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Q&A with Ispiri Owner and Winemaker Leslie Sisneros

Q: How did you begin making wine?

A: I graduated from UC Davis with a Plant Science, Viticulture degree and worked my way up over the years at various wineries.

Q:  Where did you cut your winemaking teeth?

A: I was fortunate to work at a custom crush facility in the late ‘80s where some budding icons were making their wine. I learned a lot about different winemaking styles. I also spent many years at Kendall-Jackson where the expectations and demands were high, so that helped me to develop my techniques and work ethic.

Q: Who were some of your mentors?

A: Many great winemakers influenced me along the way at K-J, including John Hawley , Steve Reeder, and Randy Ullom. Carol Shelton had a key role in helping me find my groove.

Q: You’ve made wine for the likes of Kendall-Jackson, and boutique wineries like Arista and Kastania. What inspired you to start your own label, Ispiri?

A:  I always need to remain challenged and expand my comfort zone.  When the opportunity arose to source grapes from this unknown, sleepy mountain. I immediately did some research and learned there are several vineyards at different elevations. The wine from these grapes suited my style, so I took on the mountain along with my own label.

Q: How would you describe your winemaking style?

A: My goal is to craft wines that possess complexity, layers of flavor integrated with texture, and above all,  show elegance.

Q: You seem partial to Pinot Noir and Bordeaux varieties? Why?

A: Because I was the Pinot Noir winemaker for Kendall-Jackson for eight years it was only natural to be Pinot-centric when I started consulting. And it doesn’t hurt that I live near some of the best Pinot areas. As far as Bordeaux, I enjoy making them because I enjoy drinking them.

Q: If you could make wine in another region, which would you choose?

A: I would choose Burgundy because there is already so much historical knowledge regarding the vine’s interaction with that environment. I also would want to be a part of a culture where wine is so ingrained.

Q: What wines, be they specific producers or styles, are you currently enjoying?

A:  I’m not going to lie about my affinity towards California wines. Ok, I like the fruit, and alcohol usually doesn’t bother me. Because Sonoma County has such a bounty of small boutique producers, I like comparing wines from my area to different appellations within the region. And, I always appreciate the wine much more when I know the winemaker!

Q: What are your favorite special occasion wines? 

A: I can never pass up those bubbles.

Q: What’s the most special wine you’ve tasted?

A: When a wine is special it’s about the time and place. I’ve had a lot of excellent and interesting wines but probably the most special wine was out of a single barrel over 25 years ago at a small winebau in Germany where I was interning.

Q: What do you like most about being a winemaker?

A: Mostly, I like being around the vines.  I always knew I wanted to be around plants and I still find it fascinating that this ancient plant can produce the nectar of the gods.

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