An interview with Jake Kotzman of Artifex by Ivan Ramos

Jake Kotzman, a man of many talents, working and living out of Walla Walla, the laboratory manager of Artifex and the ultimate frisbee coach at Whitman College.

Ivan Ramos: How did you get into wine?

Jake Kotzman: I was the kitchen manager at a wine bar in Spokane, and was looking for an opportunity to get out of the restaurant industry. Eli Magun, the then student and tasting room manager at the CC does a pouring event at the wine bar.  I exchanged a few emails asking about the program, came down to visit and interview, fast forward a few more months, and my wife and 4-month-old are living in Walla Walla!

IR: Is there someone in the EV world that you admire, including fellow EV alums?

JK: I have the opportunity to work closely with Brian Rudin in my position, and it’s so cool to see what he is getting up to. He’s always at the cutting edge of some new technique or technology and really dives into the science and data behind it. Not to mention he is always willing to share his experience with the community and anyone else that is looking for insight.

IR: What’s special to you about working in the wine industry?

JK: I’ve loved the community we’re based out of. Walla Walla has been an incredible place to raise my three daughters, and the wine industry has been a huge part of that.

IR: What is your favorite part of your job?

JK: I think just being able to do so many different things; I get to perform hands-on chemistry, work with great people, and produce an incredible product as well!

IR: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the industry?

JK: Harvests have always been tough especially as I have young children. Our first two were born in the spring so we had time to adjust them to a more set sleeping schedule, but our third was born in the middle of October! Adjusting MY sleep schedule in the middle of harvest was difficult, but we got through it.

IR: What do you think differentiates and excites you about Washington wine?

JK: WAwine is just so damn tasty! We have the climate to produce such a wide variety of wines and styles. Add in the community surrounding it as well, where so much of the industry supports and works with one another to continually produce a better product, and it really becomes something easy to get wrapped up in.

IR: How do you foresee climate change or social issues affecting the local industry in the next few years?

JK: I think as we continue to see more fires in the state, we’ll continue seeing evolution surrounding how to better produce wine that competes with the wines that previously weren’t pressured by smoke.  When 2020 happened, there was an attitude of ‘We can’t make this work,’ but after having a year to look at solutions, and evolving technology, 2021 saw a shift towards ‘Let’s make this work.’

IR: What are some up-and-coming trends in wine that you’re following?

JK: While the boutique crowd is already moving towards more acid-driven wines, the larger producers have still managed to pick riper styles. As smoke pressure continues to mount in the center of the state, I think there may be a necessitated shift towards these larger producers picking sooner, which I think will benefit everyone as these large producers commit resources to this style of winemaking. That knowledge slowly disseminates throughout the industry, and I think we produce wines of distinction in a slightly lighter style allowed to us by Washington’s favorable diurnal shift.

IR: What advice can you share with future EV graduates?

JK: Keep working! Get into a cellar during the offseason. A lot of producers have a system they use to get through harvest, and they can slow down and ponder (often aloud!) more post-chaos.

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