Brian Price knows wine. He's not a wine snob, he just loves everything about it. He is passionate about the intricate details of wine - even if it's not the most expensive or high profile brand.
He teaches monthly wine classes, Wine Tasting 101, at Hutchins Street Square, in which everything from etiquette to tasting and terminology is covered in two-and-a-half hours. He's not teaching people how to be a cork dork, but rather how to get the true appreciation out of wine. His next class will be June 21 at 7 p.m. For more information on Wine Tasting 101, call 333-5511.
You can also read his column returning next week on page 8 of Lodi Living.
Q: You are a wine educator and have a passion for the winemaking process. How did that develop?
A: I grew up in Los Angeles. My dad was a filmmaker. He worked with Walt Disney. I was a Disney kid. I wanted to do something really unique. I worked for a company called Trader Joes when I was in college and that's what started my interest in wine. They afforded us the opportunity to taste wine while we worked there so I was able to pair cheese and food with wine.
My real passion for wine started in 1982 when I decided to become a winemaker and went to Cal State Fresno and entered into the oenology and viticulture to become a winemaker.
Q: Were you wanting to have your own winery? What was your goal then?
A: I thought about that, but I think I've always been more of a people person and I'd rather be dealing with people as opposed to actually making the wine. I have made the wine, but I see myself as more of a people person.
Q: You don't want to be out in the vineyards all by yourself?
A: Exactly. I thought, I'll just do the sales and marketing part of it.
Q: What kinds of wine did you make?
A: I made three award-winning wines. One was a Mead wine, made from honey. I made a red table wine blend and a port.
Q: How did you become a wine educator for the Lodi area?
A: I started the community class because not many classes were being offered, which I thought was interesting in a town with such a wine focus.
Q: Are you ever surprised by how much people do or do not know about wine?
A: I think it's amazing how much people do know when you talk to them. Every one is always learning. I'm learning when I teach my class.
Q: Out of every wine you have tasted, what is your favorite wine?
A: Do I play it safe and say Lodi Zinfandel? (Laughs).
Q: No, what is your favorite, ever?
A: I like all different types of wine because that's the only way you learn. You have to experiment and taste all different types. Rieslings. Pinot Noir. Cabernet. Zinfandel. Chardonnay. I try not to limit myself to one specific wine. The only way you're going to learn and expand your knowledge base about wine is to experience them, to take notes and reflect on what you're tasting. All wine is unique.
Q: If you were going to a dinner tonight and were going to take a bottle of wine, what would you take?
A: If I'm going out of town, I always take a Lodi Zinfandel because it gives me an opportunity to be an ambassador for our town. If I were going to dinner in town, it would depend on what's in the wine rack and what's for dinner. I'd probably bring a Zinfandel or Cabernet or maybe a Pinot Noir.
Q: In the film, "Sideways," the wine aficionado tells his friend that he refuses to drink Merlot. Why is Merlot in the lower class of wines?
A: I love that film. Ever since it came out, people don't realize it, it did have a dramatic effect on Merlot and individuals that grow Merlot. It's a great red wine. It has very soft tanins, it doesn't have that biting astringency, that drying out effect that you get from a Zinfandel. With Merlot, you don't experience that at that level. It's a lot softer, easy drinking. It goes with many different foods. "Sideways" was fun, but it's a movie. It's not reality. I think that what it was is that people are looking for unique wines. And Miles, in the film, liked Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is like the holy grail of red wine. It has so many interesting flavor aromas - mushroom, earth, strawberry, cherry. And Merlot, it doesn't have the intensity that a lot of other wines do.
Q: If wine is made from grapes, and grapes are grapes, how do you get all these flavors like mushroom and earth and berries?
A: Some people think that when you get those flavors, people think that they are mixed in or added. It's what happens with a different variety of grapes. I always use the example of apples. Granny Smith has high acidity. Fuji has a real floral aroma. Red is sweet. It's the same with grapes. They all have their unique characteristics and aromas. When the wine is fermented, there are trace elements created during the fermentation that mimic the smell of strawberry or mushroom. So their chemical constituents have similar smells. That's what we mean when we say a Zinfandel is peppery or spicy.
I think people are confused about all of the smells people describe. You'll always smell red currant or like a dark red fruit in a Cabernet. Or cedar in Cabernet. In a Pinot Noir, you'll get the strawberry, the mushroom, those earthy tones. In Chardonnay, you'll get the melon, the tropical fruit, a kind of butteriness.
Q: What's something someone can do to fool people into thinking they know something about wine?
A: I think people can show they know something about wine if they just show some basic wine etiquette. That will make them so far ahead of the vast majority of the group. For instance, you're supposed to hold a wine glass by the stem, not by the glass. When you get your oils and fingerprints on the glass, you can't see the color and clarity of the wine. Also, your hand heats up the wine so it can change the temperature and have a negative effect. Just doing basic swirling of the wine shows that you're trying to bring out the smells of the wine. And putting your whole nose into the glass helps you bring those smells in. Little things help you understand everything.
Wine is an expression of a person, an expression of a vintage, of a place. It's an expression of a winemaker. How did she make it? In a barrel? Are you going to smell that oak, wood character in the wine?
If you don't smell it, you never experience it.
Q: In your classes, if you're students could only leave with one piece of knowledge, what would you want them to know?
A: If you like the wine, it's a good wine. You have to remember that. You can get as technical as you want with wine, it's overwhelming. But the bottom line is, if you like it, it's a good wine. I try to emphasize the three basic steps of using your eyes, nose and mouth to evaluate wine.
Q: Do you think price makes a difference when it comes to wine.
A: No, not at all. A lot of people think price is conducive to the quality and there's so many wonderful wines out there for only $10 a bottle. You really don't have to spend a lot of money to get a really good bottle.
Q: In the wine column you are going to write for Lodi Living, what topics do you plan to cover?
A: I'd like to focus on wine education. Maybe a focus on specific wineries. Because I was a winemaker, I'd like to explore the uniqueness of each winery.
Q: How did you get started in writing?
A: I've always enjoyed writing. I read a lot of wine magazines. A lot of people pick up "People" magazine or "GQ" and I'll pick up "Wine Spectator."