Winemaker, Graham Bell

“Making wine is a combination of knowledge, experience and practice, but sometimes it’s the quantity of caffeine at harvest time that’s the critical ingredient”.

“Harvest is definitely my favorite time of the year. I like the anticipation…the potential of the grapes about to be realized and transformed into wine. It’s the same feeling a potter gets opening a kiln after a firing. You have a pretty good idea of what to expect, but it’s the surprises, the unexpected, that you are looking forward to.”

Winemakeing

Graham’s feelings about harvest time are the same ones Bill Heidig experienced when he hired Graham as Lake Anna’s winemaker in 2001. Bill knew he was getting a skilled craftsman with fifteen years of Virginia winemaking experience and a first-class reputation, but he was looking forward to the surprises, the unexpected. And Graham has not disappointed, extending the range of Lake Anna’s wines, experimenting with new varietals and driving significant production improvements at the vineyard.

A Calling

Graham started his winemaking career at Montdomaine Cellars when he answered an ad for harvest help back in 1990. He’d recently returned from California to Holly Hills, the family farm between Richmond and Charlottesville, and after trying his hand at a number of trades, was searching for his calling. He found it in that first harvest. Smitten, he returned to Montdomaine for the bottling, eventually becoming an assistant to winemaker Shep Rouse, a legend in Virginia wine circles.

After Dennis Horton, owner of Horton Vineyard, purchased Montdomaine, Graham began splitting his time between the two wineries and gained valuable knowledge and expertise working with over twenty different varieties from four vineyards, and 70 distinct lots of wine with multiple sublots within each. Graham learned the art of blending and the necessity of multi-tasking. “It was a great experience and the work ethic there suited my hands-on approach.” After being a part of a number of successes, particularly the 1993 Voignier (“a wine that changed the Virginia wine landscape”), Graham became the full-time winemaker at Horton Vineyard in 1996.

Five years later, Bill Heidig found that being both vineyard manager and co-winemaker was not the ideal path to taking Lake Anna to the next level. Through the well-respected winemaking consultant, Brad McCarthy, Bill found Graham and hired him as winemaker in 2001.

Approach

“We all make wine pretty much the same way, but often it is just a matter of doing the right things at the right time, whether in the vineyard or the winery, recognizing the signs and knowing what they mean and where things are headed, and what to do about them. It may be very little, but very important.”

Graham’s fifteen years of making wine in Virginia have taught him the importance of blending and a good structural balance, especially with reds. “Blending is a combination of making the best wines, being true to varietal character and finding a home for everything. I love it when you can create that synergy that really works out of wines that, by themselves, have some inherent deficiencies.”

Now with numerous awards on the mantel, Graham looks forward to the next set of surprises while remaining true to his guiding principal: “Winemaking is mostly about guiding the grapes into becoming the best wine that they are capable of. Not always successfully, but always the goal.