Morgan Norman at Wine of the Month Club
Paul: It is my great pleasure to have today in the continuing Winemakers Series of the Wine of the Month Club, Morgan Norman here from the Greg Norman Estates. That’s correct, the professional golfer who turned wine enthusiast, but not just turned wine enthusiast. Many years, he’s been a wine enthusiast.
Morgan: Many years. It’s going to be our 15th year of winemaking.
Paul: 15th year. Some people still don’t know that Greg Norman wines.
Morgan: Yup. And some people still don’t know he was a golfer.
Morgan: They just think he’s a winer.
Paul: Well that’s you know. I actually was going to out and get a Greg Norman shirt today but Golfsmith wasn’t open.
Morgan: Oh, sorry.
Paul: Anyway, so I’m enthused by the wine and we’re featuring one of the wines this month with is the Petite Sirah. But I thought it’d be fun to have you in and talk about some of the things that go on behind the scenes at Greg Norman Estates.
Paul: And how you went from Australian wines to California things. But a little history about what you do. You’re a chef.
Morgan: I am. Yeah. So after university, I just decided to follow my passion I guess and find what I wanted to do, and went to Culinary School and it led me to Italy and Australia, and then eventually, Napa, and then eventually Greg Norman Estates.
Paul: That’s a pretty good path. What university was it?
Morgan: Boston College.
Paul: Oh, BC. My daughter, we went to BC. And she desperately wanted to go.
Paul: There was snow on the ground and it was pretty cool but she still like “I want to go” and she got in the waiting list and then they finally told her. She was so disappointed.
Morgan: Weather was brutal and so bad.
Paul: It’s tough.
Morgan: Four years, I was there is the worst winter in 80 years.
Paul: Really? That’s really cold.
Paul: It was a beautiful campus.
Morgan: Yeah. It’s gorgeous.
Paul: So she ended up with SC which is fine.
Morgan: It’s good.
Paul: So you went to Culinary School, became a chef, and you were not working with the family business.
Morgan: I wasn’t. I mean I would have been associated with it and just kind of knowing about this interactions my father was having, the business deals going on. But I never thought I would work with him. And after about three years working in wineries as a chef, I learned how to make wine, and being in the industry, my father said I’d earned my stripes and that I was ready to come onboard.
Paul: Ain’t it nice? Ain’t it great?
Morgan: I definitely had to work my way.
Paul: Did you golf?
Morgan: I can golf. I don’t like to golf.
Paul: You don’t really golf.
Morgan: Yeah. I’ve spent my entire life growing up on a golf course. So going golf on my free time is not the best.
Paul: You know it’s kind of interesting. I’ve loved golf. Golfed all my life but not country club style golf. I just like golfing.
Morgan: Fun. Fun, yeah.
Paul: Like I want to go golf. I don’t want to worry about playing cards after I’m done.
Morgan: Yeah. Well, it’s a sport. You should have fun with friends and be outdoors and enjoy the beautiful weather.
Paul: And golf and wine are pretty synergistic.
Paul: I mean I think that’s a pretty good group of things. And there are so many professional golfers that have wine. There’s like I think 17.
Morgan: God! Everyone’s coming up with wine now.
Paul: I know. And we talked about this off cam a little bit. You do great volumes and one of the reasons is, and we just discussed this, was we want people to open the wine and say, “This is really good.”
Morgan: Absolutely. I would rather have a bag around it. They wouldn’t know the name of it, just take the quality, and then know that it’s a good quality in a bottle.
Morgan: And they want to continue opening it up.
Paul: And then they go, “Oh, this is really cool. It’s Greg Norman’s wine.”
Morgan: Amazing shock and then confident that the quality in the bottle really represents and is represented by the name on the bottle.
Paul: And he has some creative control, I understand.
Morgan: Absolutely. Every single bottle does not get finished until he’s tasted the blends and then the final product. And unless it meets his wine profile, wine style, is not going to go anyway.
Paul: Is that right?
Paul: So as we in the business know, you have blending samples, you have finished samples, you have tank samples.
Paul: You need to get those to him. He lives in Florida. How do you do that?
Morgan: Well, I mean he comes out to California once or twice a year. I go back to Florida every single month for meetings and with that, I just bring down samples, and we’ll set up a whole little, he’s got a wine cellar in his house in Florida so we set up a whole little winery setting and make sure that we have everything appropriate and we taste through.
Paul: That’s great. And you get to cook.
Morgan: I cook all the time. And then we do a lot of blind samples actually with our competitors and try to see what he likes in the competition out there on the market and just know if everything’s evolving year in and year out, and making sure that we’re staying where we need to.
Paul: I may put you on the spot but you’ve gotten now Australian property.
Paul: And you have Paso Robles, right?
Morgan: Paso Robles.
Paul: Which is great for rhone varietals and those kinds of things but where do your allegiance lie?
Morgan: Depends on my mood.
Paul: Just say both.
Morgan: I’m a dual citizen so I grew up in US but I have lived in Australia and my whole family lives in Australia still. So both is a good answer.
Paul: Are there other siblings?
Morgan: I have a younger brother.
Paul: Is he involved?
Morgan: Not in the industry or the businesses whatsoever.
Morgan: Yeah. He’s a professional kiteboarder. He likes to drink the wine a lot.
Morgan: He likes me to send the wine a lot but…
Paul: Wow! That’s pretty interesting.
Paul: So this is your non-vintage [inaudible 4:42].
Morgan: Yes. This is sparkling from Southeastern Australia. It is made up of Pinot Noir dominant grape chardonnay and a bit of Pinot Mineure in here.
Paul: I love champagne for one, though Mrs. K doesn’t care for them much. But Pinot Noir, people don’t realize that Pinot Noir is mainstay of champagne all over the world.
Morgan: Absolutely. Yup.
Paul: But it’s yellow.
Morgan: People ask me that all the time that how can we have Pinot Noir in our bottle and say that this is the grape in there and then the juice is not red. But if you actually extract the skins from the Pinot Noir grape, you press the grapes, the juice actually comes out white. And so that’s what we do. We just extract the skins form it right away.
Paul: Right. When you peel the grape, they’re all the same color inside.
Morgan: All the same.
Morgan: Yup. The tenens and the color come from the skin.
Paul: I love the bright acidity of this wine. I love the green apples and the minerality of it. And the bubbles are very fine, kind of creamy.
Morgan: Traditional style so it is really elegant. It’s not overly yeasty like some champagnes, you can taste but just very elegant, easy to drink. And I like to say that it’s not a good day without a glass of sparklings. So this is a drink that a glass of wine that you can have every day.
Paul: And I would never put orange juice in this.
Morgan: Never. No. Sacrilegious.
Paul: No, right? This is too good for that.
Morgan: Absolutely. And this I love pairing with appetizers at the beginning of the meal but I also really love pairing this with chocolate desserts at the end of the meal, or ice cream, or something creamy. It’s a great way to end the meal to kind of like cleanse your palette.
Paul: Yes, clean the palette. Really good.
Morgan: Yeah. Thank you. This is one of our little hidden gems in the portfolio I find.
Paul: Yeah. I remember seeing it even on the shelf much.
Morgan: No. It actually doesn’t have a lot of distribution. For off premise accounts, you can go into your retail store and pick it up but it’s more of a specialty order that you can get online or certain place of where you can order.
Paul: And I don’t really like the yeasty “Oh, Don Perignon.” “Inaudible 6:33] and all that. I think they’re too bready.
Morgan: It’s hard to have anything with them.
Morgan: They overwhelm the palette too much.
Paul: As a chef, that’s a really good point.
Morgan: It’s funny. I always taste wines and think first and foremost what I would eat with it because I need my wine to be very food friendly.
Morgan: And that is really an important factor for me. So whenever I’m tasting a wine, it needs to be able to be food friendly.
Paul: That’s used to be in the old days, the excuse for a wine that was too acidic, “Food friendly.” But now people say they mean it. But it used to be, the sales guy come and “By itself, it’s not that great but you put it with food, it’s really good wine.”
Paul: What does that mean?
Morgan: You should be able to drink it by yourself or with food whenever you want.
Paul: So this is the Chardonnay from Eden Valley which I asked you earlier describe where it’s from but I had not heard Eden Valley. And so that’s near…
Morgan: Eden Valley is a Southeastern Australia appellation. It’s a small little appellation around the Yarra Valley area. It’s actually a high altitude mountain fruit and this appellation is predominantly planted to [inaudible 7:31]. There’s small plots I there with chardonnay. And because of the cooler climates and the higher altitude, you really get a lot of that bright crisp flavor.
Morgan: But this wine sees a little bit of two to three year old French oak, and then it also sees Malolactic fermentation so you get a little bit of that balance and that creaminess. But the coolness of that higher altitude fruit balances it out.
Paul: Still crisp. Lots of green apples but you did a vanilla undertone from the…
Morgan: From the oak.
Paul: And the oak kind of subtle because of the oak was older.
Morgan: Very subtle.
Paul: Yarra Valley. Is it the Yalumba, isn’t it in the Yarra Valley?
Morgan: I think so. Yeah.
Paul: They make great chardonnay as well.
Morgan: We have two chardonnays in our portfolio, one from Australia and one from California. So this one has to be very unique from our California Chardonnay which is appellate from Santa Barbara because you can’t have two chardonnays in a portfolio and really have them have the same wine style. And it’s really a great opportunity for us to have two of the same varietals because then you can compare and contrast the winemaking styles and how different they can be and how they can really work with one grape varietal and create so much.
Paul: Gorgeous wine and a great example of where it’s from. And you’ve mentioned that off camera too that you deliberately have priced your wines from both region of the world in the same range.
Paul: So that people can do that.
Morgan: From the beginning, ’96, we decided to make our wines and my father said that he wanted to make the wine that was approachable and accessible to everyone. If he was going to drink it every single night, he wanted everyone else to drink it every single night. So we have from the beginning, always stayed true to our price point. And then when we launched California, we came out with that same price point. And we’ve always wanted to stay the same across the board.
Paul: Great idea. Let’s try the Pinot Noir.
Morgan: Yeah. Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County.
Paul: Which is one of my favorite districts for Pinot Noir.
Morgan: They make amazing wines. And I think because of the [inaudible 9:15] because of the climate, it really brings everything together. You know, the fog rolling in it at night, the hot days, the sandstone and limestone soils. It just imparts so many flavors to this wine that Pinot Noir is known very well across the industry as being one of the harder grapes to make because it’s very delicate and they kind of call it the feminine grape because it is difficult to make into a wine, a very good wine. And Santa Barbara County or Santa Barbara Appellation makes it just very easy for winemakers.
Paul: This is great. Both of these wines actually, the chardonnay as well, we opened up since we opened them a few minutes earlier, and [inaudible 9:51] different flavors in here and I get a little whole berry fermentation. Is there any cluster fermentation to this?
Morgan: Whole berry and then pump overs daily, couple times a day. So we have the fruit, have the stems, and then the leaves altogether.
Paul: It can get that depth. That complexity’s really there because of that.
Morgan: Yeah. And our wines, even though most of them, all of them come from New World regions, it’s really made in an old world style so they really open up as you pour them, as you drink them. They really come to life on their own overtime and that’s the unique quality about them because they’re kind of always developing and maturing.
Paul: Gorgeous. Really, super wines.
Morgan: Thank you.
Paul: Now we chose the Petite Sirah. And I did that for a couple reasons. One, I like the grape. It’s a fun grape. And you discussed how it’s one of your favorites, but also it’s a wine that you don’t have as much on the shelf so that like customers will see what else you can make.
Paul: And they go to a market and they see one of these varietals and they get the chance to say, “I really like the Shiraz, the Petite Sirah. Maybe the Pinot Noir would be something we’d be interested in.”
Morgan: This is another one like our sparkling, very limited distribution, very small production in comparison to our other varietals. And this is one that I think is really another hidden gem because it’s not a varietal that you really expect. It’s not a varietal that you’d really expect in our portfolio. But because we are making wine in Paso Robles, Paso Robles makes an unbelievable Petite Sirah. And this just really embodies the region, the varietal.
Paul: And I know I taste the way I bought it.
Morgan: So good.
Paul: This is really good.
Morgan: Look at the color.
Paul: You can’t even see your hand through the glass.
Morgan: No. It’s amazing.
Paul: It’s really good.
Morgan: I would say to that, this is a really great beginner’s Petite Sirah because lots of Petite Sirahs on the market tend to be very high in alcohol, very jammy. It’s almost like getting punched in the face when you put that in your mouth for the first time. This is very elegant. It’s a little bit softer, and again, it’s very food friendly so it’s not going to overwhelm the food.
Paul: I love the berries and there’s a spice in there. It’s hard to identify here but I can’t get it. It’s something very unique about this. You’re right. Most Petite Sirahs, they’re kind of hot weather, they get too juicy, and then they’re almost unapproachable because of the so much acid.
Morgan: Yup. I get a little white pepper in here. I even got a little vanilla in the background which is hard to find in a Petite Sirah because normally, every other flavor overwhelms that subtleness of the vanilla.
Paul: It’s the white pepper that you found. I get that now. Thank you for figuring that out for me.
Morgan: It just coats the glass too.
Paul: I know. Look at that. Look at that color.
Morgan: I love it.
Paul: Just leave it like that. It’s like stained glass windows.
Morgan: I have to say this, the Petite Sirah, and our reserve Shiraz, one of my favorite things to eat it with and everyone’s always surprised because they think I’m a chef so I’m going to cook some amazing elaborate dish, it’s just a simple pepperoni pizza.
Paul: Really? I can see that.
Morgan: Yup. It’s the best.
Paul: It doesn’t have to be fancy dish. It doesn’t have to be Biff Wellington or all kinds of different flavors. They can be simple and let the wine do some of the work as well. Sometimes when you taste a wine here, and I’ll taste a vintage and I’ll come back to it years later sometimes if it’s in the warehouse, and I remember the wine. It’s so different from everything else that I’ve tasted. It just has that unique character, whatever it was about that wine.
Paul: And it brings back memories. It just always brings back memories.
Paul: That’s really cool.
Morgan: This wine is really close to our family too because like I said earlier, we received number 8 wine in the world for our 99 vintage with and a [inaudible 24:02]. And my father was honored to go to New York as sit on the panel with Chateau Lafite and Mouton, I mean and Rothschild, all these amazing first groves.
Paul: Oh, wow!
Morgan: And he was sitting up there, this blonde haired golfer at the time.
Morgan: And just really enjoyed sitting in front of thousands of people and tasting this wine. And I sat in the audience. I was so in awe of my father to be talking about wine.
Paul: That’s pretty cool.
Morgan: And not in a sense that like a winemaker would but just in a sense that he loved it and he was so passionate. You could hear him talking about it and I think that is really when he knew that he had made it in the wine industry.
Paul: With that stellar crowd that you were with.
Morgan: I know.
Paul: I mean that’s pretty good company to be in.
Paul: Well, all the wines are great. And I congratulate the success of the brand.
Morgan: Thank you.
Paul: And it had a lot to do with your efforts. And we’ll look for you at the beach.
Morgan: Yes, absolutely!
Paul: Down there?
Morgan: Absolutely. I’m always there.
Morgan: Cheers. Thank you.
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