Badger Mountain Vineyard in Kennewick, Washington, was the first certified organic wine grape vineyard in the state. The company focuses on environmental sustainability and is constantly evaluating how it can improve. For example, the vineyard operator uses bio diesel for all its vineyard equipment and farm trucks. Each week they pick up used cooking oil from local restaurants and convert it on-site into bio diesel.

In 1994, Jose Mendoza began working in these vineyards. He was transferred to the winery in 1996 and the late Bill Powers who owned the vineyards recognized that Mendoza had a “nose” that is necessary in becoming a great winemaker. Powers paved the way for Mendoza to learn on the job all the nuances required to make excellent wine. Mendoza was promoted to assistant winemaker in 2003 and head winemaker in 2011 for both Badger Mountain and Powers Winery. Here, the winemaker reflects upon his experiences both in the vineyard and cellar, while chatting The Red Hot Chili Peppers and canned wine.

1) How have your experiences working the vines affected your winemaking?
Working in the vines helped me learn to manage and control canopies, and crop levels. Working in the vines is such an important part of being a great winemaker, because that’s where everything begins. If I don’t have optimal fruit, I cannot produce an optimal wine. I am grateful for the strong relationships we have with our growers, whom allow us to give input on how to create a better growing season each year.

2) What challenges do you face as an organic and ecology-minded winemaker?
There are constant challenges, from growing all the way to the bottling process. In the growing stages, we deal with challenges of controlling mildew in the vines and leaf poppers. In the winemaking process of producing a great tasting organic wine, a great challenge is the ability to stabilize the wine in a short span of time. Since we do not add sulfites to the wine, we do not have the luxury of aging organic red wines in a typical manner. We have to release organic wines a lot earlier than conventional wines, which can be an added challenge because I have to find a way to create softened tannins and a well-balanced mouthfeel in a young organic wine. This is why we age our organic red wines in stainless steel, to help soften tannins and to showcase the fruit characteristics of our organic wines. Aging organic wines in stainless steel versus barrels also helps to prevent oxidization, which is another challenge that is faced in producing organic wines.

3) What are your favorite tunes to jam to while making your wine?
I don’t really listen to music during the actual winemaking or blending process. I like to be focused when I am blending, and music distracts me. However, during harvest/crush, I love to listen to The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

4) Any winemaking dreams? If you could make anything or try new types of production what would it be?
I have a curiosity for producing canned wine.