WF: Tell us a bit about your background Ray – what got you the “wine bug”, how’d you get started and what ultimately let you to starting your own label?
RAY: It happened in stages. I initially “got the wine bug” at the age of 13 while dining at a restaurant in Belgium with my parents. They were served this mysterious red beverage while my siblings and I were served sparkling water or something else simple to drink. I pestered my mother long enough to have a sip. Turned out to be a 1959 red Bordeaux (believe it was from Chateau Talbot). The taste was very agreeable to me! Thereafter, my siblings and I were served very small amounts of wine with dinner once one was at least the age of 15. I believe this helped us develop a respect for alcohol and for wine with food specifically. Second stage was while conducting research for WA State University on wine grapes and stone fruits at the Prosser research station. I began making homemade wines and sharing them with real winemakers. The feed back was quite positive so I resigned my position with Wazzu to start my winemaking career in August of 1985 with the plan to eventually start C. R. Sandidge Wines.
WF: Can you tell us a bit about your philosophy and approach for your winemaking?
RAY: My wine philosophy is built around the marriage of; richly seasoned food, wine and enjoyment. I love to cook. When that love is coupled with my respect for the flavors and aromas the grape brings from the vineyard the result is wines of great complexity which possess generous amounts of fruit and moderate oak (when oak is used as a storage vessel for the wine) rather than what I consider “over oaked” wines. This approach was hammered home while I was making wines in the Rheingau region of Germany for three years.
WF: Who would you say is your greatest influence in wine making?
RAY: There are a number of people. They are all people whom I was instructed by and they are; consulting Enologists Andre Tchelistcheff, his son Dimitri Tchelistcheff, Winemaker Alan Kinne, Bernhard Breuer (desceased owner of Weingut Georg Breuer) and my father. Those involved in the wine trade are obvious. My dad comes in to play as he was and still is very consistent in his message when it concerns work. Namely, “if you are going to do a job do it right the first time”. Armed with the winemaking knowledge Andre, Dimitri, Alan and Bernhard provided me this is the approach I take with each and every wine I craft.
WF: What’s the best wine you’ve ever had at any price?
RAY: Though I have enjoyed many “big name” reds such as Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Palmer, Leonetti, Quilceda Creek, the best wine I have had to date was an Penfolds Old Vine Grenache – Syrah – Mourvedre (I believe it was an early 90’s vintage). The combination of fruit – oak presentation and structure were all perfectly balanced.
WF: Part of your legacy seems to be your undying efforts to blend old and new world elements into your wine – how has this been received by the public at large?
RAY: All in all, this approach seems to have developed a very loyal following. My wines seem to cater to those whom enjoy wines either by themselves or especially with food. I believe this is a result of my respecting the fruit the grape brings from the vineyard and not overwhelming this fruit with oak.
WF: What are some of the things that you guys do at C.R. Sandidge winery to remain competitive in a global market place?
RAY: C. R. Sandidge positions itself to compete globally by; producing wines of extremely good quality regardless of the wine type, wines that show very well with food, plus staying small and marketing locally. We want to take care of our neighborhood first. Anything left over is made available outside of the Pacific Northwest.
WF: You do a great deal with Rhone grape varieties – Syrah and Viognier – will we see more work being done in the future with Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc or even Malbec and Petit Verdot?
RAY: As for C. R. Sandidge Wines, I will probably not dabble with Petite Verdot or Cabernet Franc. I have been producing a Cabernet Sauvignon – Malbec – Merlot blend known as “Tri*Umph” since 2000. The 2002 rendition was rated the top red Bordeaux styled wine produced in all of the New World wine producing areas in 2005. This blend as never let me or my clientele down. Simply delicious!
WF: If you could take only 3 wines with you to a deserted island, what would they be?
RAY: 2004 C. R. Sandidge Stone Tree Red, 2003 C. R. Sandidge Tri*Umph and as I am on an island a nice dry – unoaked Semillon to have with the fish I must catch in order to survive would round out my selection of three wines.
WF: More and more we see many wineries (thankfully) using less oak in their white wines – and we couldn’t be more happy about that. How do you personally draw the line as to whether or not you ever use oak in the process of making a white?
RAY: Personally, I revert to tradition in many instances. I do moderately oak my Chardonnay and Viognier wines I produce for C. R. Sandidge and other wineries I craft wines for however, I never use oak with Riesling. If able to do so, I will not use oak with Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and rose wines. These wines are simply too fantastic with foods and as sippers in their natural state to complicate with wood.
WF: There’s no doubt that the greater Lake Chelan area has been growing with wineries – do you ever forsee it becoming the “new wine destination” of WA like Walla Walla is?
RAY: The Lake Chelan basin is unmatched in scenic beauty anywhere in North America. The soon to be declared AVA will put the official rubber stamp of approval from the wine world as well. Our reds border on more of the European style of winemaking, and while we do not have the same style of reds the Walla Walla area pumps out we believe we are competitive. Our whites will be the finest produced in our State not to mention some of the finest crafted in all of North America. This is all due to the terrior of the Lake Chelan basin.
WF: What drives you to make wine?
RAY: I believe I was blessed with a combination of; great sense of taste and smell, attention to detail plus being borderline perfectionist. When these traits are combined with the fact I derive an immense amount of satisfaction when my wines bring people pleasure this sums up what drives me to make fine wines.
WF: Do you think we’ll ever see a day here in America when wine is thought of in the same manner as it is in Europe? i.e. an everyday item with food and friends?
RAY: Americans may eventually equal the Europeans from the standpoint of enjoying wine every day. Many of us do so now. My gut feeling is as a nation we are a longs ways from this realization.
Thanks Ray for your time and we wish you and your staff continued success at C.R.. Sandidge Wines!