Nurturing Sustainability in the Wine Industry With Matt Brain of Alpha Omega Winery

by Drew Hendricks
Last updated Jun 10, 2022

Legends Behind the Craft Podcast

Last Updated on June 10, 2022 by rise25

Matt Brain

Matt Brain is a Winemaker at Alpha Omega Winery in Napa Valley, California. Matt holds a master’s degree in biosciences from Sam Houston State University where he was a decathlete. He also earned a winemaking degree from UC Davis. Matt partnered with The Vineyard Team as a Sustainability Auditor and hosts a podcast for the organization promoting sustainable wine growing.

Previously, Matt worked at Treasury Wine Estates, Baker and Brain Wines, Fresno State, and Edna Valley Vineyards, among many other wineries and organizations. He also served on the Board of Directors for the World of Pinot Noir. 

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • What inspired Matt Brain to break into the wine industry?
  • Matt shares his multi-tiered approach to winemaking
  • How Alpha Omega Winery’s location influences Matt’s craft
  • Matt reveals how Alpha Omega works with other wineries to create quality brands
  • What is sustainability in the wine industry and how does Alpha Omega promote it?
  • How wineries can adopt sustainable practices
  • Matt’s strategies for creating a consumer-focused wine

In this episode with Matt Brain

As the wine industry continues to expand, many wine growers are implementing sustainable practices in their harvesting. Yet, sustainability involves more than just eco-friendly growing methods. Learn from one dedicated wine grower about how you can maximize sustainability to enhance your winery — and save the planet.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of sustainability is the packaging. According to Matt Brain, heavy glass wine bottles and packaging waste lead to a larger carbon footprint. Transitioning to lighter glass bottles, biodegradable plastic, and cork recycling can reduce your winery’s carbon footprint and increase your revenue. 

In today’s episode of Legends Behind the Craft, Drew Thomas Hendricks and Bianca Harmon sit down with Matt Brain, Winemaker at Alpha Omega Winery, to talk about how wineries can implement sustainable practices. Matt dives into his approach to winemaking, how Alpha Omega fosters sustainability in the wine industry, and strategies for creating a sustainable winery.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:03  

Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry with your host Drew Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  0:19  

Drew Thomas Hendricks here and the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. past guests of Legends Behind the Craft include James King of King Family Vineyards Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solene, and Barry Waitte of Tamber Bey. If you haven’t listened to these yet, be sure to check them out and subscribe. Today’s episode, sponsored by Barrels Ahead Barrels Ahead, we work with you to implement a one of a kind marketing strategy. One that highlights your authenticity, tells your story and connects you with your ideal customers. In short, we help wineries and craft beverage producers unlock their story to unleash their revenue. Good at today to learn more. Today, I also have Bianca Harmon on the show who’s one of our direct consumer marketing strategists at barrels ahead. How’s it going? Bianca?

Bianca Harmon  1:06  

Going good. Sure. Thanks for having me. Again, excited to talk with you met today and learn all about the wine industry and teaching and all of the fun things you do.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  1:21  

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. We are super excited. Today’s guest is Matt Brain winemaker for Alpha Omega Winery in Napa Valley. He holds a Master’s, a master’s degree in bioscience. He’s an accomplished decathlete and host and he himself hosts a podcast promoting sustainable winegrowing. Welcome to the show, Matt. 

Matt Brain  1:39  

Hey, thanks for having me. DREW. Great to be here. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  1:41  

Thanks for being on. So Matt, tell me how I always ask this first, how’d you get into the wine industry?

Matt Brain  1:48  

You know, I went through college, not really understanding that wine production was kind of a viable option. I thought it was for people that kind of inherited wineries, from your parents. So I got into wine a little bit later. You know, I had a master’s degree, focusing on microbiology. And when I graduated, my wife and I were just really getting into wine kind of on the consumer side, really just enjoying tasting different wines from different regions. We were in little tasting group. And you know, during this time, I guess I kind of realized that this is like the most ultimate biological art you could come up with where you can interact with it in so many different ways through your palate, and the memory response and the close connection that people form with wine. And we just really fell in love. So about four years out of college, we actually ditched our careers. We moved out to California not knowing anyone, and we just started dragging hoses in a cellar start started our careers again, and kind of built our way from the from the bottom up.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 2:49  

So you moved out from where you are in Toronto at the time.

Matt Brain  2:52  

Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Yeah, we were in the Toronto area where I grew up. And when when we graduated, we just thought that that would be kind of an interesting spot to to start our careers. It’s, it’s a real busy kind of thriving location. And it’s a wonderful spot. But we knew that California would be the best chance for us to kind of make the break into the into the industry. So we, yeah, we packed our bags, and we went on a road trip.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  3:16  

That’s fantastic. I like what you said, you may say it again, the ultimate artistic, biological artistic expression.

Matt Brain  3:22  

Yeah, absolutely. You know, I love plants. And I enjoyed, you know, I really enjoyed microbes. And I, as a biologist, you know, looking at Horticulture and Landscaping and all these beautiful kind of expressions of biology, biological art, you know, it was a kind of a fascination of mine, you know, kind of blowing up slides under the microscope and looking at beautiful colors of, you know, all these different things. So, when I, when I started to get into wine, I thought, wow, the, you know, the plant, the biology here is really doing the work and is really giving us these beautiful, distinct characteristics of the wine. And really, I discovered that the winemakers job was just to kind of transform that biological art into into a medium that people could really interact with. And so, you know, kind of enjoying wine and learning about wine from that biological perspective was just so enchanting to me. I just absolutely fell in love. Oh,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  4:18  

absolutely. And that art part, but there’s also the, I always thought sometimes think of it as a trainer and you’re an athlete, where you’ve got these raw materials that really aren’t, they couldn’t run a triathlon if they wanted to. And helping them get to the point where they can actually compete.

Matt Brain  4:34  

Yeah, yeah, it really is a blend of the of the sciences and the arts. You know, and we talk a lot in winemaking, about that the fact that the science and the understanding of the technical side of winemaking and the wine chemistry and the physiology of the plant of the plant itself of the vine, you know, that sets the structure for for being able to do the transformation that we do, but when you start to kind of you To really get that understanding in your in your tool bag, you start to rely more heavily on the artistic side to really express that wine and to understand the individuality of the site, and maybe some of the sensory components that are unique to that site and kind of how to express them. So yeah, we talk a lot about it’s a star. It’s a science, and it’s a beautiful combination of the two. Yeah.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  5:25  

The art, the science, the art and the craft. Where does the Where did the two intersect? Well, the the two intersect, right? And the winemaking, but what mistakes do some people do you see a lot of winemakers maybe make where they go err too much on the art side or too much on the craft side?

Matt Brain  5:42  

Yeah, we actually we see that a lot. And there are a lot of different winemakers out there. Even in Napa Valley, you would think that most of the winemakers here are very technically savvy, but it’s not the case. We have a lot of great winemakers here that really just kind of understand the basic fundamentals of the science and then relied very heavily on the artistic side, their palate, their sensory analysis. So we really do see a range and I feel lucky that I feel fairly confident in both sides of the winemaking. And I think that that’s where real beauty happens when when the synergy of those of those two different, you know, concepts come together. But I’m glad you brought up the concept of the craft as well. And, you know, we look at we look at winemaking in a couple of different ways. And, you know, it really is a craft. And a lot of you know winemakers out there that never really spent a lot of time in the cellar. They don’t understand necessarily how important that day to day craftsmanship is in terms of shaping that wine and preserving the aromas and flavors that we fought so hard to create in the vineyard. You know, the the techniques we use in the cellar, they really do influence flavor and aromatic expression. And the difference truly the difference between an incredible wine and a good wine can come down to the passion and the attention spent by the people in the cellar, you know, do they see it as a job where you’re just trying to move the liquid from A to B? Or do you see it as a craft where you know you you’re invested in the outcome. And you’re doing absolutely everything you can with your hands on the wine to make that wine the best it can be at all times in the process. And those are two very different ways of looking at wine. And I’m glad you mentioned that because my time in academia, I actually got to spend a lot of time teaching the hands on winemaking with students and some of the first real introductions of them interacting with grapes and the processing of that fruit. So the craft is really where a lot of the passion lies and a lot of the deep blue a lot of the details are and it’s so very, very important especially in making high end wine where the difference between a procedure done correctly absolutely correctly and somewhat incorrectly will really translate to the final product.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  7:58  

Oh, I can absolutely absolutely complete that and see that it’s a little more a little subjective and wine because you’re tasting it. I see a lot of times like with craft I use the parallel I do a lot of woodworking and you can you can we can build a bookcase or you can have as Japanese wood master build a bookcase with hand planes and it’s it’s the same bookcase holds the same amount of books, but you’ll look at it and there’s it’s it’s like apples and oranges.

Matt Brain  8:22  

No, I think it’s a great analogy and because you know you talk about having the right tools for the job very similar. You’ve got to understand fully how to use those tools correctly. In all situations where they might be applied. You know you’ve got the the quality of the raw material like winemaking like in woodworking if you don’t have a great piece of wood to start with, you’re never going to make a great piece of furniture a great piece of art with it. So there are a lot of really fun parallels there. Drew Nice one,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 8:49  

or even even Also, one more parallel chefs, you give a good chef up the same ingredients as a home cook. They’re both they both have the exact same materials. Absolute results are going to be completely different.

Matt Brain  9:04  

You know when I liked the I really liked the analogy of the chef because it brings in kind of another dimension that I think a lot about in winemaking and it’s that it’s that managerial piece. You know you you know a chef and a winemaker, you We call ourselves the winemaker. But the people that are in the cellar, they’re the ones actually doing the hands on winemaking work. They’re the ones with the hoses, they’re the ones with the punch down tools getting they’re getting the nice beautiful purple stain on their hands. And you know, educating that team and motivating that team and managing that team in such a way that brings out the best in them in the best they can possibly do. There is a huge influence on quality they’re both in the kitchen and in the winery and you know it once again if the passion and the full understanding of why we’re doing that is not translated. You’re gonna get Carter’s cut. You’re gonna get people trying to rush through the procedure and naughty I’ve been really enjoying the procedure that they’re performing because they don’t really understand why it’s important. So, you know, I always try to think about myself as a teacher and to try to bring that role a little bit to the to the winemaking team here and to create the passion and the understanding that really drives that high level performance. Yeah.

Bianca Harmon  10:19  

Oh, go go. Oh, I was just gonna say, you know, since you were a teacher, and now you are the head winemaker, have you been able to incorporate some of those students with where you’re at today?

Matt Brain  10:30  

Yeah, I absolutely am. It’s one of the best things about working here at Alpha Omega. When I was first approached about taking this role. I immediately reached out to a star student of mine that I taught when I was at Cal Poly, who actually I brought in to do some other winemaking with me at another with another winery in the past as well. And I just knew this person would be critical to my success here at Alpha Omega. And that’s my assistant winemaker Melissa Paris. So yeah, an incredible addition to the team. Someone I work very, very closely someone I’m sharing my office with right now. And an incredible contributor to the team. Another former student of mine from Cal Poly as well, Eli Byron, I reached out to about a year ago to come in and head the lab up for us and all the analysis that we do here and Eli, like Paris, you know, these, they’re fantastic young winemakers, very, very talented and really lucky to have them as part of the AO team right now.

Bianca Harmon  11:27  

It’s just so cool. We’re just talking about parallels. So I just kind of was like well have the teaching and wine. Head winemaking been able to be incorporated.

Matt Brain  11:36  

Yeah, they really, they really have. And it’s really nice to be able to benefit from some of the relationships that I formed in academia and, you know, to really know who the best of the best were and to be able to reach out to them and for them to accept was a I feel like a nice compliment to me and the relationships that I started back then.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  11:55  

That’s great. So talking about your team at Alpha Omega it talk to us a little bit about Alpha Omega. What Yeah, well, there.

Matt Brain  12:02  

Yeah, so we have fantastic new challenge for me up here to be in Napa. I’ve been here for just about two years now. And for those listeners out there that are I’ve never heard about Alpha Omega. We’re located in the Rutherford appellation of Napa. Our winery sits just off of Highway 29. That’s the that’s kind of the major road heading north and south through the Napa Valley. We’ve got a beautiful state winery here with a little vineyard around it some Sauvignon Blanc, we’ve got these beautiful fountains out back that people can kind of gaze across and see our vineyard, but they can also look up and see Mount Veeder. It’s a beautiful view of Mount theater to the west of us. So it’s a beautiful spot. And we really offer a great tasting service. But what really, really excites me about working here at Alpha Omega besides my incredible team, of course, is the great the grapes that I get to work with. I’ve just never really even heard of another winery that gets the quality and diversity of grapes that that we get to work with here. You know, we’re in all the major Appalachians here in Napa. There are some small ones to the South that we’re not in. But we’re in I think it’s 12 of the 14 designated Aava. So I get little little plots of grapes from all over the place. Some are a little bit bigger than others, some of them very, very tiny little locations. And we farm about 110 of our acres ourselves. Yeah, we so we have our own farming team that we worked with very closely. But then I also worked with great other growers across the valley as well. Guys, I’m on I’m on the top of the mountains. I’m on my feeder. I’m on Spring Mountain I’m on Atlas peak. I’m on Diamond mountain so I get a real great feel of kind of the mountain tops in the area. And in terms of the valley floor, we’re in Calistoga. We’re here in Rutherford, we’re in yacht Ville. Oakville, Oak Knoll, we’re all the way down. So you know, just that diversity of fruit allows me number one, to get to know the area very well. And to really kind of exercise that artistic vision for where you know for what the different flavors and aromas are that come from these different areas. For example, for your listeners, you know, up in the warmer spots in Napa like up in Calistoga, the tannins tend to get very soft and rich and subtle, okay. And then the fruit character tends to get a little bit of this kind of purple shift to the Cabernet. And that’s because it’s so warm up there. Well, when you go to the mountaintops or down to the south of Napa Valley, where the wine where the growing areas a little bit cooler, you tend to have some tannins that have a little bit kind of a more of a rustic kind of profile. They’re a little bit grabby or they’re a little bit grittier in their youth. And the fruit profile is tends to be more of a pure red fruit kind of in that red cherry testes kind of vein not as much of that purple shift. So you know these differences of the fruit character in the texture are things that we really treat serious and we want to preserve those and present them to our customers. So they can say, Oh man, I really taste that rugged nature of that mountain top fruit, you know, and they get a feel for their for that terroir. So, it really does inspire the artistic side. But what it also does guys is it allows us to make these blends that are really, really unique, you know, having this much different starting material. And, you know, some of our some of our blends that we put together are this very purpley rich, very kind of hedonistic style, great for young drinking, soft tannins more approachable, but some of our wines are much more austere, they’re kind of more of that old world vein. The tannins are a little bit rougher, the fruit isn’t so explosive. It’s more of a complex fruit profile, where you’ve got some fruit, but you’ve also got some kind of herbs and earth and spice all coming from from that fruit, where some of the riper wines we make are very fruit dominated. So you know, Parris and I here, when we first got here, we realized that it was going to be a lot of fun to kind of take these wines and tease them out in their own individual direction and really make them highlighting some of the sensory attributes that make them fun. So that’s, that’s something we’ve really been keyed in on this past couple of years and having a lot of fun with.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  16:16  

Yeah, that have such a broad spectrum of raw materials across the whole valley. They’re amazing. How, how do you divide that between your brands between Calusa to LOSA? Yeah, yeah. Okay,

Matt Brain  16:29  

So Tolosa is actually our sister winery down on the central down on the Central Coast. Oh, geez. Yeah. So that’s easy, right. So they make they make a lot of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay down there. That’s what they specialize in. They do some small, some small lot stuff in roads, they do a Serrana garage and they do a little bit of P GRI, but they’re really focused on the burgundy varieties were up here, we’re focused on the Bordeaux’s. So that’s why we’re such a nice complementary pair of sisters. And, and so we have common owners. And in fact, we have a third winery in the pre aurat region of Spain. And this one, this winery is called perinat. And another another fantastic winery. So the three wineries are all actually kind of under this common investor group. So we’re we got kind of a nice synergy because we’re very different in terms of the varieties and the terroir we work with, but we kind of roll up all under the same umbrella. And I’ll tell you what, guys, the wine makers in these other locations and the teams that they put together, and what they’re also doing, in terms of sustainability in green practices is, is just as robust and a deep dive as what we’re doing up here. So it’s, it’s really just a privilege to be a part of a group like this very small, just three wineries but kind of just big enough to be dangerous, if you know what I mean. Or, you know, it gives us some synergy in the market, when our when our sales teams out selling, you know, you’ve got one, one person coming in with a whole bunch of different wines. And there’s some nice synergies in terms of HR and IT that as you can imagine, worked well for a small group like ours. So yeah, that we were called the Alpha Omega collective as a group. And actually in our we have some Alpha Omega collective tasting rooms where they pour all three of the brands in there. So it’s a fun little synergy that we’ve got going on between the three wineries.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  18:20  

Oh, great. Thanks for the clarification on that. Yeah. You mentioned, you mentioned sustainability. And that’s something that’s very near and dear to your heart. Talk to me about that. And, you know, in what, you know, what, what are the initiatives that you’re going towards? What What can wineries do to help making wine growing more sustainable?

Matt Brain  18:37  

Yeah, sure. Well, to start kind of with my journey of sustainability, I got into this sustainability cause my first winemaking job, I was kind of put in charge of looking at our little bit of what our Vineyards and Winery was doing and certification and going through the checklist, you know, and sustainability is such a, it’s a great concept, folks. Because, you know, when you talk about concepts like organic or biodynamic, you’re largely talking about just the growing of the grapes itself and the vineyards. But when we talk about sustainable concepts, we talk about more than just the plants in the vineyard, we talk about the people, treating them properly, giving them benefits, you know, trying to employ these people year round as much as possible, not just kind of bringing them in for harvest and letting them know, it looks at things like the carbon footprint footprint of our winery, the carbon footprint of our packaging materials. You know, we look at, believe it or not, we look at things like revenue because if you’re not profitable, and you’re not making money, you’re not sustainable there either. So sustainability really is this full, encompassing look at what we’re doing. And it encourages us to look hard at what we’re doing now, but also to continuously improve, you know, in sustainability. We’re always challenging even even when wineries and vineyards that are certified. It’s like what are you going to do next? You know, you’re you’re you’re dialed into this concept You want to keep improving, you always want to keep raising the bar and in making things better and better. So you know that my journey with sustainability was really just getting passionate about the concepts and the logic of how sustainability kind of supports the long term goals of our industry. A long time ago, I started working closely with an organization called the vineyard team down on the Central Coast, which has a sustainability certification body called sip, which is called which stands for sustainability in practice. And they look hard, not only they look hard at wineries and vineyards in terms of certifying them and letting them know, you know, what they could be doing better or what to focus on. But they also provide a lot of resources for those for the industry, in terms of seminars in terms of newsletters, and presentations that always be kind of pushing those concepts forward and continuously improving. So a couple of years ago, the vineyard team approached me to inquire whether I would like to host their podcast, yeah, their ongoing podcast. So I took it over a couple of years ago. And during my, my tenure with the with the podcast, we actually crested 100 recordings, and 100,000 downloads, total total. So we hit some really great milestones in the past couple of years. And it’s a fantastic podcast. It focuses on basically all aspects of sustainability, from the vineyard from soils from pest control, you know, integrated pest management through the winery, talking about packaging, talking about wastewater, the proper utilization of water in the winery, literally every topic covered. So if you’re if your listeners are interested, the podcast is called Sustainable Winegrowing. And the little symbol is a little owl. And you can find it on all the major platforms. So I encourage you guys to check it out. There’s some topics there that a little a little drier and very technical. But there are some that are more a little bit more consumer focused, and some that are a little less technical. So yeah, check it out a little bit.

Bianca Harmon  22:12  

Does Alpha Omega have the Sustainability Award, are they certified? in it?

Matt Brain  22:20  

We are we the the vineyard team actually mainly focuses on wineries down in the Central Coast where I spent most of my career. The sustainability body that we work with up here in Napa is called Napa green. Yeah. And so they share a lot in common. You know, I would say they both have very similar goals and approaches for, you know, the sustainable, the auditing funds for sustainability, the coaching for improvement, but then also that outreach and teaching side as well, they do a great job. You know, we also work closely with a vineyard focus body up here called Fish friendly farming, that are really focused on the materials you’re using in the vineyards that are certainly that aren’t harming the environment, or especially the waterways in particular, they look at, they look very hard at things like erosion control in the vineyard, because over time, you know, develop land can really wash away. And that is not a good thing for both for the vineyard itself, but also for the waterways that that topsoil is running down into. So we look at carbon footprints, we look at the materials we’re utilizing to control pests out there. We look at corrosion control plans, carbon budgets, all that kind of thing with fish friendly farming as well. So two fantastic organizations that we’re working with up here in Napa. That’s great.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 23:39  

Where do you start? It?

Bianca Harmon  23:40  

Was that important to you, when you were leaving the teaching to to go to a winery that really focused on sustainability?

Matt Brain  23:48  

Yeah, absolutely. Bianca, it’s, but you know, I would say that there’s two sides of that, because you go to a winery that’s already focused on sustainability, and they’ve got programs in place, which is fantastic. So I can kind of take that on and continue, you know, moving the ball forward. That said, a winery that’s not currently focused on sustainability has a lot of low hanging fruit and a lot of fantastic immediate improvements to be made. So you know, for me, I don’t think that any either of those scenarios would be, you know, a game changer for an environment that I feel like I could succeed in. But it was really nice to to come up here and see that they had things started and they were already fully certified across the board. So then for me, it was more like alright, let’s look hard at what we’re doing. And try to find those areas that we can continue to to make advancements. And if you don’t mind, I’ll roll into that because

Drew Thomas Hendricks  24:38  

yeah, that was just asked you what Yeah,

Matt Brain  24:41  

yeah. So we’re focused on really focused on a couple of things out here, specifically right now, guys, and number one is getting our vineyards. Fully organic. You know, a while ago, we stopped you. Well, before I came here to Alpha Omega, they stopped using roundup on the In the vineyard floors for herbicide control, and all of our all of our weed and cover crop management is done by hand we mow and we use basically trimmers to take that down, so no chemicals needed there. Another big focus of ours here at the winery is our water use, and also our wastewater system, we actually have a really great system here, it’s kind of a bio digester where all the winery and tasting room wastewater goes to this bio Digester. It’s called a live unit. And it’s got microbial digestion going on. So we’re all constantly looking at the pH and the temperature of the water, making sure that digestion and that fermentations happening properly, then that that cleaned up water goes to our wastewater pond, which kind of continues to settle and aerate and clean that water up. And then that water actually goes back into the vineyard and landscaping period Alpha Omega. So it’s really great to be in that closed loop and getting that system which is starting to age on us a little bit. Getting that system really dialed in is a is a process that we’ve been focused on and we continue to focus on because, folks, if you don’t understand that water is a big, big focus for us up here in Napa, then you haven’t been listening to us. Because you know, the proper, and very, very efficient use of water both in the winery and the vineyard is on everybody’s sites. And we’re all trying to work together to make sure that we’re really really focusing on water. You know, another couple of things we’ve done here over the past year is we brought in things like cork recycling. And working with a cork reclamation company that’s going to use that and turn it into a product. We we have brought in a local waste management company to do a seminar for our entire team about what exactly in Napa we recycle, and what we can what we can’t so that we’re separating our waste properly, and that we’re recycling, absolutely everything we can here in the winery. Yeah, so that’d be me, those are just three things I could probably keep on going. But you know, we’re we’re really I would like to say that we don’t do anything here at Alpha Omega, that is exclusive of the of the concept of sustainability. When we’re making a decision when we’re buying a piece of equipment, when we’re looking maybe at a new vendor to take on, you know, we’re looking at sustainability issues, we’re looking at how it’s done. Is it done properly? Are they open to feedback, you know, because, hey, maybe there, maybe they’re not doing things properly in the vineyard, but they’re open to some extra expertise and consultation on that side. So, you know, like I said, to your questions, Bianca, it’s, there’s so many different scenarios out here in which these concepts can be applied, and really, to make great improvements. It’s great to run into people that are doing it right. But then it’s also great to run into people that are really waiting and hungry for that new knowledge and, and kind of looking for that person that can help champion them to the next level on that front.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 27:54  

What would you say is the biggest weak point across the board on wineries? Not just not Alpha Omega, but just as you see in the valley, and the boards that you’re on? What is what was the biggest need for change in the sustainable landscape?

Matt Brain  28:06  

The herbicide is a big one, you know, you’re we’re still seeing a lot of, of the graph of the cover. The ground cover in Napa is controlled by herbicides, in fact, it just has to melee, it needs to stop, it needs to stop immediately. And, you know, there’s a big effort out there trying to promote that, but that’s a big one. You know, the other thing I would say is, there’s an issue that a lot of wineries are dealing with, and we are here at Alpha Omega two, and that is, how do you present the bottle in a way that makes the bottle as grand and as beautiful as the wall as the wine is inside a bottle that a customer picks up and feels good about, you know, holding it in the feel of it at a 200 $300 price point. Okay? And how do you get that glass lighter, that’s the issue, you know, we we want the packaging to be as light as possible. But we also need to ensure that the customer feels like they’re getting what they paid for. And in Napa, we’ve got the highest prices in North America. And we I would also say that we also have the biggest heaviest glass. And that’s a real shame that the customer over time, you know, has been led to correlating that heavy glass with that high quality but the reality is that’s their expectation. And so we we really need to do a lot of education and we need to teach people that you know, as we move to a smaller lighter package, here’s why we’re doing it. We’re not trying to diminish your experience. We’re really trying to save the planet here and a lot of the carbon footprint in the whole packaging process is just in the manufacture of that heavy glass and then also moving that glass around that weight makes a big difference. So it’s something that we’re talking about here in Napa and and I know that all my colleagues are left taking a hard look at your packaging as well. You know, we’ve

Drew Thomas Hendricks  29:55  

had a lot of conversations on the show about glass and packaging and trying to reduce It Better last summer I talked to Eric ahera. Up at global glass global package out on there on just trying to find better bottles. Yeah, I actually need to have another episode just specifically dedicated towards the glass and the packaging.

Matt Brain  30:14  

Yeah, you know, and things like our bottling operations, you know, where we’re trying to minimize packaging waste and plastic wrap, and hey, even working with our printers to try to make sure they’re not over printing the labels we need, because those will end up going in the trash too. And sometimes these printers are like, well, make sure you hit this number. But if you go to the end of that roll, then that’s okay. Well, we’re saying no, don’t go to the end of that roll. Hit the number, save my save my labels, please. And they’re like, oh, wow, you guys actually care about that kind of stuff? But like, yeah, we absolutely do. We don’t want anything wasted. That’s not that, you know, isn’t absolutely necessary. You know, in any kind of food preparation or production or packaging. There’s a lot of plastic wrap, you know, pallets are wrapped, you know, the glass comes in, wrapped in plastic and you take that off, and then you bottle, stack it and rewrap it again. So just this past week, I was actually looking they’ve made some nice new advancements in some of this kind of biodegradable plastic wrap that we’re starting to get access to. And we’ve had access to it for a while. But the big question was, you know, in a, in a storage facility in a warehouse that has a little bit of humidity, how is that degradable plastic going to get a hold up? Well, we know it degrades in the landfill, but there’s a degrade in the warehouse as well. And so that now I think that we’ve got a couple of years of working with that and seeing that the which formulations do hold up very well over time, but do allow it to break down when they hit the landfill. So, you know, I just think that I feel like I’m speaking for most wine makers in the region, in that we’ve always got our ears open for new things that we can incorporate and new technology that’s coming to the market, new techniques that we can that we can learn from our neighbors and adopt, that will make things more sustainable over time. And we’re keyed, we’re keyed in, we’re focused on it. And I think I think the passion is there across the valley, not you know, Central Coast, California, I think our customers are starting to demand it too. You know, there’s just so many choices out there in terms of your next wine bottle that and there’s so much access to information, you know, with the internet, that it’s easy to go online and say, hey, you know which of these two wines speaks more to me as a person and which one is the better consumer choice. And so I just think for all of those reasons, sustainability is here to stay, and it’s going to become even more of a passionate focus for all of us.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  32:40  

I agree, I get the, you know, I like it just reducing the number of things that are involved in making the wine. So you turn down your labels, smaller bottles, what are your thoughts and just removing the capsules altogether?

Matt Brain  32:53  

Hey, I of course, I you know, people are doing such wonderful things with their cork printing. It’s like I want to see that cart. And you know, for me, as a, maybe a more educated consumer, when I look at a cork, I’m looking at that interface for the wine and the cork. And for sessler and for any kind of seepage and that seepage Hey, maybe that indicates a cork isn’t the best cork. But maybe it also indicates that the wine wasn’t stored properly, and there was some heat that kind of forced that wine up to the cork. So hey, I’m all about no foils, where where it works for the your, you know, your visual presentation, I’ve seen a lot of white wines, a lot of Rose’s, moved to no foil and, and those are wines where people are like, hey, you know, this is less serious. This is, this is not something that’s gonna send you your basement for a decade, these are these are taking home and open them and what’s the real need for that foil? What real purpose is it serving? So, you know, just the, the fact that we’re looking hard at those things and say, here’s that foil necessary, you know,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  33:49  

is that gonna chew through the foil? You know what I

Matt Brain  33:53  

mean? Is it really is it helping the cork stay moist? Probably not, you know, and even little things Drew, like the little divot that what we call the punt on the bottom of the bottle, you know, do do people really serve it that way with their thumb? And upon reaching across the table? I mean, is that important to people anymore? I don’t know. Maybe? Maybe not. So,

Bianca Harmon  34:12  

maybe in the restaurant world, it’s important, but I mean, from a consumer standpoint at home? No, I’m not boring.

Matt Brain  34:21  

Exactly, exactly. So how you know. So hey, if your wine isn’t in a restaurant, then maybe that maybe that divot is not important to you at all. And there’s actually there’s a carbon footprint involved in making that little dividend, the bottom of the glass. So yeah, I just think that it’s important for all of us to take a real hard look at at the traditions that we’ve put in place and what people are expecting and to say, hey, can we can we convince people not to expect that, you know, they mean, is there is this A, is this something that we can make the change or is it something that we’re kind of confined by and I think if we look hard at it, and we have a relationship with our customers and kind of You know, open communication where we can explain what we’re doing. And I think that we’re going to see that our customers are pretty receptive to change when we do it for this reason,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  35:09  

I agree. And you’ve talked a lot about trimming back for environmental sustainability, do we really need it? And there’s that flip side, you mentioned earlier, which people usually isn’t part of the sustainability conversation, which is occupational sustainability, paying a higher living wage, paying more doing more so that you get more in the long run.

Matt Brain  35:27  

Absolutely. Right. And I love the sustainability looks at that and says, you know, what kind of turnover? Are you seeing? How does your How does your compensation compared to say the salary surveys that are put out in, you know, are your people able to make, you know, a living wage and get by? I think about things like this year, you know, we’re seeing an incredible increase in inflation. And, you know, what, what do I need to do, in terms of compensating my production team to make up for that over the next year or two? And the reality is, this inflation is going to drive all of our prices up a little bit. And that sure as heck should translate to our hard working team getting a little bit more money as well. Sure.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  36:10  

That’s very good. So totally shift the subject back to talk to me about running a podcast.

Matt Brain  36:20  

You know, as you probably know, a podcast is an interesting challenge, you know, you number one, you’ve got to you’ve got to find people that are that are, you know, at least able to talk to the topics that you’re interested in, and that that whole searching and scheduling thing can be can be kind of challenging. I actually was really impressed when we were putting this time slot together about my ability to go online and choose my own time slot without 16 emails going back and forth. That doesn’t work. What about 130? Nope, what about 230? Next day, no, got a meeting. That was a definite take home. On that scheduling front. So well done on that, guys. And, you know, I just think that podcasts are such a fantastic way to get information out to the public in from my perspective, when we’ve got cutting edge research, or a new product coming to the market, or somebody makes a tech discovery of a technique that’s working, for example, you know, we focused a few times on smoke and smoke teams, because that’s obviously a huge focus for us up here in Napa, having had, you know, fires, the past three of five vintages, this is a real reality now and thinking about sustainable wine production in California moving forward, we have got to address the fire issues. So you know, thinking about a topic that is so timely like that and being able to kind of cue about somebody doing something or address the topic of a, you know, the backflow of analysis that happened in 2020, where people couldn’t get their grapes analyzed, because all the labs were backed up for weeks and months. So, you know, I remember we put a podcast together about that, and talking about different labs and the way that the analysis was being done. And we were able to really kind of push that out to the public because we weren’t really encumbered by, say, a publication or peer review process, you know, we just kind of made the appointment and got online and chatted it out. So I love podcasts for that just kind of that to the source, you know, get your information, very timely, right away. And I’ve had a lot of fun with it, getting to know new people. I think that as a podcast host you kind of inevitably start to become a little bit of an expert here and there because you just chatting with knowledgeable people about about their expertise. So, you know, podcasts are a fantastic new new resource for us. You know, I just, I personally can’t listen to my own podcast because I can’t listen to my own voice. It’s like scratching the chalkboard, you know, but I like to listen to other people’s.

Bianca Harmon  38:51  

I think they’re great too. Because I mean, like, from just a whole nother standpoint of it, though. It’s like my fiance who works on the road. He’s driving checking out for us all day long, right? He loves music, we all love music, but you can only listen to music so much right? And these podcasts have become just another channel for people to get information without having to come home and read about it. They can be doing it throughout their daily routine.

Matt Brain  39:16  

Yeah, I agree. And, you know, I I’m a member of some kind of industry groups on social media and you know, somebody who’s always throwing up check out this new podcasts on this topic, or this just came out. So the ability to kind of information share without copyright, you know, and that kind of thing, you just go and download. It’s just it’s just such a fantastic resource for for modern professionals of all industries. And certainly in wine. There’s a bunch of great podcasts and just getting better all the time. I think.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  39:46  

You can also drill down as deep as you want. You can get the most technical technical podcasts or you can have a nice, nice, just consumer friendly podcast and there’s something for everybody without the need for overproduction, okay. So,

Matt Brain  40:00  

I totally agree. And you know, in contrast to say, buying a magazine or a subscription or something, you know, where you, you would feel guilty about putting that magazine in the trash or that reading everything. Hey, if that podcast doesn’t speak to you just press skip, you know, you didn’t waste anything there. So yeah, I mean, it just the the freedom to hate check something out five minutes in, it’s not really speaking to me, it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was, you know, move on, you’re done. So, we always kind of thought about, you know, the length of podcasts as well, you know, 3040 minutes, it’s kind of a really nice sweet spot, because that’s a lot of people’s commute, or their or their drive out to the vineyard. You know, that’s kind of a nice segment, a nice chunk. Whereas reading a book or magazine, it’s a much longer time commitment. So I love the accessibility that podcast brings as well.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  40:47  

For sure, talking about accessibility and no real segue, wine and health. Yeah, yeah, and health and your accomplished decathlon. And really the part about what over the last like two, three years learns. For years since seltzers, wine has kind of lost its, it is positioned at the top of the pedestal as being the healthy. Yeah.

Matt Brain  41:09  

Yeah, yeah, I really think that that’s a shame, because I think that one of the great things about wine are the are the health aspects and the nutritional aspects, you know, not just from the wine itself, some great antioxidants and great vitamins and minerals in there. But there truly are some synergies in terms of absorption in the gut with with vitamins from foods that are taken up better, with no slightly alcoholic solute, more low soluble environment, you know, the synergies between some of those tannins, and some of the fats, you know, these are, these are things that have impacts on our health, and they’re real. And, you know, I think that wine has kind of always traditionally been seen as that is that healthier alternative, you know, healthier alcohol because of these things. And I think as winemakers, we need to really remember that because we need to treat the health, healthiness of our wines. as seriously as we treat, you know, the quality and the sensory attributes. It’s one thing to just make a wine that tastes good and capture somebody’s attention. But to do it in such a way that ensures that the product is as helpful as possible. That’s a different challenge. You know, there are things that need to be addressed, there are things that need to be watched, there are products and tools that you can not use, if you’re making the healthiest wine possible. So you know, I think it’s it, it’s the responsibility really the true, it’s an honor to be able to make wine and to be able to take that factor in account, you know, hey, if you’re if you’re making a Seltzer, you’re, you’re gonna get some fruit concentrate. And hopefully, you’re starting materials are in good shape. But people don’t have the control all the way down to this all the way down to the soil, like a winemaker has, you know, even even brewers, they’re they’re sourcing their hops from from over here, maybe this supplier their yeast over here and their malts, they’re not growing those, that barley, you know, they’re not often not growing those hops, but we are. So we, we have the ability to control that, you know, totally that vertical integration and make sure that every every step of the process, we’re doing things as healthy as we can, and, you know, there are some times where we do have to make a compromise and say, Hey, this is a vineyard site that we can’t do fully organic, we you do need to use a little copper, a little sulfur out here to control the mildew. And that makes that that’s going to be the healthier alternative. You know, people ask me a lot about do you use yeast? Or is it native fermentation? The reality is, we like to rely on both of those tools when it’s appropriate. Okay, now, a native innoculation, that’s great to be able to use the yeast in the winery and on the fruit to do the to do the work for us. That’s fantastic. But I’ll tell you, if the fermentation doesn’t go smoothly, and the yeast start struggling, and you get a stuck fermentation, and you’ve got some bacteria that start working in there, well, that is a much less healthy wine than if you had just inoculated it and got it through cleanly. So you know, people think about well, I want a natural wine because it’s healthy. Be careful. Sometimes the healthiest wine is wine that you used yeast and had a healthy fermentation and you didn’t make things like fo carbonate, which is a carcinogen that is produced by yeast, when they’re stressed out, you know, or just volatile acidity, vinegar and nail polish aromas. You know, these are things that happen when you get your hands way off the lines and let them do their own things sometimes. Now, so we here at Alpha Omega and my philosophy is be as hands off as you can to make a healthy product. And if we can’t be hands off here, in order to get things to a healthy finish, then we’re going to intervene and we’re going to get that wine dry and make sure that that wine is both fantastic tasting for the customer but also healthy for them as well put

Drew Thomas Hendricks  44:58  

very well put on that Thanks, let’s intervene when you need to. Because otherwise, it’s just like, just like a doctor, you want someone to go out there and exercise and do what they need to be done. But sometimes you just got to intervene for the health of the patient.

Matt Brain  45:12  

Absolutely. And along that same analogy, I think, you know, a doctor knows that getting sick is part of building up a proper immune system to be resistant against the nexus of sickness. And that is the same with our vines, you know, if they need them too much, they don’t have resistance. And same with our ferments. You know, we don’t, we don’t want to just dump yeast into anything without thinking about it. We want to be very logical, and you can use the tools when, when they’re necessary and when they create a healthier wine, but don’t use them if they’re not necessary. And you know, we I really love the phrase, you know, a great winemaker understands all the tools at hand, but then has the courage not to use them, you know. So that that’s really high level winemaking is when you when you see an opportunity to use it something but then say, hey, you know what, I’ve seen this before. That’s not a tool that we need here to get things done. I’m going to just go ahead and let this be in make that logical choice. Takes a lot of courage to cause Oh, yeah, there. It doesn’t help you sleep at night. That’s for sure.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  46:13  

Absolutely. So this has been a great, great show. I love talking about this. Is there anything I haven’t talked about or asked you about that want to get off your chest? Oh,

Matt Brain  46:24  

just you know that I’m really excited for this growing season. You were really, you know, coming off of 2020 was just such a heartbreak, you know, we lost so much fruit, we worked through the smoke, it was it was it was really hard. It was really hard on us, you know, to come up Valley and you know it under the veil of smoke and try to do these short shifts and get everybody out, you know, without too much exposure. And then dealing with the finished wines. You know, some of them turned out just fantastic. And we’re bottling those, but I’m going to tell I’m going to tell you guys, the majority of the Reds that we made and 20 are not going to make it to bottle. So that’s a bit of a heartbreak as well, for all our efforts. The great news is that 2021 We had an incredible vintage and all of those wines that are in barrel and aging right now are fantastic. So a really, really nice comeback. And then this year is looking great, you know, it was a dry year. But the beauty of it is we had rain right at the end of the season last year when the vines still had leaves on them. And then we had early rain this year when the vines had leaves on them. And guys, it’s nice to have a really wet winter. But if there’s no leaves on the vine, there’s no real uptake, pressure from the vine to suck that water and nutrients in that really that uptake philosophy happens when there’s leaves on the vine and it’s driving that upward evaporative pressure that pulls things from the roots. So although we had a dry year, we had the rain at the right time. And I think with that in mind, we are looking at a fantastic vintage here.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  47:51  

That’s been that’s so great to hear. I was talking to somebody up in Willamette weather. It’s the opposite is true. They might be losing half their crop this year.

Matt Brain  47:59  

Yeah, you know, yeah, there’s been frost, there’s been dry conditions. Well, Europe always gets some hail. So we’ll we’re certainly not out of the woods yet. But it’s feeling like a good start. And that’s that’s really all I can focus on.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  48:15  

Matt, give us the rundown where people can find you on the podcast.

Matt Brain  48:19  

Yes, sir. So the the podcast is called Sustainable Winegrowing. And if you just Google that, that’ll pop right up, as I mentioned, icons, a little owl. So you can you can find that. And if you’re interested in learning more about me or about Alpha Omega, I encourage you to go to the Alpha Omega website, where it talks about some of our special single vineyard wines. What we’re doing here talks a little bit about our commitment to sustainability. There’s a little blurb about me on there. And a little bit about my background. There’s some good information in there about our vendors, our owners, and it’s also a beautiful website. So let’s check that out as well. Yeah.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  48:57  

Well, Matt, thank you so much for joining us today.

Matt Brain  49:00  

Oh, Drew Bianca, it was a great chat. Thanks so much for

Bianca Harmon  49:03  

Yeah, so much that.

Matt Brain  49:06  

You’re so welcome. Thanks for the great conversation, guys. And thanks for your interest in what we’re doing up here. Okay, take care.

Outro  49:21  

Thanks for listening to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.