The Juicy Stuff
A Conversation with Director Jennifer Brown and Winemaker Alison Frichtl Hollister
What sparked your interest in the wine game?
JB: I’ve always been interested in wine, ever since I was a small child. Growing up, my parents would serve us “children’s wine” (which was grape juice in a wine bottle) at every dinner. My brother and I had our own wine glasses and felt very grown up. I just accepted it as a part of my life. I also grew up spending a lot of time in the vineyards, so I’ve always had an appreciation for the farm-to-table aspect of wine.
AFH: Moving to Oregon wine country as a teenager, labelling wine bottles and doing wine lab work during college summer breaks, set the field when I needed to find a direction for my degree in biology. At a basic level winemaking is chemistry and microbiology, but it takes someone with an ability to find beauty in the organic, chaotic part of the process. And that’s where my growing up with an eye for art just made a good synthesis.
What is the biggest challenge for you in the wine industry?
JB: I think a challenge for me is that I know a lot about our family’s wines and Napa Valley wines, but not a lot about wines from other parts of the country, and particularly the world. People assume that because I come from a winemaking family that I know a lot about wines from other places, but the truth is I have a lot to learn still. There are so many amazing wines made in other regions that I would love to explore.
AFH: It's easy to get sucked in to this world. A lot of my friends here are winemakers and we're all perfectionists when it comes to the craft. So it's important for me to take a step back every now and then, relax, and remember it's just wine!
Describe your perfect day in wine country!
JB: Sleeping in (always a good start to a day), having a hot cup of tea, and then going for a brisk walk around the vineyards, ideally before the fog has lifted. Then, going to visit a winery that I haven’t visited before and learning about another producer. Then having a lovely lunch outside somewhere with a view. My perfect afternoon would be enjoying friends with delicious wine and snacks sitting around the pool, playing bocce ball or cornhole, and letting that bleed into dinner time, with fresh vegetables from the garden, some barbequing and enjoying the great weather, the views and the company.
AFH: As I write this response I'm watching the sun rise over the rolling hills of Paso Robles with a good cup of coffee. One of the things I love about BACA is it takes me to different wine regions around California. On this trip I checked up on the vineyards I'll be harvesting this fall, enjoyed long meals with local friends, visited a winery I'd been wanting to learn more about and took a walk on the beach at sunset. You know it's perfect when it feels too short.
What is the most exciting aspect of the winemaking process?
JB: I think the most exciting aspect is that the wine reflects the growing season leading up to harvest. Unlike so many other products that are meant to be the exact same every year, wine has differences every year, so our winemakers (ahem – Alison!) have to be adaptable to whatever circumstances come their way. It always keeps things interesting and you never know what the next year will bring!
AFH: I'm fascinated by the alchemy-like transformation of fermentation. Grapes are the only fruit that can be unlocked into almost infinite aromas through this process. I look forward to discovering what nature gives us each year and preserving its beauty.
Adventure Fuels the Soul
What was your best adventure?
JB: My best adventure was a safari in Botswana. My husband Eric and I went there on our honeymoon and fell in love with the adventure of a safari. Getting up early in the morning when it is still dark, getting in a jeep, tracking footprints and markings of lions and rhinoceros. When you finally find the animals, it’s breathtaking, just sitting there watching them in their natural habitat and being a guest in their world. I felt very connected to nature.
AFH: My best adventure began with meeting my husband at an annual gathering of friends, musicians and artists on Clearlake. We traveled back and forth dating for a time between Venice Beach and Napa. Then ran away to elope in Joshua Tree, just the two of us under the desert sky. The adventure continues as we renovate the house we bought on Howell Mountain, and create our perfect space together in the Napa Valley.
What’s your favorite game?
JB: My favorite game is Celebrity. In Celebrity, everyone writes down names of Celebrities on a piece of paper and you take turns acting out the person for the group, trying to get the others to guess who you are acting out. It’s probably my favorite game because you get to do some acting (which I enjoyed growing up) as well as something that brings a group of people together. I love laughing & watching friends try to act out someone and you have no idea what celebrity they are trying to be.
AFH: To make cellar meetings more fun, once a week we open up Le Nez du Vin, at set of 54 vials representing common aromas in wine, and play guess the aroma. It's a fun way to train your sense of smell and can be surprisingly difficult. We like to get playfully competitive, like “I can't believe you thought that was strawberry!”, and it's also fun when someone nails a tough one like “honey”, which is beautifully complex.
What’s next on your travel bucket list?
JB: There are so many places that I want to explore! I would love to spend more time in Asia and go to Vietnam and Cambodia to see the beautiful beaches and temples. I also would love to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. (I did a 7 day trek through Peru to Macchu Pichu which was an amazing experience, and would love to do another trek.)
AFH: A friend of ours bought a rustic cottage in the countryside of the Languedoc region of France and has opened its doors as an artist’s retreat. The area has also been attracting a new generation of creative winemakers recently, so I'd like to explore what they're doing. And of course dip down to the Mediterranean!
Looking ahead at the next 12 months, what are you most looking forward to?
JB: I am really looking forward to a trip that I’m going on with some folks from the winery to France. We are going to Burgundy and Champagne to learn from great French wine makers and producers. I’m also looking forward to a big change in my own personal life. My husband and I are expecting our first baby in September – and I’m very excited to learn how to be a good mother. Luckily, I’ve had an amazing role model.
AFH: This month's trip to France with Jen and the gang! And I'm going to nerd out and admit I'm excited to ferment Zin in concrete tanks this year. They're so elegant and are coming all the way from Italy.
Can't Live Without
What’s your favorite dish?
JB: I love dishes with curry, whether they are Indian, Thai or really any origin. When I was in the Seychelles, I had the best Creole Curry with vegetables and coconut rice.
AFH: Chana Masaladar with Raita is my ultimate comfort food. My mom introduced me to the recipes of Madhur Jaffrey when I was growing up and I still love cooking this one. I cook her recipes so often I can identify all of the Indian spices blindfolded!
What’s your favorite snack food?
JB: Popcorn. I love the sound it makes when it’s cooking, and it’s so delicious. I also love fruit that’s in season. Right now, I’m addicted to cherries and peaches.
AFH: I look forward to pan fried padrón peppers in the summer. Mostly they're not spicy, but it's a thrill knowing every so often you'll get one that's almost too hot to eat!
What’s a movie you could watch again and again?
JB: To my husband’s chagrin, probably any romantic comedy. I love watching movies that make me smile and feel happy, like “The Holiday” and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” Of course I also enjoy more serious films with stronger plot lines and character development, but for me a simple enjoyable romantic comedy hits the spot most evenings.
AFH: Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love is gorgeous. And if I'm being really honest, Pulp Fiction. I love movies.
What’s the most influential book you’ve read?
JB: I don’t know if it’s the most influential, but I think about a book a lot that I read a few years back called “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary Shteyngart. It’s set in a dystopian future dominated by social media. It takes a comical approach to looking at how the world could be if we took some current trends to an extreme. It’s a little dark but also funny. Another influential book that I have read is “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It’s a classic self-help book, but it has very helpful frameworks for how to craft the life that you want to live.
AFH: I'm slowly working my way through Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. The way he uses language completely rewires how I think. Also, driving through the Salinas Valley on my trip to Paso I'm reminded of John Steinbeck's East of Eden - a powerful story of early California and settling in this stunning agricultural region.
If you could put together a summer playlist, what would the top 5 songs be?
JB: I think summer is all about easy breezy listening, so…Trojans by Atlas Genius, Paradise Waiting by Vacationer, My Type by Saint Motel, Float by Pacific Air, Delicate by Taylor Swift (Gotta have Taylor Swift!)
AFH: I think in terms of Spotify artist radio stations now, and my top summer 5 are: King Tubby, Dengue Fever, Beck, Lou Reed, and Rokia Traoré
What is your creative outlet?
JB: I really need to get one! I love being creative but I don’t “create” art or things of beauty as much as I would like. My favorite thing to do is go hiking and I do a lot of my creative thinking while hiking. I feel very inspired by nature – the trees, the ocean and animals.
AFH: I grew up in a creative household and I’ve always viewed the world through an artistic eye. Drawing is an immediate outlet I take with me everywhere, just a pen and a notebook. I also love to get absorbed in making reduction prints, a process that involves carving a multicolored image from one block. It requires careful planning for each color layer of ink because the block itself is destroyed in the process, which also means the number of copies is finite.