For generations, philosophers and writers have talked about the artistry of wine, how it plays on the senses and conveys an array of emotions, but most people forget to mention that it’s also serious science. Chemistry, biology, botany; these are all vital concepts to create exceptional wines. That being said, not many are truly experts in these fields, leaving a winemaker to rely on instinct and emotion. That’s where Tessier Wines and scientist-turned-winemaker Kristie Tacey comes in.
Before falling in love with the world of wine, Tacey was a research scientist studying protein pathways. She originally moved to San Francisco from her native state of Michigan to pursue a career in biotechnology, which included working on The Human Genome Project. However, after a wine tasting trip in Sonoma, everything changed. “Being in the vineyards and tasting the wine in the place the grapes were grown really made an impression,” she says. “I’d studied the science and loved the small details, but always appreciated the big picture and thinking about the system as a whole. The grapes growing in the soil, the vines, the weather of that vintage then the fermentation and seeing how the wine progresses and changes during aging is all fascinating.” She knew exactly what she wanted to do.
In 2006 she switched gears fully, diving into the world of wine by finding a job as an assistant winemaker in Oakland. “I didn’t have any experience, so I really had to sell myself.” She found the beautiful balance of science and art that is the essence of winemaking irresistible. It wasn’t long until she created her own label “Tessier,“ which is the original French version of her family name “Tacey,” dating all the way back to the 1600s in the Loire Valley.
Tacey began her label by crafting small lots of her first love, Pinot Noir, and then, after seeing the wonderful results, decided to let her instincts and love of French wines shape her choices and techniques. She soon added many of her favorite varietals to the Tessier roster, including Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, and another obsession of hers: Gamay Noir.
Q: “Is there any kind of philosophy behind your winemaking techniques?”
A: “I’m inspired by European wines and practice minimal approach to winemaking. I partner with grape growers who have integrity and practice sustainable farming. They produce beautiful fruit. Having access to clean and healthy fruit allows me to pick early to preserve acidity and go with native wine yeast fermentations. I try to tamper as little as possible with the wines.”
Q: “How does your knowledge of microbiology translate to winemaking?”
A: “It contributes to my understanding of wine and all the things that could go wrong, but also knowing how important cleanliness is in the cellar. My notebook skills are on point, it is important to be organized, write everything down, because you only get one yearly attempt to make the best wine possible.”
In addition to making clean, natural wines from sustainable vineyards, all of Tacey’s wines are also 100% vegan. “I don’t want to take anything away from the wines,” she says. “In winemaking, you can use milk, eggs, or isinglass to clarify or soften the wines. Those choices would, of course, render a wine non-vegan.” Instead, she uses alternate, less invasive, techniques to achieve the same results, such as gentle pump overs or extended aging, and the results speak for themselves. She simply uses healthy fruit, timing, and a little scientific method to create exceptional natural wines.
Don’t let her scientific background fool you into thinking she’s not also an artist, all great winemakers are. One of her most interesting concepts is the idea of Wine and Music Pairings, which you can find on the Tessier website for each of her varietals.
A great example of this is The Cure’s “The Perfect Girl” paired with her 2016 Pinot Noir from the Saveria Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. At first, both the music and the wine seem almost terroir-driven. You can see the winding roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains, you can almost taste the sunshine. You conjure a story of a young couple, enamored with one another, enjoying the summer before it’s end.
The wine itself is youthful and innocent, with bright notes of pomegranate and bing cherry, with an unmistakable floral character. Then comes in something darker, more rebellious: hints of cinnamon, cloves, and sage, all combining to make a complex, perfect Pinot Noir. The song will tell you all you need to know: “You’re such a strange girl … I think I’m falling in love with you.”
Tacey says that the actual shift from science to winemaking was “simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying,” but it all paid off. She has some incredible things on the horizon, including the release of her 2018 Femme Fatale Rosé with a brand new label design (available March 8th) and a new 2017 Pinot Noir from Filigreen Farm in Anderson Valley, which will debut this year. This new Pinot features incredible fruit from 72 year-old organically and biodynamically farmed vines, and promises to be quite the show stopper. There has also been talk of a new winery and tasting room in West Berkeley, so keep your magnifying glass close and your ear to the ground, because you won’t want to miss out on that.
By using her extensive scientific background and her beautifully artistic mind, Kristie Tacey has created something very special with Tessier Wines. Her wines truly embody the quote by microbiologist and father of modern fermentation, Louis Pasteur, that graces each and every Tessier label: “A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world.”
Visit TessierWinery.com to check out all of Kristie Tacey’s wines and stay informed of upcoming events!