Et Fille Winery
You say Tomato, I say Tomahto
by Alison Ruch, Avalon Staff Writer, March 2007
You say tomato, and I say tomahto...
This is the kind of song and dance one might imagine Et Fille ("and daughter") Wines father and daughter duo Howard and Jessica performing, replacing the lyrics with wine descriptions. While the two share fundamental views about business and winemaking, they have a running dialogue about their wines, which allows each of their unique personalities to shine through. (They also have a whole lot of fun working together.)
Here's what they have to say about their fresh-in-bottle Elton Vineyard Pinot noir 05 $32.95/$35.95:
DAD: Pretty and big nose. Marionberry and huckleberry tastes with a pepper overtone. Long, complex finish.
FILLE: Our 2005 Elton reminds one of Natalie Portman- a delicate beauty that will mature with time into complexity. The nose is dominated by roses with jam overtones. The balanced palate begins with blackberries but, with time, is highlighted by cola and rich tannins. The velvety mouth feel would best be enjoyed when you have the opportunity to appreciate it over a dinner of game or fish with a hearty sauce in the years to come.
Regarding their new Maresh Vineyard Pinot noir 05 $38.99/$42.95:
DAD: Heady, intoxicating nose with floral and red berries. Cherries and minerals on the palate. Lingering finish.
FILLE: Wow - this wine will display true elegance with time. The complex nose is followed by a bright fruit palate and balanced by minerals, pepper, and sage. The long finish is accented by oak. This would best be held for a special dinner of beef or veal in the years to come.
Guess whose background is in software and whose is in marketing...
Howard Mozeico was born and raised in New York, moved to Hawaii to work in the Peace Corps and met his wife-to-be, Mona. Later, the two moved to Colorado, had a daughter and eventually settled in Oregon in 1978. Howard worked in software.
But there was this neighbor - Steve Milliren - who had a vineyard, and after enough looking over Milliren's shoulder, Howard got the itch to try growing grapes.
"He gave me some cuttings," Howard said, "and told me how to plant and tend the grapes. I think I had about thirty vines of Pinot. In 1984, I had enough grapes to make wine. 'Uh-oh. What do I do now?' My neighbor told me, while I jotted down his wisdom on the back of an envelope (for real) the four magic steps in making wine.
"That first wine was drinkable, but only if you squinted and gulped real hard. I stuck with it, learning from friends (Jim Hillman, a fabulous amateur winemaker), books, courses, forums, helping other winemakers during crush, asking questions, joining the West Side Wine Club, and making lots of notes, but no longer on envelopes."
Howard continued to develop his winemaking skills and eventually started buying fruit - in the early 90s - with help from Bill Hatcher and Lynn Penner Ash, who he said, "has been helpful, patient, instructive and inspirational beyond measure. She has been a blessing."
Nowadays, at Et Fille, Howard is a full time winemaker, but he sees a strong connection between his previous and current work. "One of the things I liked most about software development is that you mentally had to shift back and forth between lots of detail and the big picture, between the programming and the design," Howard said. "You have to use different thought patterns for each of these. This seems to hold true for winemaking as well. Lots of detail, lots of observation - yet holding in mind where you hope to encourage the wine to go."
In 2000, Jessica teamed up with her father to make wine. Prior to that, she'd worked for twelve years in marketing and biotechnology and had attended business school at Wharton.
The career shift doesn't surprise Jessica much. "Wine has been a passion that I have shared with my dad for years - tasting, discussing, and enjoying it at the dinner table," Jessica said. "It only seemed natural that we should extend our shared passion for enjoying wine into my helping him to make it."
Jessica handles the majority of the business side of Et Fille, which has satisfied the "entrepreneurial itch" she developed at Wharton and in "watching my dad in his software days."
"Realizing that there could be nothing more fun than combining the three biggest loves of our lives - family, wine, and business," Jessica said, "I convinced [my dad] that we should go into business together to share our passion with others."
Father-Daughter Duo - Plus One Indispensable Mom
Howard and Jessica's unique job skills combined with their love for providing good wine experiences are what make Et Fille thrive.
"The great news about spanning two generations, genders and career backgrounds is that we often bring a different perspective to the wines we create," Jessica said. "For example, my dad may taste a wine from the barrel and it may evoke a memory from him that I never thought of. Meanwhile, my mid-thirties marketing woman perspective instantly draws parallels from our wines to fashion, celebrities, and pop culture that I think best describe the wines to my contemporaries.
"When we are doing tasting notes, my dad will jot down, 'Nice nose. Red fruit palate. Long finish.' I, however, want to compare the smooth elegance of the wine to Gwyneth Paltrow and a Hermes handbag."
So Howard makes the wine, Jessica handles the sales and marketing of the wine...and Mom's in on it, too.
"Mona is truly indispensable," Howard said. "She does all our wine tasting events, from decorating, to flower arrangements (she is an Ikebana instructor, as well as a jewelry designer)... She is in charge of the look and feel of the whole event.
"She is in charge of feeding the helpers during harvest, and then of our harvest feast. But most importantly, she is steadfast in being there whenever I need another pair of hands or someone I can count on. She has been at the winery with me at midnight during pressing and barreling numerous times.
"And the amazing thing is she does not drink any alcohol whatsoever (well, you could twist her arm into drinking about 10 ml of D'Yquem). She has a really good nose though, and always evaluates the aromatics."
The Et Fille Wines
Howard and Jessica are committed to producing small quantities of high-quality vineyard designate Pinot noir. Selecting specific vineyards, and wiithin those vineyards, the sections (called blocks)
Howard explained his inclination toward single-vineyard designates: "I find it amazing, interesting, and delicious that from the same grape variety, the same clone, made by the same winemaker, using the same barrels, you can enjoy instances - oops, a software term - that taste so different one from the other. And it is all because of the soil, the microclimate, the care taken in tending the vines, the age of the vines... It's fascinating to me."
Et Fille does produce one Pinot noir blended from multiple Willamette Valley vineyards. "Most other winemakers will tell you they are trying to create a certain type of blend, to have certain qualities, and to be consistent," Howard said. "There was a different motivation for this particular blend (of Kalita, Maresh and Elton). The truth is, not all barrels of the same wine are as good as other barrels. Some are free run, some are pressed, some are both. And then there is the fact that organisms help shape the wine even while in the barrel (beneficial bacteria which are the agents of malolactic fermentation, for example). So each vessel is a (mostly) closed ecosystem. Each ecosystem evolves a little differently.
"When I put together our single vineyard wines, I wanted them to be as good as possible, so I chose the best barrels of each. The other barrels went into the Willamette Valley. Now, that may sound like a pejorative zing on the Willamette Valley, but even these 'other' barrels were excellent wine from excellent vineyards. The result is quite good."
The Et Fille wines are fermented in small quantities and are aged in a variety of small French oak barrels. "The biggest reason for small fermentation lots is yeast," Howard said. "I use different yeast strains to achieve additional complexity, elegance, and to help to bring out individual characteristics of a vineyard. Since one yeast strain usually dominates when more than one strain are in the same fermentation vessel, dividing up the lot into smaller vessels allows you to use multiple yeasts, one per lot.
"For example, in my Viognier, which we are bottling this week, I divided the must into seven containers using four different yeasts, rather than using one tank. When I get a particularly small lot that I cannot subdivide, I even use barriers within the fermentation vessel to allow different strains to go there own way for several days of the fermentation."
"As for the barrels, each cooper's barrels shape the wine in a different way," Howard said. "Using multiple coopers adds different layers of flavors. The tradeoff for the multiple yeasts and multiple coopers is that the wine can be less focused, on the one hand, but more complex, on the other. It's a tradeoff I am willing to make."
Howard and Jessica's Vision for Et Fille
There are some new varietals on deck for Et Fille, and these are the 2006 Viognier and 2006 Rosé, which they plan to release in April. "Some of the 2006 Pinots will be out in November, Howard said, "others in about a year. We have added one more Pinot vineyard in 2006."
Jessica described what she and Howard hope Et Fille can continue to accomplish. "Our hope is that we can share our passion for fabulous unique wines at accessible price points with others. When we get letters from customers telling us about their fond Et Fille experiences - When did they open it? What did they eat it with? Who did they share it with? - we know we have fulfilled our aspirations. We don't measure our success by the number of cases we produce or the wine rating we get from reviews, but by the depth and breadth of memories that we have inspired for others drinking our wines."