Tell us how this all began- what made you want to pursue a career in wine?
Well, that can obviously become quite a long and complicated question, but I’ll try and provide a response that is not too long-winded. I started working in restaurants when I was 14 years old washing dishes and quickly figured out there was some good money to be made out on the floor, so I ended up in the restaurant business. In that capacity- I suddenly found myself being around a lot of good wine all the time. My first really nice gig was at a restaurant in Kansas City, MO, called Plaza III. We had a wine steward, a gentleman named John Skupny, who eventually became president of Napa Valley Vintners Association. Within literally ten days of starting at the restaurant, John came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re really good at selling wine! Do you know a lot about wine?” and I said, “No, I don’t know a thing about wine, I just like to sell things!” After that conversation, he started inviting me to go wine tasting with him, which I accepted, and within a couple of weeks, I was pretty much ready to run down the wine rabbit hole.
It’s safe to say we all have had them, was there ever that ah-ha moment with a bottle of wine along the way?
Actually, I would certainly say that the first wine I ever tasted in my life at 15 years old was one of those. I can still remember what it was, it was a 1968 Louis Martini Special Select Pinot Noir, and I thought- this is wine? Why don’t my parents drink this stuff? This is good! My second wine was Country Quencher, and my third wine was Strawberry Hill, and the first wine I ever bought in a restaurant was Blue Nun. So you know, from that moment onward, I thought it all was fascinating, and of course, as I ended up in restaurants, I learned I could make a lot more money selling good wine. I thought I would do it for fun and did not see it as something that I could end up doing as a career- until I had left my job at the restaurant and was a manager at a hotel nearby. The guy in charge of wine there told me he was moving positions and that he wanted to hire me as his replacement- that was a great moment; I really had felt like I had died and gone to heaven at that moment.
Let’s talk present-day- Are there any particular wines you are obsessed with right now, and why?
There’s always a lot of obsessions for me when it comes to wine, and there are tons of different wines that I find very fascinating. I could basically walk you through a map and tell you a million things I like from each country!
I just got off a fix of drinking a lot of Beaujolais Cru, and as much as I drank, I did not drink enough! I must have gone through three or four cases over the summer, and it was not enough. I am not satisfied, and I still need more! It is such a fun wine with intensity, character, and even complexity at the very top end, but it is also just crushable- it is really fun.
Do you have any particularly favorite food and wine pairings?
Well, I’d say yes- because we are just going off of summer, and it still lingering in my thoughts- during summer, I loved nothing better than to spice the heck out of everything with Siracha and pair it with Halbtrocken; slightly sweet German Riesling! We go through buckets of German Riesling in the summertime because it is delicious! I love the idea of the heat and the sweet banging up against each other and find them as really happy companions, which may not be a common perception.
Last night [at the Restaurant at 1900, where Doug works] I paired a porcini mushroom pasta with a Rosso di Montalcino, and people were quite pleased with that as well- it was simply delicious! Gambas a la plancha and Montanilla Sherry? I mean, come on, so good! Those all come to mind, but again, I could keep going if you told me to!
Looking back on your career thus far, do you have a most memorable wine experience?
There are certainly particular wines that were remarkable, and I hope someday that I will taste again. Dear God, someday, let me, please have 1962 La Tache again! I am sure that will never happen, but I will take the time to enjoy it if it does.
But for me, it really has been a collection of individuals that I have met that made me feel like I was involved in something useful, important, and greater than myself. I am hesitant to start naming names because I am sure that I will leave someone out, but I always think of Jim Clendenen at Au Bon Climat. The first time I talked to Jim, I was enamored. I could talk to this guy forever- and the list of people about who I could say this is undoubtedly a long list of people that I value moments with. Heidi Petterson-Barrett- I got to not only sit on a panel with her once as a judge, I was the chair of the panel! Can you imagine? Turning to Heidi Petterson-Barret and saying, “Hey, get it together.” (that did not happen). Jokes aside, it was such a treasure to be able to sit with her and listen to her think through Cabernet Sauvignon- people should have to pay money for that!
The first release of Echolands, with your partnership with Brad Bergman, happened this past summer. How did the collaboration come to be, and how’d you end up in the Walla Walla Valley?
I had been going there since the 80s as a wholesaler and continued to go up there because I really liked what was happening up there; I felt like something important was happening, and I had to be on top of it. As I continued to travel there, I fell into a group of people that I liked a lot, I liked the style of the wines, and I liked what they were doing.
Meanwhile, I had the opportunity to start a project with my business partner, Brad Bergman, in which he literally told me just to pick a place! Initially, I had no answer for him and didn’t give the idea much thought, kind of blowing it off. At that same time, a friend of mine that I used to work with had a small piece of ownership in a joint project in Walla Walla and suggested that I buy into it. I explained the opportunity to my wife, who said it was a terrible idea- to which I said, okay well, I am going to do it anyway- and I said yes! It ended up not working out as the partners weren’t interested. But, somehow, in all of that, Norm McKibbin, a pioneer in that area who has developed very many vineyards up there, calls me up and tells me he had heard about what happened with the partnership falling through, and he offered to sell me some land. At that moment, I thought- what, really? I then went back to my partner Brad, who had told me to let him know if I ever heard of an opportunity, which is basically the genesis of it all.
This is an opportunity to make wine in a style that I think is worth making and that I think is not one that many people are making right now! I like the town and the people; I have always enjoyed myself there. There are so many people willing to welcome me and mentor me in particular, Greg Harrington and Brandon Moss at Grammercy; they have really had my back at times and kept me out of trouble.
Is there anything that you are looking forward to in 2021 at Echolands?
Well, in 2021 at Echolands, we should finally have a brick & mortar up and running with a tasting room of some sort. At the current moment, we are just on the web, so 2021 will finally see that change with even more wine to sell! We’ve newly purchased several hundred more acres and look forward to planting new grapes; we are very excited about that.
If you weren’t working in the wine industry, what another kind of career do you think that you would have had?
Well actually, that’s a fairly easy one! My undergraduate degree is in acting and directing, and like a lot of out of work actors, I was working in restaurants. I don’t know if I would still be in it- it is quite the difficult game. I figure that if I were not in wine, I probably would have found myself back in the world of academia. At the end of the day, I am sure I would still be doing some sort of theater or writing.
Our upcoming Raid Y(our) Cellar Live Virtual Tasting is featuring Vega Sicilia out of Spain, a region in which you are quite fond of. What draws you to Spain?
You know, to not make this a long answer, I remember when I started writing for a Hong Kong magazine called Le Pin, I was one of the first writers they grabbed. They allowed me to choose what I wrote for, and I said- this is easy, I want to do Spain, Portugal, and the Pacific North West! I didn’t want to do Burgundy. Nobody needs me in Burgundy. Enough people are writing about it. I felt that I had something to say and felt very knowledgeable about Spain’s growth, and it doesn’t get enough attention. I had been going to Spain for over 30 years, and I had something to offer. Great wines are being made there, and somebody needs to be telling those stories and sharing those wines. There truly is great stuff there!
Want to learn more? Doug Frost will be featured throughout the month of November/December 2020. Check out this week’s recommendations here!
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