Andy Robinson ’99 crafts fine vintages with old vines and generations of experience.
By Robyn Rime
EXTRA: Read how Robinson’s chemistry background led to winemaking.
Winemaker Andy Robinson ’99 begins each day of the harvest season by wandering among the generations-old vines of the Seghesio Family Vineyards in Sonoma County, California. As the sun rises higher, he heads into the winery to check the day’s freshly picked grapes, taste the ongoing fermenters, maybe choose appropriate aging barrels or discuss plans for that year’s blends.
“My position with Seghesio allows me to participate in every aspect of a wine’s life, from the vineyard through the cellar and beyond the cellar door,” says Robinson, a graduate of SUNY Geneseo’s and Columbia University’s 3+2 chemical engineering program. “I have always been a jack-of-all-trades, and the Seghesio family allows me to excel at all of them.”
Robinson joined Seghesio in 2003 as oenologist, or wine chemist, and spent 15 years in the cellar mastering the art of making Zinfandel under the guidance of fourth-generation Ted Seghesio. That longevity isn’t unusual for the family-run vineyard: many of their employees have been around for 10 or 20 or 30 years. Belonging to a team whose accumulated knowledge encompasses decades of vintages has nurtured Robinson’s winemaking skills, improved his understanding of the process and ultimately, he says, created better wines.
Fine wine begins with superior grapes, and Seghesio fosters what it calls a terroir-driven approach to wine, which focuses on the complete natural environment in which a wine is produced, from soil to land topography to climate. The winery is deeply committed to the stewardship and preservation of old vines, says Robinson, including some of the oldest plantings in North America and heirloom clone vines that are found nowhere else in the world.
“We have about 120 different wines in the cellar from 2021, and they’re all at different stages and from different places and headed toward different final plans,” he says. “We’re shepherding those wines to make sure they mature at the correct speed, so we taste different individual blends daily and plan where they’re going to go.”
Becoming part of an experienced winemaking team helped Robinson develop both his tasting palate and a common wine vocabulary. Detecting and describing the scents, flavors, and sensations of wine begins with paying attention—to both the wine and how others describe it. For Robinson, many of the scents and flavors go back to the kitchen, to spices and herbs. Others may describe smelling leather or tobacco or rain on a metal roof.
“Paying attention helps you realize how other people describe the same scent you’re smelling, the same flavor you’re tasting, the same sensations the wine leaves in your mouth,” says Robinson. Bridging the gap between flavor and verbal description becomes easier with time and familiarity, makingthe collaboration of a longstanding group like Seghesio’s particularly fruitful.
“One of the things that makes me happy to work here is that we own about 320 acres of vineyards, and in my time here, I’ve tasted the wines from every single year,” Robinson says. “That gives me a basis for understanding the differences between growing seasons, knowing what things we did differently or the same and how that made the wine taste. We’re able to make better, more well-informed choices each time. If we started from scratch every year, it’d be very hard to do anything intentional.”
After belonging to the Seghesio family winemaking team for 20 years, Robinson can now connect the flavor of a wine back through its fermentation to the ground in which the grapes were grown. “It’s my job to understand why a wine tastes the way it does and then go backward and be able to make a wine taste better based on how or where we grew it,” he says. “The best part is drawing that tight connection between the vineyards and the wine. The more time I get to do that, the happier I am.”