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Wine Club Selections: An Interview With Mike Duffy Of Optima Wines

"Without The Small Guys Crafting Wine, Wine Would All Taste The Same And Be Boring"

We asked Mike Duffy of Optima Wines in Alexander Valley about where he sees the wine industry in America going in 5-10 years, what's the most life changing wine he's ever tasted, what he drinks other than wine and much more. Take a minute to learn more about Mike and his winery, Optima Wines, a winery that produces some of our favorite Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel year in and year out.

What is your name and title? What is the name of your winery?

Mike Duffy - Winemaker/Owner of Optima Wines

How did you get your start in wine? When did you know you wanted to make it a career?

My Freshman year I was making beer with my dad in our garage. It was never really that good so I started exploring making wine with berries. I have three younger sisters who I could send out to scavenge the neighbors gardens. When I got ahold of some Cabernet grapes I realized I could make something that was really good. That’s when I realized I wanted to be an enologist. I loved that I could work with my hands and be creative as well. It was like two worlds colliding into the perfect job.

What wine did you make that you are most proud of and why?

I would say my Cabernet Sauvignons.  I worked alongside Andre Tchelistcheff, he was the biggest influence on how I make Cabernet, and the greatest source of perspective, history and wine knowledge that I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed. He approached the entire winemaking endeavor, from the vineyard in the spring, to harvest, and through barrel aging, as one integrated whole. I learned to take Alexander Valley Cabernet and to use its brilliant fruit as the basis for my wines. “Don’t bother making one of those huge Cabernets like many do in Napa, Mike. Anyone can make wines like those,” Andre would say. He inspired me to make a Cabernet that spoke to the virtues of Alexander Valley. A wine with an intense core of fruit and cocoa, balanced with vanilla and oak. Complex and powerful, yet subtle and soft. He also impressed on me the critical concept of not manipulating the wine, rather helping it become its best.

What is the biggest differentiator between your brand and wines from everything else out there, or, in other words - what is your reason for existence?

I think the reason we are still around after 36 years is because we have a passion that runs deep. I built the winery on morals, values, and hard work, we still have the same focus today as we did 36 years ago. My family and I are focused to make wines that speak to the virtues of the terror while not manipulating the wine, rather helping it become its best.

How do you see the wine industry changing over the next 5-10 years?

I hope I am wrong, but I feel like more consolidations will happen which is troublesome. We need to continue to support the artisan and independent wineries so they will continue to prosper. I think there is a misconception of “glamor” or that “we are all rich.” As the saying continues, “How do you make a fortune in the wine business, by starting with an even larger one.” Sure, we have those that are manufacturing wine and money is in abundance. The smaller family wineries are the passionate ones with very little budget to get the name out. Without the small guys crafting wine, wine would all taste the same and be boring. My hope is for people to search out and support the little guys - that’s what makes our Nation strong.

Did you ever have a life-changing wine? What was it and how did it impact you?

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to taste many life changing wines. Most recently I had a friend who is in the wine business stop by a few years back. He walked in holding a magnum of a 1982 Gewurztraminer I made at another winery. We opened it with reservations not knowing how this white wine held up for 33 years. The first sip we all jumped on our phones calling everyone we knew to come to the winery to taste the OUTSTANDING wine. For many it was a wine they will never forget.

It’s a late winter, sweatpants weather, what are you drinking?

Irish Coffee

What’s your favorite drink other than wine?

Moscow Mule, I love that the ginger beer adds a spicy edge while the lime adds the citrus flavors. 

What is your favorite food?

Thai Food is one of my favorites.

Favorite restaurant?

Just like Winemaking, preparing food is one in the same. Take a well grown product and use your hands and creativity to create something delicious. My wife always tells me I should have opened a restaurant. My response is always the same, "if you think we are broke, now imagine how broke we would be if we owned a restaurant."

Article of clothing or accessory you can’t live without?

Gotta be my Carhartt jacket. It is cold in the cellar especially during those winter months. My fishing pole is a must, whenever I have an issue to solve at the winery like a mechanical issue or one of the wines has an issue I can’t solve, I just throw my pole in water for an hour or so and shut off and the answer to my problem comes to me. 

What is your favorite Hobby or pastime?

During the downtime which seems to be getting smaller and smaller, I love to fish, hunt and restore vintage cars. 

You can taste the wines from Optima Wines and many other acclaimed small wine producers by joining one of Winestyr's wine clubs. To learn more about our wine clubs, click here.