Interview with Jon Priest Senior Winemaker and General Manager.
Discover Etude winery, situated in the esteemed Carneros Region.
This exclusive American Viticultural Area (AVA) is nestled at the intersection of two prestigious wine regions: Napa and Sonoma. Renowned for its cool climate, this enchanting region is characterized by the gentle embrace of fog and invigorating maritime breezes that sweep in from the Pacific, via the San Pablo Bay and picturesque Petaluma Gap.
We interview Jon Priest Senior Winemaker and General Manager to learn more.
What type of wine do you specialize in?
Jon Priest Senior Winemaker and General Manager at Etude Winery: We specialize in Pinot Noir, which is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding grapes to grow. Shortly after I arrived, the winery transitioned to complete self-sufficiency, where 100 percent of our Carneros Estate Pinot Noir grapes are from our Grace Benoist Ranch estate vineyards located far in the northwest of the appellation.
Our Estate Pinot Noirs, including a highly esteemed bottling made from rare heirloom selections and three single-vineyard offerings, are vinified from grapes grown on this unique and special ranch in the cool western edge of the Carneros region on upland volcanic soils. Other wines derived from our estate vineyards at Grace Benoist Ranch include our white wine selections of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.
The fruit for our Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from superlative vineyards and terroirs within the districts of Oakville, Rutherford and Coombsville, as part of the greater Napa Valley landscape.
Etude, which in French means “study,” finds us going to other areas of the world to create unique Pinot Noir bottlings, including regions such as the Sonoma Coast, Santa Rita Hills, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Share a popular tasting experience.
Jon Priest: The “Discover Etude” experience is a great tasting option for those who may be familiar with our outstanding Pinots but haven’t yet explored the full spectrum of Etude wines. It’s a great way to dip your toes into some of our other varietal options, before moving ahead with some of our flagship wines.
For visitors who are a little more wine-savvy, a popular tasting experience is the “Study of Pinot”. Our visitors love this experience because it highlights some of the unseen production abilities behind our most acclaimed varietal, where guests are taken through the stunning Grace Benoist Ranch in Carneros.
What makes your wine unique?
Jon Priest: At Etude, we believe that inspired winegrowing in special vineyards and limited intervention in the winery allows for the truest expression of terroir and the highest quality wine. Etude was founded on this principle, and I strive to continue, and build upon, this legacy.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your winery?
Jon Priest: Always looking towards the future, the Etude winemaking team strives for the best and most responsible practices in our vineyard and is constantly seeking new approaches toward excellence and sustainability. Wines are reflective of the place in which they are grown, so we take our role as stewards of the land very seriously.
We adhere to sustainable agriculture practices that enable us to farm in a way that’s mindful of the surrounding environment.
For example, we take on a holistic winegrowing approach — nurturing the soil, respecting the native ecosystems, and always working to reduce our environmental impact. We even have sheep graze in the vineyards to avoid the use of tractors! The winery crew also takes pride in our employee cultivated garden, with a portion of the produce grown donated to the Napa Food Bank.
Right now we aim to be powered by 100 percent renewable electricity by end of 2024 and have net zero emissions by 2030.
How did you get started in the wine industry?
Jon Priest: My first connection to wine was very early from wine my father would make from century old Mission grape vines that grew in our backyard. The taste and scent of these fermenting grapes left an indelible impression and curiosity.
After college, a stint at the Wine Cask in Santa Barbara provided exposure to the best wines and winemakers in the world. I refer to this as my” finishing school” for wine appreciation and where I discovered my love for Pinot Noir. This set me on a path to dive headfirst into learning as much as I could about growing and making this alluring grape.
I soon found myself at Wild Horse Winery, where the focus on Santa Barbara Pinot noir allowed me the perfect setting to explore and learn. The owner and Winemaker, Ken Volk soon became mentor as I was learning the nuances of this grape.
Later, as a more experienced winemaker and moving to Etude, working alongside the founder Tony Soter inspired a deeper appreciation for the subtleties of expressing the sense-of-place in a wine.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the winemaking process?
Jon Priest: Throughout my winemaking career, I’ve had the opportunity and fortune to make wine from special vineyards and alongside esteemed growers. It’s important to remain humble and to have the understanding that my role in this relationship is to craft and guide the wine to showcase and honor the integrity of these special people and places.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?
Jon Priest: When I began to understand and appreciate the influence of terroir – or, the sense-of-place – can have on the inherently unique character and quality of a wine, the light switched on for me. I am continuously fascinated by this notion, which encompasses so much about the geology, climate, history and winegrowing approach.
I can still clearly remember enjoying the particular bottle of Burgundy that caused me to have that “Ah-ha” moment.
Describe your winemaking approach.
Jon Priest: When I arrived at Etude, I quickly adopted the brand’s core belief in focusing on growing the highest quality grapes in our vineyards, and I shared the belief that the key to every great wine begins on special vines. This philosophy was laid down by our founder, Tony Soter, and it has evolved to include an even stronger environmental focus.
Our sustainability ethos at Etude is a vital component to our past and our plans moving forward, as we hope to be fully carbon neutral in the coming years. My approach as head winemaker is to act as a caretaker in the vineyard and in the winery, I believe this is what produces the best grapes, and, ultimately, the best wine.
What do you love about winemaking?
Jon Priest: The idea that our efforts and focus in the vineyard and in the winery can transform our special grapes into what can be an emotional experience in a glass of wine; that memories can be made, conversation lifted, smiles widened and storied told. And the culmination of the deep connection to nature and vintage and our caring hands can be transported into that glass of wine.
How does your team help you as a winemaker?
Jon Priest: In so many ways! Mostly by sharing a love for wine and the desire to craft memorable wines. It really does take a like-minded team to fulfill all of the effort required to go from grape to glass. They all help keep a sharp focus of every aspect and detail that goes into making the best wine possible.
They are also keenly aware of and share our sustainability ethos and contribute to helping achieve our continually evolving goals.
Do you have any winery traditions with your team?
Jon Priest: Each year during harvest, we bring together a team of interns to help in the cellar, often from around the globe. Each person brings a unique cultural or educational background that enlivens the team. I can think of no better way to share and embrace this cultural diversity than by sharing meals and wine from their homeland.
There is so much to be learned from another country of region when someone shares a special family recipe. And no better way to appreciate it than over a glass of wine with a group of hard-working new friends.