Style & Substance

Kristie Tacey

Posted on October 27, 2018

First trained as a microbiologist, founder and winemaker Kristie Tacey has built her wine brand from scratch over the last decade. Her meticulous yet intuitive style translates to the bottle and beyond. Also a vintage dress aficionado with a knack for pairing wines with music, Kristie shows that it’s possible to balance a scientific approach with aesthetic appreciation. With savvy, skill, and dedication, Kristie Tacey and Tessier Winery reflect the genesis of Woman-Owned Wineries.

"Winemakers are less guarded than winemakers. There are no patents pending, so we can talk freely."

What first turned you on to wine? When did you know you might want to make it a career?

At the University of Michigan, where I got my degree in microbiology in 1996, I was really into ecology and examining the small pieces that make up a whole system.

Shortly after moving to California, my cousin took me wine tasting in Sonoma. I saw the grape vines planted on the property and then tasted the wines from the estate fruit and it just made my head spin… not just from the wine, but thinking about the soil, the climate, the vine, and that vintage all captured in the bottle.  It all really resonated with me. Plus, I was blown away by the food and wine culture that did not exist in Michigan.

By 2006, I wanted to leave my career in science to pursue my passion for wine, as it had been percolating in me.  I felt that winemaking was an extension of my microbiology degree. A job opportunity came up at Lost Canyon Winery in Oakland: operations manager and assistant winemaker. They took a chance on me, and I moved on to my next chapter.

You source fruit across a wide range of regions. What's your "sweet spot"—favorite appellation—and why?

I love them all, but my love for El Dorado Rhone varietals runs deep.  It is a high elevation site with volcanic, clay and granite soils. Ron and Chuck Mansfield are lovely people to work with.

In contrast, the Saveria Vineyard from Santa Cruz Mountains in the Corralitos area is a pretty special place, too. Coming from a low elevation with coastal sandy soils and early morning fog.  Prudy Foxx is the vineyard manager and such a pleasure to work with, always giving me the lowdown on all the clones, so I can make the best decision for each year.

"My many years repeating protocols conditioned me to a lab notebook, where every experiment was written out step by step."

How does your science training come in handy during the winemaking process?

Studying science has helped me focus on details, noting all things involved and then I treat every harvest of every varietal the same way. It starts when I visit the vineyards–before actual harvest–to get a feel for that new year, talk with the grower about any concerns, examine the soil, and collect rocks.analyzing the outcome. My many years repeating protocols conditioned me to a lab notebook, where every experiment was written out step by step. The day of harvest I note the birthday of the wine, what the weather was like, how the fruit looked and tasted, what time it came in, and basic chemistry readings like pH and TA.

Then I think about techniques such as how much whole-cluster fruit was used, what kind of vessel the grapes were fermented in, and how long the fermentation continued. I note what the must smelled like, whether we did punchdowns, footstomps or pumpovers, what day we pressed, and whether the wine went to tank or to barrel.

I also note what music I am listening to in the cellar and how I felt that day. I consult the biodynamic calendar to see whether is it a leaf, root, flower or fruit day.  All of these are important in the evolution of the wine.

Check out Kristie’s music and wine pairings here. >

Every three weeks, I taste the wines and continue to make detailed notes. Before the next harvest, I review my wine notebook to assess what I may want to do differently. Every year is another shot at making the best wine from that vineyard.

What do you love about the wine industry? What would you like to see improve?

Mainly, it is a highly passionate business.  I love the circuitous stories of how people ended up in the wine industry.

Winemakers are less guarded than scientists. There are no patents pending, so we can talk freely. In fact, it is not a threat because even if someone had picked grapes on the same day from the exact vineyard, the wines would turn out differently. I think this grants an open, honest discussion about specific techniques, which I really appreciate. Plus, it is a strenuous profession (physically and financially) and I feel that there is a mutual respect for anyone that does it.

What do you drink at the end of the day? Do you have a "desert island" wine?

My inspirations and go-to wines are usually European wines, mainly from France.  Lately, I have been into Gamay from either Savoie or Beaujolais.  Also, I love connecting and drinking wines from other winemakers around California. It’s good research to explore vineyards and AVAs.  There are so many great small producers out there. If I am having a bad day or celebrating anything, it’s Champagne!