Wine Consumer


Winemaker, Mark Capalongan: Wine Text Interview (Consumers Ask the Questions)

Wine Consumer Magazine, Sean Piper

A "Wine Text Interview" with Mark Capalongan, Winemaker and Owner at Big Dog Vineyards in the South San Francisco Bay. Wine consumers ask Mark a series of wine questions and he responds via text message with Wine Consumer Magazine Editor, Sean Piper.

<check out Big Dog Vineyards wine here>


Hello to Mark Capalongan, Winemaker and Owner at Big Dog Vineyards in The South San Francisco Bay, welcome to a special Consumer Edition of the Wine Consumer Magazine "Wine Text Interview" where consumers ask you the questions.

Q1: Where are you right now?

A1:  Hi Sean.  Yes, right now I'm all over the place attempting to manage a paving project for the road leading to the winery and a bathroom remodel, calling in to work to keep them on track and oh yes, balancing the SO2 on all the barreled wines today.  Of all these, the latter is perhaps the most important.

Q2: Would you share a picture of yourself and a picture of your wine? What price range are your wines in?

A2: I've seen the beautiful young up-and-coming female winemakers you hang out with and I can't say this old dog is even in the same class.  But the wines we make are more than up to the challenge.  How great to be involved with something as timeless and enduring as fine wine!  Our wines sell in the range fo $25-$35.

The following questions come from wine consumers:

Q3: (Gregory M.) Do we need to age wines today, will it make them better?

A3: Gregory- Much depends upon the wine.  Many wines these days are made to drink right away.  Some red wines benefit from further bottle again.  In general wines will mellow and the flavors will marry together with further bottle time.  Acids (tartness) will diminish as well as tannins (stickiness).  Wines will become rounder and softer with time.  That seems to be what the European palate prefers although many in the new world prefer their wines younger and more expressive.  It's always fun to lay some down for a few years to see what happens to them and nothing impresses like a old bottle of wine that emerges from your "cellar" for special guests.

Q3.1: (Toby O.) Native yeast or cultivated yeast - what is your opinion?

A3.1:  Toby - Wild Yeast- yes!  Native yeast- well probably not.  The problem with field yeast (native) is that you never know what strains you'll have.  In time as your leftover skins go back onto the vineyard perhaps you'll end up with some wonderful native yeasts.  But in nature you have a 1 in 3 chance of having desirable yeasts strains.  Therefore I prefer to kill the field yeast at the crusher and start a regimen of wild yeasts that are of a known strain.  Then sequentially, I'll introduce a cultured yeast that will allow for complete fermentation.  Wild yeasts generally die off about 10% alcohol so you need something else to finish any wine that will have more alcohol.  They never mention that when they tell you that the wine was fermented on native yeasts.  It may have been started that way but if the wine has more than 10% alcohol it certainly wasn't finished that way.

Q3.2: (Dawn G.) As the grapes rest on the vines, what color variation determines how rich the juice will be?

A3.2: Hi Dawn.  I assume you're talking about red wine grapes here. When the grapes turn red we call this veraison.  It seems to happen almost overnight.  However, the grapes are not nearly ripe, in fact they are only about half way there.  Verasion happens about 12 degrees brix (a measure of sugar content) and we like to harvest at about 24 brix.  So the color is not a good indicator of ripeness.  Instead we need to measure the sugar content, the acid content, and the pH (acid strength), as well as skin thickness and seed color.  The darkness of the resulting wine is more about the varietal, the level of extraction, fermentation temperature and oxygen stabilization.  Color in the final wine might be a good indicator of good winemaking techniques, especially for a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Q4: (Aimee K.) How do you determine which competition to submit your wines?

A4: Hello Aimee.  We're pretty small and wine competitions are expensive for us.  In addition to the entry fee a fair amount of wine is donated as a part of the process.  I only enter two competitions per year - both in California.  There are other competitions elsewhere but selling in some other states is difficult for smaller wineries.  So I enter the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition because it's the largest in the world for American wines and one of the most recognized.  I also enter the Sunset Magazine International Competition, again because it is recognized by wine lovers everywhere.  I suppose for me quality is more important than quantity in wine, and also in awards!

Q5: (Dinelle S.) Corks vs Screwcaps (?)

A5: Hi Dinelle.  The debate over wine closures rages on.  I see merits in both although matching the closure to the wine is important.  For white wines and reds meant to be consumed young a screw cap is practical.  It's also great for less expensive wines.  Not much oxygen gets through a screw cap but for these kinds of wines who cares?  On the other hand if a wine needs to be aged or a while then nothing duplicates the natural cork for transmitting just the right amount of oxygen over long periods of time.  And the romance of a cork can't be beat.  You're at a nice restaurant and the wine steward shows you the bottle, cuts the foil, twists in the cork screw and that magic pop of the cork announces quality and rarity.  On the other hand he comes and twists of a cap with the aluminum crack and its all over too soon.  C'mon, which is more romantic?

Q5.1: (Jeremy K.) How important is package design/ labeling?

A5.1.  Jeremy- this is an important question and millions are spent (industry-wide) on this every year.  The average consumer is affected by the artwork on the bottle as much as the liquid inside, particularity when perusing the store shelves.  For micro-wineries like us, we're not on store shelves and mostly sell across the wine counter on the basis of a wine tasting.  Packaging is still important, but perhaps less so?  I'd like to keep the cost of our packaging below $2.50 a bottle.  I know others who will not hesitate to spend $6-7 per bottle on their packaging.  That's expensive one-use packaging!

Q6: (Amy B.) Do you see yourself as a scientist or artist?

A6:  Amy, Amy, Amy.  Do I have to choose?  When I make wine I used the analytic's to ensure that the wines are within a certain zone that is universally known to produce quality.  Beyond that I use taste and style and dare I say "art" to create something that is interesting, unique, and elicits emotion.   It's like cooking in many ways.  There is a recipe that embodies scientific principles, but there is creativity in the kitchen that includes an element of "art".

Q7: In closing, what would you like to say to the world's wine consumers?

A7: Wine like food doesn't stand all by itself.  It's part of an overall environment that is not just sustenance, but rather a greater enjoyment of life.  Wrap yourself in enjoyment, surround yourself with good friends, place yourself in wonderful surroundings and make a magical evening.  Then in the middle of it all enjoy a fine wine and some delicious food and see how it all comes together.

OK, you can't do that every day and Burger King has its place too.  But don't forget to spoil yourself every once a while.  Keep at least a few bottles of fine wine on hand when the occasion is right!

Thank you for sharing your time with us, Mark! We think your small winery is BIG on everything that matters to wine consumers! Cheers!