(Billo and his brother Pinto – Founders of Rasa Vineyards)
A few months ago, my wife and I sat down with Billo for a few hours and we had one of the best wine conversations I have had in my life. I will do my best here to share a few insights and why the experience struck me profoundly. I will endeavor to capture the man, focusing on the wine as a natural result of his journey to become a winemaker.
Education, family, careers – shape who we are. When you sit down with a dynamic person like Billo over a bottle of wine (or two), you recognize in him someone with the ability to take disconnected ideas and visualize their correlation. A dreamer able to transform ideas into tangible things. Seldom are these kinds of people introspective enough to put their past into perspective and make the whole more than just a sum of the parts… even more rare to find the communication skills to effectively convey that perspective…
Here is a winemaker as MIT educated engineer with a BS in Mathematics/Computer Science and an MS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford. I have known and worked with many engineers in my life, all focused on applying ideas rather than creating them. Typically, these are not the kind of people to see a personal passion as a calling. Billo will tell you he just burned out after a decade and a half in the technology space, but I think that is just an easy explanation to placate those he sees as not being interested in sharing in the transformation. I have worked in technical sales and management most of my life and can recognize a fellow spirit. I have experienced that “awakening” too – wine as a vehicle to capture a part of yourself previously unexplored.
In my life, wine has had a way of capturing my imagination. I think only in a way that wine collectors can truly understand. During his younger professional years, Billo became an ardent wine collector. One with an engineer’s evaluating eye, looking to understand the nuances and learn the character of wine styles across the world. I understand this well, when wine is as much to enjoy as it is to *appreciate*. Once you embrace this idea, I can fully see Billo finding the reason to redirect his life. In 2008, Billo completed his MS in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis. What a combination, a scientific mind, capable of artistic license and full of passion for wine.
What IS a Winemaker?
Billo helped me to understand why a winemaker as wine enthusiast can elevate the profession, when fused with the perceptive and penetrating eye of an engineer. Previously, I hadn’t really believed that a winemaker was required to be a wine enthusiast. I have interviewed winemakers with education/backgrounds in botany, biology, agricultural science… all with an evident calling to their discipline. All making very good premium wines. This interview was different. Billo and I walked our way through descriptions of stylistically correct wine… from the major regions of the world: cool & warm climate Rhone Syrah, Mosel Riesling, Bordeaux blends. We discussed winemaking techniques and vintage variation affecting the final production of wine style. I had not heard that kind of focus from a winemaker before. It was an epiphany for me (see this link for a better understanding). For me, this idea of wine being varietally and stylistically correct was for sommeliers, not winemakers. This idea had never occurred to me in a winemaking context. Many winemakers will tell you, their entire effort is to produce the most balanced, structured, commercially viable wine their location (terroir) can offer. Now finally, a winemaker who understood: wine styles were developed over centuries of production and there is a reason these styles had become classical representations of quality. The winemaking talent is in finding the vineyards, fruit, techniques to reproduce that quality in other locations around the world (in this case, Walla Walla Valley AVA). Billo is now an adjunct professor at WSU, teaching a new generation to find the same path.
Why Drinking Rasa Wines Should be on Your Bucket List
If you are a casual wine drinker, you may simply find Rasa wines enjoyable and they stand-up on that level alone, but if you are a collector with a profound appreciation for the wine styles of the world – you simply must experience the wine Billo produces. Almost every one is an aha! moment, recognizing characteristics from classical wine styles around the world. Please seek them out. You will thank me for it.