Every once in a while I get to meet a wine producer who really walks their walk. Today we got to talk with one such guy, Judd Wallenbrock, President and General Manager of Humanitas Wines. Not so long ago I spoke with Michael Brunson, the winemaker for Michel-Schlumberger and Verge
Wine Cellars (we will ‘hear’ from Mike next week). Recently, Judd brought the Humanitas wines into the Michel-Schlumberger family. The bonded home for Humanitas is Judd’s garage in Napa, aptly named the ‘Shedteau’ with a shared home at Michel-Schlumberger.
JK: Can you provide readers with a little background on who you are, why you care about sustainability and what you’re doing?
JW: I’m a wine industry veteran of 30 plus years with a vision that wine can…and will make the world a better place. I founded Humanitas over 10 years ago with the goal of, naturally, making wonderful wines honoring specific sustainable vineyards expressing certain varietals exceptionally…then taking the next steps to not only care where the wines came from, but where the money goes after we sell them. The result — for 10 years we’ve given all profits from the sale of Humanitas to charity. ‘Socially green’ is one way to say it. ‘Community stewardship complementing land stewardship’ is another.
JK: What was your first job?
JW: I mowed lawns for neighbors and real estate agents starting at about age 10. But my first industry job, aside from weekend cellar rat stuff during college, was working for and eventually becoming the buyer for the Red Carpet, a fine wine shop in Glendale CA.
JK: How has the wine industry changed in the last 10 years?
Aside from the obvious proliferation of brands and the collapse of the three-tier system, the biggest change is that Americans are culturally evolving into wine drinkers, a huge change for the better. Result of all three of these things, having and telling a compelling story that resonates
with the consumer directly is key.
JK: There is a lot of consumer confusion about wine pricing. (For example, why does a $50 wine costs $50.) Do you think indie wines are good values?
JW: Wine is exactly like art and food. There is commercial art and fast food designed to re-fuel the body. But, there is also fine art and fine dining designed for the experience. And often there is a fine line between the two. So is a $50 wine really a $50 wine? Yes. And a $700 dinner at the
French Laundry is worth $700 — we just can’t really eat there every day.
JK: Any general comments, observations, predictions about the industry?
JW: Everyone thinks that eventually the bubble will burst, that wineries will go out of business & that we will eventually contract. I disagree. With consumption still only around 3 gallons per person, we are just at the beginning of a true cultural evolution and the future is exceptionally bright. But the delivery system of both the message and the physical wine will undergo some
dramatic change in the future. I don’t know what it will be, but the mechanism is broken and the public will affect the change.
JK: When you’re not drinking one of your own wines, what are you drinking?
Pomelo — the second label of Randy Mason, is like Kool-Aid at our house. Bright, crisp, citrusy oak-free Sauvignon Blanc. And Mike’s wines from Michel-Schlumberger are a weekend staple.
JK: What’s your favorite place to grab a bite out?
JW: I live in Napa — there is a locals kind of restaurant on Main Street called Zuzu’s. I love it — tapas style. But with 3 kids, we cook at home mostly. I’m also quite fond of another small plate place in Healdsburg called Willi’s Seafood.
Thanks so much, Judd!