The Rhizosphere: An Interview with Chad Honsinger of RYZO Wines by Alec Anderson
Chad Honsinger is a graduate of the Enology and Viticulture Program, Class of 2012, and the owner/winemaker of RYZO Wines. He lives with his wife and two daughters near Twisp, Washington in the Methow Valley. He makes his wine here in the Walla Walla Valley. We spoke about our time working together a few years ago in Walla Walla and how he introduced me to professional winemaking as a potential career. We also discussed his more recent move out of the valley and how his new brand is doing.
Alec Anderson: How did you get into wine?
Chad Honsinger: I got into wine through cider. My dad always had this apple big cider party growing up, it was a big event, and everyone made a bunch of sweet cider. With the leftovers, I began to ferment it. During college, I fermented a ton of this leftover cider and got really into it. A friend recommended I check out wine. My only experience with wine was yellowtail so I wasn’t the most knowledgeable. I really got into it from a science aspect, the fermentations.
AA: Is there someone in the EV world that you admire, including fellow EV alums?
CH: Ashely Trout. She is someone who is both so interested in the world of wine and has also been so adventurous, being innovative in the industry. Also pushing the boundaries of the industry, like the Vital label she has.
AA: What’s special to you about working in the wine industry?
CH: It brings a lot of different people from all over the world. It offers a way to connect to other people. You wouldn’t really think about other landscapes in that depth without the connection to wine.
AA: What is your favorite part of your job?
CH: My favorite part is the challenge piece. Being on the edge of it, the risk. And the doing a little bit of everything, I’m really enjoying that.
AA: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the industry?
CH: There’s kind of a macro challenge of too many people wanting to work in wine. Especially in production. That’s one of the biggest challenges.
AA: What do you think differentiates and excites you about Washington wine?
CH: The freshness and the fruit flavors and brightness. Generally, you can get more interesting flavors and unique sights, a little more on a raspberry spectrum rather than the darker fruits.
AA: How do you foresee climate change or social issues affecting the local industry in the next few years?
CH: I foresee it affecting everything…but from our standpoint, for us, we made the decisions to move to Northern WA and source grapes from there. We want that for the style of wine we make, it works better. And we see it as being a buffer for the more short-term climate issues. We also have a strategy of scouring 25-30% of our grapes from different areas so that one specific weather event doesn’t affect us completely. We are trying to create a local thing but spreading out our risk.
AA: What are some up-and-coming trends in wine that you’re following?
CH: I’m following packaging trends. I’m really interested in how successful different packing formats are accepted and which ones really gain hold. I’m also following the issue of how younger consumers are going to affect the market. Are they interested in craft products? Are they interested in alcoholic products as much as the previous generation? I’m curious what the even younger people that aren’t engaged as much as others, how are they going to engage with the products.
AA: What advice can you share with future EV graduates?
CH: I think it’s to have a very clear idea of what role you want in the industry. Then try to gain the experience, whether it’s through having a chance at a job or travel and gain broader experience at several places or to try and get experience. Also, to stay focused and keep learning. That’s the great thing about wine, there’s always more to learn. That’s what I love about it. You must love that about it because its not going to reward you financially as much as other careers.