Beyond the Vine: Jason Moulton

Jason Moulton

Located in the heart of Rutherford, sits Whitehall Lane Winery. Our winery has seven prime vineyards spread across the area, and by using modern viticulture science our vineyards grow the best grapes possible. We examine the physical properties of the soils in each vineyard, measuring depths of soil horizons, rooting depth and water holding capacity. The man behind all this magic and science is Jason Moulton, our Winemaker. Jason plays a huge role at our winery, and we are pulling back the vines to get a glimpse into Jason’s daily life and how he became a part of our team.

Jason, tell us about your background – how did you end up at Whitehall Lane?

I’m from Illinois, my parents are both in the cardiology and electrophysiology business and probably wanted me to go into medicine. I would have been a 4th generation doctor if I had made that my path. By the time I was 75% through my double degree, I discovered I wanted to be in the wine industry.

My first winery I worked at was in Southern Illinois. Knowing I needed more of an educational foundation in winemaking, I moved to the Okanagan Valley in Canada to attend a winery assistant certificate program through the University of British Columbia. While working and studying in Canada, I wanted to know more, so I completed the Canadian program and applied to Lincoln University in New Zealand. My move to New Zealand (Christchurch) was to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Viticulture and Enology. From there, I graduated and worked a few harvests in New Zealand. I began what is commonly known in our industry as reverse harvest travelling. Travelling to the North and South hemispheres for work is how we gain a great deal of work experience in a short timeframe. From New Zealand, I went to Bordeaux, then to South Africa, then back to Bordeaux, until finally, I made the decision to look for a permanent position in Napa Valley. I finally got my break working with Long Meadow Ranch just up Whitehall Lane (the road).

Seems like you have had an amazing journey getting to where you are today! Travelling to different wineries sounds wonderful like the perfect way to gain experience and knowledge about the wine our world can offer. What is your exact role at Whitehall Lane?

My role as Winemaker of Whitehall Lane is to oversee the winery production and Estate vineyards, as well as grower relations.

You really cover a lot in your role. So many moving parts and different processes to keep track of! What made you want to become a winemaker?

I knew I wanted to be a winemaker when I was 20 years old. The science, history, geology, sensory evaluation, farming…it all interested me.

Most importantly, smelling and tasting wines (sensory evaluation) is the best and hardest part of all. Finding what interests, you or disinterests you via smelling a wine is an art that has to be practiced and honed very well.

It’s clear that you love all aspects of your job, but what is your favorite part about your role at Whitehall Lane?

Sensory evaluation, as I mentioned. Blending a wine to create the perfect balance so that a wine has a beautiful nose, as well as a front, mid-palate, and finish all in harmony.

Of course, perfect balance is something we all look for in a glass of wine and you do a great job of making that happen! Is there an aspect of your job that might surprise people?

The hours and dedication. Even though I didn’t venture into the world of medicine, I feel as if I’m on call like a doctor most of the time. As glamorous as the job and lifestyle may seem, it’s quite demanding and hard work.

Hard work is often the most rewarding! You’ve been with our team for a year now – is there anything you want people to understand about Whitehall Lane?

Two things: the estate vineyards and the family. The estate vineyards are some of Napa Valley’s finest and will be peaking in their vineyard performance right now. Just you wait! Whitehall Lane is a family-owned winery at one of the historic wineries in Napa Valley. The Leonardini family is kind, generous, and extremely business savvy. I’ve only worked for family-run wineries in my career and the Leonardini’s are by far the best.

Being a part of a family-run business makes you feel like part of the team. With 2017 in full swing, are there any trends you see for the upcoming year?

Vineyard labor may pose a challenge for the industry and we may see a rise in the mechanization of farming.

Challenges make you stronger! Now reverse the timeline: looking back on your first harvest at Whitehall Lane, what was your favorite part, and the most challenging?

There was a lot of new infrastructure and equipment that went online for my first harvest. That was absolutely the most challenging, as it was new to everyone. My favorite part was by far working with the new (new to me) vineyards and seeing the quality of the fruit that the single vineyard estates held.

Last question, if you were not a winemaker, what would you be doing?

Furniture designer

Thank you to Jason for sharing his story with us. Stay tuned for more Beyond the Vine interviews with Whitehall Lane team members!