Rock Star Winemaker: Patrick Muran of Niner Wine Estates

Symbiosis in every bottle

Nine Wine Estates winemaker Patrick Muran merges art and science to create harmonious wines drawing from 18 years of experience melded with scientific method, to address every variable from hypothesis to experimentation.
Muran said that he just stumbled into the art and science of winemaking in 1999 after originally planning to attend medical school.
“I had just finished the MCAT and my family, who is in the medical industry said that I should look at something else,” Muran said. “I was working as an EMT in San Diego after finishing college. I was back up in the area, I grew up on the Central Coast, and I stumbled into a wine analysis position in the Edna Valley and that is where I started. I have a degree in microbiology from UC Santa Barbara and that is where my foot got stuck in the door. It has been a wonderful experience taking science applications and then all of the sudden having these creative elements available as well so it is a cool blend of the two when I think about making wine.”
Muran started at the ground level and worked his way up giving him the hands-on practical knowledge needed to be successful in the winemaking world. He said that the other critical part to the hands-on, dive-in headfirst approach to learning is having a mentor that has been down the path.
“When you get a wild hair and say, ‘I want to try this,’ and your mentor tells you, ‘Oh that has been tried before and this was the result,’ it is better not to go on a wild goose chase to come up with a conclusion that has already been attempted and failed,” Muran said. “I have a fantastic mentor in Christian Roguenant out of the Edna Valley and he has been able to steer me in productive directions.”
After seven years in the Edna Valley, Muran went to Solvang to work for Blackjack Winery. Muran had interacted with Niner Wine Estates and heard what they were building in Paso Robles, a region in its infancy. He said he knew they were going to do it right and felt he had to get in on the project.
“I started as the assistant winemaker in ’09 taking a step back but in the long run I think it was a step forward,” Muran said. “With a microbiology degree, there is a lot of emphasis on systems and structures in the human body and all of the symbiotic relationships even between organs, there is a symbiosis that occurs. The same type of scientific method can be applied to the systems and structures of winemaking.”
At Niner Wine Estates they practice sustainability and Muran said that they follow every potential variable to the end to insure that not on thing is impacting the quality of the wine. For example the winery uses recycled water and rain catch systems. Muran said the variables that come into play vary from what you put down the drain to the particulates that are already present in the water and so on. Other variables at play range from, headspace in the barrel when fermenting, type of wood, size of barrel, gasses being released, temperature and time in the barrel.
“Every aspect of the process from soil, water, sun exposure, how the fruit is harvested, what you put the grapes into to crush, size of barrel, type of barrel, the variables are there,” Muran said. “It is how we work with these variables that allows for the creativity to shine through the science. I feel if you can weave the different systems and processes in a sustainable manner you can create a cyclical exchange from variable to variable that will compound in the creation of some great wines.”
Niner Wine Estates farms a total of 212 acres across three different vineyards in Paso Robles and Edna Valley, and makes all of the wine in the LEED Certified Winery at Heart Hill Vineyard. Muran said that he has a lot of variety to choose from and really enjoys taking advantage of the diverse grape supply he has at his disposal.
Over the years, Niner has become well known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as the flagship red blend Fog Catcher currently released as a 2011 vintage. Fog Catcher is 23 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Cabernet Franc, 19 percent Carmenere, 19 percent Malbec; 10 percent Petit Verdot; 9 percent Merlot.
“This wine has depth,” Muran said explaining that wine with layers is a sign of an outstanding wine.
This is a bright wine with notes of blackberry, cherry and a bite of fennel. Muran said that as it oxygenates there is a hint of vanilla, too. Fog Catcher is cellared in barrel for 27 months and in bottle for two years to give it time to develop the full richness of flavor and silky mouth feel that keeps people coming back for more.
Since its inception in 2001, Niner Wine Estates has been in the business of raising the bar and in some cases setting it for sustainability in practice. They have been SIP certified for years leading the way in the Paso Robles region. It is these practices that drew Muran to the art and science of winemaking, working with controlled variables in an environmentally friendly way.
To learn more about Niner Wine Estates, purchase wine and learn more about Winemaker, Patrick Muran, visit ninerwine.com.