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In Tadeo Borchardt’s view, winemaking is best learned in the vineyard and the winery—sleeves rolled up, unafraid to make mistakes, free to experiment. His wine education was borne from hands-on experience, guided by a few accomplished mentors, all of whom eschewed formal winemaking studies in favor of on-the-job training.
“One advantage of learning how to make wine outside of traditional schooling is you don’t have to unlearn a specific approach,” Borchardt explained. “There’s no set of rules telling you what you can and can’t do. Inspiration and intuition are the guiding forces.”
The sink-or-swim approach proved invaluable for Borchardt, a first-generation Mexican American who grew up in Arizona and southern California. Family meals were home-cooked. Saturday mornings were spent watching cooking shows on PBS, long before cable networks began delivering round-the-clock food programming. With the dream of one day becoming a chef, Borchardt worked in restaurants, both in the kitchen as a dishwasher and chef, and in front-of-the-house roles. He earned his bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Arizona and taught social studies and math to middle schoolers, but there was no denying the powerful undercurrent that pulled him toward all things food. Borchardt left teaching and returned to the restaurant world, eventually working at a small, chef-owned restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was there that a thirst for wine knowledge began to take hold.
Restauranteur Roger Roessler, who was building a wine label in Santa Rosa with Copain winemaker Wells Guthrie, sent Borchardt to the Russian River Valley to help with harvest. What was intended to be seasonal work quickly turned into a full-time position as Guthrie’s assistant. Borchardt later traveled to New Zealand to experience harvest in the southern hemisphere at Craggy Range, before returning to California to join Neyers Vineyards in 2004.
Over the years, Borchardt has accompanied owner Bruce Neyers on trips through the wine regions of France, where multi-generational winemakers grow up among the vineyards, learning by doing. The instinctual approach of Old World winemakers in Burgundy and the Rhone Valley left an indelible impression on Borchardt. The wines he crafts for Neyers are heavily influenced by the philosophical approach of French winemakers.
“The Old World ethos allows a wine to taste like what it wants to taste like,” Borchardt said. “I prefer to step back a little and let the wine express its terroir naturally. The grape variety, the vineyard, the grower—these are the storytellers behind a wine.”
Ultimately, Borchardt makes the kind of wine he wants to drink. Experimenting with different vineyards, fermenting block by block, blending to convey the grape variety and its terroir in every glass.
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