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Eric Frind Estate Winery

Finding the Truth in the Glass: Spotlight on Eric Von Krosigk of Frind Estate Winery

Eric Von Krosigk is a winemaker who thrives on the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of his craft. For him, winemaking represents the perfect blend of art and science, offering a continuous journey of experimentation, innovation, and refinement. His mission is to make wines that authentically capture the essence of the grapes he cultivates, expressing their terroir and unique characteristics.

Eric finds fulfillment within the winemaking community, where he connects with individuals from diverse backgrounds, including scientists and restaurateurs. This network allows him to gain new perspectives and insights that enrich his winemaking journey.

Today, at Frind Estate Winery, Eric’s innovative spirit shines through. He has been granted the freedom to craft wines that defy conventional categories, a testament to Markus Frind’s visionary approach. Equipped with cutting-edge tools, AI technology, and a state-of-the-art lab, Eric’s winemaking style seamlessly blends precision with creativity. Frind Estate Winery’s tech-driven ethos showcases an unwavering commitment to adaptability and growth in a continually evolving industry.

What did your journey into winemaking look like?

My winemaking journey started with my dad. He came from the old country and when I was growing up we had a dairy farm. Shoveling poop seven days a week wasn’t terribly exciting, but Eric noticed his Dads eyes would light up when he talked about the old country, the vineyard and the distillery. So that’s probably where it all began. I didn’t want to shovel poop for the rest of my life, so I pursued winemaking. I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I was 14, and I kept going.

I was 21 when I finally got the opportunity to start learning about grapes, I ended up going to Germany in 1983 and getting a practicum position at Geilweilerhof, which is the federal research station for grape varieties in Germany. That’s where I kicked off my career.

Where was your first job?

My very first winemaking job was with Sumac Ridge. I was working on a research project for sparkling wine with them. I made small batch sparkling out of 50 plus varietals at the time. My initial foray into working with traditional method sparkling, was in 1983, in the Geilweilerhof research cellar. My timing was good as there I worked with Hubert Lutz, who was just starting his program doing small tests with traditional method sparkling wine batches. I got absolutely hooked.

How did you end up at Frind Winery?

I got a call from Markus Frind. I didn’t take the call the first three times because I didn’t recognize the number, and I was busy at the time. I was working as a winemaker at Summerhill and had my consulting company on the side. Eventually, I took the call, met up with Markus, and he told me about his plans. It was a big vision, and I thought, even if he accomplishes 50% of what he’s talking about, it would be amazing. He’s exceeded those expectations, and it’s been a wild ride.

What is the hardest thing about winemaking?

One of the toughest challenges in winemaking, especially in the North, is dealing with environmental factors, such as Mother Nature and unpredictable weather. For instance, I recall a significant temperature drop from 10 degrees Celsius on October 11th to -15 degrees Celsius on October 12th. These extreme fluctuations are some of the challenges we face in this region.

I often refer to it as “the big white cowboy” when heavy snowfall covers everything. Last year, we were still processing grapes in early November, even when the temperature dropped to -6 degrees Celsius. I couldn’t shut off my conveyor belts. I had to keep them running so that nothing would freeze solid.

On another note, during my 24-year career as a consultant in the wine industry, the most significant challenge has been managing people’s perceptions.

Wine and winemaking are highly subjective, and there's no definitive right or wrong. It's all about perception. Wine tasting is entirely subjective, and individuals are always right in their preferences since it's a 100% subjective experience.

Navigating these varying preferences, especially when working with new winery owners, could be challenging. One owner’s friend might love the wine, while another might not. This roller coaster of opinions and emotions could be quite challenging to handle.

Third-party endorsements, like awards and medals, certainly help build credibility, but these challenges related to subjectivity remain ever-present in the wine industry.

What is the most rewarding part of your winemaking career?

There are many rewarding aspects to my career. I get to work with incredible people, from growers to distributors, salespeople, restaurant owners, and entrepreneurs from various backgrounds.

I also enjoy the creative aspect of winemaking, taking grapes and crafting them into something unique. It involves envisioning the final product, considering the vintage, and navigating market complexities to deliver a wine that people will enjoy.

This vision is shaped by factors like the specific conditions of the year and the ever-shifting market dynamics. I continually ask myself, ‘Can I achieve my goal, and what adjustments are necessary in the vineyard and my processes?’

For example, this year, we’ve encountered challenges with smoke in our region. While we have the tools to address it, it has demanded extra work to ensure the wine reaches the desired quality, unlike the usual straightforward process. So, I embrace these challenges as opportunities to achieve the desired outcome.

You invest a lot of effort into the winemaking process, and sometimes it feels like it's never-ending. But then, during those moments when you're sitting with buyers or distributors, tasting the wine alongside them, there's this gratifying inner satisfaction. You think to yourself, 'Yes, I've nailed it.' It's a great feeling, because up until the day of bottling, there may have been a lot of question marks around it.

In the end, it’s all about, ‘How do we get and keep the market, and then what does that data look like?’ Tastry helps us understand the end-user or wine consumer in different markets. It’s complicated in the markets, you know, and I always knew the markets were different, as far as flavor profiles and what people prefer.

The journey from grape to bottle is filled with uncertainties, and you encounter challenges along the way. It can be a bit frustrating when you’re dealing with various elements and variables, and it feels like you’re fighting against them. In my role, I conduct a lot of tastings to fine-tune the blends. It’s a process.

Do you have any specific examples to share?

I think there’s something unique about our work here because we do a lot of research and experimentation. I get to experiment quite a bit, which isn’t usually the case, especially with blends. Throughout my career, I’ve always been passionate about crafting sparkling wines.

What I’ve noticed over time, especially with sparkling wines, is that even a tiny change, like just 0.1 milliliters of a liquor, when done correctly, can have a significant impact. This truth applies to blending as well. I’ve seen people reuse the same filter pads for a red wine, even on a small lot, and it resulted in a noticeable shift in the wine’s character.

I think that is something people have overlooked for a very long time. They tend to look at the bigger picture, but they miss what’s happening on the micro level and how significant it is.

What sets your winery apart from others?

What sets our winery apart is Markus Frind’s vision and his passion for technology. Markus is a tech enthusiast who scours the internet for tools and solutions that most wineries wouldn’t even be aware of. Our winery has a unique sorting and processing setup, including multiple optical sorters and density sorters. We invest heavily in technology, and we have a state-of-the-art lab on-site. This lab allows us to perform smoke taint analysis, test for various compounds, and conduct soil and petiole analyses.

Our commitment to innovation and data-driven decision-making sets us apart in the industry. Markus collects data from all these processes and applies various AI programs to uncover patterns that might be invisible to the human eye.

We use Tastry, and it’s a fabulous program that completes what we do. We track everything–– we do soil analysis, petiole analysis, a very thorough analysis on skin, phenolics and tannins.

Then Tastry, from my perspective, completes on the other end, where we’ve gone into depth on soils, grapes, weather, watering, and winemaking. But that’s right in the middle of the story, and Tastry takes us to the end of the story which is what’s happening in the market.

I did a practicum with a little company called Henkel for three months. I saw the label magazine, which was exported to 144 countries, and they had also different flavor profiles set up for the different countries because they knew some markets like wine with more RS or more acid, for example. Tastry takes that to a completely different level.

I think that completes where we’re going, because we have two data scientists on staff, which most wineries don’t have, and we have a data warehouse, we have all sorts of crazy technology, but we stop at a certain point in the road. We still map all our sales data, but the actual market data and knowledge that Tastry has, that’s something that completes what we’re doing.

What makes your wine unique?

Markus didn’t want to be like anybody else. We’re not trying to mimic other wine regions or styles. Markus’s vision is to create the very best wine from the grapes we grow, without trying to fit into predefined categories like California or Bordeaux.

Stepping away from the urge to compare ourselves to others takes the pressure off, and I think that inspires us to innovate. We leverage technology and a deep understanding of our grapes and terroir to craft wines that express our unique identity. We have an array of tools, including a Flash Détene, a STARS® unit, and various sorting and processing technologies. With these remarkable tools, we can transform the grapes we grow into the perfect glass of wine.

I’m not aiming for the critics. I’ll make some wine for the 3%, for instance, I have a Pinot Noir bubbly coming up that’s zero dressage, it’s absolutely popcorn dry. It’s brilliant, but it’s brilliant for the nichiest of niche drinkers and I know them because I’m one of them.

My main goal is to create for the 97% of wine drinkers and not the 3% of drinkers. This really supports Markus’s vision. Since I met him in 2017, we have expanded our vineyards and our land holdings to over 1,300 acres. We have been planting 100 acres annually for the past four years and continuing to grow. It’s a substantial project and with that, Markus gave me the challenge of creating a $20 100-point wine.

We’re getting pretty close. I mean, I don’t make wine for critics, but at the London Wine Awards, our Merlot scored 94 points and we won Best in Show for our Private Series Merlot. So, we’re getting close. We decided not to publish the results as its part of a series we just sell directly to licensees. This is were our technology and data collection step in. We record everything looking for the patterns. Our goal being to meet or beat last years vintage, using our data to adjust the flavour profiles in the vineyards and processing practices by variety and desired outcome. Its really a dance between technology, what Mother nature has in store for us and the ever evolving trends in the market. We are still learning how to use our technology and Tastry’s technology.

When we are blending, part of the challenge is learning how to use the technology to create all the combinations for the outcome we're focused on. I call it ‘finding the truth in the glass’. I say that because when that wine is poured into glass somewhere, the only truth the consumer will know is how that wine shows up in their glass.

How has your winemaking process changed over the years?

My winemaking process here has changed pretty radically. In my previous winemaking venture, I focused on organic and biodynamic practices. I co-founded a winery in BC, and we proudly became the region’s first certified organic winery. It was all about taking a more natural and hands-off approach.

Now, I’ve shifted to a more tech-driven approach, although it’s important to remember that tech is just a tool. I have many tools at my disposal, much like a well-equipped kitchen, but I don’t use every tool to make an omelet, right? It’s a learning process, managing these new tools in this phase of my career.

Our winery has made significant investments in sorting and processing equipment, totaling around three and a half million dollars. With this equipment, I can do remarkable things, like breaking down a single cluster of grapes into ten separate piles of berries, each with unique characteristics, allowing for precision winemaking.

For example, when we receive grapes from the XYZ vineyard on a particular day, we sort them into four or five different groups, each with its unique qualities. I might separate out clusters with high chlorophyll content and treat them differently, possibly for a sparkling wine or rosé. This level of precision has revolutionized our winemaking approach.

In the wine world, I often divide winemakers into two groups: those who don’t know and those who don’t know they don’t know.

Because you just can’t know it all. Winemaking is a never-ending school of learning. Mother Nature provides a new platform for you every year. I would say she has one message to me always, which is: ‘Are you paying attention now?’ The curve balls she can throw are legendary.

Especially now there’s so much innovation and so much to know. For instance, the tannin research alone every year is insane. Trying to keep up with that, let alone all the other different facets that are evolving, I don’t think any particular time in the history of winemaking has been as interesting as it is now. There’s just so much going on, and it’s hard to keep up. I’m always amused when I meet people who say they already know everything. And I think, ‘Wow, I wish I was young again, then I’d know everything too.’

What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from winemaking?

Winemaking and grape growing– and I don’t ever separate the two– are based on observation. It’s always about trusting your gut and your palate.

Even when a lot of other people might be on a different bandwagon or going in a different direction, just trust yourself. Also, keep an open mind. If somebody says they’re getting X-Y-Z and you think it’s Y-Z-X then look at it with an open mind, because we can all get hardened in our positions.

Another critical thing is to never get a cellar palate. By cellar palate, I mean, people who only drink their own wine. It helps if you love the wine you’re making, but at the bare minimum you need to be trying other people’s wines and from everywhere, because otherwise, you can miss evolution. Say somebody had a Pinot Noir, which somebody found that expresses a certain flavor so well, and you’ve never discovered it because you just never thought of that combination of events and technique. I think people can close themselves off to real growth and development by having a cellar palate.

What is one piece of advice you’d pass on to newer winemakers entering the field?

Respect the three ‘M’s of the business: money, management, and marketing. Be honest with yourself and make sure you have all of those three bases covered because if you don't, it's a really expensive lesson.

Many talented winemakers struggle because they overlook the financial and marketing aspects of the business. That’s where I’ve seen people get hurt the most if they’re missing one of those things.

The wine business, at the end of the day, it’s a manufacturing proposal that has a three-to-one buck ratio for the first five to seven years. Three bucks in, one buck out. I’ve met people with their milkmaid’s calculation where they’ve already sold the first bottle before they’ve even made it, and I say, ‘Cool trick! Show me how.’

What is one question you have about today’s wine consumer that you haven’t answered yet?

How can we truly captivate the new generation of wine consumers? I see this emerging group of individuals, just coming of age at 18, 19, or 21, depending on their location.

So, how do we entice them and instill in them a desire to savor wine, rather than opting for alco-pops, coolers, or whatever fleeting trends they encounter, like craft beer with fruity juice mixes?

I’m puzzled about how to reach this market. How can we connect with them? How can we pique their curiosity and encourage them to explore and experience more? As an industry, we’re currently falling short.

The younger generation prefers these modern formats because of their convenience—grab and go, as opposed to lugging around a full wine bottle, committing to several glasses.

These alternative formats are a hot topic in our region right now. Whether it’s cans or other packaging like bags or Tetra bricks, it presents the challenge of shelf life. Products in these formats typically have a shelf life of three to six months.

The issue is similar to breweries that don’t pasteurize; they put their products out, and without proper rotation in the market, the result is skunky beer, leading to a loss of consumer trust. It’s a ruthless and rapid process.

I’ve encountered skunky canned wine before, and it’s becoming a significant concern in the market. When it comes to packaging, the costs, including labor and materials, for small packages can end up being almost the same as for larger packages. Despite the reduced volume, the overall input costs remain similar. Aluminum cans are certainly cheaper than glass bottles. The costs of glass have increased due to rising energy, transportation, labor, and interest costs.

So the challege remains how do we tell a better to story or give them an experience that they can enjoy and relate to.

Would you like to be featured in Tastry’s Winemaker Spotlight series? Send a quick note to hello@tastry.com.

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