Focus is exclusively on white wines
Dave McGee is owner and co-winemaker at the up-and-coming Monochrome Wines, produced at a facilities in Paso Robles’ “Tin City.” McGee’s biography lists varied careers from fields as diverse as radar design, stealth aircraft technology, interventional neuroradiology, orthopedic surgery, and cardiac electrophysiology. More recently, he completed the online version of UC Davis’ winemaking program and helped with the winemaking at Villa Creek and Alta Colina wineries in Paso Robles before starting Monochrome in 2016. Dave earned BS, MS, and MBA degrees from Stanford University. Their tasting room is located at 3075 Blue Rock Rd. in Paso Robles and they can be reached at 805-674-2160 or online at monochromewines.com.
Q: So starting off, I know everyone asks about the name. Can you shed some light for readers? You only make white wine but monochrome is thought of as light versus dark as well.
A: Tracing it back to its Latin and Greek origins, the word “monochrome” means “of one color,” which seemed appropriate for a winery that only makes wines of one color (i.e. — white wines). Additionally, I am a photography enthusiast, and it seemed to me there was an analogy between monochrome (or “black and white”) photography and what we were doing with white wines. Specifically, some people think of black and white photography as somehow simpler or less complex than color photography….. and yet most fine art photography is done in black and white! Furthermore, most photographers will tell you that making a black and white photo “work” is more difficult than doing so with color because you can’t rely upon a pop of color to create interest and must therefore get all the basics (i.e- subject matter, composition, tonality, etc.) right or the photo just comes off as flat or boring. I think the story is similar with wines. With reds you can add in a lot of oak, or tannin, or extraction and cover up for a lot of things. Not so with whites. With whites you need to get the basics right or the wines will come off as flat or boring. So that analogy was another reason I thought Monochrome would be a good name for the project.
Q: Why did you decide to only make white wines?
A: Well, it seemed that white wines were being underserved in the Paso area, both literally and figuratively. Most Paso wineries tend to produce only one or two whites. Some of those wineries make a serious effort at making great white wines, but they tend not to make much of them, so you’re never sure if they are actually pouring their whites at any given moment. At other wineries, it’s pretty clear their passion is for their red program, and their whites don’t receive the same level of care, attention and effort that goes into their best reds. We wanted to make a full line of white wines made with the same level of passion that top Paso producers put into their best reds. Furthermore, there are now somewhere between 300 and 350 wineries in the Paso area, and basically all of them are either exclusively or primarily focussed on reds. We didn’t want to just be number 351! As Coco Chanel once stated, to be memorable, you must first be different.
Q: We last saw you at the Festival of Albariño. Any ideas for next year’s variation yet?
A: For the 2017 vintage, we made a version of Albarino that was fairly similar to our 2016 vintage (i.e. — barrel fermented in neutral oak and stainless barrels and aged on the lees, with about 4 percdent that was skin-fermented), but we also made a small experimental bottling (only 17 cases!) that involved carbonic maceration of Albarino. I’m not aware of anyone having ever done that before, so it was a lot of fun. It turned out really good, so we decided to bottle it and offer it as a club member exclusive wine called the X-2. For 2018, we’ll see where nature and our spirit moves us, but we will definitely do some barrel fermentation, some skin fermentation and some carbonic maceration, and then decide how to combine them into one or more final blends. It should be fun!
Q: What sets your process apart from all the Paso newcomers?
A: Well, we focus exclusively on white wines, so that certainly makes us unique in the Paso area. However, our winemaking style is also rather unique, and probably for anywhere (not just Paso). We make our wines in very small lots, typically barrel and half-barrel size, and then we intentionally make them all differently. Some barrels are fermented warmer, some cooler. Some use native yeast, some use various cultured yeasts. In some cases, we clarify the juice before going to barrel; in others the juice goes straight from the press to the barrel. And so on…. The goal is to expand the range of flavors and textures available for blending, and then selectively layer them back together to produce wines that are more layered, interesting and complex than if we had used conventional techniques. To borrow a reference from the field of music, it’s a little like a “Wall of Sound” approach to winemaking.
Q: You’re material talks a lot about your complex methods being key, what aren’t we thinking about when picking out a white wine?
A: Many people think of white wines as being crisp and refreshing, but generally not very complex or interesting. I suppose that is understandable given that many white wines are made that way. However, we are on a bit of a mission to stand against that assumption, and demonstrate that white wines can be as complex, interesting and flavorful as reds. A key component of our approach is that we try to put as much care, effort, and passion into our white wines as most Paso producers put into their best reds.
Q: Your bio mentions stealth aircraft design and orthopedic surgery specialization. What’s the common thread leading you to a winemaking program?
A: I love learning new things, trying out new ideas, being creative, and not just doing things that other people are already doing. I think those attitudes definitely show up in our winemaking. I also like to think you’re never too old (or too young) to reinvent yourself and do something totally different, as long as you have a passion for it and are willing to put in the work required to learn a new field.
Q: A bit more generic for the Q&A but what film or television program would you say defines your winemaking style?
A: I’d say music is a better analogy for the way we make Monochrome wines. For an example of the layering and complexity we aim for in our wines, check out Wall of Sound classics such as the Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby” or George Harrison’s “If Not For You”, and listen for the layering and background complexity.