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Sep 21, 2017

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Aaron Pott of Beringer Vineyards
by Stewart Dorman
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 3.3

AGE: Ask his mom (twenty something)
FAVORITE FOOD: Sheep's brains (just kidding)
FAVORITE BOOK: Ulysses by James Joyce
FAVORITE FILM: Au bout de Soufflé, Jean-Luc Godard

A few months ago I called Aaron Pott, import winemaker for Beringer Wine Estates. Aaron travels all over the world making wine, so I thought he'd be a good victim, er, subject for my next Head Space column. Just think -- an interview that'd have world-class appeal, international quality and a global impact. Okay, so I have an over-inflated opinion of my writing. But it could happen. The world could be profoundly affected by this piece. It could lead to a made for TV movie or a top-ten sitcom or maybe even a chain of fast-food theme restaurants. Yes, yes that's it! Stew Food! Food in the likeness of me. I'll keep you updated on the outcome of this food world domination possibility.

Anyway, Aaron's really into soccer, so he was up for the Wine X shoot-out challenge. We met in an undisclosed location so the losing party could leave without disgrace. (That was my idea.) What Aaron didn't know is that I was the fourth grade crab soccer MVP for four recesses in a row. And retired undefeated. I didn't want to take advantage, but I lost so pitifully in all my interviews last year that this was my big chance to save face.

Looking back, my first mistake was asking Aaron to bring the ball. He brought one of those brand new fancy-shmancy black-and-white World Cup soccer balls. I'm used to the cheap rubber all-purpose recess ball. That sucked! Then Aaron asked if I'd ever played soccer before? Soccer? Did he say soccer? I thought for sure I'd told him crab soccer. Great. Now what was I supposed to do? I practiced for a week on all fours. My wife thought I was into some new kinky sex thing. What the hell was I to do?

Well at least I still have my Stew Food dream.

Wine X: Nice ball.

Aaron: What the hell you wearin'?

Wine X: Sweats.

Aaron: For what? A jog in Beverly Hills?

Stewart: My soccer stuff was being cleaned. You know.

Aaron: I'm just funnin' ya.

Wine X: Great. Thanks. Didn't you just get back from somewhere?

Aaron: France. Had a great time. The French have a saying: There are only three things to talk about in France -- wine, food and sex. But not necessarily in that order.

Wine X: I'll have to write that one down.

Aaron: You can't remember that without writing it down?

Wine X: When I was a kid I ate a lot of paint chips. I thought they were Fritos.

Aaron: Say no more. You ready?

Wine X: Sure. You know I can play soccer on two legs just as good as on all fours.

Aaron: I'm sorry?

Wine X: Nothing. How do you wanna do this?

Aaron: We can flip to see who starts in goal?

Wine X: Sure. You call it.

Aaron: Heads.

Wine X: Nope, it's heads.

Aaron: That's what I said. I said heads.

Wine X: Sorry, no instant replay this year. I'll start in goal.

Aaron: Fine.

Wine X: So you make wine in how many countries?

Aaron: Four. I spend the harvest seasons in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, making Rivefort de France wines; in Friuli in Northern Italy, making our Campanile wines; and in the Maipo Valley of Chile, where I assist winemaker Sergio Correa making Tarapaca. In the interim seasons my home base is here in St. Helena, where I work with Ed Sbragia and David Schlottman at Beringer Wine Estates. I like to travel. How many wines do you make?

Wine X: You know it's... I... It's my interview, okay? I'll ask the questions.

Aaron: Sorry.

Wine X: Damn right. What were we talkin' about?

Aaron: Countries I make wine in.

Wine X: Right. I've heard some pretty cool things about Chile.

Aaron: They love soccer down there. The hardest thing to get used to in Chile is that they don't start eating dinner until 10 o'clock at night. And it can go on for hours. Ready?

Wine X: Uh-huh.

Aaron places the ball. Steps back. Couple quick steps forward and WHACK!

Wine X: Don't take it easy on me just 'cause I'm a journalist. I'm tougher than I look.

Aaron: Stew?

Wine X: Huh?

Aaron: The ball's behind ya. In the net.

Wine X: Oh. Good kick.

Aaron: In many ways, though, Chile is very much like the U.S. I think it has to do with pop culture. For example, I was driving with a guy in Chile on some old dusty back road, and in front of us was a truck loaded with pumpkins. I guess the guy had never seen a pumpkin before because he asked me what they were. I told him they were pumpkins and he says, "Like the Smashing Pumpkins." I was blown away. I think by now MTV has covered the entire world. Some things are totally universal.

Wine X: You must play a lot when you're down there.

Aaron places the ball for his second kick. Steps back.

Aaron: Yeah. On Sundays the crew from the winery organizes a soccer match between the people that work on the property and the neighboring villages. We play in this huge professional stadium that's actually the local soccer field. They even bus in neighboring villages to play, complete with cheering sections. It's a great feeling. The property's like it's own little community because it's so isolated. The people live there, work there, go to school there and play there. It is amazing how self-sustaining the people are.

Couple quick steps and WHACK!

Wine X: Okay, I'm ready this time.

Aaron: Stew?

Wine X: Huh?

Aaron points behind me. Oh.

Wine X: I have an idea. Let's not kick the ball so hard. Just play for fun.

Aaron: Giving up already?

Wine X: (under my breath) I swore I said crab soccer.

Aaron: Huh?

Wine X: Nothing.

I toss the ball to Aaron.

Wine X: They take soccer pretty seriously down there don't they?

Aaron: I was at a soccer match in Brazil, and I saw this crowd of old men so I went over to see what was going on. And there were these three girls dancing topless. They're definitely more serious about the sport but much more open when it comes to the sprit surrounding it. You just don't see that stuff at sporting events in the U.S.

Wine X: Damn shame if you ask me. How do you overcome cultural differences when you're in a position like yours? You're an outsider coming in and basically telling people how to do something they've been doing for centuries.

Aaron: What bridges the gap between cultures is talking about it. The way things are different and the same between your culture and theirs. When you talk you get past the generalizations and stereotypes and find out who the person really is. Ready this time?

Wine X: Ready right here, mister world-wide winemaker guy.

Aaron places the ball. Steps back.

Aaron: Actually it's Mr. International Winemaker Man of Mystery. That's what all the girls call me.

Wine X: Whatever.

Couple quick steps and WHACK!

Wine X: Where did you grow up?

I retrieve the ball from behind me.

Aaron: Eugene, Oregon. What I call the Burgundy of the U.S. My dad was a connoisseur of inexpensive wines. I got into winemaking at a young age. I think it was the mess-making that most enchanted me. The passion for fine wines came later.

Wine X: Being on the road as much as you are, you've gotta have some wild stories?

Aaron: When I was making wine in St. Emilion, France, someone blew up my car.

Wine X: I hate when that happens.

Aaron: You had your car blown up in France?

Wine X: Well, not...not France, exactly. I was, you know, downtown Napa once and my, you know, truck wouldn't start.

Aaron: Uh-huh. Anyway, it was in the middle of the night and I heard these two loud explosions outside my bedroom window. For some reason that night I had slept in the nude. I went to the window to see what was going on and saw a small crowd gathered around my car. One person looked up, saw me naked at my window and then motioned me to come down. There was a small fire. Then I saw the fire was my car! The police caught the kids who did it – said they were bored…had nothing to do, so they blew up my car. Who says the youth of today are misguided. Ready?

Wine X: What's the most exciting region to make wine in?

Aaron: The Languedoc. They're always testing new equipment and new techniques. It's very exciting. You can actually see the future in winemaking because these tools and techniques will be used throughout the world. Did you know that in just the Languedoc region alone they make 1.5 times as much wine as we make in all of California.


I retrieve the ball behind me. This was a stupid idea.

Wine X: What's your secret to making good wine in so many parts of the world ?

Aaron: In my work, so much of it's how NOT to change what's already there. In order to make wine in all of these places -- Italy, Chile and France -- you have to understand their culture and way of life to produce a wine that's true to that region.

Wine X: Of the three regions you work in, what would you say are the best values?

Aaron: Wines from Languedoc. They're fruity, well-made and they're not going to hit you over the head with an oak baseball bat. The price is right. They sell for about five to ten bucks a bottle. Your turn to shoot.

Wine X: What's the score?

Aaron: Five zip.

Wine X: The zip part is...?

Aaron: Yours.

Wine X: Right. You ever run into some weird foods in your travels?

Aaron: I was served a sheep's head, whole, complete with eyeballs and all. I was in the Middle East, and I had no idea that sheep's head was on the menu. The top of the sheep's head was cut off and the brains were cooked. This guy sitting next to me takes out one of the eyes and pops it into his mouth and then smiles. The eyeball was just starring at me. Then he chomps down on it.

I place the ball. I feel a little nauseous. And I don't think it's 'cause I'm losing.

Wine X: I hate to ask but... What kind of wine would you serve with a sheep's eyeball?

Aaron: A Beaujolais Nouveau. Something fruity and light.

That's nice. I step back. I'm gonna put this one right past him...if I can keep from throwing up.

Do you remember Peanuts? The animated TV show from the comic strip by Charles Schultz? Remember when Lucy would hold the football and Charlie Brown would try to kick it? And then, just at the last minute, she'd pull it away?


Aaron: Hey, you okay? Need help? This grass is slippery...not to mention your shoes suck.

Wine X: I'm alright. Let's just sit down for a while and rest. You look like you're getting tired.

Aaron: I guess I could use some wine.

I pretty much sit (drop) where I had fallen. Aaron joins me. Breaks out some of his wine.

Wine X: You're traveling all over the world making wine in four countries... What are some of your other goals in life?

Aaron: Well, the first one's already come true, thanks to you. Five straight goals in a shoot out. Wait 'til the boys in Chile hear.

Wine X: You don't have to brag on my behalf.

Aaron: The others would be to write the great American novel. And of course make good, inexpensive wines.

Wine X: Well you're already doin' that.

Aaron: Thanks.

Wine X: Well, I'm outta questions. Thanks for the interview.

Aaron: Any time.

Wine X: Oh, just one more quick one. Whadda'ya think of "Stew Food?"

Aaron: Stew what?

Wine X: Never mind.

In retrospect, I didn't do that bad. I got some good exercise, had a nice conversation with Aaron and drank some great wine. So my hopes of opening a national chain of fast food restaurants were dashed. Stew Food will have to wait. Owning your own chain is probably overrated anyway.

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