There are hundreds of great wineries in California focused primarily on red wines. Monochrome Wines devote all of their attention, effort and passion exclusively to white wines. To paraphrase Coco Chanel, “To be memorable, you must first be different.”
BT: What’s your role at Monochrome Wines?
Dave McGhee: Owner and co-winemaker. [I do] a little bit of everything: planning and making the wines, working on the branding and marketing aspects, paying the bills, running the tasting room, etc.
BT: How long have you been working in wine and what inspired your start?
Dave: 2016 was Monochrome’s first vintage, but before that, I worked harvests with Villa Creek Cellars and Alta Colina. I got into the business (a) because I like wine, and (b) because I enjoy the creative process of making wine.
We believe in a quote by Coco Chanel:
“To be memorable, you must first be different.”
BT: What’s your educational background?
Dave: I originally trained as an engineer (BS and MS) at Stanford, then went back for an MBA. Only years later did I take the online version of UC Davis’ winemaking program. After that, I received some hands-on experience working at Villa Creek Cellars and then Alta Colina.
Breakaway Tours (BT): What do you love about wine?
Dave: I love the diversity in the styles in which wine can be produced. It would get rather boring if all wines tasted the same!
BT: Tell us about Monochrome? What sets your wines apart?
Dave: At Monochrome, we focus exclusively on white wines, which sets us apart from nearly all the other wineries in California. While many people assume white wines lack the depth and complexity found in the best reds, we make a point of standing against that notion. We make our white wines with the care and attention to detail that most wineries reserve for their top reds. Our style is sort of a Wall of Sound approach to winemaking: we make all our wines in very small batches (typically barrel or half-barrel sized) and intentionally make each of the batches differently to maximize the range of flavors we have available for blending. It’s a very labor-intensive process, but we think it results in wines with more layers and complexity than we could achieve using more conventional techniques.
BT: Who else is contributing to the success of Monochrome?
Dave: Riley Hubbard and I collaborate on the winemaking (with help from the team at ONX winery, where we make our wines). My wife Erin and I collaborate in the tasting room and other aspects of the business. Bill Kauker helped with the branding, logo design, and website construction.
BT: What other relationships are essential to your success? How do you cultivate those relationships?
Dave: For a small winery just starting out, it’s important to get the word out, so relationships with others in the industry are crucial. That [especially] includes tasting room staff at other wineries, wine tour operators, and local hospitality personnel. Ultimately, however, the most important relationship is the one with our customers. Providing a good product and a great experience to them is our primary concern, as they are the ones who drink our wines and hopefully spread the word to their friends!
BT: You’re right! We believe customers are the magic ingredient. What do you love about working with Breakaway Tours and our guests? They’re pretty great, right?
Dave: We are a brand new winery, so have not yet had the pleasure of working with Breakaway. However, we are very much looking forward to it!
BT: There is a lot of incredible wine coming out of California! What do you think are the benefits of producing wine here?
Dave: Diversity and the opportunity to exploit it. California includes a huge number of microclimates, from very warm and dry to cool and damp. That means a huge range of grape varieties and styles are available to wineries such as us. Furthermore, unlike many European winegrowing regions, in California, there are no restrictions on what blends can be produced. That allows winemakers to craft, and consumers to enjoy, an extensive range of wine blends and styles.
BT: Take us on a walk through your average day at work.
Dave: During harvest, it’s up early to greet a load of incoming fruit, then spend the rest of the day processing it. During other times of the year, my day might focus on anything from stirring wine in barrels to supervising bottling to pouring wine at a festival or in our tasting room.
BT: Speaking of harvest, that’s always a wild time of year in the industry. What’s your craziest harvest story to date?
Dave: While trying to load a bin of fermented grapes into a big basket press, a co-worker accidentally dumped them on my head. My observation at the time: “Well, you’d like to think this sort of thing doesn’t happen at Chateau Lafite…. but it probably does.”
BT: Yout mentioned your tasting room in Tin City, Paso Robles. What can your guests expect to have when they visit you there?
Dave: We are set up for tastings by appointment, and guests will be tasting with the actual winemaker (i.e., me). Our goal is to have the experience feel more like tasting wines in a friend’s living room rather than just standing at a bar. Hopefully, guests will enjoy the experience and have the opportunity to learn a bit about wine and winemaking!
BT: What do you hope your guests will say about Monochrome Wines?
Dave: Hopefully they will say our wines are unique and among the best white wines they have tasted. And hopefully, they will tell that to their wine-loving friends!
BT: Of your current releases, what’s tasting great right now and what would you pair with it?
Dave: Our Albarino (Barrel Distortion) seems to be a consensus favorite. It is more complex and full-bodied than most Albarinos, so while pairing beautifully with seafood (Albarino’s traditional strength), it will also go well with chicken, pork, a vegetable dish, or even steak!
BT: Where do you find inspiration? Who are your wine heroes?
Dave: I’m actually more inspired by artists in other fields: music, painting, etc. Anyone who embodies creativity and individuality.
BT: Any wine trends you love right now?
Dave: I appreciate the trend among producers and consumers to try things other than just the standard big, bold Cabernets and buttery, oaky Chardonnays. Nothing against those styles, but it is nice to see more interest in some of the less well-known varieties and wines made in unique or individual styles.
BT: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your career in wine so far?
Dave: I learned one of my most important lessons while I was making experimental wines in my garage. The lesson was that a blend of wines is invariably more interesting than any one single (component) wine. This realization led to our approach to winemaking at Monochrome, in which we intentionally make a lot of different wines, in different styles, and then blend them back together.
I’m inspired by artists in other fields: music, painting, etc.
Anyone who embodies creativity and individuality.
BT: What’ the hardest part about making wine year in and year out?
Dave: Avoiding the temptation just to be lazy and make the same thing each year! I enjoy challenging myself to do something completely different each vintage.
BT: Is there anything that’s taken you by surprise about winemaking?
Dave: It is nowhere near as glamorous as it seems from the outside!
BT: Do you have any advice for those interested in starting a career in wine?
Dave: Do something different and unique. At a recent class I took at UC Davis, the running joke was that 90% of small wineries had mostly the same story: “We’re a small, family-owned winery. We handcraft wines that reflect our terroir. And we’ve won a few awards.” Don’t be just another one of those!
BT: What do you think is the best way to select a wine to drink? Do you have any tips for wine newbies?
Dave: Your palate is as good as anyone else’s. Don’t be cowed by the “experts.” If you like a wine, it’s good wine. [And] a good wine should continue to be good (if not get better) after the first glass. Sometimes big, heavy wines taste great for the first half glass, but quickly lose their charm. Sort of like beers that are too heavy or deserts that are too rich.
BT: With so many good wines to choose from, tell us: If you were stranded on a desert island, what wine would you bring with you?
Dave: Probably either a complex white or a lighter red, since both of those will pair with a lot of different foods (and who knows what there will be on the desert island!)
BT: So do you usually base your meal on the wine or the wine on your meal?
Dave: I find the “what you like goes with what you like” approach works out at least 90% of the time!