Waunakee native ‘stumbled’ into food science and straight into winemaking – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Kristine M. Kierzek


Special to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Published 6:13 AM EDT Jul 9, 2019

Nate Klostermann has always loved science. He grew up in Waunakee thinking he might want to be a veterinarian like his father. When it came time for college, brewing beer was something he did for fun. Then he thought about turning it into a career. 

He studied food science at the University of Minnesota, and a job at Falconer Vineyards along the Mississippi River in Red Wing, Minn., gave him his first taste of the wine-making world. 

After graduation in 2005, Klostermann headed to Oregon to work the harvest at Argyle Winery. Fourteen years later he’s worked his way up to his current role as Argyle’s head winemaker, a job he earned in 2013 at just 31. Today, he lives in McMinnville, Ore., and oversees production of about 30 different wines in the Willamette Valley. His current favorite — and the biggest challenge to his skills — is sparkling wine. 

On July 15, he’s coming back to Wisconsin to join Story Hill BKC, 5100 W. Blue Mound Road, for its first-ever wine dinner, featuring wines from Argyle Winery. Tickets at $100 are available at storyhillbkc.com or (414) 539-4424.

Question: How did you come to study food science at the University of Minnesota? How did that lead to wine?

Answer: I grew up in Waunakee, just north of Madison. I stumbled into food science. I was looking at veterinary and pharmacy, and I started home brewing. I was working in a pharmacy in a hospital, and I saw the pharmacy side and realized I didn’t want to do this.

Then the light went on, maybe I could make beer for a living. That was my first thought. I switched my major to food science with the intention of getting into brewing. 

During my last semester they offered a wine course, and another light bulb went off. I saw interesting opportunities. I moved out west to work harvest the fall after I graduated in 2005.

Q: What made Oregon the place you wanted to make wine? 

A: I came out to Oregon in 2005. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had two to three months lined up and it was an opportunity. Oregon even back then was still kind of old school. There weren’t a lot of people even with basic science degrees in the (wine) industry.

When I started, even with the food science degree, I had the most experience in the science window, so I got thrown into the lab. I was doing lab and cellar work, just getting to just see both sides of production, handling and fermenting and getting dirty and seeing the analysis on the back side. It was like a mini grad school opportunity. A couple months has turned into 14 years. 

Q: How does place play into the wine you are making now?

A: For Oregon, the place here is beautiful for cooler-climate grapes like Pinot and chardonnay. They ripen at the end of the growing season here, and they hang on to a lot of fresh natural acidity. 

Q: How many wine dinners do you do per year? Have you done any in Wisconsin before?

A: I do one or two dinners per year. This is my first dinner in Milwaukee, and in Wisconsin. Story Hill BKC … has been big supporters of ours for a very long time, and it is so fun to communicate with the people who have been buying and supporting our wines for such a long time and getting them the backstory of why we do certain things with each of these wines. 

Q: Do you have a favorite wine to make?

A: Sparkling wine, if I had to pick one. It takes much longer to produce, more precision, technical skill, and there is not much to hide behind in the sparkling wine making. I like the challenge of it, seeing a bottle all the way through from harvest to release.

We do one called extended tirage that spends about 10 years aging on the yeast around the leaves before we disgorge. It gets an extra complexity and nuance with that extended aging, it is a unique wine for American sparkling wine. 

Q: What would you tell an aspiring winemaker today? 

A: I would say get in to a region, find a region if you’re a fan of a particular region of wines, go work a harvest somewhere and see if you really like it. Ninety percent of wine making is cleaning. 

Q: What’s your perfect pairing? 

A: I love pairing sparkling wines with foods, especially sparkling wines that have a lot of Pinot Noir in them. You can pair sparkling wines with a food that you’d normally pair with a red Pinot Noir. A lot of people think you drink sparkling wine on its own or with oysters, but it can be with a full meal.

Q: What do you want to be known for?

A: I always take pride in ageability of wines. When I’m retired or dead, I want people to find wines I made years and years and years ago, find them, taste them and they’ll still be really dynamic.

Table Chat features interviews with Wisconsinites, or Wisconsin natives, who work in restaurants or support the restaurant industry; or visiting chefs. To suggest individuals to profile, email nstohs@journalsentinel.com.

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