bottom of each hole we ll
put a stick of dynamite, and we ll fill the hole straight to the
top with blasting powder. I ll set it all together so it ll blow
off in microseconds apart, and it ll just shove this whole thing
right out into the open."
We calculated, and we figured it was going to take 500
holes, so that meant 500 sticks of dynamite. And we pretty much
calculated the depth and diameter of the hole and everything and
the powder, and it took 1,200 pounds of blasting powder. That s
twelve, hundred-pound sacks plus 500 sticks of dynamite. Nothing
less than an awesome explosion.
It took us a week to drill these holes. Gene and I got out
here, and we hammered and hammered away and hammered away, and
finally finished all the drilling. Bigley came out, set all the
charges, and unfortunately, I was called away on a trip that I had
promised Chuck Shaw I d go on to New York, to help the Shaw wine,
and was unable to be here for the explosion.
Hicke: Oh, no!
Forman: I called. I remember I called, actually, from Connecticut. I
said, "Gene, how did it go?" He was practically stuttering in
response, saying, "I ve never seen anything so awesome in all my
life. It was literally like an atomic bomb. There was this
massive explosion. The smoke and dust went up in an identical
mushroom cloud to the atomic bomb. We were hiding about fifty
yards down the road, behind a bucket, and, rock went through one
side of the window and out the other of my truck. Stumps, big
stumps went flying up, over trees and into other trees. It was
utterly unbelievable. But," he said, "it s all shattered. It
turned solid rock into boulders and gravel."
So it was quite an exciting event. I came home, having seen
a knoll, and now viewed a quarry. It took him about a month to
dig it all out. He performed what I consider to be a miracle in
getting a rather steeply sloping hillside into a courtyard and a
shell to build the bottom floor of the winery, which was to be
three sides underground.
Hicke: That work done there--
Forman: That was all solid rock. From the road down, it s all solid. He
blew it up, and of course, we have tons of rock now to build
walls, which you can see. Everywhere you look, there are stone
Hicke: Yes, it s beautiful.
Forman: We worked at it. I had a wonderful old friend of the family- -he
was, I think, eighty years old when he designed the building,
which I pretty much showed him what I wanted. Took him to see the
Villa Ramey Winery.
Hicke: What s his name?
Forman: Oh, Irwin Johnson. Wonderful man from Oakland. He actually just
died here a few years ago, about 95. So Irwin designed the
house, and he put an unbelievable amount of structure in it. We
were on solid rock, and he made me go three feet deep by three
feet wide into the solid rock, pour this foundation, pour solid
concrete walls all around. And then the face, I faced again with
rocks. We ended up with almost three-feet thick walls on the one
facing the outside, and the other walls are all underground. It
was to be a very well-insulated cellar, and it has proven to be
quite easy to maintain good temperature in it, except during
harvest, when I have to air condition it because of the
fermentation. Even during the summer, it only gets up to about
sixty-four [degrees], so it s very nice.
That was exciting. And then I put up a redwood structure,
small home above, where I still live.
Hicke: How did you get the garden? Was there enough soil?
Forman: No, there was no soil anywhere.
Hicke: Yes, I thought so.
Forman: I then decided I wanted some water to look at, so we built a pool,
and that took sixty sticks of dynamite, and then I needed lawn
around, and I love vegetable gardens, as we have mentioned very
early in the interview, so I had to have a vegetable garden. I
had the guys that were building the stone walls go way out on the
edge, build a high, stone retaining wall about six to eight feet
high, and then I brought in- -around the pool, around the perimeter
of the housefor the vegetable garden, twenty-five truck and
trailer loads of topsoil. So there s this great topsoil. And
then I mixed every year ten or fifteen tons of grape pumice with
it, so it s a wonderful garden. It just absolutely grows
everything beautifully. So that s been nice. The landscape
finally looks as though the place was always here.
It really does.
But it didn t start that way.
But it also fits into the landscape very nicely. It doesn t
Yes, I appreciate the fact that you appreciate that. I remember
going to a city council meeting when the rest of the parcels up
here were going to be sold and they wanted to subdivide it. I
complained that it was a very sensitive area, that it was very
delicate, and that it couldn t take more roads, and that many more
houses would totally destroy the ambiance and the ecosystem.
One of the engineers, who was really on the other side, I
will say, stood up and said, "I have to commend Forman, because
there s no place in town that you can see his house. The house is
of the right colors, the green metal roof, the terra cotta colored
redwood, the stone rock, in and amongst the trees. One would never
know the place was there."
We lost of course, and since, there have been three or four
other homes built, and they stick out like sore thumbs from town.
But you still can t see my place.
Yes, from down there I see some yellow houses?
Yes, those are the ones that came much later, the Italian villas.
It has gotten to be a very expensive neighborhood. My place was
what?--$65 ,000 for this thirty-five acres. The parcel across from
me now--no agricultural possibilities on it, most of it a straight
cliff in the back, all rock; twenty-eight acres sold for $1.2
million. Things have changed.
You don t ever want to sell thisyou can t pay the taxes!
That s true. Napa Valley land now is probably approaching if
it s good land will approach the common denominator of about
$100,000 an acre.
This is for vineyard land?
Yes, this is what it s coming to. This is where we have finally
arrived. And it will get higher. I also suspect that we will not
see any more straight vineyards without wineries. I don t think
there will be any more just straight growers in the Valley. All
of the growers will either become vintners or all of the growers
lands will be purchased by wineries. It simply doesn t pay
anymore to sell grapes. You can t make enough money. It s got to
be turned into wine.
Forman: Let s see. Where shall we go next?
So we built the winery. I moved into the home and winery in
1985. I had my first harvest here. It was very exciting. I
bought this beautiful little German Roche crusher, and I bought a
Howard membrane press once used. It had been used in a German
wine cellar, but it was only two years old. It was very clean and
very nice. I still use it. Maintained very well. It s just like
new. And so is the crusher.
Oh, I had a nice, helical must pump, but have since changed
to a very innovative type of pump, a peristaltic kind of pump. It
works just like the heart, with a tube that is simply massaged
with a rolling cylinder. It simply moves the grape must along,
and the must itself is never being touched by moving parts. So I
find that a great innovation in pumps.
Hicke: Who makes that?
Forman: A couple of Italian producers. Manzini is the name. I have to
think about it now that it s not in front of me, but I think it s
probably the finest must pump made anywhere in the world. I think
my crusher is a very good crusher. I think if I were to buy a new
one, and I m contemplating buying one, the--oh, what s the name of
Hicke: You can fill it in.
Forman: I bought Santa Rosa stainless steel tanks, little 1500-gallon and
1200-gallon tanks, so it was absolutely ideal. I could harvest
and fill one tank in one day, five to six tons. Every day, what
was picked flowed through the equipment nicely, filled one tank,
one tank would fill one row of barrels. Everything that I had
designed seemed to flow and fit very nicely so that it really
required very little help to run the winery. This is the way I
had planned it.
Forman : I didn t have the knowledge of, nor, I think, was even the
technology available at the time I built the winery to do tunnels.
So I decided at that point that I had to stack barrels in order to
make enough wine to be economically feasible. As much as 1
dreaded stacking barrels, I only went two [barrels] high, with
half the cellar being white and half the cellar being red. This
workedlet s see. I started in the cellar in 1985-- 85, 86,
87--and in 88 Schramsberg had already dug their tunnels and a
few other tunnels had been dug. Obviously, the technology was
I was utterly fascinated with it and realized that somehow I
had to have tunnels dug on the property. I wanted to expand a
bit. The vineyards were capable of producing a bit more than the
cellar would hold. And in between that time, Reg Oliver and I had
purchased the Adamson Vineyard, which we now call Rutherford Star.
So I owned at that time fortyand we ve since purchased another
twenty--! have another sixty acres so I had ample fruit, ample
Chardonnay fruit to make more wine.
I really wanted to fill the cellar that I had originally
built under the home with strictly Chardonnay, and I wanted to be
able to put the red in a separate cellar, keeping the malo
separately and keeping the temperature conditions separate. So
this tunnel idea kept rattling around in my head.
I went ahead and called
Hicke: I need to turn it over.
Forman: Called Alf Bertleson, who was the cave driller at the time. I
think there are three or four more now, but he was the only one
available then and is still the best of the pack. He said that he
could do it. He had the time. We went down and tried to figure
out where we d do it. The only hill that was really available was
the hill directly below the winery, which came right off of the
vineyard, so it was aesthetically a very nice site.
It worried me that it was so separate from the main cellar
until I realized that if we d dig it at the right angle, we could
ultimately end up directly underneath the other cellar, albeit it
would be deep, but we d be directly underneath. And then I
conceived of the idea of bringing a well rig in and drilling sort
of a dummy well hole, so to speak, a well hole that wasn t going
to produce water but a hole that would go from the current cellar
all the way down to the second cellar.
I asked some engineers in town whether they could determine
before digging the tunnel what direction the tunnel would have to
go and where it would have to end and where we could drill a pipe
and would it all connect. They said, "Piece of cake. It just
takes math and a good transit." So they came before we dug the
tunnel and got way out in the vineyard, viewed way up to the top
of the hill at the winery, and came up with their calculations.
When the cave drillers arrived, they said, "All right, go in
nine feet, turn so many degrees at so many feet, go for three
hundred feet, and you ll be directly under the winery." So we
did. I must say it was the most exciting thing I ve ever done in
my life, drilling the tunnel. It went very quickly. It only took
them two months. But it was the most fun I ve ever had with a
project. It was an adventure to have this incredible machine
going at fourteen feet to twenty feet a day inside a mountain,
coming directly underneath the other cellar.
I could hardly wait to go back and forth every day to see
how they were doing, and go in and see the progress and see this
incredible soil that I was digging in, which incidentally made me
realize what the vineyard was growing on. We never ran into one
rock. Everything was sand and gravel, the gravel being nothing
bigger than a hen s egg and all round. So it was clear that this
was an uplifted river bed that the vineyard was planted in.
So away they went, and, as I say, it happened quickly. Two
months after the total design I had conceived of was fully mined,
I brought in the well rig. They dug right where we wanted them,
right in a convenient place up in the existing crushing pad.
Hicke: The cellar and everything was already there?
Forman: The cellar was there. And so I said, "All right, drill here."
They were still down there, putting finishing touches on the
cellar. We had determined about a hundred feet, which is not much
for a well rig to dig through. So they dug through this massively
hard rock, which of course I had to go through when we blew it up
for the building, and then all of a sudden it was like they
dropped into a sugar bowl. So forty-five feet of it was hard
rock, and then they dropped into this gravel lens that we were
digging in below. It was only about five hours into it. We were
down in the tunnel, and they said, "I think we re about where you
think we should be . "
So we went down therenot directly into where they were
going to come through, but we were down there. You could begin
hearing this crunching noise and this hissing noise. God, it was
massively exciting. And then all of a sudden, the noise got
louder and louder, and then pretty soon it was just a very loud
gush of air blowing out, and the gravel cracked on the ceiling,
and out poked the well-drilling rig. Absolutely dead-on where it
was supposed to be. I mean, it wasn t even an inch off. It was
perfectly placed. So engineering works.
That was so exciting. The whole project at that point I
Hicke: What year was this?
Forman: This was 1988. We went ahead and put nice floors into the tunnel
and all the proper drainage and all the water, and I put in air
lines to rack the wine with air.
Hicke: And barrels are single stacked.
Forman: And the barrels now are single stacked. One hundred barrels long,
the length of a football field. It s dazzling to see and
marvelous to work with.
Hicke: I appreciate your little tour through there so I can picture it.
Forman: Yes, it s a neat cellar. Actually, it s still one of Alf s
favorite tunnels. He has drilled countless tunnels now, miles and
miles of them, having started--what?--f ifteen years ago. At the
rate of ten, fifteen feet a day, you can imagine how many feet of
tunnel there are for all these various places. He still thinks
this is one of the nicest, probably because I didn t require the
ceilings to be quite as high as those who wished to stack barrels,
even though I could still stack. And I made the tunnel slightly
wider, which gave it a nice, comfortable feel. And I don t stack
barrels, so you re looking down this long row of unstacked
Generally, the people that have tunnels stack barrels on
barrel pallets, and pallet upon pallet. They just stuff the
cellar and use it as an industrial cavern, whereas mine has a
great deal of aesthetics involved in it. It s a very charismatic
place to be, with a constant humidity of about 98 percent and
constant temperature of 59 degrees. It s close to being ideal.
Hicke: Doesn t Rutherford Hill Winery have tunnels? I remember going
there and they made a big deal of these tunnels or caves.
After they dug my tunnel, they went to Far Niente [Winery]. Then
they went to Rutherford, then they went to Sterling, then they did
Cuvaison Winery, then they did Clos Pegase [Winery] , then they did
more of Newton--no, that s right. He refused to do Newton. He
said Newton was too difficult to deal with, and so he refused to
do Newton. I thought that was very funny.
didn t you?
As usual, you had a crowd of people follow you,
Anyway, they dug a lot of tunnels. They re all over. They went
over and did the tunnels at Kunde [Estate Winery], and they ve
done them in Sonoma, they ve done them here. Plus, of course,
since they started there, there are two other outfits that are
digging, so other outfits have come and dug things like the
tunnels at Stag s Leap [Wine Cellars] and the tunnels all over.
Schramsberg was the first. He was the pioneer. He was the
one who got the guy up here. It was really a great idea of Jack s
[Davies] to research having tunnels old tunnelsboth modernized
and expanded. I don t know how he came onto this guy, where he
I knew where he was. He was up in Grass Valley, actually,
in my old stomping grounds, in the mines. In fact, Dale, the
operator of the machine for Alf, is a wonderful man, and we had
just great times--he and Toby and I talking about all the mines
because he knew them all. He had been in them himself. I guess
they had done some exploration work with this machine up there in
the gold mines. And he actually lived up there, so he d go back
and forth on the weekends. So that was fun, too, to talk about.
We both agreed that both the soil texture and the color reminded
us very much of all of the hillsides that you see near Auburn and
going over the pass, the Yuba Pass, and so forth, from Grass
Valley, where they hydraulic-mined and took so much ore out.
[laughing] I was going to ask: Did you find any gold?
I told Dale that "we ought to have this stuff analyzed." There s
a good chance it does have gold in it. I never sent it in for
analysis, but it might. I don t know.
That s another project.
I hope it doesn t. Think of what it would do then. Where would
we put all the dirt? The dirt was a problem. You have to get rid
of this stuff, just massive amounts. I guess we figured we took
something like 20,000 yards out of beautiful gravel and sand. I
just had it dumped in between the two vineyard sites, on a little
knoll which Gene had prepared for the dumping of this stuff. He
moved all these big boulders around and made a plateau, and then
we built a mountain on top of it.
I leveled it off. It was gorgeous soil. It was all this
sand and gravel. And so I tried planting a vineyard up there, but
it just simply wouldn t grow, wouldn t grow, and wouldn t grow.
Well, you can imagine soil that s coming from a hundred feet
underground. It s completely depleted of nutrients. We analyzed
and we added this, and we added that. The vineyard is still
there. It s actually nowI ve abandoned it. I want to take it
out, and I m going to try olives in its place. But oddly enough,
once I abandoned it, the thing started growing because I guess
we ve added so much nutrient to it, and it has weathered and the
pumice we put on it and the leaves that fall are starting to get
it into a kind of natural state again.
Hicke: Another couple of centuries and--
Forman: It ll be fine.
Hicke: Great stuff.
Forman: It s fun to plant things, particularly like grapes because it s so
porous and sandy.
Hicke: So are you going to plant olives?
Forman: I ve got to get now somebody up there to take the vines out
because I ve hacked them apart so badly now, trying to get them
out, and I can t. Now they re fully rooted. It s turning into a
real nuisance, but I will take it out, and I think I m going to
try olives. Yes, I think olives might do well up there.
The prune trees that we ve planted around the perimeter are
now doing beautifully, so I think maybe just the moving and
settling for ten years, the soil has changed its chemistry.
Hicke: You planted prune trees. That s a wonderful idea.
Forman: Yes, the prune trees are beautiful to look at. They re thought
to--what?--I guess they harbor some wasps that deal with the
larvae of the sharpshooter leaf hopper, trying to control Pierce s
disease. I don t find it very useful for that, really. I haven t
seen any difference. But the prune trees are nice and the prunes
are wonderful to eat.
And the blossoms--
Fonnan: And the blossoms are beautiful, so that the whole hill has a
perimeter of that. I think olives on top would be very lovely.
Hicke: So look what you got out of that tunnel!
Forraan: Oh, we used every crumb of it, every crumb. It s very nice.
Let s stop for a second.
Wines of 1983 to 1986
"" -" -
[Interview 4: March 19, 1999] it
Hicke: We have covered your starting the winery here, so let s see how it
Forman: We left off some two or three weeks ago- -it s hard to remember- -
but we left off with me discovering this site, wanting to develop
a winery of my own, buying the land in "78, planting in 79, and
finally building the winery in 1983 and actually moving in in
1985, meaning that I moved into the house, which is above the
winery, and I moved into the cellar, actually, in 85, making
wine--start to finish.
Previous to that time, I had crushed my grapes at Charles
Shaw winery, so the 83 and 84 were actually harvested and
crushed and fermented at Shaw. The 83 totally done there, the
84 actually was brought back to this cellar and aged here, and
the 85 was crushed here, so the first vintage really here was
That was very gratifying, I must say. I was finally really
on my own. I was finally independent. I had a little vineyard
that looked promising. This very, very unique bit of soil was
exciting to watch develop. Indeed, I think the 83 wine was
looking good about the time I moved in here and started the 85.
Of course, the "83 was being bottled. It was reviewed. 1
remember I was just elated to think that Robert Parker thought it
was great and gave it ninety points.
Forman: From that point on, it was successful. It was a good wine, too,
and it still is. I remember putting it in a tasting in the
Connoisseur Wine Imports, a blind tasting with a group of people
with other Bordeaux wines. Granted, they were 83, which wasn t a
great vintage of Bordeaux, but there were things like Mouton and
so forth in there. My wine did very well. In fact, the group
actually liked it best. I didn t pick it out. I thought my wine
was the Mouton, because it had that really unique, subtle but
definitely there sort of eucalyptus Bordeaux Cabernet character-
coming, again, from that incredible clone that I took from
Martha s Vineyard, having nothing to do with eucalyptus trees, but
there s a nuance in there; I m dead sure of it, just as there is
in Mouton and occasionally in Leoville Las-Cases. In the very
good years, they do have a subtle, eucalyptus Cabernet sort of
character to them, which is, when it s not overdone, really very
My wine had that, and nobody could believe that that wine
was Calif ornian. I thought, Wow, maybe I m getting there. My
dream was to make Bordeaux-style wine in California if I could.
The soil being very, very gravelly certainly had something to do
with it. The use of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit
Verdot--well, Petit Verdot hadn t been introduced yet, but that
was making a difference. And my technique that I had been
developing, patterning after Bordeaux, starting all the way back
in the early years at Sterling and really very strictly adhering
to here, was lending its effect to the style and character of the
And so I was off and running. I was very excited. I was
happy that the results were good right from day one. The 94
vintage came in with very ripe grapes and produced a bit richer
wine, but it was tannic and felt good in your mouth and had very
nice fruit flavors, and so I had another winner.
I think you told me before, but let s just clarify: This is
Forman: Yes, we re talking about Cabernet; we re talking about Cabernet.
It s funny: When I talk about wine and get really enthusiastic,
it s almost always red. But I guess most people, when they re
really into wine, red is the thing that excites them most, even
though I spend a great deal of time trying to make a classic
Hicke: Is that because of demand?
Forman: No. It s just because when you really like wine, you like red
better than white.
Hicke: No, but I meant you re making a white because of demand for that?
Forman: Yes, and I have a good vineyard, and I enjoy making white wine. I
have fun making that, too. If I didn t like to make it, I
wouldn t make it.
So the 85 came along, and it was a very cool year. The
vineyard had gotten rather vigorous, and I was beginning to
realize that I had to do something with the trellis system because
I was afraid that the fruit was getting too shaded. People
enjoyed the 85, and they still do, but to me it was a little too
menthol-y, a little too much green-Cabernet character.
Forman: So we changed the trellis system. We added poles in 86, upright
poles, and tried to do an upright trellis system, which did in
fact work marvelously. It made a dramatic difference in 86. And
we also started leafing the vines to get some sun on the fruit,
which was kind of a technique that was just beginning to be
investigated in the Napa Valley, as well as, for that matter, in
Hicke: They hadn t been doing that in Europe?
Forman: No, not really. Europe didn t do it because they have a vertical
trellis system, and that s the whole point of a vertical trellis
system. It makes a canopy which is generally no wider than about
thirteen inches, and that thirteen inches seems to allow a leaf to
a leaf-and-a-half coverage for grapes, thereby allowing just the
right amount of sunshine, which is so essential, we now realize,
for the proper development of all the components that we re after
for quality wine, whether it be sugar-acid ratio or the anthocyan
and then flavor development.
So I really had a lot of work to do, I could see, in my
vineyard, and I was getting there. The introduction of the poles
and the vertical trellis system made a big difference. Also, I
was realizing at this point that I had to get the grapes a bit
riper, and so I was tending to allow them to mature more and more
each year, and so you see a progression from 86 right up through
--oh, I guess the big break was up into the nineties, when, not
only was I doing this but we had these phenomenal string of years,
which we ve had from 90 right on to present.
Forman: Weatherwise, yes. And so I think there s quite a change in my
wine from "90 going forward versus 90 going back.
Pioneering Introduction of Petit Verdot
Forman: One of the things that made a big difference was the introduction
in 1990 of Petit Verdot. That added another dimension of
complexity. I guess I was probably the pioneer of Petit Verdot in
the Napa Valley or in California, for that matter. I had a hunch.
I kept reading the literature and talking to people in Bordeaux
about Petit Verdot as a grape to be added to the Bordeaux blend in
What did it do? Well, not all but a number of top producers
in Bordeaux seemed to like Petit Verdot in small percentages.
Even though the university never recommended that I try, I decided
I d better try it.
Hicke: Where did you get the grapes?
Forman: So I bought bud wood, actually, while I was at Newton. I don t
remember whether I had to pay for it or whether they gave it to
me, but I got it from the university- -what they call their mother
block, which was bud taken directly from Bordeaux. They had it on
two vines, and they would watch it for a series of years and do a
lot of tests on it and so forth to determine whether it was
infected with any viruses or not. Once it wasn t, they would
release it for propagation.
So I took all of the vines--! m trying to think what the
year was, probably 1980--I took all of the bud wood from two vines
and planted most of it at Newton s and planted six vines at my
place. That s how it worked. So I had six vines right from day
one, which is not enough to make any difference in the blend.
And then finally in I think it was 1988 I planted a small
vineyard, about three-quarters of an acre, using my wood. Then,
by 90, I had some grapes and started introducing Petit Verdot
into my wine.
Hicke: In what percentage?
Forman: About 3 to 5 percent. Some years it goes higher. But I ve
discovered that it was really a variety that I liked. It produced
intensely darkly colored wines, with deliciously soft but intense
tannins, a really nice tannin structure, and tremendous acidity,
which we I think need in the Napa Valley because we have a
relatively warm climate. But the acidity and pH holds up very
nicely with Petit Verdot. It has a subtle varietal character,
kind of violet-like would be the best way to describe it. And it
added a dimension to the wine that I thought was quite dramatic.
It really made a difference in every parameter.
I was enthusiastic, and I guess other people realized I was
doing it. The word got out that it was interesting, and people
were constantly knocking on the door, wanting bud wood, and so I
guess my little vineyard has probably supplied all of the current
plantings in the Napa Valley of Petit Verdot. It has become very
popular. Now everybody who makes Cabernet wants Petit Verdot in
their wines. It s funny how these things happen.
Hicke: We were just talking about--
Forman: What we did with the Petit Verdot and the introduction of Petit
Verdot and how really very nice it is and how other people have
caught onto the fact that no longer, I think, would we follow the
university s recommendation that it s a variety of no interest in
California. It s a variety of immense interest.
Hicke: What does it taste like by itself?
Forman: I actually bottled some by itself in 1990 and again in 91 I did a
couple of barrels of it. I haven t looked at it in some time, but
I had a chance to do it with my European distributors, who were
here about a month ago, and I opened it for thembecause the very
same question was, "What is it like on its own?" So I said, "I ll
go get a bottle." They were astounded with its individuality and
its inherent quality on its own. It has really very good
structure. It s not hugely distinct varietally, but the structure
is so nice. It has this delicious sort of acid-fruit-tannin
balance. Its varietal character doesn t confuse Cabernet; it
blends nicely with it in that it doesn t override it or it doesn t
muddle it or change it dramatically, but it adds the structure.
Hicke: Adds a little backbone?
Forman: Yes. So that s its quality. And I m sure that s what the
Bordelais feel about it as well, and others are now finding that
it s quite useful. So, Petit Verdot.
Let s think. Where--
Merlot and Cabernet Franc
Hicke: What about Merlot?
Forman: The Merlot, of course, has always been something of interest to
me. You knew from our discussion about Sterling how Newton was
convinced that California would be ready for Merlot if someone
would just introduce it. We did. Obviously, it caught on, and
I ve continued to be interested in Merlot. I have a nice
selection of Merlot, what we call Clone 3. Oh, it was derived
from Wente Brothers and Inglenook, and it was derived by them, we
think, directly from Bordeaux. So whether it is one of the clones
that now we re calling 181, we re not sure. It has very good
character. So I put Clones 3 and 181, which is a direct
descendent of Pomerol, in my vineyard.
Hicke: That ought to be good.
Forman: I continue to be enthusiastic about it, both on its own and in the
blend. Merlot adds a wonderful dimension to Cabernet. It s got
this deliciously spicy fruit. It s close to Cabernet in that it
has an herbaceous note to it, but when fully ripe it develops a
more subtle, tea-like herbaceousness and a very nice, cherry-kind
of character. When it is fully ripe, it has wonderfully long,
rich tannins and somewhat low acidity, which is not necessarily
sought after, but it does make the wine soft. It broadens
Cabernet. It takes some of that vertical leanness out of
Cabernet, and so I think it s very useful as a blend.
Cabernet Franc- -much like Merlot except that it has a more
defined, raspberry-blackberry fruit, and the fruit character is a
definite enhancement, both with Merlot as a Merlot blend, and with
the blend with Cabernet. It just adds one more component of
fruit. It has similar characteristics to Merlot as far as tannin
and acid level, but its fruit component in quite unique and very
So I think they re all beneficial. Malbec I ve never played
with. Don t know much about it.
Association with David Abreu
Hicke: Tell me about your association with David Abreu.
Forman: Ah, very good. David Abreu. Just to review: he met me at
Newton s in about 1980. He was just beginning on his own, trying
to get involved in helping people farm landin other words,
becoming a vineyards manager. He really had no formal training,
no schooling per se . He worked at Caymus , and he worked at the
H&W Ranch, helping out during harvest, helping out in the
He comes from a farming background. His whole family grew
up in St. Helena, and his father was in the ranching business, so
he knew farming from an early age and was very fascinated with the
way the wine business was growing. David has a keen sense for
looking at something and seeing where it s going to go, and being
able to perceive where to be at the right time, so to speak. He s
very sharp that way.
I grew to like him. I thought he was an interesting guy,
just as friend. We became acquainted. He was fascinated with
what I was doing at Newton s; I was fascinated with his farming.
I guess our relationship with one another began strictly as
friends, and then the more we got involved with asking questions
about what each was doing, we became interested in each other s
livelihoods. And so I think I was asked by him to really give
more than just how-are-you-doing assistance on his projects.
He wanted to get involved with Inglenook, and I knew the
people at Inglenook, so he said, "Could you talk to them for me?"
And I did. The people at Inglenook said, "We d be glad to have
David farm our ranch, but how about you joining him? And then
we d feel even better." I thought, Well, that s novel. I talked
it over with David, and we decided that it wouldn t be too
difficult. I could lend some assistance in helping him find some
men and so forth, and if that made the Inglenook people feel good,
then I d be glad to do it.
What we didn t know was we ran smack dab into the middle of
their labor dispute because David did not have unionized labor
force, and of course, Inglenook was. And so we were served with a
subpoena to come tell why we weren t using union labor on the
Inglenook project. Oh, my God. It turned into an absolute
nightmare for us. We had to go to court together, and we had to
do all these things.
We finally got out of it, but it cost us a fair amount of
money and a lot of strife. David actually continued to run
Inglenook. I helped him find another ranch, the Staglin Ranch.
Then I got him involved in a ranch that I had then purchased by
1986, along with partners, the Rutherford Star Vineyard, and he
became the manager of that .
along with his business.
So by now, he was really getting
Coupled with that, we used to like to travel together during
the winter, mainly to Mexico to get warm. But we decided one year
to go to Europe, and so I brought him through the Bordeaux
district, and he was so fascinated with the way it all was done
that we made a pledge to keep coming back and really do a hard
study of the whole thing together. And we did.
So he slowly evolved from the normal practices used in the
Napa Valley to really investigating and experimenting with some of
his customers more Bordelais techniques of farming. We started
planting grapes closer, we started using the vertical trellis
systems that they were using in Bordeaux, we began getting, of
course, the rootstocks along with everybody else that they were
using there, the right clones.
David is not slow at getting where he wants to go, and he
became noted for doing this kind of farming. Everyone was
interested. And so his client base started growing, and growing
with the really upper-end vineyards. He now farms for people like
Harlan, Araujo, Staglin, Cogan, my vineyard at Starpretty much
all the really high-end vineyards, David is now farming. He has a
labor base of about a hundred employees, so he has really gone
somewhere with this business. He s noted as probably the highest-
quality vineyard manager in the Valley. So it s exciting for him.
Hicke: You re still working with him?
Forman: I dropped out long ago. Right after Inglenook, I dropped out.
No, no, he has totally his own operation. But we stay associated,
of course, as friends. But we also got involved in another way. I
guess it was 1988. He asked if I would be willing to make some
wine from a vineyard that he owns called the Madrona Ranch. I
said sure, I could do that. And have done it ever since. I make
a wine that he calls Abreu Vineyards Cabernet. It comes from the
Madrona Ranch, which he owns with the Meyer family. It has become
very famous as well. In fact, it s one of the most highly sought
after wines now in the state. It s all made here at Forman
Hicke: As long as you had nothing else to do!
Forman: Exactly. I think he probably will abandon the site as the site to
have his wine made soon, because he s acquiring more vineyards and
really has the desire to have a winery of his own. I m
restricting him to about 500 cases, which is all I have space for.
So he will in the near future, I m sure, build his own little
facility. He has learned a lot not only about how to farm land
through some of my assistance and his own keen insight, but also
how to make wine, and so I think he could probably manage very
nicely even making wine--not totally on his own, but pretty much
on his own.
So that s David.
Rutherford Star Vineyard--Chardonnay
Hicke: Rutherford Star.
Forman: Rutherford Star I bought with Reg Oliver and a group of partners
in 1986, I believe, we bought that. It s a now sixty-acre
vineyard in Rutherford, right behind La Luna Market. It s a
wonderful piece of ground for Chardonnay, and it s actually fairly
good for Cabernet, although I don t use the Cabernet often. I use
it when I have low yields in the vineyard or in years that I think
the fruit is going to get very good and ripe. But I don t use it
The Chardonnay has been exciting ever since the first wine I
made from it when we were buying grapes from the previous owner
that we bought the property from- -that being 1980 at Newton when
we purchased this Chardonnay, and it made an extraordinary wine,
wine that s still very viable and delicious. The 81 is equally
as nice. The 82 I don t know what happened to. I can t
remember. That was the year I left, so probably it s why I
forget. In fact, I don t even think I bottled it. I didn t.
The Rutherford Star has proved to be a great source for me
Hicke: Are you bottling under a vineyard-designated label?
Forman: I don t vineyard- designate it, no. But my Chardonnay is, oh,
post- 1986, when I was still buying a bit from the Talcott
Vineyard, right below the winery. Starting in 1987, it has been
100 percent Star every year. And I like it. David keeps thinking
that I should find sources other than that, but I m satisfied with
it. It has a track record, people recognize the style, they
recognize what I do with itwhich is something we can talk about
in a minute--and so I m just probably going to stay with it.
Plus the fact I like to estate-bottle all of the Forman
Vineyard wines, and if I were to buy grapes, I couldn t do that,
so that s, I m sure, where my Chardonnay will be for some time.
There are some old blocks on AXR we re slowly replanting, so I
think we can keep up with the phylloxera and still have supply for
me. Others buy the grapes. I don t use the whole vineyard. We
sell to Sterling and Merryvale. But there s always enough for me.
And El Molino, which is my partner, Reg Oliver s little
winery, also uses the fruit for his Chardonnay, exclusively. So
he and I make 100 percent Star Chardonnay in our two wineries.
The wine from the Chardonnay ever since 1980 has been
distinct in that it has a wonderful green-apple, and when it s
fully ripe that creme brulee, Chardonnay nose. As I think we
previously discussed, I m opposed to malolactic on Chardonnay in
the Napa Valley, at least north of Carneros. I don t think
there s enough acidity to support a malolactic, and so I ve never
allowed malolactic to take place in the wine.
Very traditional otherwise. Fifty percent new, French oak
barrels. I started using Sereau at Sterling. Used Francois Frere
later on at Sterling. At Newton, used almost exclusively Francois
Frere. Used Francois Frere barrels at Forman, then began
experimenting with others, and now have gone back to 100 percent
Francois Frere barrels, because I think they just are the most
suitable with the Star fruit.
The fruit is harvested fairly ripe, which I believe is
essential for Chardonnay. The only thing I m against in
harvesting it so ripe is the fact that it has all this alcohol-
approaching 14 percent. I dislike that aspect. But the flavors
aren t there unless it is ripe, so I harvest it ripe. Very simple
treatment: crushed, pressed, and the juice settled overnight, and
the juice goes right into 50 percent new, 50 percent one-year used
Francois [Frere] barrels for fermentation. The wine is left with
the lees all the way up until April, so it never comes out of the
barrel until April.
The lees are stirred, up through February. Comes out, and
it s fined with isinglass and bentonite in April, and right back
to the barrel the next day. And then racked the day before
bottling with one filtration. So really minimal treatment.
The wine is being made with really three factors: the
vineyard, the fact that there s no malo, and the Francois Frere
barrels. I suppose four factors: the sur lees has a big influence
on the flavor as well. The effect is that the wine comes off at
all stages of development with a wonderful mineral-y quality that
you rarely see in California Chardonnay, probably because you
rarely see California Chardonnay that hasn t gone through
But with the no malolactic, the acidity is left, and with
it, that delightful French sort of mineral-y quality.
Hicke: So it s more like Burgundy?
Forman: Well, it is. But, of course, Burgundy always goes through malo,
but they have a better acid level and pH than we do, and they can
manage it .
The wine is tight when it s first bottled. It requires
probably a minimum of a year before it s looking the way most
California Chardonnay looks when it s first bottled because of the
malo. Really, it takes almost four years before the wine reaches
its--I wouldn t say peak because it continues to develop after
that, but a really proper level of what the wine can show. At
four years and beyond, the richness that the wine takes on from
bottle age is really pretty equivalent to that fairly rich
character that most of the California Chardonnays are getting with
malo at an early age.
The beauty, I think, of mine is that not only does it have
the richness but is also has that, again, good acidity and
mineral-y quality, and so it still is a delicious wine with food,
and it s not so cloying. I find that most California Chardonnays
now, because of this Kendall-Jackson sugar thing, which we went
into earlier on in the interview, and because of the strong use of
too much new wood and grapes that are too ripe and full malo, the
Chardonnays are, I find, almost gagging. They re cloyingly rich.
They re too sweet. They re too heavy. They re just overwhelming.
They do enthuse wine writers. They stand out in a lineup of
wines. They bowl you over. But are they really balanced? I
don t find it so, so I ve tried to stay away from that.
My wine has a group of followers who appreciate that style.
I don t think that the person that likes the full-blown Chardonnay
is probably not as wound up with my style as they would be.
Hicke: Yours is a little more austere?
Forman: Mine s austere. In fact, it has almost been saidor it has been
said on a few occasions that my Chardonnay would be the Chablis of
California. I wouldn t put it that light.
Hicke: Do you mean the Chablis that we talk about here or the kind from
Forman: No, no, the kind from France. Oh, no, definitely. In fact, I
don t drink much Chardonnay, but when I do, it s almost always
Chablis, French Chablis. That s the kind of Chardonnay I like,
that highly mineral, low pH, tart, sort of stony fruit character I
find very refreshing and very exciting, as opposed to that thick,
heavy, caramel-y, buttery California style. That s my taste.
That isn t saying that I think these are bad wines. They don t
appeal to me. Just like chocolate appeals to some and vanilla to
others. I don t like it.
So I tend to try to make wine at least somewhat in the style
that I like, although, being of course aware that I have to sell
it in California, and so--well, it would be impossible almost to
make Chablis-style wines here anyway. Our climate is too warm,
and we don t have limestone, so we couldn t do it. But if I were
to really do it, I would be picking green grapes, and I don t
think it would be very appealing.
I do the best I can with the style I d like to do in a
climate that s a little marginal, really, for Chardonnay. And
then doing so, it has proven to be a nice wine. I know the 85,
for instanceagain mentioning these Europeans who came here a
month ago. They tasted the 85 in magnum, and they absolutely
couldn t believe not only the color but the incredible flavor. It
was like an old Meursault that had the color, still, of a brand-
new Chardonnay. It hadn t oxidized in the slightest. But it
developed that deliciously long, sort of hazelnut, creme brulee,
toasty character that you get out of Chardonnay that s properly
How long will that last?
I have no idea. The 84 is still viable, and that s the only one
I have. The 80 and 81 Newton--in fact, there was a tasting.
Maybe it does have something to do with the way I make it, because
there was a tasting three nights ago at the Culinary Academy of
the 1977 Sterling Chardonnay and the 73 Merlot, and the Sterling
Chardonnay was still very drinkable. I wouldn t say that it was
young, still. But it wasn t gone. It was interesting, and it was
The 73 Merlot was superb. It still had bright fruit and
delicious. I find that in my cellar, too: 73 Sterling Merlots is
a phenomenon. So is the 72. I don t know. It might have
something to do with winemaking technique. I always think it s
more fruit than winemaking, but one doesn t know.
Hicke: It takes both, I m sure.
Forman: Well, a little guidance, let s hope.
Forman Wine Library
Hicke: Since you mentioned your wine library, is this a good time to talk
Forman: Sure. We ve talked a little bit about some of my styles of
winemaking and where we re going. I think in a moment we ll
discuss the fact that my vineyard got phylloxera, and I ve
replanted it, and how I ve replanted it, what I anticipate the
future of it will be.
Wine library. What do I keep, you mean?
Hicke: That was one of the topics you wanted to talk about, so I ll leave
it to you. Maybe that s a good question: What do you keep?
Forman: I put some wine away each year, of course, as anybody would in the
business. I don t keep a lot: fifteen, twenty cases of each
vintage. I ve got them going back, of course, to day one, like
83. The 83 Cabernet is still very drinkable, the one I
mentioned a few moments ago that was in that tasting, right after
Hicke: How often do you open a bottle?
Forman: I don t drink the older ones too often. To tell you the truth, I
don t get a lot of pleasure--! get pleasure, but I don t open them
strictly for pleasure, because I realize what s going to happen is
I m going to sit there an analyze them and fidget, thinking about
them. So I make other wines for myself under the Chateau le
Grande Roche label. I have a lot of fun. I gave you some.
Hicke: It was wonderful. We really did enjoy it.
Forman: Did I give you the Rose or the Days Off?
Hicke: You gave me one of each.
Forman: Oh, good, good. With Days Offyou see, this gets back to my
Chardonnay. I can t find much California Chardonnay that really
appeals to me, not because it s bad wine but because it s too
rich. This is why I drink Chablis. I must have gone through
fifteen cases in the last two or three years of my favorite
Chablis, because my distributor in California sells it. In fact,
he told the fellowand I visited the guy, too how much I was
drinking of it, and the guy was overwhelmed to think that a
California wine producer, who produces Chardonnay, no less, was
using his Chablis as his standard house wine. They got a big kick
out of that.
I made a wine this year under my Grande Roche label, which I
do mostly just for my own pleasure and for fun, although I had to
make so much this year I ll have to sell it, but I found some old-
vine French Columbard, which is like finding hen s teeth because,
obviously, in this expensive place for growing grapes you don t
have French Columbard anymore, but this is an old, old vineyard,
head-pruned, low yielding, beautiful vineyard. I got it early and
kind of helped manage the vineyard so that it turned out all
The grapes were beautiful- -harvested at about a little over
20 sugar so the alcohol is around 11-1/2, very high-acidity, bone-
dry wine. It s, to me, just delicious. This is what I like in
white wine. I thought, What am I going to call it? Nobody will
buy French Columbard, so I thought, Days Off, the days we don t
drink Chardonnay, so we called it Days Off. That s where it comes
from. These are the wines I like. A white wine, for some reason
or other, to me, doesn t have to be serious. It can be something
that we simply enjoy.
Red wine, on the other hand, I like more serious. I like
Beaujolais, and Beaujolais is not serious; Beaujolais is for fun.
And I love it. But the fancy varieties definitely are fancy, and
one has to take them a little more seriously. This is back to why
I don t like drinking my Forman Vineyard label: because I have to
think about it too much. It s a little nerve-wracking.
Hicke: So you open that when you just want to see what it s like?
Forman: I open it because I want to see it, or I open it when somebody
else wants to see it, or I use it for vertical tastings or one
thing and another. You have to have some. So that s what the
library is all about. I keep it in the tunnel, where it s 98
percent humidity, so I have to put bin cards on the slots, because
the labels are all black. But it s a great place to store wine.
It s a marvelous tunnel.
VI EVOLUTION OF PUBLIC TASTES AND WINEMAKING TECHNIQUES
Hicke: You wanted to talk about the concept of market and changing
tastes. Maybe those go together?
Forman: Yes, they kind of do. Where are we in the market? This might be
fun just for you and me to talk rather than me strictly talking
about where you see the market and where I might see the market.
You ve been drinking wine for a number of years, I gather.
Hicke: Since we moved to California.
Forman: Chardonnay. Let s begin with that. Chardonnay is a phenomenon
that s developed really only sincewell, I was making Chardonnay
at Stony Hill in 1967.
Hicke: That was really early.
Forman: That was early. They started in 52, and nobody even knew that
Chardonnay existed in California. I mean, Fred McCrea really
produced one of the first Chardonnays--he and Lee Stewart, I
think, and Joe Heitz started making Chardonnay in the late
fifties, early sixties. People were fascinated with it, but the
only people that were really fascinated with it were people who
had traveled to Europe and knew European wine. But the crowds out
there, you d say "Chardonnay" and you d think you were speaking a
foreign language. They would never know.
But it slowly came around. Of course, Kendall- Jackson, I
think, helped catapult it into the arena with its sweet
Chardonnay. I don t know what really got it going.
Hicke: I don t know which came first, but as I recall, people started
drinking white wine instead of martinis .
Forman: Yes, I guess that was it. Then somebody decided maybe we should
upgrade it. Instead of the old Chablis-style, Rhine-style wines
that we were getting from the bulk producers, we could do varietal
Hicke: I used to drink vermouth, I remember, before white wine became
Forman: I love vermouth, yes. I love dry vermouth. I think it s a
delicious drink over ice. It s wonderful. I quite agree with
you. That s rare, though. People would not do that, I don t
But where has Chardonnay gone? Chardonnay started by being
a very honest white wine. It was almost always fermented in
stainless steel. It had good balance because we weren t
harvesting it terribly ripe. It wasn t as distinctly varietal in
character as it is today because we weren t harvesting it ripe
enough, but it was a very honest, clean wine that was above the
level of quality and interest of the other white bulk wines that
were being offered.
I guess Chardonnay came first and then Sauvignon Blanc was
really popularized by Bob Mondavi in the mid-sixties. Those were
the two varieties that were interesting. Riesling was being made
by a handful of producers, but it was sweet, and it wasn t too
interesting then and still isn t. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay
really caught on by the mid-sixties. As I say, I think Mondavi
totally is responsible for having Sauvignon Blanc popularized,
with his coining the name "Fume Blanc."
But what has happened to Chardonnay? Well, it has gone from
stainless steel to barrel fermentation. As I mentioned, Dick
Graff and I were some of the first to experiment with barrel
fermentation when we introduced French barrels into California.
So I think the Chalone Winery and Sterling had a lot to do with
people being fascinated with wine fermented in barrels.
At the same time, I think Bob Mondavi was experimenting with
fermenting Chardonnay in barrels, because I know when I was there
we did it. And so, between Freemark Abbey, Bob Mondavi at
Mondavi, and Sterling and Chalone, we all kind of began this
notion that Chardonnay fermented in barrels had some merit. Of
course, that was a big enough sampling so that people indeed liked
it. Wine writers weren t a thing, really, at that time, so it
really had to spread by the individual winery s advertising and by
people liking it.
Slowly but surely, more wineries came onto the scene and
with them, wine writers. Wine writers started talking about these
concepts of barrel fermentation and so forth, and I think it
really snowballed. People got used to the flavor of oak. I think
it was overwhelming in the beginning, but people kind of got used
to it, and they thought that was neat and it was sophisticated.
So barrels quickly spread to every winery that made
Chardonnay. And, of course, wineries were opening up by the
dozens every month, and everybody wanted to make barrel-fermented
Chardonnay by the time 1975 came around. Between 75 and 85, it
was like: how else do you make Chardonnay? Of course you make it
in barrels. Of course you do malolactic.
So there we are. And then Kendall- Jackson came along around
85 and introduced Chardonnay with sugar, and that appealed to
even more. Then all of a sudden, the whole Chardonnay program was
split in two. There were the really fancy, barrel-fermented
Chardonnays, and there were the so-called fancy Chardonnays that
have residual sugar in them. When you look at most of the large
producers of medium-priced Chardonnay, you ll always find them
with a little sugar in them.
Hicke: Is that right?
Forman: Yes. It s just a flavor people now recognize. They re
associating sugar with this richness that comes out of barrel
fermentation and malolactic.
Hicke: It doesn t announce that on the label.
Forman: Both of them make the wine sweet tasting. So I think that s where
Chardonnay has landed. I would hope that people will begin to
realize that it isn t essential that all the times wine go through
malo and that they be so rich and so heavy and that they will
slowly, as they did in the seventies, be weaned from these high-
alcohol Zinfandels, which [chuckling], interestingly enough, we re
getting back into again. And they ll want wines that have better
That happens as you get more sophisticated. The more wine
you drink, the less you want to drink these heavy-handed wines and
the more you want a little something to reach for, and you want
subtleties and balance in your wine instead of the heavy-handed,
The wine writers really are promoting most of this. People
still in America aren t sure of themselves as far as drinking
wine. The minute they get enthusiastic about wine, the first
thing they do is turn to one of the wine reviews, and the wine
reviews, of course, are promoting bigger is better. So it s going
to be a while before people get out of that habit and trust their
Hicke: Why are the wine writers promoting big?
Forman: Because they think big is dazzling, and also, I suppose, you ve
got to realize that these guys are tasting hundreds of wines in a
day, or at least a hundred wines. I don t know if you ve tasted
wines, but I m a professional, as any other winemaker, and eight
wines is about all I can do a really good job on. The minute you
get twenty or thirty or forty lined up, obviously what s going to
hit you is--
Forman: Yes. The only thing you re going to really be able to determine
is what stands out with the most of whatever: the most body, the
most color, the most nose, the most oak, the most something. And
then they get all wrapped up in it. A couple of the really
important ones are very fond of this flavor. They re just excited
about these massive what I call rather obtuse wines. They say
wonderful things about them, that these are the magical, unusual
wines, and people seek them out. They re overwhelmed with them.
They taste it and, of course, the power of suggestion says to
them, "God, he s right. This thing is phenomenal. What an
Does it go with a meal? No. Does 16 percent Zinfandel
really go with a meal? But isn t it still called table wine?
They re show wines. They re something to be dazzled with and to
be excited about. But they aren t really, I think, what the fruit
was intended to be. Well, that s not the case, either. It s
intended to be whatever it wants. But I think if you re going to
drink wine on a regular basis and have it accompany a meal, I
think you ll become tired of these really, really heavy-handed
wines. On occasion, I guess they re fun.
Hicke: Maybe you could go through Cabernet the same as you did with the
Forman: How I produce Cabernet?
Hicke: Well, sort of how it has evolved.
Forman: Yes, of course. Cabernet has been here for a lot longer than
Chardonnay, I think, mainly because of the reputation that
Beaulieu probably gave it. I mean, Beaulieu and Inglenook.
Beaulieu and Inglenook were making wonderful wines.
Hicke: Is that Tchelistcheff ?
Forman: Yes, Tchelistcheff. In the forties. Those wines are still--some
of them are still viable. The Napa Valley started growing
Cabernet probably in the forties. Those two producers did an
incredible job of classic winemaking with the variety, and the
Valley is so well suited to Cabernet that you almost can t miss.
But they on top of it all had very good vineyards and
knowledgeable people making the wine.
Cabernet was known through the efforts of Beaulieu, probably
Inglenook, to a somewhat lesser extent Charles Krug, and Wente in
the Livermore Valley, and Concannon in the Livermore Valley. I m
trying to think of who else was, back in those early days,
producing great wines from Cabernet. I m sure there are some. I
just can t think of them.
And then, of course, by the sixties we had Mondavi again
coming on the scene, Clos du Val, Sterling, Freemark Abbey, and
all of a sudden, new people were arriving. There had been a few
other producers. Heitz certainly was very important earlier than
these. Souverain was an important producer. I don t know why,
but the world just knew about Cabernet from the Napa Valley. I
guess because of Beaulieu. I can t think of any other reason,
really, because it wasn t really written about. But Beaulieu had
developed such a wonderful reputation that it was classic, and
people associated Cabernet right from the forties on with the Napa
Valley, and so when new producers came along, Cabernet was easily
Cabernet wasn t really twisted around in such a fashion as
Chardonnay has been twisted around. Cabernet still is being made
classically. In fact, it s probably being made more classically.
Beaulieu always used American oak. The newer producers were using
the barrels that Sterling, Dick and I were selling and some of the
barrels that Robert Mondavi was importing from Demptos . So the
introduction of French barrels, Bordeaux barrels, in the late
sixties and early seventies was probably the most important thing
that altered Cabernet slightly from its previous standards of
production at the other wineries.
But then, I think, people were concentrating more on
viticulture, realizing that low yields were important. We were
opening up new areas. Some of the old hillside vineyards that had
old varietiesPetite Sirah and things that had been abandoned
were opened up. This was exciting. New people were buying old
wineries. Like, the Araujos would buy the Eisele Vineyard, and
Phelps came along and bought some fancy land, and Freemark Abbey
would promote the Bosche Vineyard. Sterling opened up the Diamond
Mountain Ranch up in the hills there.
So all of this slowly took place, and before you knew it, we
had instead of four main producers, we had forty producers, many
of them with wonderful new vineyards, adding Merlot to the wines
at the lead of Sterling; adding Cabernet Franc finally in the end
of the seventies. Not until the nineties did we introduce Petit
Verdot, but paying attention to what was done in Bordeaux.
Cabernet has reached unbelievable heights of quality in the
Napa Valley, so much so that it challenges Cabernet made anywhere
in the world, including the great Cabernets made in Bordeaux. I
don t think they taste necessarily like Bordeaux, but they have
the same quality. They have perhaps more richness because of our
ability to achieve full ripeness here, but the quality of some of
the top, say, forty producers in California of Cabernet is as good
as any wine made in the world.
So we ve really come a long ways with all of the aspects of
growing and winemaking.
What about your own methods?
As we mentioned earlier, I ve been a strict, sort of classical
producer in the sense of traditional methods, gained through my
visits and insight and studying in Bordeaux. 1 was convinced
that, certainly, the area and the grape clones and varieties and
soil and climate, by and large, made a big difference in why
Bordeaux wine tasted the way it did.
But I was also fascinated and felt that at least a part of
that quality had to do with how the wine was made, and so I paid
close attention and came home and at Sterling started using these
techniques. Again, the French barrels played a big part--how the
barrels were used. A lot of people in the early days didn t
understand how to use the barrels. They would put clean wine in
the new barrels. They didn t know how to wash the barrels out,
and they wondered why the wine instantly turned just so oak-y they
couldn t get near it.
I was willing to take chances and put unfiltered or
unsettled wine into new barrels, and the results were good. 1
believe that more general intervention into the wine handling was
important, so I adopted the technique of barrel-to-barrel racking
with air pressure, rather than using pumps. That was important,
and I think that added a subtle difference to the quality.
I was fascinated with the egg-white fining technique and
thought that it would probably work well in barrels, as opposed to
big tanks, and so I introduced egg-white fining in barrels. I
think that added a slight factor of quality to the wine.
What else? I think the blending of Merlot, Franc, Cabernet,
and Petit Verdot was a big step forward as far as complexity is
concerned in California. And then also concentrating on the
specific little vineyards, which had nuances of quality that were
distinct and worth capturing and leaving on their own, rather than
mass blending a number of vineyards for a standard quality every
year had a big effect, and it certainly did at Sterling, as it has
at my winery here.
Vineyard Management Tools
Forman: I think one of the things that we re doing now that we didn t do
quite as rigorously or didn t quite understand in the sixties and
seventies is the level of maturity and the crop level and the
trellising systems that are necessary to produce ultimate quality
off of some of these already fantastic pieces of soil. We talked
a little bit earlier about the introduction of vertical trellises.
I think that s having a big effect.
We now know, through the university s studies and through
what they ve done in Bordeaux and through our experiences, that
sunlight is important in how it plays on the leaf surface of the
vines and on the fruit itself. We re spending a great deal of
money designing trellis systems to maximize the effect of light on
the fruit. We re realizing that you can t just put huge amounts
of crop on a vine. In that vein, we re cutting back on crop load
and actually adding density to vineyards so that single vines
don t have to carry such a huge load of fruit. We ve gone from
the normal 400 vines to the acre up to as much as 2,000 vines to
We ve added vertical trellises. We re using, where
necessary, leafing techniques to expose fruit to more sunlight.
The crops have come from the eight tons to the acre down to three
tons to the acre. Judicial use of fertilizers and/or drip
irrigation has made a big difference. You can control the
conditions of the vine. More fine tuning with drip than you had
with sprinkler irrigation, which caused problems with mildew and
Then realizing that this fruit, if it s going to have that
deliciously rich character that we re after, has to be fully
mature. We re understanding the tannin structure of wines, and
the level of maturity that s necessary to produce this soft tannin
and supple fruit character out of the wine, as opposed to the kind
of hard, green tannins that you d get if you picked Cabernet too
I think the wines have taken a major step in quality because
of all of this, in the last probably five to eight years.
Forman Vineyard; Present and Future
Hicke: You wanted to finish with where you saw Forman Vineyard going,
especially what your son s ideas are and where you saw the
Forman: Okay. Well, I ve been making wine for thirty-two years. I m
certainly not running out of steam, but I would like some
assistance, I think. It s hard for me to do that. I never really
could delegate things too readily in any place I ve worked--
Newton, Sterling or certainly here. And here it s gone in the
reverse. At Sterling at least I had a cellar crew, which
obviously one had to have with a capacity that big. But I came
here and I have no cellar crew. I do hire people to help me when
I have a job, but I do an awful lot of it on my own. I m thinking
that at some point I ve got to have an assistant here to do some
of the things .
It s fortunate that my son, Toby, who is only twenty- two
years old and still in school, is really interested in the
business. I think what would be funbecause he s very mechanical
and he s very excited about farming. He s interested in the
winery, but to a lesser degree in the winery; he s more interested
in viticulture. I would be interested in having Toby--and he s
very excited about itdevelop a small farming company whereby he
could take on small vineyards.
I don t think he s anxious to do a huge operation in the way
that David Abreu does, but have a small team of people and do some
small vineyards take care of them in a very meticulous fashion,
and then also take care of my vineyard, which would be so nice, to
have a permanent crew that I could consistently count on--not that
I don t with David, but I think it would be important as time goes
on to have a crew that is really mine run the vineyard and have
Toby be able to take care of that crew and to allow the crew
enough to do to take on a few satellite properties. That would be
the answer to a prayer for me. It would be wonderful.
And then I would envision training this crew to actually
work in the cellar when cellar work was needed, so that they were
ongoing, knowing how the process goes, and Toby could watch over
them and help, and I would then get relieved from some of the
pressure of doing so much of it on my own, by myself.
And then I carried it a step further and I talked with Toby.
I said, "You know, what would happen if we did sort of like what
Christian Moueix does in Bordeaux, different than him in the fact
that he owns all of the properties that he manages, but the same
in the way that he manages the properties. Suppose we went to
these little producers of vineyards and said to them, It doesn t
make much sense for you all to sell grapes anymore 1 "--and that s
another point that we can make: I don t think in the future you
will see any straight farmerhow shall we term it? people
farming land and selling grapes. I think farmers will all be
vintners because you can t make enough money farming grapes
So we go to these little people who are buying these small
properties and say, "We ll manage your vineyard for you, but also
we ll help design which I m very capable of and have fun doing-
design a small winery for you, and we ll manage the winery as
well. Our crew can go from one place to the next, run your little
two-, three-, four-thousand-case winery, run your little
vineyard." I would supervise the people that we choose. We d
have to have a pretty good winemaker involved on the team.
I think it could be a very interesting business that Toby
could grow with, I could have fun with, they could come back and
do the physical work here, and I could do, finally, just the
mental work of making sure that all was going right and how it all
will run. I see that perhaps as the evolution of Forman Vineyard.
As far as making more wine, we have space because I like
space. I ve developed a large space to make a small quantity of
wine. You ve been through the cellars. You ve seen no barrels
stacked. Everything I have is one barrel high. In the tunnels, a
hundred barrels long and not one barrel on top of each other. So
I could double the capacity of the winery, but I don t really
think I d want to do that. I think I d rather keep the winery as
it is, perhaps grow it to the point of maybe 10 to 20 percent more
and leave it at that, and instead, grow the business as it sees
fit, with Toby s capacity to grow it with a management team.
Hicke: Would you envision most of this being in the Napa Valley?
Forman: Oh, I think it would all be in the Napa Valley. Yes, I wouldn t
go outside the Napa Valley. You have a lot of people who have
moved to the Valley whose dream is to run this little winery and
vineyard. They re just dying to do it. They re lined up in long
lines, literally, and will pay anything to get into this
situation. And so you will see these little places. They re
going to pay dearly for it, but they re also going to want it
managed properly. And they won t want to just sell grapes; they
all want to make wine ultimately, maybe a thousand cases, two
thousand cases. And that could be done.
We, I think, could do a very good job for them, and they
would have a lot of fun with it. So it s an idea. Where it will
go, I don t know. It all depends on Toby--if he wants to, it
will; if he doesn t, it s fine. We won t do it. I can manage
this and eventually hire some people to run it when I get tired of
running it and have it run perfectly.
Wine Industry Overview
Hicke: Okay, what about the industry?
Forman: Where will the industry go? I think I touched on that in saying
that I don t think you re going to see many growers as strict
growers anymore. I think you re going to see totally, every
vineyard owned and operated by a winery.
Hicke: And that s, again, in the Napa Valley.
Forman: In the Napa Valley, but I think you ll see it spread probably, as
things happen. It goes from the Napa Valley to the Sonoma Valley,
there and beyond. We re discovering that the price of labor and,
as we go from wide-spaced vineyards to tightly spaced vineyards,
that the cost of farming is so high that you can t charge enough
for the fruit to justify the farming costs anymore. It simply
doesn t work. David and I have the Thorvilos Vineyard, which we
own in conjunction together, above the winery. It s a beautiful
vineyardclose spaced, vertically trellised--and it costs us
close to $12,000 an acre a year to run it.
You can charge $5,000 a ton, but the people that are going
to pay $5,000 a ton don t want it grown at more than three tons to
the acre, and so $3,000 an acre isn t very exciting to take the
Hicke: There s a little disparity there.
Forman: Yes, to take the risks that you take, it doesn t make sense. So
we don t know what we re going to do with it. We re contemplating
forming a winery around Thorvilos. I really don t want to do
that, but it s crazy. We can t make any money fanning it. And
everybody else is realizing the same thing. And people who are
getting into the business and thinking they re going to go out and
find good fruit, it won t exist anymore. Good fruit is all going
to be taken by growers who have formed their own business in a
winery or vintners who have locked up long-term growerswell, but
that s really not the case, though, because that s contrary to
what I just said. Vintners won t be able to go out and buy fruit
unless they own the vineyard. I don t think it will be available
anymore. Wineries will own their own vineyards. Growers won t
exist. It ll take probably another ten years, but I ll bet you in
ten years you won t see any growers.
Hicke: What s that going to do to the marketing and distribution?
Forman: Well, it depends on whether the growers can make decent wine.
That s a problem it s kind of fun to think about. Established
wineries with good reputations know how to make good wine. Do
they know how to convince growers to grow good fruit? Some do,
some don t. It depends on what they re willing to pay and what
their management is able to do as far as supervising the growers
they have contracts with.
On the other hand, if a grower is going to decide to make
wine, it s probably going to affect the way he grows grapes. All
of a sudden, he s not going to try to squeeze the last grape out
of his vineyard, because he s now not trying to make money from
the vineyard per se; he s trying to make money from the wine. So
I think the quality of the fruit will be raised, the quantity will
be decreased- -but again, will the grower know how to make wine?
Some of them will, some of them won t. It depends on who they re
willing to hire and how they re willing to do it.
There seems to be a new wave of very talented winemakers,
consultants, out there. It s kind of a new business. They re
beginning to be kind of like almost cult superstar people that go
from place to place. I think there will be an increased number of
capable winemakers--well, this is the sort of project that I m
saying that I d like to do with Toby.
I think the fruit quality would be raised dramatically in
the Valley because growers won t be growers anymore; they will be
dependent on their wine selling as wine, not grapes. So the
quality of the fruit will be raised, the quantity will be
decreased because the yield will have to be decreased, and there
will be new labels. I don t know how we ll absorb new labels,
but--you know, we ve got many four or five hundred in the Napa
You look at Bordeaux alone. They ve got 4,000, another
4,000 or 5,000 in Burgundy, another 4,000 or 5,000 in all the
other areas. So there are hundreds of thousands of labels in
France alone, not to mention Italy and all else. So can the Napa
Valley go from 400 labels to 900 labels? Easily. Absolutely no
Hicke: It s going to produce a lot more wine writers to cover all this
Forman: Yes. Well, wine writers are drooling at it because they ve got
more to write about. Next year there s another ten new ones,
another hundred new ones. Always something new to talk about.
Forman: So I think it s positive. I think that people are beginning to
become a little more sophisticated on wine. The wine consumers
are becoming more sophisticated, partly because of the wine
writers and partly because the word of mouth is spreading. Your
neighbor is drinking wine. Well, let s try it. And they try it,
they like it, they get into wine clubs. It s the new thing to do.
I think their affluence has a lot to do with it. The world has
never been more affluent in history. Affluence means you can
afford to buy pleasurable things, and wine is a pleasurethe
high-priced wine is. As it is in Europe, it s not a food staple;
it s a luxurythe high-priced wine, anyway. There seem to be an
unlimited number of people out there that are willing to
experiment with this new-found luxury.
Hicke: It has an intellectual challenge to it as well, as we discussed.
Forman: A little bit, yes. It does appeal to people. It s not
homogenized milk; it s different every year. It has personality.
Hicke: Glamour, too.
Forman: Yes, it s fun. It s definitely fun. So I see a very bright
future for it. I think as the economy takes its cycles, the wine
business will, of course, follow right in hand, but it s cyclical,
and it s not going away. This progression of quality and winery-
owned vineyards or vineyard wineries will be a thing that will
develop and will be here forever. The face will change, and I ll
bet you in fifteen to twenty years, there will definitely be a
finite number of vineyards planted, because there s only so much
land here, and they will all have labels attached to them.
The next step will be fine-tuning the appellations and what
they really mean, and you will pretty soon see the Cabernet
varieties and the Chardonnay exclusively, and perhaps Pinot Noir.
I don t think you ll see much Sauvignon Blanc. You ll see none of
the other varieties. I don t even think Zinfandel will exist here
for very much longer. I think it will be Pinot Noir, Cabernet
varieties, and Chardonnay. And that s all you ll see in the Napa
Valley. Pretty soon, from Napa north will be all Cabernet
varieties and from Napa south will be all Chardonnay and Pinot
Noir, and we will be as delimited as France. That s where it ll
be. That s what s coming, in my view.
What about Merlot?
No, I say the Cabernet varieties. I mean Cabernet, Merlot, Blanc,
and Petit Verdot. North of Napa, that s all you ll see. You
won t see any other grape here. And then south of there you ll
see Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. And that s all you ll have. And
Sonoma will follow in another ten years with the same thing.
Well, you re on the right track. I think that s a good place to
Have we missed anything crucial?
Oh, I don t think so.
Thanks so much for a really informative and insightful series of
Transcribed by Him Eisenberg
Final Typed by Shannon Page
TAPE GUIDE--Richard Forman
Interview 1: February 24, 1999
Tape 1, Side A !
Tape 1, Side B 12
Tape 2, Side A 2 4
Interview 2: February 25, 1999
Continue Tape 2, Side A 30
Tape 2, Side B 36
Tape 3, Side A 47
Tape 3, Side B 57
Interview 3: March 3, 1999
Tape 4, Side A 66
Tape 4, Side B 75
Tape 5, Side A 35
Tape 5, Side B 95
Interview 4: April 19, 1999
Tape 6, Side A
Tape 6, Side B
Tape 7, Side A 122
Tape 7, Side B not recorded
Forman Vineyards Publicity
FORMAN VINEYARD HISTORY
I founded Forman Vineyard in 1983 to fulfill a dream of producing, as a sole proprietor,
small quantities of classically made Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
After a 3 year search of the Napa Valley for the perfect location, I purchased, in 1978, the
current winery/vineyard site which is perched on a ridge at the base of Howell Mountain
overlooking the town of St. Helena. A remarkable site, it has since produced some unusually
elegant wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.
The Chardonnay is grown in a vineyard in Rutherford named appropriately "Rutherford
Star". Founded as a partnership venture, the vineyard has, due to its prime location and deep
gravel loam profile, produced consistent quality.
The soil is the essence of a wine s finesse. The Cabernet vineyard below the winery is
boldly surrounded by a shelf of massive grey volcanic rock which protects and moderates the
climate in this tiny "clos de la roche". The exposure is multifaceted due to the rolling terraced
layout. The vineyard radiates in the sun showing its unusually distinct pink color. It is a very
austere soil made up of pink volcanic gravel, sand and a sparse bit of humus. When cultivated, it
folds as though it was sugar displaying its remarkable friability and hence its propensity to drain
well allowing vine roots to search for their existence. It is in these rare soils and in the sublime
Napa Valley climate that the wines are made.
A philosophy of winemaking which follows more a traditional approach as opposed to
technological appealed to me early in my career. I would say that a familiarity with European
tradition has seriously influenced my style and hence the fashion with which I designed and built
Grapes are gently handled from harvest thru fermentation. Small stainless steel fermentors
for red wines and new Burgundy barrels for white seem fitting for the need to pay close attention to
detail during the winemaking process.
Deep caves have been constructed which maintain a cool dark and humid environment in
which to age red wines in new French oak barrels. The wines literally age in the soils from which
they grew. The integration of the small stone cellar settled in the hillside surrounded by a
courtyard and in touch with the deep caves below set a mood which would recall that of a tiny
Thus, with a wonderfully situated vineyard and deliberately planned cellar, I am fulfilling
my dream and am constantly vigilant in personally making sure that each step is uncompromised in
the pursuit of producing the finest quality possible from my estate.
1501 BIG ROCK RD. P.O. BOX 343 . ST. HELENA. CA 94574 TELEPHONE (707) 963-0234 FAX (707) 963-5384
Wine Spectator s
by James Laube
St Helena, Napa Valley F: 1983. 0: Richard Forman.
W: Richard Forman. S: Chateau La Grande Roche.
OVERALL $23-30 *****
Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley *****
Chardonnay Napa Valley *****
Chateau La Grande Roche Pinot Noir, Napa Valley **
C: 4,000. V: 86 acres in St. Helena, Napa valley, Rutherford. G:
Chardonnay (43 acres). Cabernet Sauvignon (30), Merlot (7),
Cabernet Franc (3), Petite verdot (2). P: None.
Ric Forman has filled his life wall to wall with Napa Valley
wine and has had a hand in developing many important wines.
While a student at U.C. Davis, he worked at Stony Hill, the fa
mous Chardonnay estate. After school he worked briefly at Robert
Mondavi Winery. In 1968 he was hired at age 24 to be wine-
maker for the new Sterling Vineyards winery, where he worked
until 1978, in the process developing new wines such as
Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot while defining the Sterling Reserve
Cabernets. After Sterling he had a brief stint at Newton before
starting his own winery in the hills east of St. Helena near the
Forman has acquired 86 acres of vineyard, mostly Chardonnay
and Cabernet, and his focus is on those two wines. His Cabernet
(2,200 cases) is a Bordeaux-style blend containing Merlot and
Cabernet Franc. He makes 1,800 cases of his estate-grown
Chardonnay. Both wines show a definite house style that s very
consistent. The Cabernet aims for finesse and understated fla
vors, rarely overwhelms but charms with its subtlety and grace.
His Chardonnay is one of the few left in Napa that doesn t u:
dergo malolactic fermentation, the goal (which he achieves) b
ing a longer-lived wine that develops character and complex!
in the bottle.
WINERY STAR RATING
5 Star *****
Araujo Estate Wines
Au Bon Climat
Delia Valle Vineyards
Diamond Creek Vineyards
Gary Farrell Wines
Grace Family Vineyards
Matanzas Creek Winery
Robert Mondavi Winery
Patz & Hall Wine Co.
J. Rochioli Vineyard
San ford Winery
S potts woode Winery
Williams & Selyem Winery
CABERNET SAUVIGNON NAPA VALLEY
(*****): Packs in lots of complex flavors, but fi
nesse and grace are its signature. Ages very well.
1992: Weaves together a pretty- array of ripe cherry,
currant and spicy oak flavors, with an earthy edge.
Very well focused, young and vibrant, but in need of
cellaring until 1999 or so. 92
1991 : Inky and raw like a barrel sample, but it serves
up lots of concentrated currant, spice and cherry fla
vors, finishing with a peppery, tannic edge. 89
1990: Sleek and elegant, with tight, firm, focused herb,
currant, cedar and spice flavors. This youthful and con
centrated wine finishes with fine tannins, but needs
short-term cellaring to soften and develop. 90
1989: Ripe and supple, a fleshy wine with a soft tex
ture and enough backbone to carry the currant and
spice flavors. It hints at anise and herbs, but remains
1988: Solid tea, black cherry and currant flavors are
backed by strong, rich tannins; shows more depth and
concentration than most 88s. Picks up an herbal, oaky
note on the aftertaste. 88
1987: Ripe and intense, with concentrated currant,
cherry, cedar and spice flavors that are tightly wound,
firm and tannin Has a supple, smooth texture before
the tannins build up. 93
1986: A beautifully sculpted wine, rich and cedary,
with vibrant currant, plum and spice flavors that are
lean and concentrated, finishing with firm tannins. 93
1985: Very rich and cedary, with a touch of elegance
and finesse and deep currant, spice and plum flavors.
Finishes with fine, smooth tannins; it s focused long
and complex. 93
1984: Rich, forward and delicious, a splendid Cabernet
with supple, layered black cherry, currant and anise
flavors framed by toasty oak and smooth tannins. 92
1983: Mature and drinking well, holding its core of
rich, complex currant, berry and spice flavors. 90
CHARDONNAY NAPA VALLEY (*****):
Starts out crisp and tight, but blossoms in the bottle,
showing flinty apple and citrus notes.
1992: Crisp and lean, with lots of spice notes, but also
sharply focused apple, pear and nectarine flavors. 89
1991: Tart, lean and crisp, with spicy lemon, honey,
pear and toast notes. Youthful, concentrated and full
of flavor, but will require time to open and be more
1990: Tight, firm and crisp, with intense, focused pear,
pineapple, peach and citrus flavors and a pretty over
lay of toasty, buttery oak notes. 90
1989: Tight and tart, with melon, pear, citrus and but
terscotch flavors that are ripe and attractive, finishing
with good length. 88
1988: Intense, concentrated and complex, with pear,
pineapple, spicy oak, peach and vanilla notes that gain
prominence on the finish. 92
1987: Plenty of fresh, ripe pear, spice, butter and toast
notes that are long and tasty. 89
1986: Toasty and smoky, with richness, depth and
intensity and a smooth, silky texture to the ripe lemon,
pear, butterscotch and smoke notes. 92
1985: Amazing for its depth, intensity and sheer el
egance, offering great complexity, with tiers of rich,
toasty butterscotch, honey, citrus and spice flavors.
CHATEAU LA GRANDE ROCHE PINOT NOIR
NAPA VALLEY (**):
1991: Rich, full-bodied, complex and flavorful. The
spicy, smoky cherry and plum flavors are long on the
finish. Supple enough to drink now, but has the depth
to cellar through 1998. 85
CALIFORNIA S TOP
It was only a few years ago that America s wine
writers were announcing that mature California
cabernets were not worth their storage costs.
With the continued very dramatic growth of
Butterfield s San Francisco auctions, there is now
a good supply of mature California cabernet
sauvignon arriving on the market so that buyers
can see for themselves just how well these wines
age. The willingness of buyers to spend hard
earned cash for properly matured California
cabernets indicates that these wines deserve a
place in the best wine cellars.
We first constructed a ranking of California s
top cabernets seven years ago. We used a simple,
tried and true test to determine our ranking: we
based our ranking on the prices the wines fetched
in arm s length transactions in the auction rooms.
Instead of using the size of a winery s advertising
budget, or the ratings of a few wine writers (no
doubt influenced by the same budgets and boon
doggles), we rank the wines based on what con
sumers are prepared to pay in order to drink the
mature wines. This is the method that was used
to construct the original ranking of the top wines
of Bordeaux in 1855.
We have developed a new ranking to show the
extraordinary changes that have taken place over
the past seven years in California. For one thing,
many of the top wines today (Opus I, Caymus
Special Selection, Dunn Howell Mountain) barely
existed eight years ago. In addition, many long
time favorites (Trefethen, Mt. Eden Vineyard,
Martini) have lost so much visibility that they
no longer make the list of wines that sell regu
larly at auction. Finally, some familiar wineries
of a decade ago (Inglenook) no longer exist at
How the Ranking Was Made
We prepared our ranking of California
cabernet sauvignon producers by comparing the
prices of all the mature wines sold at auction in
the last year. This provided us with data on over
2,000 transactions, a dramatic increase in the to
tal auction sales of these wines over previous
years. We compared wines from the same vin
tage sold in San Francisco (accounting for over
one-half the cabernet sold), Chicago, and New
York. Sales of California cabernet sauvignon in
the auctions of London and Amsterdam are neg
NEW CALIFORNIA CABERNET SAUVIGNON CLASSIFICATION
Based on Prices of Vintages from 1968 through 1985
Rank, Vineyard & Price as a Percent of Beaulieu Vyds. Private Reserve
1. Caymus Special Selection 366%
2. Opus I 242
3. Stag s Leap Wine Clrs. Csk. 23 239
4. Dunn Howell Mountain 215
5. Heitz Martha s Vineyard 206
6. Spottswoode Napa 172
7. Ridge Monte Bello 155
8. Silver Oak Napa 150
9. Dunn Napa
10. Beringer Reserve Napa
11. Chateau Montelena Napa
12. Dominus Napa
13. Silver Oak Alexander Valley
14. Joseph Phelps Insignia
15. Forman Napa
FORMAN WINERY (NAPA)
Cabernet Sauvignon ****, Chardonnay ****
1991 Cabernet Sauvignon
1990 Cabernet Sauvignon
Rick Forman continues to be one of the best practi
tioners of nonmalolactic-fermented Chardonnay. The
1992 Chardonnay possesses excellent purity, ripe fruit,
medium body, and a crisp, tart, tasty finish. It is a
delicious, lively Chardonnay for drinking over the next
1-2 years. For readers information, a vertical tasting
of the Forman Chardonnays from the mid-eighties
through recent releases poignantly revealed that (1)
they survive as they get older, (2) they become greener
and more Sauvignon-like with each additional year
of cellaring, and (3) because of the green, tart acidity
that develops, they are far less enjoyable after 2-3 years
of cellaring than when they are young. For these rea
sons, I recommend drinking them within their first
several years of life.
Forman s 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon (packaged in a
heavy, broad-shouldered bottle) may be the most im
pressive Cabernet he has made. The wine s softer,
fleshier palate suggests a lighter hand in acidification.
The saturated black/ruby/purple color is followed by
copious aromas of wonderfully rich and ripe cassis
intertwined with vague mineral and vanilla scents. Full
bodied, with terrific richness, layers of fruit, and a
multidimensional personality, this gorgeously made,
opulent Cabernet Sauvignon can be drunk now or
cellared for 15-20 years. Forman s 1990 Cabernet
Sauvignon is a deep purple-colored wine displaying
a supe rex press ive nose of black currants, licorice, and
vanillin. With a beautifully etched, medium- to
full-bodied feel, exquisite concentration, decent acid
ity, and firm but soft, sweet tannins, this is a graceful,
authoritatively flavored Cabernet for drinking over the
next 12- 15 years.
Wine Spectator Yearbook
by James Laube
Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 1992 $30
The name of Fonnan has been associated with great
Napa Cabernet for decades and this 92 Cab will only
add to winemaker Rick Forman s prestige. This is an
intense wine that weaves together an array of gorgeous
fruit character and spicy oak flavors along with a good
backbone of ripe tannins. Wait until 1999 to try it
(2,000 cases made)
SELECTED FROM THE HIGHEST-RATED, MOST WIDELY AVAILABLE WINES REVIEWED IN 1995.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 1992 $30
Weaves together an array of ripe cherry, currant, and
spicy oak flavors, and adds a trim of earthy charac
ter. Well focused, young and vibrant
Chardonnay Napa Valley 1994 $23
A delicious young wine that balances intensity with
elegance in a ripe, fruity, moderately rich wine. Fea
tures ripe pear, spice, melon and fig notes, finishing
with toasty oak and smoky nuances.
Best recent vintages 7992 (93), 1991 (89),
Owner Ric Fonman
Winemaker Ric Fonnan
Greatest older vintages 7957, 1986, 1985,
When phylloxera began to spread in the late
1980s and early 1990s, Ric Fonnan figured he d
have to replant his Cabernet vineyard and buy
grapes, which would have changed his wine style.
Phylloxera never really took hold in his gravelly
vineyard and the vines have remained healthy,
leading to a string of fine vintages from 1990 to
1992. Forman aims for elegance and finesse with
his Cabernet and the wine is usually marked by
fine detail and tannins. But they can be big, too;
the 1991 was dense and chewy on release. The
1992 has in it small amounts of Merlot and
Cabernet Franc, and it s bright, rich and lively.
Some 25 percent of the Forman Cabernet comes
from a Thorvilos Vineyard, which he co-owns
with Dave Abreu. It lies adjacent to his main
vineyard at the base of Howell Mountain.
Araujo Eisele Vineyard
Beaulieu Private Reserve
Beringer Private Reserve
Caymus Special Selection
The Montelena Estate
Dalla Valle Napa Valley and Maya
Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow,
Red Rock and Volcanic Hill
Dominus Napa Valley
Duckhorn Napa Valley
Dunn Howell Mountain
Flora Springs Reserve
Forman Napa Valley
Grace Napa Valley
Heitz Martha s Vineyard
The Hess Collection Napa
Valley and Reserve
Robert Mondavi Reserve
Opus One Napa Valley
Joseph Phelps Insignia
Ridge Monte Bello
Shater Stags Leap
Silverado Limited Reserve
Spottswoode Napa Valley
Stag s Leap Wine Cellars
Robert M. Parker, Jr. s
Independent consumer s bimonthly guide to Fine Wine
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1991 CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Rick Forman continues to be one of the best practi
tioners of non-malolactic Chardonnay. The 1992
Chardonnay possesses exellent purity, ripe fruit,
medium body, and a crisp, tart, tasty finish. It is a
delicious, lively Chardonnay for drinking over the
next 1-2 years. For readers information, a vertical
tasting of the Forrnan Chardonnays from the mid-
eighties through recent releases poignantly revealed
that (1) they survive as they get older, (2) they
become greener and more Sauvignon-like with each
additional year of cellaring, and (3) because of the
green, tart acidity that dominates, they are far less
enjoyable after 2-3 years of cellaring than when
they are young. For these reasons, I recommend
drinking them within their first several years of life.
Forman s 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon (packaged
in a heavy, broad-shouldered bottle) may be the
most impressive Cabernet he has made. The wine s
softer, fleshier palate suggests a lighter hand in
acidification. The saturated black/ruby/purple color
is followed by copious aromas of wonderfully rich
and ripe cassis, intertwined with vague mineral and
vanilla scents. Full-bodied, with terrific richness,
layers of fruit, and a multidimensional personality,
this gorgeously made, opulent Cabernet Sauvignon
can be drunk now or cellared for 15-20 years.
Robert M. Parker, Jr. s
Independent consumer s bimonthly guide to Fine Wine
1994 CABERNET SAUVIGNON
NAPA (not yet released)
1993 CABERNET SAUVIGNON
1992 CABERNET SAUVIGNON
NAPA (not yet released)
It seems like yesterday that Ric Forman began his career,
yet he is now one of California s veteran wine-makers.
From his early days (nearly 20 years ago) at Sterling he
has built an impressive resumed The proprietor of
beautiful vineyards tucked high in the hills between the
Silverado Trail and Conn Valley, he has launched a new
wine, a Merlot from a vineyard called Thorvilos, that he
developed along with the well-known viticulturist David
Abreu. The 1995, which had just finished malolactic
fermentation, blew me away, but the wine will not be in
the marketplace for several years. The 1994 Merlot s
arrival is more imminent. It is a seductive, wonderfully
ripe, rich, nicely textured, full-bodied, exquisitely pure
wine with berry/mocha-like flavors. It should drink well
for 12-15 years. It is the first vintage for Forman s
The 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon (80% Cabernet
Sauvignon / 20% Cabernet Franc) is a sweet, broad,
gorgeously pure and well-delineated wine with an
opaque purple color. It is typical of many Forman
Cabernets - rich but gracefully constructed, without any
excess. All of its components - fruit, glycerin, acidity,
alcohol and wood - are beautifully balanced and inte
grated. It will-drink well young and last for 20+ years.
The 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon is a more muscular
wine, with considerable tannin (sweet rather than
astringent), full body, outstanding ripeness, admirable
purity, and a long, textured structured finish. Although
approachable, 3-4 years of cellaring are warranted. It,
too, is a 20-year wine. The 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon is
beginning to shut down and reveal more tannin. Some of
the baby fat and thickness have taken a back seat to the
wine s more structured aspects. Rich and full-bodied, it
is less flattering and showy than when I first tasted it. It
possesses outstanding concentrations, as well as the
potential for 20+ years of evolution.
Like Chateau Montelena and Stony Hill, Forman is one
of the few members of the old school of California
Chardonnay wine-making. Harvesting very ripe fruit,
blocking any malolactic fermentation (which means the
wine has to be sterile filtered). Ric Forman produces a
crisp, honeyed-apple, spring flower blossom-scented
wine, that epitomizes the natural fruit character of the
Chardonnay varietal. It is always an elegant, graceful
wine that offers a Chablis-like alternative to the fatter,
more creamy-textured, malolactic Chardonnays. Forman
was generous enough to do a vertical tasting of his
Chardonnays to try and convince me of their ageabilty.
Certainly the effects of sterile filtration preclude the
possibility of any real bouquet development. Older
Chardonnays that were still in good shape, such as 1984,
1985, and 1986 revealed no aromatics. but on the palate
they possessed various degrees of honeyed apple and
citrusy fruit, as well as fresh and lively personalities. But
if readers are "nose* people who like to be set up and
seduced by a wine s aromatics, they will likely be
disappointed by the old, stale paper-scented bouquets.
Nevertheless, these wines do hold up in the mouth. I
suspect most malolactic Chardonnays would be dead at
age 10, but how important is ageability in Chardonnays.
I drink many of my California Chardonnays within hours
of purchase! Tel. (707) 963-0234, Fax (707) 963-5384
Closing Date: 12-23-95
A DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO THE WORLD
FINEST WINES AND SPIRITS
noDucio * omro v FOKMAN VINEYARD. XT. HELENA. CA
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Ric Norman has been producing consistently
fine Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay at
his winery on Howell Mountain since 1982. His
1991 and 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon were both
outstanding, as was his 1992 Chardonnay. To
get on his mailing list, write 1501 Big Rock
Road, St. Helena, CA 94574.
1994 Chardonnay. Bottled, Not Released.
Lovely perfume and flavors of apple, vanilla,
tropical fruit and floral undertone. Elegant,
crisp, great style. Lovely. (18)
1993 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
Bottled not released.
Lovely perfume of cassis, cedar, vanilla and
chocolate. Similar flavors. Elegant, lovely fruit
refined, soft tannins. Terrific. (OP) (VGP)
1994 Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep fruit, full
complex, tannic finish. (OP)
1994 Merlot Lovely fruit, supple, delicious.
Sure to be lovely. (OP)
The 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon NapaValley is
deeply perfumed with blackberry cassis, spice
cedar and vanilla. It has lots of rich fruit, simi
lar to the nose, on the palate that is balanced,
full complex and structured. A superb
Cabernet and a worthy match for the stunning
1991 - Ric Forman s on a roll (18 1/2).
The 1993 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley has
lovely fragrances and flavors of citrus, vanilla
and melon. It is rounded, fruity, with a nice,
crisp finish a lovely Sauvignon Blanc (17). $14
noouciD * iOT-njD n POUIAN vmmw>. ST. HOENX CA
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Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1992 $30
An intense wine that weaves together a pretty array
of ripe cherry, currant and spicy oak flavors, and
adds a trim of earthy character. Very well focused,
young and vibrant, but needs at least until 1999 to
open up. Tasted twice, with consistent notes.
2,000 cases made.
Chardonnay Napa Valley 1994 $23
A delicious young wine that balances intensity with
elegance in a ripe, fruity, moderately rich style.
Features ripe pear, spice, melon and fig notes,
finishing with toasty oak and smoky nuances.
1,800 cases made.
Stephen Tanzer s
the consumer s passport to fine wine
Ric Forman makes a consistently stylish,
rather understated cabernet that actually comple
ments food. It is a wine that typically combines
California fruit and French restraint never a
massive cabernet, although the infant 94 displays
some of the density of this highly successful
vintage. Forman s no-malolactic chardonnay,
which often shows a steely Chablis-like quality,
similarly works well at the table in contrast to so
many heavily oaked, butterscotch-and-tropical
fruit examples from Napa Valley. Forman also
offers a small quantity of sauvignon blanc, and
begining with 94 will bottle a varietal merlot from
his own vineyard.
1994 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Vallev (includes
petit verdot, cabernet franc and merlot): Good fresh
deep red. Reticent licorice scent. Sweet, fat and
(atypically) dense; really quite a big boy. Seemed
considerably more concentrated than a mouthfilling
and more aromatically expressive sample of 94
merlot from barrel. Long, sweet aftertaste, with the
tannins buried in fruit. 91-94. 1993 Cabernet
Sauvignon Napa Vallev: Very good red-ruby. Per
fumed, sappy, black cherry aroma. Lush, gentle, and
smaller-scaled than the 94 more typical of the
Forman style. Rather closed on the palate today.
Shows a firmer structure and a tannic edge today
because the wine is not as densely packed as the
above. 89-91. 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa
Vallev ($33): Very good deep red. Bright, perfumed
aromas of black fruit, coffee and chocolate; smells
riper than the 93. Lush and concentrated, with
notes of super-ripeness but also very good grip.
Long, ripely tannic aftertaste. Closer to 94 than 93
in style. Has a Me"doc-like suavity. 91. 1994
Chardonnav Napa Vallev (approx. $25): Pale color.
Subtle nose combines acacia flower, honey and wet
hay aromas I always associate with ripe Chablis.
Excellent intensity and freshness of flavor, but
acidity seems lower than in the more penetrating
93. This is fatter and broader-shouldered than the
93 and should be accessible earlier on. 89-90. 1994
Sauvignon Blanc Napa Vallev ($15; "the sauvignon
is full of acid," says Forman, "so I added some
much flatter semillon,"): Musky, green apple nose
reminiscent of white Graves. Good cut in the
mouth, but on the lean, even austere, side despite
the semillon influence. Slightly bitter but refreshing
finish offers strong grip. 7.
Stephen Tanzer s
the consumer s passport to fine wine
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Forman Napa Valley ($24): Subdued, fine, spear
mint and mineral aromas. Juicy, bright, minerally
fruit is high-pitched and penetrating, with strong but
well- integrated acids. Longs bracing, citric finish.
The 13.8% alcohol is practically invisible in this
classy, firm, very young wine. More Chablis than
California style. 9K+71.
Forman Napa Valley ($27) Very pale color. Pun
gent citric, brothy, steely nose hints at talc; more
Chablis than California. Firm, racy and focused,
with very strong extract. Very long, subtle finish
coats the palate with powdered stone. Became
thicker and spicier as it opened in the glass. Very
classy, no-malo Chardonnay, with a track record for
aging extremely well. 92.
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1994 Sauvignon Blanc
Forman Napa Valley ($14): Very fresh aromas of
spearmint, green apple, and minerals. Bright and
penetrating in the mouth, with a vibrant grapefruit
rind flavor. Very good intensity of flavor. A firm,
lean, very young wine of noteworthy structure.
Should prove to be a flexible food wine. But this is
not for fans of fat, spicy sauvignon blancs made in
the style of Chardonnay. 89f+?V
Forman Napa Valley ($32): Very dark purple-red.
Claret-like nose of cassis, shoe polish and spice.
Quite intense and tightly packed, but in contrast to
recent Forman vintages, this cabernet has a density
and texture that make it easier to taste early on,
Quite suave, St. Julien-like wine, with a long,
powerful finish. Great potential,
More New Releases
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1. 1993 Fonnan, Napa Valley ($22) - Medium-light golden yellow color; attractive, ini
tially subdued, earthy, floral, toasty, lemony, green apple, ripe Chardonnay fruit aroma
which developed depth and intensity with airing; medium-full body; intense, toasty, green
apple flavors with firm acidity; well structured; slightly tart finish; lingering aftertaste.
Above-average to superior quality. This wine shows well integrated fruit and oak though
it deserves another year or two of bottle aging. Very highly recommended. 13.8% alcohol;
0.76 TA; 3.36 pH; 1,800 cases; 100% barrel fermented (BF); 0% malolactk fermentation (MF);
released October 1994. (Group Score: 16.0 of 20 points, 5 of 15 first-place votes /O seconds/
1 third; My Score: 17 [92 of 100 points], first place)
Retyped from information
provided by Forman Vineyard
Location: Howell Mountain, Napa Valley
The Wine: Estate Merlot
Appellation: Napa Valley
Varietal Blend: 90% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot
Cooperage: 20 months in 80% new, 20% once used French oak
Total Production: 525 cases
Winemaker: Ric Forman
Vineyard Source: 60% Thorvilos Vineyard (at the base of Howell
Mountain) , 40% Rutherford
Total Cases Available at Winebid.com: ten .750-liter, 12-bottle cases
Reserve Prices: .750 Liter Bottles: $30
Estimated Release Price: $35-$40
Release Date: Fall 1999
About the Vineyard Source:
The "Thorvilos Vineyard" was planted and is owned by Ric Forman and
David Abreu in 1989. Located at the base of Howell Mountain in the Napa
Valley appellation, it hold Cabernet Sauvignon (Martha s Vineyard Clone
and Clone 337), Merlot (Clone 181), Cabernet Franc (Clone 1), and Petite
Verdot. Used to make the Forman Cabernet Sauvignon since 1994, previous
harvests have been used by Pahlmeyer and Merryvale wineries. Colgin s
"Lamb" Vineyard neighbors this stunning property.
Winemaker s Comments on the Vintage:
Rain started earlier in 1997 than many previous seasons and was quite
prolific during November, December and January. By February, however,
it stopped altogether and became quite mild. In fact, the whole winter
was warm. Bud break was early due to the mild winter and the vines grew
quickly in early spring. Summer progressed with rather even heat with
no real serious spikes in either direction. Harvest began very early--
on August 23 for the Chardonnay, September 2 for Merlot and September 23
for Cabernet Sauvignon. The uniform summer assured fully ripe grapes
and the early harvest held ample acidity for well balanced wines.
Winemaker s Comments on the Wine;
Bright Ruby Red. Rich and alluring aromas of ripe cherry, mulberry and
a touch of violets are evolving nicely in this developing wine. Full
sweet and spicy Merlot fruit abounds in the mouth and is further rounded
by a good integration of new oak. This is a very promising wine.
Bottling in June should capture the essence of what is developing so
Comments By the Press On the 1997 Forman Merlot:
Robert Parker, "The Wine Advocate" - December 23, 1998
"The 1997 Merlot reveals more lushness and accessibility than Forman s
wines sometimes do. It boasts a dark ruby color, followed by an
attractive nose of black cherries and berries intermingled with soil
notes, subtle oak, and floral scents. Medium-bodied and delicious, it
should be accessible when bottled next year. Moreover, it should last
for at least a decade." 87-90 points.
The Fine Wine Review, #68 1998
"The 1997 Merlot shows crunchy, crushed berry fruit and some oak on the
nose, and oak and cherry fruit in the mouth with a luscious texture.
This is a forward wine that should be excellent for drinking early on."
Location: Howell Mountain, Napa Valley
The Wine: Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Appellation: Napa Valley
Varietal Blend: 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6%
Cabernet Franc, 7% Petite Verdot
Cooperage: 20 months in 80% new, 20% once used French oak
Total Production: 2,200 cases
Winemaker: Ric Fonnan
Vineyard Source: Thorvilos Vineyard (at the base of Howell
Total Cases Available at Winebid.com: ten .750-liter, 12-bottle cases
Reserve Prices: .750-liter bottles: $45
Estimated Release Price: $45-$50
Release Date: Spring 2000
About the Vineyard Source:
The "Thorvilos Vineyard" was planted and is owned by Ric Forman and
David Abreu in 1989. Located at the base of Howell Mountain in the Napa
Valley appellation, it hold Cabernet Sauvignon (Martha s Vineyard Clone
and Clone 337), Merlot (Clone 181), Cabernet Franc (Clone 1), and Petite
Verdot. Used to make the Forman Cabernet Sauvignon since 1994, previous
harvests have been used by Pahlmeyer and Merryvale wineries. Colgin s
"Lamb" Vineyard neighbors this stunning property.
Winemaker s Comments on the Vintage:
Rain started earlier in 1997 than many previous seasons and was quite
prolific during November, December and January. By February, however,
it stopped altogether and became quite mild. In fact, the whole winter
was warm. Bud break was early due to the mild winter and the vines grew
quickly in early spring. Summer progressed with rather even heat with
no real serious spikes in either direction. Harvest began very early--
on August 23 for the Chardonnay, September 2 for Merlot and September 23
for Cabernet Sauvignon. The uniform summer assured fully ripe grapes
and the early harvest held ample acidity for well balanced wines.
Winemaker s Comments on the Wine;
Deep claret red. Very focused nose for its youth. A deep berry/cassis
aroma dominates the entrance but is followed with aeration, by complex
Bordeaux-like, cedar /earthy notes. Very powerful style here with more
concentration in the nose than is usually expected at this early stage
of development. A very mouthf illing sweet fruit is deliciously balanced
with wood and soft acid/tannin structure. Aftertastes of cedar,
underbrush and violets are remarkable for this early point in the wine s
evolution. This should be a very fine wine with true breed and
Comments By the Press On the 1997 Cabernet;
Robert Parker, Jr. s The Wine Advocate, 12/23/98 Issue:
"The 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon displays a saturated ruby /purple color, and
an exceptional bouquet of blackberry and cassis fruit intermingled with
cedar, herbs and wood spice. The wine is deep, medium to full-bodied,
and richly fruity with firm tannin in the moderately long, ripe finish.
Like many 1997s, it will be enjoyable in its youth, yet will last for 15
or more years." 90-92 points.
Wine Spectator, August 31, 1998 Issue
"Intense, lively, well focused, rich and brimming with racy wild berry,
cherry, anise, cedar and spice. Finishes with a long, lingering
aftertaste." 95-100 points.
Fine Wine Review, #68, 1998
"The 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon is more closed, but quite noble in the
mouth and somewhat austere, long blueberry, cherry and mulberry fruit.
In the past, I have found his Cabernets to be St. Julien, in style, this
one is more Pauillac."
Jim Laube, "Wine Spectator s California Wine"
"The Cabernet aims for finesse and understated flavors, rarely
overwhelms, but charms with its subtlety and grace." Named a "5-Star"
Stephen Tanzer, International Wine Cellar
"Ric Forman makes a consistently stylish, rather understated cabernet
that actually compliments food. It is a wine that typically combines
California fruit and French restraint."
INDEX- -Richard Forman
Abreu Vineyards Cabernet, 108
Abreu, David, 37-39, 106-109, 124
Adamson Vineyard, 72, 89
Akioshi, Min, 14
Amerine, Maynard, 13, 16, 18
Beaulieu Vineyard, 119
Berg. Hod, 14
Bertleson, Alf, 96
Boiadjieff, Gene, 70, 90-92, 100
Bucharaz, Suzanne, 90
C. Norman Peterson company, 17
Chalone Vineyard, 116
Chalone Vineyard, 22
Chateau Barrique, 74-75
Chateau le Grande Roche, 80
Coca Cola Co., 63-64, 66, 68
Coffrin, David, 15
cooperage, 25-26, 33-36, 74-76
Crane, Phil, 10
Dale, Joy, 22-23, 65, 67, 80, 90
Davies, Jack, 24, 99
Duckhorn, Dan, 35-37
Dyer, Bill, 62-63
equipment, 22, 34, 58, 73, 95
Fuller, Bill, 22
Graff, Richard, 22-23, 25, 27-28,
34, 46, 60, 76, 119
Bordeaux varieties, 71-72
Cabernet Sauvignon, 78
Chardonnay, 72, 110
Chenin Blanc, 43
French Colombard, 43
Petit Verdot, 104-105
Pinot La Fata, 43
Sauvignon Blanc, 71
Halley, Vern, 83
Heitz, Joe, 115
Henshaw, Fritz, 9
Hill, William, 70
Holmes, Fred, 83
Hudson, Chuck, 25
Inglenook, 82, 107, 119
Jackson, Jess, 47
Jaeger Billy, 16
Johnson, Irwin, 93
Fenghi, Mills, 15
fermentation, 19, 34, 76-78;
malolactic, 45-47, 77
Forman Vineyard, 72-114
Forman, Peter, 5, 7, 9-10
Forman, Robert White, 1
Forman, Rosalind Wallace, 2-3, 5,
Forman, Toby, 83, 99, 122-123
Freemark Abbey, 16, 116
Keith & Assoc. , 60
Kendall-Jackson Vineyards &
Winery, 47, 115-116
Kornell, Hans, 44
Kunde, Rich, 15
Kunke, Ralph, 14
labels, vineyard-designated, 41
Lemon, Ted, 82
Long, Zelma, 20
Madrona Ranch, 108
Maldonado, Lupe, 69, 74
Martha s Clone, 85
Martha s Vineyard, 85
McCrae, Fred, 16, 18-19, 28, 115
Meyer, Justin, 15
Mondavi, Michael, 20
Mondavi, Robert, 16, 19-20, 116
Moueix, Christian, 29
Nadalier barrels, 74-75
Nagaoka, Richard, 15
Newton Vineyard, 63-82
Newton, Peter, 16, 21-82
Newton, Sua Ha, 80
Stone, Michael, 25, 67-68
Stony Hill Vineyard, 16-19
Talcott Vineyard, 109
Tchelistcheff , Andre, 119
Thorvilos Vineyard, 124
Three Palms Vineyard, 16, 36
Torvillos Vineyard, 40
Traverse, Sergio, 62
University of California,
Berkeley, Chemistry Dept., 17-
University of California, Davis,
Upton, Sloane, 16
Oliver, Reg, 72, 109-110
Potts, Frank, 10
Ridge Vineyards, 52
Robert Mondavi Winery, 16, 19-20,
Rosenbrand, Theo, 62
Rutherford Star Vineyard, 107-109
San Jose State University, 12
Saunders, Chuck, 70
Schramsberg Vineyards, 25-26
See, Harry, 83
Shaw Vineyard and Winery, 52, 88-
Singleton, Vernon L., 14
Staglin Ranch, 107
Star Vineyards, 52
Sterling Vineyards, 16, 21-65,
Stern, Pete, 15
Stewart, Lee, 115
Villa Mt. Eden Winery, 82
vineyard management, 31-32, 37-
38, 68-74, 103-104, 121-122;
see also hedging
Warner, Brad, 20
Waterfield, Martin, 25, 61
Webb, A. Dinsmore, 14
Weibel Champagne Vineyards, 18
winemaking, techniques of, 45-46,
49-51, 53-56, 76-80; see also
winery, design and building of,
59-61, 72-73, 90-95
Cabernet Franc, 29, 89, 106
Cabernet Sauvignon, 26, 28,
29, 45, 48-50, 53-56, 78-79,
85-86, 89, 101-103, 118-121
Chardonnay, 24, 27-28, 30, 46-
47, 55, 76-78, 109-112, 114,
Chenin Blanc, 44
French Colombard, 43
wines (cont d.)
Merlot, 26, 29-30, 37, 45, 57,
80, 89, 106
Petit Verdot, 29, 104-105
Pinot Noir, 45
Winiarski, Warren, 20
Winkler, Albert J., 85-86
Woltner, Winery, 82, 88
Carole E. Hicke
B.A., University of Iowa; economics
M.A., San Francisco State University; U.S. history
with emphasis on the American West; thesis: "James
Rolph, Mayor of San Francisco."
Interviewer/editor/writer, 1978-present, for
business and law firm histories, specializing in
oral history techniques. Independently employed.
Interviewer-editor, Regional Oral History Office,
University of California, Berkeley, 1985 to
present, specializing in California legal,
political, and business histories.
Author: The Federal Judges Association in the
Twentieth Century; History of Farella, Braun &
Martel; Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe: A
Century of Service to Clients and Community.
Editor (1980-1985) newsletters of two professional
historical associations: Western Association of
Women Historians and Coordinating Committee for
Women in the Historical Profession.
Visiting lecturer, San Francisco State University
in U.S. history, history of California, history of
Hawaii, legal oral history.