New winemaker has traveled path from San Diego, through Cal Poly and Germany, to Paso Robles winery
PASO ROBLES — Cody Alt joins a growing group of young winemakers in the Paso Robles region who combine chemistry with the art and romance of winemaking to produce world-class, fascinating and complex vintages. Recently promoted to serve as winemaker alongside Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon whisperer David Parrish of Parrish Family Vineyards, Alt has earned his chops through full-time positions and internships in Paso Robles and Germany.
“Growing up I never knew what I wanted to do — coming from San Diego, I didn’t have any agriculture background,” Alt said. “I got into Cal Poly, and of course you have to declare your major, so I was willing to roll the dice and figured wine would be a fun avenue to explore. Wasn’t sure if I wanted to make it, grow it, or sell it, but I chose the winemaking side and fell in love.”
Through his time at Cal Poly, Alt pursued any opportunity to learn about wine.
“What I wanted to do in college is intern in as many places as possible, be it a lab, vineyard, winemaking facility,” Alt recalls. “I wanted to be as well-rounded as possible. My goal was always to be able to run a facility all by myself, to be able to do everything. One of my favorite opportunities was interning in Germany with a biodynamic vineyard and a winemaker who won winemaker of the year a couple of years ago.
“I’ve never been too good for a job,” He continues. “I’ve done picking, spent time in labs, and worked in cellars.”
Alt’s philosophy of learning every aspect of the profession is something he makes sure to pass down to others.
“I tell younger people all the time that you shouldn’t turn your nose up at any job,” he said. “It informs the background knowledge you will need to succeed as a winemaker.”
Among the many wines Alt has produced during his career, one of his most exciting releases thus far was the 2017 Four Chords Bordeaux Blend from Parrish Family Vineyards. This complex and intense blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot garnered a 95-point rating from Wine Enthusiast.
“I saw an opening in our program at Parrish; we had the Estate Cab, our Reserve Cab and the Silken, but I knew the other varietals we grew and were making wines with would complement each other in a blend,” Alt said. “In the Four Chords, we were very purposeful with the development. Petit Verdot gets the mid palette, Malbec will get that fleshiness which evens it out, the Cab is the main structural component that makes it angular.
“I thought people would be interested in this blend, and it is very different from anything else we make. That wine was also a real test of my blending skills.”
Alt has had the privilege of working with some of the best names in Paso Robles wines, among them David Parrish.
“I met David at a Taco Tuesday event years ago and he offered me a position here with Parrish Family Vineyard, and at the time I turned him down since the offer was close to harvest and I was working with another winery,” Alt recalls. “But eventually I came to my senses and found a way to join the team. David is a great mentor, he’s taught me a lot and given me every opportunity to succeed.”
When it comes to Alt’s winemaking philosophy, he believes in finding a delicate balance to obtain optimal extraction of the fruit.
“I don’t tend to like wines that are wishy-washy and under extracted,” Alt says. “They are a safer bet and you don’t have to have as high quality of fruit. But to get that beautiful color and rich palette, you’re on a tightrope the entire time. These Bordeaux varietals in Paso are incredibly powerful. So much of the time we have to pull the skins off early and limit our extraction, so we are trying to get all the beautiful color, but with the color comes tannins and lots of other variables that can create challenges.”
Alt is proud of his career-making wines, but also looks forward to the releases of his upcoming vintages.
“The 2018 vintage produced some of the favorite wines I’ve made and I’m looking forward to their release at Parrish Family Vineyard this year,” said Alt. “They have the best expression of finding that sweet spot where I could extract the most quality of the fruit, without going over the top. The tannins are just soft enough to be very luscious, but you still get a lot of the fruit characteristics. I’m very proud of them.”
It is easy to see the effort Alt infuses in every bottle, and how much these wines mean to him.
“Hopefully my love and care for these wines show through,” he says. “That’s kind of your goal as a winemaker, that your passion can show through in that glass and make people happy.”
Follow Parrish Family Vineyard on Facebook and Instagram, or visit parrishfamilyvineyard.com.