Art and science make for good wine. Winemasters for the Montana State University (MSU) Billings Wine and Food Festival, Joe Shebl of Renwood Winery and Tyler Tennyson of Gordon Estate sat down with me prior to their Winemaster Symposium. Before the wine and food tasting event in collaboration with Northern Hotel Executive Chef Tim Freeman, they spoke to me about combining art and science in their winemaking, their backgrounds, their wine creating philosophies while providing other sips of wisdom.
Though they make wine in two different states, Shebl in California and Tennyson in Washington, they share some commonalities. Both are young, handsome, and passionate winemakers who started careers unrelated to wine. Tennyson embarked into real estate appraisal and Shebl pursued premed studies. The wineries they work for have bounced back from some challenges, with the original owners of Gordon Estate repurchasing the winery they started in 1980, and Renwood, with a new billionaire oilman owner, Alejandro Pedro Bulgheroni. Renwood has some of the oldest zinfandel vines, approaching 100 years, and Gordon Estate is the oldest estate winery in Washington. Both incorporate art and science in their winemaking.
“Winemaking is art applied to science,” Tennyson said, adding, “I have the luxury of being able to do both. Science validates the artistic choice. I do not want to make wine by pure science, but using numbers to manage making wine helps,” Shebl emphasized.
“Deliciousness” was Shebl’s ultimate goal in his wines, striving for “Typicity of site. Typicity of varietal.” “We want delicious, seductive, opulent wines. Our signature style emphasizes vibrant fruit and approachability while understanding the powerful characteristic of old vines.” Renwood’s specialty is producing Zinfandel wines. Typicity is wine-speak for the degree to which a wine reflects its varietal origin and character.
In class during Shebl’s presentation, Tennyson did caution humorously from the back of the room, “If you like the wine and everyone else does not like it, then you have a problem.” But for Tennyson, he believed the goal was a “texturally interesting acid driven wine” that expressed and focused on typicity. He continued, “I want to speak to the time and place, listening to the wine.”
Shebl admitted, “I am never satisfied” with the wines he makes. He is always reexamining the end product and considering what other methods he could have chosen to get to another final result. This drives him to make better wines.
Shebl’s desire to challenge himself showed in his answer to my question of what his favorite varietal, for the moment, was to work with. He said, “Barbera has this vein of acid. You have to be really patient with Barbera. Barbera can easily be over oaked so barrel selection is really challenging.” Tennyson enjoyed making Syrah “because it is so malleable. It can be super Old World with high acid, a pH of 4 or massively extracted. I can work in different directions without really manipulating the wine.” He preferred working with French oak for the subtlty of texture and flavor it imparted on wine.
Forty-eight guests had the opportunity to taste ten wines from the two winemakers partnered with nontraditional food pairings on Thursday night at the Northern Hotel. Executive Chef Freeman wanted to “make a cool twist on your mind.” With Renwood’s Zinfandels, he made the more usual pairing of Mexican flavors with the jammy nuanced wines, but then he played on the citrus notes with a “Scallop Carpaccio, Lemon Foam, Cuban Oregano” next to a fruity Red Label California Zinfandel. With a Gordon Estate Traditional Red Blend composed of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, Freeman prepared a “Smoked Salmon with Blackberries and Rhubarb inside a “Smoky Orange” to match the wine’s fruit and smoky essences.
With the combination of modern technology, a winemaker from Pasco, another from Plymouth, a chef from Billings, and a lot of creativity, good wine and food was savored once again at the MSU Billings Winemaster Symposium.
Presented by Tyler Tennyson, Gordon Estate and Joe Shebl, Renwood Winery
Menu created by Executive Chef Tim Freeman, Northern Hotel
Gordon Estate Wines
2014 Gordon Estate Rose
Stuffed Morels with Smoked Goat Cheese, Rocket & Garlic Scape Pesto
2013 Gordon Estate Chardonnay
Squid and Watermelon Salad on Fried Green Tomato with Rose Vinaigrette
2012 Gordon Estate Syrah
Veal Chop with Poached Plums in Red Wine and Vanilla
2012 Gordon Estate Tradition Red Blend
Smoked Salmon with Blackberries and Rhubarb inside a “Smokey” Orange
2011 Renwood White Label Fiddletown Zinfandel
Spring Pea Caviar, Micro Mint
2012 Renwood Red Label California Zinfandel
Scallop Carpaccio, Lemon Foam, Cuban Oregano
2012 Renwood White Label Timberline Zinfandel
Barbeque Baby Squid Lollipops
2012 Renwood Black Label Premier Old Vine Zinfandel
Pork and Green Chile Tamale
2012 Renwood Amador Ice Zinfandel
2012 Gordon Estate Late Harvest Gewurztraminer
Flavors of Key Lime Pie