Erica Orr has been with us for 13 years, joining us following our founding winemaker Lance Baer’s passing. She was tasked with assisting us in carrying on Lance’s legacy through Baer wines. Erica has done an impeccable job of taking the reins in the vineyards and production facilities. In this month’s blog, we asked her to share a bit about her day-to-day and her journey to Woodinville. Learn more about Erica and how she came to be one of the best winemakers in the state of Washington!
Where are you from and where did you attend school?
I’m from California’s San Francisco Bay Area and have a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in enology from UC Davis.
What originally got you interested in winemaking?
I am interested in science, specifically chemistry and biology, but I also love cooking, restaurants, and traveling. Back in 1998, I was living in San Francisco and working in the Blackburn Lab at UCSF. While out at a bar, my friend and I randomly sat next to the winemaker, Aaron Pott. He told us all about his life working at wineries in Bordeaux and the Napa Valley. He said he had gone through the wine program at UC Davis and told me to work at a winery before applying to the UC Davis enology program. That was super valuable advice. I took all my vacation from my job at the lab to work a couple of weeks of harvest with Cathy Corison in the Napa Valley. That was my first harvest, 1998.
How long have you been with Baer Winery and what’s your favorite part about working there?
The Baer family hired me to keep the label going after Lance Baer passed away in 2007. So, 2019 was my 13th harvest at Baer. I feel like my role is clearly defined. My job is to continue to craft the Baer wines in the style that Lance originated. That includes responding to what the growing season gives us and, at the same time, striving to make the wines better every vintage. I like having those parameters spelled out.
Describe Baer wines in three words.
Honoring Lance Baer.
What is your winemaking philosophy?
I feel like I know what is delicious; I try and really pay attention when I am tasting something delicious. I’m searching for the most delicious wine on the table during my blending sessions.
What are some of the challenges for Washington winemakers right now?
Columbia Valley vineyards that were planted in the 2000s are maturing into their sweet spot. I feel like technically the Washington winemaking community is becoming more knowledgeable and capable each vintage. The grapes are improving and the winemaking is improving so, naturally, the quality of wine we are producing is increasing, which is great! The challenge is that there are more brands out in the market now so the competition is fierce. The world of wine criticism is different from 20 years ago, nice scores certainly help but they don’t make or break a brand in the way that scores used to. I feel like the biggest challenge is staying relevant while staying true to the style Lance Baer established.
Is there a Baer wine you’re most proud of? If so, what is it and why?
I think the 2012 Ursa was really stunning and it felt great that several critics recognized this as well. The new 2016 Star Merlot that we just released is 100% Merlot for the first time ever for the winery (typically there is some Cab Franc and sometimes Cab Sauv blended in). I am learning how to craft Merlot in a way where I feel it is a complete wine, delicious on its own. It’s a lot of learning by doing.
There you have it – a look behind the scenes of Baer Winery with the person at the helm of creating Baer wines. Do you have more questions for Erica? Pay us a visit in the near future and you may be lucky enough to catch Erica in her lab, or if you’re a club member you will find her at the next club event to talk about all things wine and food!