When asked what he loves about wine, Joshua David Mendoza Widaman, estate winemaker at Pine Ridge Vineyards, had an easy answer.
“What I love about wine is that all the blood, sweat and tears of what we do is in service of a goal,” to make a bottle of wine solely for the purpose of people to enjoy at some of the most important times of their lives.
“The opportunity to be at that table with each and every person at some of the highest points of their lives is something that has always driven me and what I do.”
1. What was your childhood ambition?
After I said goodbye to my NBA, astronaut, and fireman ambitions, I would say that my first real ambition was to be a math professor.
2. How did you get into winemaking?
My pursuit of winemaking started after working the 1999 vintage at Stags' Leap Winery. During my first harvest spreading stems in the vineyards by moonlight, I tasted a 1997 Pahlmeyer Merlot that left me inspired to create wines that leave a similar lasting impression on those lucky enough to experience them. The combination of hands-on vineyard work and the incredible fruits of a winemaker’s labor sealed my desire to enter the wine world. I spent the first six years of my career working my way up to Assistant Winemaker at Chimney Rock Winery, located in the Stags’ Leap District AVA, before transitioning to Assistant Winemaker and eventually Head Winemaker at Pahlmeyer, and Winemaker at Lewis Cellars (where our team made Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of 2016).
I also had harvest internships with Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma and Viña Tarapacá in Chile. In addition, my time overseas in the Douro, Burgundy, Greece, and Germany broadened my winemaking perspective and skill.
3. What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
In my career, I don’t think that there has been any challenge bigger than what we saw in 2020 with the pandemic AND wildfires. It is in the best interests of our community as a whole to find a better way to manage our wildlands in a way that is more sustainable, AND we need to think in terms of world health now, not just health within our own bubble.
4. If you could go back to any point in the history of the Napa Valley wine industry, what time period would you choose?
I’d go two decades earlier so I could be a part of this valley at its embryonic stages. There were amazing challenges at the beginning of Napa Valley. Now our challenge is to take the baton and lead us into the future. I would have loved to have learned at the foot of Elias Fernandez, he’s the winemaker at Shafer Vineyards. He was a very pivotal person at the forefront of what Napa Valley wines are. The opportunity to learn alongside him is something I would have definitely cherished.
5. Who do you most admire in the business world?
Tyler Perry (the actor). The way he has created more value for himself and his family while lifting up others around him, is awe-inspiring. I hope that big business one day functions like this as the norm rather than the exception.
6. What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?
While I have worked on a team that made the #1 Wine of the Year, I have yet to be part of a team that has produced multiple 100 point wines. I believe the team at Pine Ridge Vineyards is primed for this, and there is a fun prize at the end of the tunnel once we achieve this goal. So, stay tuned!
7. If you could change one thing about your business or the wine industry, what would it be?
While I love the pomp and circumstance of popping open a bottle at a high-end fine dining establishment to celebrate a special event, I think that we sometimes forget the blood, sweat, and tears that go into painstakingly creating each piece of art that is a bottle of wine.
So, I wish that there was a more direct connection between the people tending the vines and caring for the wines during barrel élevage, and the end consumer. I believe that communication technology is getting closer to allowing consumers to interact at this granular level. To personally experience the pride of craft and attention to detail that these building blocks of our industry put in daily is a treasure that I would like to share with the world.
8. What’s on your to-do list?
Staying married until death do us part (in a constantly evolving, deeply caring relationship); visiting all seven continents (and 150+ countries); raising two thoughtful/worldly/caring/passionate/striving humans; make 50+ vintages of wine; spoiling my grandkids.
9. What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I am a HUGE music fan. Growing up in Southern California I was drawn to local rock, punk, and ska bands such as Rage Against The Machine, Pennywise, Rise Against, and The Aquabats. In addition to these early influences, my tastes have expanded to include funk, dubstep, folk, hip hop, and rockabilly acts.
10. If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
Bodysurfing in Solana Beach, Calif.