081 – Jake Busching, Jake Busching Wines
Wine Work. In The Car. Dirt and Stuff With Jake.
Welcome to Episode 81, a conversation with a former goth slash punk rock frontman, a gentleman who has spent years making wines of place. Now he’s producing his own artisanal wines using the very best selection of grapes from vineyards he helped design. The results? Extraordinary. Meet Jake Busching of Jake Busching Wines.
Jake grew up in Minnesota on a farm. Singing in a band as a teenager, he made his way to Richmond, Virginia where he ended up working in food at a Holiday Inn. A huge shock to a boy from the midwest. A place where he learned the value of food and its culture. Musicians and food. A match made in heaven. So many folks on this podcast got their start this way.
How did wine appear? As with so many great stories, he met a girl, eventually landing in Charlottesville. A chance meeting with the owner of Jefferson Vineyards set him on his path. Initially, he took over farm management duties. Then Chris Hill, the Vineyard Manager, needed someone to fix stuff. He also needed help laying out a new vineyard. Michael Shaps happened to be the winemaker. The planets aligned back in 1997 at the birth of a new Virginia industry and a winemaker was born.
“The farm boy in me was like the seasonality of this totally makes sense to me. Grow a crop, harvest the crop, turn it into wine. Wow! From an agricultural perspective that sounded like sign me up! This is a freak show of really interesting people!”
He also found his tribe in wine, a cast of characters passionate and creative about wine without the snobby attitude. A little more rock and roll than classical symphony. Different from the early days of Napa, grape-wise, but with the same edacious feeling. Growing grapes in Virginia is never a sure thing where rain and humidity always threaten harvest. This gamble adds to that attitude of we’ll give it a shot and hope for the best. When you do get a great harvest? It’s that much sweeter. Farming Virginia grapes is also very different than in Europe where folks spend decades learning their dirt and the best grapes that grow in it, transitioning that knowledge into making wine with a team of experts including a chemist, farmer, and vineyard manager.
“In Virginia a lot of our wineries…there’s a lot of money being spent in Virginia. There’s not a lot of money being made in Virginia. The wine industry is agriculture. It’s a hard thing to do. There’s a lot of wineries for sale.”
Jake spent years learning how to grow grapes for various vineyards, including Jefferson and Horton. There’s a reason they call him The Dirt Guy. When he got the call from Pollak to design one from the ground up? Yes please! He applied his viticulture there, his wine growing skills. There’s a difference. Growing grapes means you’re trying to grow as many as possible. An agricultural crop. Growing wine means you’re growing the best bottles you can. There’s a reason he calls his business Jake Busching ARTISANAL Wines.
A journey that began as a grape grower, eventually moved to wine grower, then on to vineyard manager, and now to winemaker. Area vineyards trust Jake, allowing him to choose which rows of grapes he wants to use to make his wines. For example, at Honah Lee Vineyard, Jake selected a certain row of grapes because they lay on a gentle south-facing slope of land. A beautiful place with a great view. A perfect site for perfect fruit.
And what about those wines of his anyway? Jake currently has four in rotation, including his F8 and his Orphan which he just released with a big tasting at Tavola. He makes wines of place. Transitioning away from that, Jake wants to remain a relevant winemaker under his own artisanal label. In limited quantities, 50 cases at a time. His 2015 Viognier sold out. With good reason. It’s gorgeous. After tasting it, I went to his site and bought ALL the wine. Pair that with expert design from Watermark? You’ve got all the hallmarks of a truly great emerging wine collection.
“Legacy is weird. That’s a hard thing because I’ve been building legacy for other people for 20 years. It’s hard for me to swallow that pill and say okay it’s time to put yourself on a pedestal because that’s not something I’m comfortable with at all. And so how do I do that without losing the sense of who I really am? I really want to make wine. I love it. I absolutely love it.”
Jake sells his wine as an independent winemaker. Without a vineyard or a tasting room or a winery. He’s a winemaker with a need for a creative outlet. So he does it for other people. His career as a consultant began when Michael Shaps stepped in to help Pollak. Now they make wine for 16 area wineries. They also consult with wineries from everything from dirt to vineyard design. In this way small startups don’t waste grape harvests learning how to make wine.
“Growing grapes is capturing sunlight, interpreting dirt through a grapevine, and having an expression of a place come out in a glass of wine. That’s what we do.”
“It’s pretty easy to grow grapes and make wine. You’re not necessarily going to make any money at it, but you can do it…Selling wine is a whole different ballgame. Finding the right people to do that is critical.”
Agritourism is crucial in Virginia because at the end of the day a winery is a grape farm. They have to sell their crop and they have to do it on-site. Folks don’t want to come out and buy wine when it’s raining, but that’s when it’s not busy! Every winery has a great view and there are so many producing quality vintages. So get out there.
These days, Jake spends most of his time in the car, visiting up to 10 vineyards a day. His broad knowledge means he can look at your dirt, your vineyard design, your grapes, and tell you what you could do better to build a sustainable business.
All that time spent in the car is good for me because he has plenty of time to listen to Edacious! When I started two years ago it was the food folks who showed up first and Jake is no exception. I hear from him regularly with suggestions for guests and improvements to content and audio. That kind of community support keeps me going, so it was a thrill to finally sit and talk with him.
What happens when wineries win awards for vintages that Jake and Michael made? What’s the first thing Jake looks at when someone asks him to design a vineyard? What essentials does he teach in his wine course at PVCC? What is Man Church? What is Tannat? Listen to find out! The episode was recorded right before grape harvest, the busiest time of wine season which is happening RIGHT NOW! So send all our local winemakers your blessings for good sunny weather.
The introduction was recorded on the front porch of the Garden House at Foggy Ridge Cider. Thank you, Diane Flynt, for the wonderful accommodations and lovely garden vegetables, cider, and eating apples. Interested in escaping to a rural country retreat without television or Internet? CHECK OUT MY PICTURES AT THIS LINK and rental information on her website. Heaven on earth! Go stay there and take some of Jake’s wine with you. Cheers!
SHOW NOTES – Links to resources talked about during the podcast:
- Vintage: The Winemaker’s Year – watch a clip!
- The Coatroom – Make a reservation. Now. Will Curley will treat you right.
- Help Scotty Recover – My best friend has Stage 3B colon cancer. Bills are piling up. He can’t work. Can you help? Share! Donate! No amount is too small. Thank you and BIG LOVE to everyone who donated and shared the Big Love Bake Sale and Big Love Birthday! Next up? Tee shirts! Look for them soon.
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