VINTNER Q&A: How Byington’s Winemaker Made the Leap from Rioja to Santa Cruz

This is part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the global wine community. Vintner Magazine will share business and personal insights from winery owners, vintners, marketing managers, sales directors, QCQA staff and others to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.

Byington Winery is located in the mountainous Santa Cruz AVA, 2,000 feet above sea level. Its winemaker is Daniel Negueruela, who learned the art of winemaking from his grandfather. He got his start at age 16 in Rioja, Spain working on the bottling line at a small winery and today is the lead winemaker at Byington in Los Gatos, California.

VINTNER: Why did you enter the wine industry and what makes you love being a part of it?

NEGUERUELA: In my early teen years, I loved spending hours with my grandfather in the basement of our home, in the Village of Lardero, Rioja, Spain, talking with him and watching him make the wine and “Orujo,” also known as grappa. We would harvest the grapes from old Tempranillo vines in our small family garden and crush them in the very traditional method by foot and then press them with an old screw top wooden press. Very little was wasted and the pomace was saved for my grandfather to distill into Orujo. We would make enough wine to fill about two oak barrels each year and when the wine was ready, we would fill our glasses right from the barrel, invite friends and family over and have a feast! To me, wine represents love, family and good food!

VINTNER: What challenges have you overcome to get to where you are in your winemaking career?

NEGUERUELA: I knew I wanted to make winemaking a career, so in 2004 at the age of 16 I started working at a large local winery in Rioja that produced about 500,000 cases of wine a year. I would work part time after school on the bottling line. The owner saw my enthusiasm and my hard work and I was quickly promoted to the winery lab. It was in the lab that I really started learning the art and science of winemaking. I continued my studies at a secondary school full time for winemaking as well as working as much as possible at the winery. I remember very long tiring days and did not see my friends and family very much during this time. While my friends went to parties or enjoyed sports events, I was working. I didn’t mind because I was learning so much and I was doing what I loved. In 2020 my wife had the opportunity to finish her doctorate in the United States. California! It would mean moving away from our beloved hometown, away from all our friends and family. But we would be in California wine country and I knew there would be so many opportunities. Everyone encouraged us to go to the United States and so in December of 2020 we moved north of the Santa Cruz mountains. It was my first time in the United States and I didn’t know English very well, but I immediately started looking for a job at a winery. I was lucky enough to meet the winemaker at Byington Winery, a small family owned vineyard and winery, 2,000 feet above sea level in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. They hired me on the spot to help out in the wine cellar and within a year I became lead in the cellar. 

VINTNER: What are some of the most important things you have learned since getting started in the winemaking industry?  What techniques have you adopted and made your own?

NEGUERUELA: I feel so fortunate to have learned to make wines certified as Rioja in Spain in a very large winery and now wines in a smaller more intimate setting high above Monterey Bay. It is an amazing opportunity to have knowledge of winemaking from two different continents on two different scales. In both circumstances, I have learned to stay humble and grateful for those who came before me and to those I depend on currently in our vineyard, cellar, and lab. It is from these talented people that I have learned to perfect my own craft. One technique that I brought to Byington was the practice of Delestage and I believe that it will bring a new and exciting angle to the wines we produce here.

VINTNER: Do you think learning to make wine in Europe gives you a different perspective as a winemaker from that of your colleagues who got started in the US?  Why or why not?

NEGUERUELA: Truthfully, the techniques are very similar around the world. The art of winemaking has such a history in Europe and so many of these winemakers brought their knowledge here to the US. It is from these masters that we have learned the art of winemaking, making small adjustments to personalize each vintage to our own. The equipment might be a little different from winery to winery, it may be older or newer, there may be 20 people working in the cellar or just three, a winery may make 5,000 cases a year or 500,000. The bottom line is you need great communication and an amazing team that works well together to make it all happen successfully. I feel like I have a family here at Byington Winery.

VINTNER: What are some of the wines you are looking forward to making that you haven’t made yet?  How do you ensure that you keep growing as a winemaker? 

NEGUERUELA: Having grown up with Rioja varietals such as Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo, I am really looking forward to conquering the reds such as the delicate Pinot Noirs that the Santa Cruz mountains are so well known for but I am really looking forward to debuting our Tin Cross Bethlehem Cabernet Sauvignon in 2024. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape is such a bold full-bodied red with an amazing range of flavor. I am looking forward to stepping out of my comfort zone and producing award winning 100 point wines for Byington Winery in the coming years.

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