A Conversation with Eric Baugher

It’s a rainy Tuesday afternoon and Eric Baugher (COO & Winemaker at Monte Bello) is moving intently around the Monte Bello chemistry lab, where he got his start at Ridge as a chemist in the summer of 1994.

Today he’s plating samples of 2015 Paso Robles Zinfandel and 2015 Geyserville, the last quality control step before the release on April 1. He’s completely at ease in this technical and pragmatic environment, swabbing out test tubes and putting drops of wine on microscope slides. Calm, focused, casually dressed in jeans and a red plaid shirt rolled up to the elbows, he smiles and laughs easily while diligently completing these specialized tasks. Eric’s traditional biography can be found here, but we want to show other sides of the man who makes Monte Bello, beyond the typical press release. Here are his answers.

The first wines I drank were from where I grew up in Corralitos. I started collecting wine when I was 21. Local wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains were what my parents drank and I followed suit.

I received so much great advice from my parents, uncles, grandparents. Uncle Ray was always beating into my head to “build your brain muscle, don’t follow in my footsteps working manual labor, get a college degree”. Uncle Ray was very successful as a contractor and encouraged me to use my mind to get ahead, rather than my back.

Anywhere in the world? I’d probably live in Australia, Claire Valley or Adelaide area. Nice people, not too crowded, the beach with the beautiful Indian Ocean nearby, and excellent wines to drink.

Paul Draper always pursued balance, trying to make wines that came together in harmony, in a yin and yang, because it’s not just 1 + 1 = 2. Being sure that every single varietal could make a great wine on its own and from there building a wine that has synergy and is greater than the sum of its parts. The job of a winemaker makes you responsible for transferring the vineyard character to the grapes and eventually to the bottle. The whole process of transformation, taking that character of the vineyard to the consumer, that’s what Paul drove for each harvest. It’s also not just what you’re producing but the image of the wine in the market, talking about it to end consumers, that’s something Paul has always been great at, his finesse with describing the wines.

During the long commutes from home on the Pacific coast to Monte Bello, or on the drive to Sonoma to see the vineyards, I listen to a range of music according to my moods. Country music on the way to work, classical to relax in the evening after a stressful day, or some hip-hop or whatever my kids are listening to!

If I could have dinner with anyone, I would love to dine with Dr Osea Perrone, (original founder of the Montebello Winery in the 1880s-1890s). Would be great to ask him questions about coming to the top of this mountain and building such a large estate in the middle of nowhere. What varietals of grapes were planted? What other crops was he growing? What was his winemaking philosophy? Did he have plans to build further cellars? Was he hiding a secret stash of wine from the federal ATF inspectors during Prohibition? There are so many questions unanswered.

Growing up, I always wanted to be a doctor of some sort, whether a medical doctor or a scientist. I eventually took the Dental Admission Test to attend dentistry school just after graduation from UC Santa Cruz, right as I was starting to work at Monte Bello as a chemist.

Honesty and friendliness are the qualities I most admire in others.

The fascinating thing about being a parent is how strong DNA is. Your kids grow up with your personality but where is it mostly coming from? Is it nature or nurture? The personality aspects that my son & daughter have are fascinating. When one of my kids is angry or yells at me, I wonder “Is that little Eric?”

When I’m on a beach in Hawaii after taking a nice run in the sand, enjoying the beautiful surroundings and fresh air, that’s when I feel the most relaxed. Despite how busy it can be during harvest, I take time to clear my head while walking through the vineyard in a remote area, like the back of Jimsomare, surveying rows and sampling grapes.

Fitness and nutrition are where I geek out in my spare time, staying up to date on the latest nutraceuticals and supplements, trying to understand the biochemistry of it all. It’s important to me to take care of my body to keep up with the rigors of an active profession like winemaking.

One skill I taught myself was how to use a 35mm camera, developing my own film in the school darkroom. It was fascinating to set the image on paper using the various chemicals.

Without winemaking I’d end up going mad! I wouldn’t know what to do. My whole life revolves around the seasons, the harvest, the bottling. But I’d probably stay in the wine industry, pursue the MW, and maybe become a wine educator. I love everything about wine and would travel all over the world to visit wine regions.

If I could choose my last meal, I’d stay at home with my family and have grilled filet mignon, using grapevine cuttings for the fire, with a side of Brussels sprouts roasted with bacon, and mashed potatoes smothered in truffle oil. 1974 Monte Bello would be the ideal pairing.

Having a family has made me develop more patience, more of a “go with the flow” way of living. It’s made me want to work harder to succeed in order to provide a better life for my family and help them achieve their goals, too.

If I could be reincarnated I’d come back as one of Paul Draper’s dogs! I’d enjoy a very nice life, having constant companionship, going to the park, eating well, and chasing coyotes on Monte Bello.

Terroir is a very complicated thing but I think the geology, the mineral composition of the soil, has the most impact on the wines I make. Getting started with life after graduating was the scariest thing I’ve done. Leaving university and moving out on my own, with marriage, a career, and a baby all happening in quick succession. It all came together fast and we’re still enjoying it after all these years.

My eighteen-year-old self probably wouldn’t take this advice! But I’d tell him to study harder in the subjects that at the time were painful to go through, like Literature & English. Writing and being a good communicator is such a vital part of building a career and being well-rounded. My dad is an artist so I wish I’d spent more time studying art, taking it more seriously.

There’s nothing in the world that would make me compromise my ethics, be deceitful to my family or to Ridge.

­—Interviewed by Dan Buckler, Regional Sales Manager