Owen Bargreen's Interview With Heidi Bridenhagen | MacRostie Winery
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Owen Bargreen’s Interview With Heidi Bridenhagen
One of the Great Winemakers in the Sonoma Valley

Winemaker Heidi Bridenhagen recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by Owen Bargreen.


July 28, 2022

Interview with Heidi Bridenhagen, Winemaker at MacRostie Vineyards

Today it is my delight to share one of the great winemakers in the Sonoma Valley. Heidi Bridenhagen. At the age of 29 Heidi Bridenhagen became only the third winemaker in the history of MacRostie Winery and Vineyards. Heidi has a background in biochemistry and crafts a beautiful range of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Rosé. I think you will really love hearing her story. Here is my interview with Heidi Bridenhagen, winemaker at MacRostie Vineyards.

OB: What brought you into winemaking? How did you decide to join MacRostie?

HB: I am a biochemist by training and when I fell into the wine world it was a great field to integrate biochemistry with something tangible, artistic, creative and fun. MacRostie was looking for an enologist that had experience working with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in regions outside of Carneros for their next exploration into Russian River Valley and beyond. I had just come from Sonoma-Cutrer and MacRostie seemed like a great fit, and a great opportunity to expand the winery’s portfolio of single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

OB: Talk about the wines you make from your estate Wildcat Mountain Vineyard? What characteristics do you notice in the Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs from that special site?

HB: Wildcat Mountain Vineyard sits at about 750 feet of elevation, just overlooking San Pablo Bay. The soils are a bright red volcanic soil that is fertile and rich in key nutrients that helps the vines grow. It is influenced heavily by the wind from the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay that physically toughens the skins of the grapes grown there. The Wildcat Mountain Chardonnay and Pinot Noir both have intense complexity. They also have a unique structure and tannin profile that comes from the wind influence.

OB: 2020 brought a host of challenges for winemakers with the fires — yet you defied the odds and made some brilliant, smoke-free wines that I recently tasted. Talk about how you mitigated the challenges that mother nature brought in that vintage?

HB: I was able to do a lot of different press trials on our whites when they came into the winery, and I kept the press fractions separate in both the white grapes and red grapes that I used for our sparkling and rosé wines. I also had access to a lab that could generate data on smoke compounds in grapes/juice/wine very quickly. That armed me with the information I needed to create protocols on whether I could pick something at all and how to process it if we did harvest the fruit. It was definitely a harvest where my science background was utilized even more than usual.

OB: Most Sonoma winemakers that I have spoken to are thrilled with what they have tasted in barrel with the 2021 vintage? Talk a bit about the vintage and what we can expect with your MacRostie Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs?

HB: I have enjoyed a number of amazing Sonoma County vintages, but 2021 is definitely #1 right now. It was an incredibly consistent growing season. There were slightly reduced yields due to the drought, but that seemed to edge things toward concentration. Vines had stunted canopy growth, most likely due to the fires the year before, but combined with the lower yields they produced a vine balance that is not the norm in Sonoma County.

Our vintage 2021 wines are all opulent. The Chardonnays are complex and textured. The Pinot Noirs have intense color and structure. Across both varietals, the portfolio of single-vineyard wines we produced in 2021 are showing the unique, signature traits that speak to the vineyards that they come from in a way that makes this a true standout vintage. I am particularly excited about our debut 2021 vintage of Pinot Noir from our new Nightwing Estate Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap AVA. We began developing Nightwing in 2017. It reaches elevations of 1,300 feet and features numerous elevations, exposures and soils. We planted it as a mosaic of 35 blocks featuring nine clones of Pinot Noir and nine clones of Chardonnay—all of which I was able to personally select. Helping to design and plant Nightwing was one of the highlights of my career.

OB: What are some of your favorite wines of California and the world? Do you have an epiphany wine or wines?

HB: I have a love for a California (Sonoma County) cool-climate Syrah, which means high acid, bright fruit (not syrupy), slight herbaceous qualities, and enough tannin that you should really not open one that is younger than five years old. I am excited to have found a small parcel of Syrah in Bennett Valley that I will be playing with in the future. Fingers crossed!

I have no specific epiphany wine, more moments. I fell in love with what a wine can do to an experience. Something to share with a meal or at a picnic in the park. Something unique you can open for someone from a different part of the world. It brings a snapshot of a place and a time that you get to experience and the same wine can be different for each person that tries it. I wanted to be a part of that. Every time I get to bottling the wines I have made I think about all the people, stories, hours, days months that the wine has seen and who then will open one of those bottles and will they get that glimpse. I always tell my team that they should never be in the cellar working hands on with the grapes/juice/wine if they are in a bad mood or are just not themselves, because I think it can show in the finished product.

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