Creativity vs. Science: How Honig Found the Right Mix in a Winemaker

In an ongoing series, Vintner will share notes  from past Cover Story features that didn’t make it into the magazine but are still worth diving into. “Laser Focused: Why Honig Winery Built Success on Just 2 Varietals” appears in the November/December issue of Vintner.

Michael Honig said great winemakers display both left and right brain attributes, balancing art and the science, he explained during the interview with Vintner for the November/December cover story.

“You need the science of winemaking,” he said as he started to discuss the company’s longtime winemaker, Kristin Belair. “You need to understand the physiological nature of a grape, how vines grow, how to take that fruit and taste it and then put it into the bottle. So you’ve got that science side, that’s really, really, really important.

“But you also need the creative side. I find sometimes winemakers are good at one or the other. They’re really science driven, but they don’t understand taste. Or they’re so creative. They’re crazy creative, but they don’t know how to make a bottle of wine that’s stable.”

Belair joined Honig in 1998 and has worked with main assistant Ashley Egelhoff for the past seven years.

“Kristin is incredibly science driven,” Honig explained. “Amongst her peers, she’s incredibly respected. We do all these trials analyses, everyone’s always calling her to ask for her opinion on something.

“But she also gets the artistic side of it. And I find that oftentimes in winemakers, it’s hard to get both together. Because it’s science versus creativity. And oftentimes, they don’t go together. And I think that that’s where she’s really been a huge benefit to our brand as she understands both sides and the importance of both sides.”

Around the time Egelhoff joined Honig, Honig said Belair asked if the winery could start getting a year of bottle age.

“At the time, we were growing [the business] so much, and we couldn’t keep up with inventory, we were basically releasing it right after bottling it,” he said. “So we said okay, it’s gonna take some time, but we will build up inventory to the point where we could not only be matching our sales growth, but also be adding this extra layer to get the year of bottle age.”

Just this year, Honig released the 2017 line, which was bottled last summer.

“We achieved that goal,” Honig said. 

But now, because of area fires in the Napa Valley in 2020, Honig said they are in a position to survive without a vintage.

“Being that our name’s on our label and quality is paramount and we don’t have second labels where some people say, ‘Well, we’ll declassify it.’ We don’t have that opportunity. So for us, I’d rather not make a vintage and screw up our 40-year reputation. And from a financial standpoint, we can actually make it work. It’s tight. And it’s not what we hope to have to do. But we can make it work.”

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