When I met with winemaker Amy Ludovissy at Viansa Sonoma winery, it was like being welcomed into her home. Surrounded by hundreds of barrels, tanks and wine presses, she invited me into the lab to get away from the honking forklifts and echoing footsteps of her cellar team.
“I’m really not any good at this. Don’t make me sound stupid, okay?” she joked as we sat down for our interview. I brought along sandwiches from a local Sonoma bakery and when she couldn’t decide between the Chicken Panini or the Prosciutto and Brie, she asked if I’d go half and half, “I just love to try everything!”
Warm and likable right from the start, I wondered how someone making world-class wine in a famous grape growing region could be so humble. I learned that Amy began her career teaching English abroad in Taiwan and Korea. It wasn’t until she returned to her home state of Iowa and began working as a substitute teacher that she took a leap of faith and enrolled in winemaking classes at her local community college. Not long after, she traveled to New Zealand to work her first harvest at Morton Estate, met her husband, a fellow aspiring winemaker from South Africa, and never looked back.
Traveling the globe to pursue various winemaking positions gave her great exposure to the industry, but she says she really found her home when she began working in her current role. “We’re like a family here. We work well together and have a strong passion for wine.”
Amy’s enthusiasm for wine is strongly rooted in the experience of enjoying it with family and friends, and pairing it with all the food she loves. When crafting specific varietals she sets an intention of how it should pair with each occasion, such as Pinot Grigio, which she likes to drink alongside her Thanksgiving turkey, or Cabernet Sauvignon which she always intends on pairing with prime rib on Christmas. “For me, winemaking is about those amazing moments, when you go around and taste all the tanks, and you get to one and you’re like, wow, this is amazing. I can’t wait to share this one with friends around the dinner table.” Picturing where and how she is going to enjoy her wine is just half of the equation, though.
Aside from her nostalgic approach to creating the perfect wine, Amy also offers a scientific perspective and knows that making the best product means being willing to try new things, styles and techniques. As we toured the winery, she pointed out various barrels that she is currently experimenting with. One barrel in her trial is uniquely made with three different types of oak, all of which impart a distinct flavor profile to the wine. The barrels have varying levels of toasts, and some of her studies are not with oak at all, but rather with an oak alternative called a Flex Cube. The results come in slowly, but the ultimate goal is to find the vessel that accentuates the best qualities of the grapes.
She asks if we can take one last stop on the tour, leading me to a relatively inconspicuous stack of barrels. “I’m actually really glad you came today, I’ve been looking for an excuse to try this wine again.” She uses her wine thief (a long pipette used to extract wine out of a barrel) and fills my glass with something I can only describe as heavenly. As she watches me swirl the glass and take a sip, she smiles and gives me a knowing look, “it’s just so stupid good, isn’t it?”.
Q & A with Amy
Go-to weeknight wine?
Constantly changes but right now, Bonny Doon Rose.
Your specialty in the kitchen?
Applauding my husband for making me incredibly amazing food…
One ingredient that makes everything better?
How many styles of wine glasses do you really need?
Just one. As long as it holds liquid.
Most memorable travel destination?
All of my travel destinations are memorable for one reason or another.
Most beautiful country: South Africa.
Most eye opening: Cambodia.
Favorite city in the world: New York.
Friendliest people: Taiwan.
Best family meals and drinking culture: South Korea (you never drink alone).
Best outdoor adventures: Costa Rica.
I absolutely love to travel and immerse myself into cultures and become part of it so this list could go on and on and on…
Wildest food you’ve ever eaten?
Beating heart of an eel I chose out of a tank! I was the guest of honor and it is considered an honor. Probably will never do that again!
Craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Hmmm…let’s leave this one to the imagination.