Ernst Storm is one of those winemakers you want to buy wine from, drink that wine with and just chill. He drinks Pinot Noir out of the bottle, likes long runs through the vines, fashions an athletic build, sun-kissed hair…and that’s just his dog, Jake! Although I think it’s safe to say Ernst likes Pinot Noir out of the bottle too.
He’s a winemaker that makes us excited to be doing what we’re doing. We love working with Ernst, have enjoyed getting to know him and consider him a friend. He doesn’t take wine too seriously and those of you reading this know that we here at Argaux don’t take wine too seriously either. Wine should not be intimidating. It’s fun to make, to sell, to buy and drink. Ernst reminds us of that. He does things his way. Fortunately for all of us, his way works and the end product is killer Pinot Noir.
Our last visit with Ernst was during Harvest this year. We offered to swing by with some sandys from Bell Street Farms, a staple in Santa Ynez. I had the sandwiches cut into three and we posted up at this picnic table he has that seems to be designated for wine tasting and chatter.
How old were you when you worked your first harvest?
21 – about the same age you both were when you worked your first harvest.
Where were you?
It was at Elsenburg Agricultural College, just outside of Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Did you already know you wanted to be a winemaker?
Absolutely – after I did my first harvest at the Agricultural College in the Cape Winelands, I had my sights set on being a winemaker.
What about Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Valley made you stay?
This place has an incredible diversity as a growing region, with the potential to make very personality driven wines. Living in the American Riviera is pretty ideal as well.
What grape varietal do you like working with the most and why?
Pinot Noir, it portrays site and region clearly and the resulting wine can be ethereal.
What is your favorite part about harvest and least favorite part about harvest?
The best part is the smell of fermentations going well! The long days towards the end, when we are working constantly to get it all done in time, can be quite stressful.
How did growing up in South Africa influence your winemaking here in Santa Barbara?
I spent a lot of time outside growing up. I think it is important to be connected to nature to be able to make wine. I come from a similar climate, which made the transition easier. A lot in the wine I make reminds me of the things I smelled and was surrounded by as a child.
Are there challenges you face every year during harvest? Or does each year present a new set of challenges?
It seems like we have to deal more and more with unpredictable weather which keeps you more on your toes in the vineyard. This year I moved into a new facility, which was interesting in those first days of harvest – there were a brand new set of constraints to work with.
In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of winemaking?
Really understanding the land and plants you are working with so you can make the wines intuitively and less by recipe.
Who has been the biggest influence when it comes to your winemaking career?
Not one person specifically…but more a style that has influenced me. The wines from Burgundy in particular and a personal drive to formulate a distinctive style of winemaking.
Out of 52 weeks how much time do you spend as a farmer? 5 A marketer? 10 A salesman? 10 A winemaker? 15 A businessman? 12
How do you make a wine that captures the “essence” or terroir of Santa Maria or Sta. Rita Hills? You work with a vineyard that has the pedigree to produce balanced wine consistently.
I believe you have to pick at a ripeness that allows you to make the wine with as little intervention as possible for a pure reflection of the site. This only happens when you start understanding the site. Vine age certainly helps you to make more consistent “terroir” driven wines.
Old vs. New World winemaking techniques. What’s the difference?
Old World uses native ferments, barrels, lees stirring, and oxidation. New World uses cooling, yeast, stainless steel, and understanding the chemistry behind reactions.
We know you combine the two. Why does the combination work?
Knowing when and how to use the two or a combination of them certainly helps to figure out how to make a wine that best captures site. I am sticking more and more to Old World Techniques on red wines and a combo on whites. Being more present with each ferment helps you understand the varying needs. Working with quality fruit lets you use more Old World techniques.
What makes Santa Barbara a Mediterranean climate and why is it ideal for grape growing?
Santa Barbara’s is in a dry-summer Subtropical Region (warm dry summers and mild winters). The transverse mountains that run east-west regulates the temperature with cool air flowing up the valleys from the Pacific Ocean. This lengthens the growing season.
Do both you and your brother share the same winemaking technique?
Yes, for the most part, but there are always some things each winemaker wants to do differently as their signature “move!” But I would say 98% the same.
Why do you think people take wine so seriously, and what’s your perspective on the industry as a whole?
I think people take it so seriously because socially it was always made for a certain crowd. Certain critics and publications also steered it in their own direction, which wasn’t necessarily an egalitarian direction. There are a lot of people wanting to be part of the wine world – which is understandable with the lifestyle that goes with it. Of course the market is saturated, but there is definitely a place for authentic, real wines with a great sense of place. One has to think outside of the borders, find other markets, and align oneself with like minded people.
Where is the wine industry going and why does it matter?
People want something real with all the fake out there. As the consumer gets more educated, the hope is that they search out more authentic wines, publications, and somms! The reality is that the smaller producer will need to work harder to capture that audience.
- If you weren’t a winemaker what do you think you’d be? Architect
- One word to describe the 2017 vintage? Interesting
- What are you drinking on a Tuesday night? G&T
- Favorite restaurant in Santa Barbara? Loquita
- France or Italy? France
Thank you to Ernst for answering our questions! Pick up a bottle of your own in our Wine Shop to taste his hard work.
Cheers From Your Pocket Somm! – ARGAUX