Marc is one of the most talented winemakers I’ve ever worked with. He’s head over heels infatuated with our vineyard and the two together are magic in the making. Honestly, the wines he’s making will ensure the legacy of this place long after we’re all gone.

- John Caldwell

Winemaking at Caldwell

What we’re doing here is really the lunatic fringe of winemaking… it’s a take no prisoners, no holds barred, do anything in the name of making great wine, approach.

Anyone who knows anything about what we do will tell you that great wine starts in the vineyard. And we’ve got a pretty special one. But it also takes a team of talented people, combined with the knowhow and facility that allows you to control every detail, decision and nuance -- from vineyard to bottle. 

Our entire winemaking program is led by Marc Gagnon. Before he got to Caldwell he spent time at Screaming Eagle and Bryant Family Wines. That experience gave Marc a wealth of knowledge in the nitty gritty science of winemaking, the practice in the artistry and a well honed understanding of how to take calculated risks all in the name of achieving greatness.


Marc Gagnon
(pronounced Găn-yōn)

He can build a computer, fix a Porche engine, and is unabashed in his earth-minded proclivities. It happens, he’s made his fair share of ridiculously high-scoring wines for the likes of Screaming Eagle and Bryant Estate too.

With a work ethic that rivals Jesus (our Vineyard Manager of 27 years), he’s smart, talented, and a whole lotta fun to be around. No doubt about it, our winemaker is nothing short of a modern Renaissance man, of the highest order.

Being a great winemaker is just like being great at any other trade. It’s about taking risks, caring enough to be hands-on, and being willing to do the work every step of the way. I’m not one of these winemakers that sits back and watches the interns do the work. I prune the vines, tend the burn piles, haul the hoses, do the pump overs … all of it … because there’s no shortcuts when you want to get something right. It’s also really good for morale, as well as for training technique, when you work alongside your team instead of just telling them what needs to be done.

There are infinite complexities and variation with a natural product like wine, so we control the things we can and focus on consistency, above all else, in the cellar. Both in practice and philosophy it’s about sticking with what’s tried and true. 

In the vineyard there are endless variables – weather, wind, rain, temperature, moisture levels, soil makeup and drainage, root stocks, micro-climates (which are specific areas within the canopy) and miso-climate (which are the vineyard blocks themselves). Here daily and seasonal variables are dictated by nature (unless you’re farming in the Central Valley, which we’re not), so our job in the cellar is to reduce the variables and strive for consistency and simplicity.


My aim is to promote greater overall biodiversity and to help fortify the health of every facet of the vineyard, from the microbes in the soil to the raptors flying overhead, to the team members in the field. It’s in this state of health and balance that we can achieve greatness.

Marc seriously knows his shit when it comes to terroir. As the Assistant Winemaker at Screaming Eagle he had to master the seemingly endless little nooks and crannies and micro-terroirs of their site. “It’s where I learned to meditate,” he jokes. Bryant Family was much the same, and in his four years with them he upped their game to a whole new level. Now he’s on our team and is helping us develop the next chapter for Caldwell Vineyard. He has an intimate relationship with the countless personalities of our 65 planted acres of vineyard, and figuring out how best to showcase those differences in the wines.

Bringing what he learned from Bryant Family and Screaming Eagle, Marc is showcasing the highest expression of Caldwell Vineyard to date. – John Caldwell

Art & Science

We prize the differentiation and nuance we can coax out of these incredible vines by keeping everything separate – rootstock, vineyard block, clone, and barrel. By focusing more on the different expressions from the vineyard, Marc usses some of the industry’s coolest new technology - micro picks, NDVI and other top secret tools - to make pick decisions.

When it comes to creating what we call the “Caldwell mouth”, grape and clone variety, picking decisions, barrel selection, and the fermentation process all play a part in the magic. But the real magic comes from honing in on the structure, and specifically the acid and pH levels for a particular lot. Marc has a great way of talking about this. “I like my pH levels in Napa reds to hover around 3.75. A lot of wine critics like the wine to feel unctuous and jammy (some may say flabby), which is what you get when you’re pH stretches over 4.0. By comparison, the wines we were making back in the 70’s were more like 3.5… and more like 70’s bush; all natural, but a little overblown. Hitting the mark right between those two markers (around 3.75) gives us more refinement in the flavor and offers, all other things being equal, a wine in perfect balance.

That’s the technical part, but the artistry comes from a winemaker who’s willing and able to take calculated risks in the name of greatness. Taking a leap of faith and being vulnerable in the face of both success and failure is what differentiates good from great. The courage to own both success and failure is what differentiates good from great. 

Maybe that sensibility is in his genes. Marc comes from a long line of fearless adventurers. His dad’s great-great grandfathers left Normandy, France to help settle Quebec City and Newfoundland. Bucking the status quo and established way of doing things is in his DNA, which is why Marc fits in so well at Caldwell.  He’s always looking for a way to do things better and more efficiently.

The greatest thing I learned from my mentors was how to manage temperature. My boss at Eagle was a chemist and an engineer, and the best thing he taught me was the mechanics of an HVAC unit. That may sound crazy, but temperature control is one of the most important, and often overlooked components of winemaking. Once you’ve made your harvest decisions, you’ve only got a few weeks to manage the crucial window of time during fermentation, when unassuming grape juice becomes wine. Yeast only lives for a few weeks, and during that time, our job is to keep them happy and working steadily along. Temperature is the single most important piece in that puzzle. The only way to make a quality driven, consistent and ultimately balanced product is to keep your fermentations under control.

Psychology or Winemaking?

“Everything in life requires contrast,” he says. You can’t really know light unless you know darkness, too. Art and science both have a place in winemaking, but finding the right balance is a daily challenge.”

Marc caught the wine bug early from his parents. They honeymooned in Burgundy and were teaching him how to taste wine at the dinner table by the time he was ten. He grew up thinking he wanted to be either a winemaker, a radiologist, or a psychologist for kids with special needs. When he learned how messed up the medical system is, he decided to go with wine.

He got a degree in viticulture and enology, and another one in art history. A purist, Marc ultimately defines success both by the health and balance of the raw materials – that includes the vineyard, the fruit, the technology… and most of all the people. 

“The goal is to develop health in every facet of the business: from the microbes in the soil to the raptors flying overhead; from the folks in the office to the folks in the field. It’s in this state of harmony that we’ll find true greatness.”

Not just busy with making two dozen different estate wines for the Caldwell Vineyard portfolio, Marc is involved in a number of other projects showcasing the passion, breadth and depth of what he loves about being a winemaker including his own Gagnon-Kennedy Vineyards, State of Mind Wine, Component Wine Co and what Marc likes to call his “Revolver Projects” which includes one wine that simply allows him to express a thought, feeling or passion he’s had that year. Sometimes it's something historical, lost to time, or something that crosses new boundaries between crafts or cultures.

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