Interview with Derek Flegal, Tamber Bey Vineyards Winemaker.
Barry Waitte founded Tamber Bey Vineyards in 1999 with the belief that great winemaking begins in the vineyard. Under the leadership of Winemaker Derek Flegal, Tamber Bey strives to produce a broad portfolio of premium, highly rated, Bordeaux and Burgundy style wines from its own sites and from carefully sourced fruit. The winery, located on a 22-acre horse farm in Calistoga, was designed to showcase the quality of their wines and to deliver a unique and elevated experience to every visitor. We interview Derek Flegal to learn more.
Share a popular tasting experience at Tamber Bey Vineyards.
Derek Flegal, Tamber Bey Vineyards Winemaker: Our most popular tasting experience is our Courtyard Tasting, which features five of our current release wines from our Vineyard Series and Signature Collection portfolios. This flight is an excellent cross-representation of our Burgundy- and Bordeaux-style wines that are produced from our estate vineyards and from thoughtfully sourced sites.
Guest can enjoy this experience in a casual-yet-stunning outdoor setting, with views of the surrounding mountains and the horses nearby. This experience can be paired with our charcuterie board, savory cookies, or a picnic lunch.
What type of wine do you specialize in at Tamber Bey Vineyards?
Derek Flegal: The brand is centered around our estate vineyards in Yountville and Oakville with an emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties.
While this will always be the backbone of our business, I’m very excited about revamping our Pinot Noir program. We are fortunate to work with some fantastic growers and sites that will help round out our portfolio and ensure that we have high quality wines for every palate.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about Tamber Bey?
Derek Flegal: The Tamber Bey Vineyards is located on a 22-acre horse farm, and the horses that live there are often the star attraction. In addition to the wine, they are a great reason for people to drive to the far north end of Napa Valley.
We also want our guests to know that Tamber Bey wines consistently score 90+ points. We love that people visit for the stellar wines and beautiful horses.
Describe your winemaking philosophy or approach.
Derek Flegal: Less is more. There is a fair amount of pressure and stress to make perfect wines, and with that comes a sense that as winemakers, we must act, we must do. I try to be very thorough and thoughtful when making decisions with the hope that we won’t need to intervene as much further down the road.
With that said, there is a fine line between patience and negligence. I lean on my technical background and fundamental understanding of wine chemistry frequently to evaluate the best course of action, but generally prefer a less invasive approach to winemaking.
How did you get started in the wine industry?
Derek Flegal: Although I grew up in Calistoga and went to school with many of the families that helped build this valley, I didn’t consider a career in winemaking until my late 20’s. I spent 4 years living in Spain and had plenty of free time to consider what career I wanted to move into. I found myself gravitating towards the famous wine regions of Jerez in Spain and then moved to Mendoza, Argentina before the proverbial light bulb finally clicked on in 2011. From that point, it all became very clear and I worked harvests in St. Helena and Mendoza before studying Enology at Fresno State.
My dad passed away when I was 22 and he always encouraged me to find my passion in life. I was determined not to settle for anything less, and although it took me longer than most and there were times where I felt lost, I can’t imagine doing anything else. He loved wine, food, and family and is still a driving force in my life and a great source of inspiration.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the winemaking process?
Derek Flegal: A quote that always resonates with me that applies to winemaking is, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”. As much as we hope and strive for perfection, Mother Nature, logistics, and reality often force us to adapt and adjust. Every vintage is truly different and every day challenges us to be open-minded, maintain cognitive flexibility and reevaluate how we think about certain topics. There are general philosophies that I adhere to, but I try my best ward off a dogmatic approach to winemaking.
What do you love about winemaking?
Derek Flegal: I love being part of a winemaking community and working as a team to make world class wine. There’s nothing like walking vineyards on cold, foggy mornings or smelling fermenting wine or blending and tasting cooperage trials or experiencing the many ways winemaking is so connected to the seasons.
Our goal is to fully capture the potential of every grape. That means experimenting in the cellar, setting up trials to challenge accepted beliefs and trying to find novel ways to improve. Every day, every season, every vintage is a little different.
I can’t even begin to describe the sense of accomplishment on the last day of harvest, knowing that all the love and work from that season will become a tangible product that brings people together and provides incredible joy.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?
Derek Flegal: My family and I had a bottle of 1998 Ornellaia for Christmas Eve dinner roughly 12 years ago. It was a bottle that my dad had purchased many years prior, but wasn’t around to enjoy with us. It was probably the first time I realized not only how great wine can be, but also its transcendent power to enhance the mood and elevate an evening.
The greatest bottles of wine have always been consumed with family and friends, generally during celebratory events, but also at times of grief. I’m always chasing that next truly great, memorable bottle that reaffirms my love of wine.
Do you have any winery traditions with your team?
Derek Flegal: I like to host the production crew for dinner at my place after harvest. We crack some great bottles, buy some expensive steaks and take a moment to enjoy each other’s company outside of work and reflect on what we’ve accomplished over the past 3 months.
How does your team help you as a winemaker?
Derek Flegal: I’m very lucky to work with a great team and it’s hard to overstate the help and support they provide on a daily basis. I bounce ideas off them, consider their input during tastings, encourage new ideas and try to be open to change when they have thoughts on daily procedures and practices. They help solidify and implement my vision for each of the wines. There is no product without them, it would simply be a collection of thoughts and ideas.