Meet Isabelle Herve

Question: You are the Laboratory Manager for Arrowood. To educate our readers, can you describe what your job entails?

Answer: My job is to help the winemakers to elaborate the best wines by providing them with analytical numbers regarding “Wine Chemistry”. Many decisions are not only taken by tasting the wine, but also by testing it for Ethanol, the Acidity, and the Phenolic balance. All starts in the vineyards mid-August by “tasting and testing” the grapes maturity (sugars and acids) to take the best shot at the picking date! After that, the lab helps all along the production; aging in barrels (making sure that there is no microbiological deviation), before and during bottling, and until the final product is in bottle!

Q: What excites you about the work you do?

A: I love to be between the Winemaking and the Cellar teams. It feels like we have the answers to what they need to make important decisions. The winemaker crafts the wines, but they need the lab to guide them in some of their creativity.

Q: Having lived in both France and California, what are the biggest similarities and differences in the two wine growing regions?

A: This is a difficult question, in both, people are passionate and want to produce the best wines! It seems to me here, it might be less difficult to make the wine because there are less restrictions and legislations. In France, for example, you can’t pick grapes before the AOC is allowing you to do so, if you would like to pick earlier than the “ban des vendanges” proclaimed date, then you would have to fill a derogation…

Then other differences are the percentage of Alcohol, and the Phenolics structure. When I first came here, I had to adapt to the higher alcohol level. Wines above 14.5% in France are rare…

Q: If someone asked you how to pursue a career in enology, what advice would you give them?

A: If you don’t enjoy science, this might not be the best career. But if you do enjoy science in general or specifically chemistry, then this could be a good path. I couldn’t be happier to have changed my path (going originally for pharmacist) to do what I am doing now. I am surrounded by very smart and passionate people! And what is better than enjoying great wines and good food with friends! Then start by traveling; visit and work in different wine countries to learn their practices (there are few ways to make wines), and wine cultures.

Q: Which has been more helpful – on-the-job experience or formal training?

A: Don’t get me wrong, the formal experience is important, but the wine industry is so different from place to place that you are learning a lot on the job. It seems to me that accumulating several harvests within as many possible wine countries will give the people the best “exposure” time on how to better understand the job. I think this is the difference between learning and understanding the job…

Q: Other than Arrowood wine (of course), what types of wine do you enjoy drinking?

A: I just love many styles of wines….and the food to go with it! I would say that the wines I stayed away from are the sweet red wines outside of Ports and Sherry, for example. I really enjoy late harvest wines, I did my Ph.D. on Sauternes wines, it might be why! But I don’t like though, sweet Sauvignon Blanc, for example! That said, I am also very happy to be part of the Arrowood team because my great-grandpa had a wine propriety in Bordeaux, and I relate very well to this wine style but unfortunately for me, he had to sell the “Chateau de Grissac” way before I was born!

Q:  If you were to host a dinner party for six people and could invite anyone (living or deceased), who would you invite and what would you serve?

A: Again, this is a difficult one: My great grandpa (I hope he will be happy to see that someone else got the gene in the family….), my Enology teacher at the University of Enology, my husband (because he is like me…a wine chemist researcher), Pasteur (he was one of the first scientist to work on the wine chemistry and fermentation), André Tchelistcheff (he was born in Russia, but fled his country to come study at Pasteur Institute in France around 1922. He became the Beaulieu Vineyard winemaker in 1938 until early 80s. He left a huge impact in winemaking. He provided significant contributions to the techniques of Cold fermentation, malolactic fermentation, and the development of winemaking regions such as Carneros, in Oregon and Washington (Wikipedia – Andre Tchelistcheff), and Kristina Shideler, our Arrowood winemaker!

The menu will be:

 

Q: Can you give a couple of interesting facts about yourself or is there anything else you would like to share?

A: I mentioned earlier than I never thought to work in the wine industry, especially in production, when I was just out of high school back in France. I saw myself in Science; I was very bad at History or Geography and even worse with Language and Literature! I went to study Pharmacy because it seemed more realistic than my first choice….I actually wanted to study volcanoes. Since I was young, I had always been interested in Volcanoes and read a few books about famous volcanologists. Realizing that Pharmacy wasn’t my dream, I went and try for my goals. I had to start with Biology/Chemistry/Geology for a year before specializing in Geology later, but my dreams got crushed by the Geology teacher, who at the first big lecture told everyone: “to be a good geologist, you need a hammer and a pair of balls!” I chose to not continue on this path, knowing that it will be difficult for a woman to be recognized by this teacher….

So, I went to the chemistry path, and you know the rest. My family always loved to talk about wines at the dinner table, I realized that this would be a great opportunity to learn more of the production and the science behind it.

Here are pictures from the Chateau Grissac, which was in my family asset for a few years around 1950. My grandpa was working with his dad at the property, and my dad and his brothers and sisters were raised there. They left the castle when he was 13 years old…