Producing pinot grigio is walking a tightrope without a net. That's how Richard Jew sees it.

Jew is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner, the Gnarly Head, 2011 California Pinot Grigio at the budget-savvy price of $10.

"You have to get it right the first time," Jew said. "Pinot grigio is a very challenging variety to make as a winemaker, because you can't utilize the full range of winemaking techniques to build up the wine if it doesn't turn out exactly the way you want it to. What you have made is what you have made and it better be good the first time, because if you are trying to fix it later, the delicate flavors go away and you are left with a light white wine that is not very distinctive."

To compensate for this difficulty, Jew's approach is very proactive.

"First of all, I work closely with our growers so that they know exactly what I'm looking for, specifically that the peach and nectarine flavors I want have developed in the fruit before the grapes are picked," Jew said. "Once we pick the grapes, we very carefully handle the juice and resulting wine so that we don't lose the delicate flavors we developed in the vineyard."

He also uses various yeasts to infuse the wine with complexity and to add nuance to the fruit flavors.

Jew has worked at Gnarly Head Cellars in Manteca for seven years, and today his title is senior winemaker. He worked more than 10 years prior at E & J Gallo Winery in Modesto, and he jokes that's where he earned his "advanced winemaking degree."

Jew said he's a great fit for making pinot grigio because he's a stickler for details.

"I appreciate a well-executed plan, which is perfect for vinifying pinot grigio," Jew said. "Success is in the details."

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 479-3880 or