Meet Susy Rodriguez Vasquez: A Conversation with Our Chief Winemaker

Jul 14, 2023 | News, Wines

We recently sat down with Susy Rodriguez Vasquez, Rescue Dog Wines’ chief winemaker, to learn more about her story, approach to winemaking, and what she’s looking forward to here at RDW. Susy’s wines have recently received some incredible accolades: the 2021 Pinot Noir just received Double Gold, 99 points from the 2023 California State Fair and Double Gold, 95 points from the 2023 Sunset International Wine Competition.

Read on to learn more about Susy and her passion for creating fantastic sustainable wines.

What drew you to pursue a career in the wine industry?

My path into winemaking started first with my love of plants. I come from a family of agronomists. My grandfather was a professor of agronomy at a university in Bolivia. He decided to chase his dream and stop teaching to become a full-time farmer. The name of his ranch was “Hacienda Victoria,” named after his mother. He farmed various crops and cattle. This is where my three brothers, my sister, and I would spend most of our days, whether it was tending to the animals or helping my grandfather with irrigation. I would always prefer to work with the plants, because I could drive the tractor and I love harvest time. I graduated with a degree in agricultural engineering from Universidad Mayor de San Simon. While attending university, I realized that working outside was the direction that I wanted my career to go in. My parents also studied agriculture, so I learned to love it from them. I accepted an internship at a winery to work on the vineyard side. I became a liaison between the winemakers and the vineyards with an opportunity to also study at UC Davis. This opportunity opened the door for me to learn the science behind winemaking and I was ready for the challenge. Then I started making wine and I loved it. It was wonderful, and so creative, and with small changes you could create completely different wines with the same fruit. Sometimes in our careers it takes years to see what we’ve worked on successfully completed, but in wine—especially white wine—in a short span of time you get to see what you’ve created with the knowledge that you have.

How does the winemaking process differ with red wines?

With reds, you wait a little longer, but it’s worth the wait. Once the wine is in the barrels, you taste them every three months to make sure everything is great or to determine if they need anything additional. You get to experience the development of the wine until you taste and decide it’s ready to bottle. That process is also incredible, very detail oriented.

How would you describe your approach to winemaking?

To me, wine is created on the vineyard: paying attention to the balance of the vineyard production and the maturation of the fruit for the right aromatics to determine the harvesting time; then making sure every process is done on time and with the right ingredients, from the commercial yeast amounts to the fermentation temperature. The vineyards will tell you the wine you should produce.

And with Rescue Dog Wines committed to sustainable practices, do you see that as a complimentary overlap to your process?

Absolutely. We are big believers in sustainable growing. We have to support environmentally responsible farming as much as we can, so we can preserve natural resources for the next generation. Agriculture is one of the most important industries in the world, and we must be responsible for how we are using those resources. Sustainability is a big program right now, with more and more people realizing how important it is. This has always been part of the vision for Rescue Dog Wines. A lot of wines we are creating are not only sustainable (Lodi Rules), but by the nature of how this wine brand does business. We respect the fruit characteristics from the vineyards and the different AVAs from California, and in some cases we bottle wines as 100% varietal. We want to be transparent, so the consumer knows what they are consuming, and they are part of our mission to donate 50 percent to rescue dog organizations.

How did you come to work with Blair and Laura?

I met Blair and Laura while I was working at another winery as a winemaker, and they wanted to grow their sustainable wine program. They started with one barrel and Rescue Dog Wines began growing. We discovered through tasting how similar our vision of the wine was: it was incredible for us because everyone has different tastes and understanding of wine. We decided I would be the winemaker for their brand and we’d go on this path together. I loved how they were running their business not just to be successful but to give a portion of proceeds to a good cause, and I think they’re just great people.

From a mission standpoint, do you have any personal connection to rescue animals?

Most of us have rescue dogs, or have friends and family who have rescue dogs, so that was part of the appeal. And it’s incredible because when we speak with people and explain our mission, they tell us about their personal connection to rescue animals.

And is it exciting to see people appreciate the mission then light up when they taste the wine?

Yes! When we are selecting this wine, we will sit down together and look at consistency, at how sustainable we are, and how transparent we can be for consumers. We want to make sure our consumers know how everything is sourced. I think they should care where they are buying their products and make sure those products are sourced from the correct places, in regards to the fruit and the winemaking process.

Do you have a favorite wine you’ve produced with Rescue Dog Wines, or something you’re really excited about?

I have two. The first is the 2021 Pinot Noir we recently released—I am so excited about it. We selected the fruit from the Central Coast, we made sure it had the right aromatics, and something we all share is that we all really enjoy drinking Pinot Noir. We aged the wine in French barrels for 12 months, we worked on the aromatics we were looking for, and now we are enjoying this wine from the vineyards. It is a very varietal elegant wine.

The second project is our estate wines. Last year (2022), we had the first harvest of Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, and Sangiovese. These wines are in barrels now, and we are excited to show the progression of the vineyard through the wine. This is the first time the vineyard has produced fruit. Next, we’ll harvest again; from that, we can see how the vineyard is developing, and we can learn from it to make the best possible wine.

And Rescue Dog Wines are of great quality while still being accessible.

Exactly. When you love something, you want to share it with everyone. With our price points, these wines are meant to be tried and shared by all wine drinkers.

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