The Context of Wine: Winemaker

April 18, 2015

Is wine an independent entity?

Should it be considered separately from the person who transformed/helped it transform from grapes to wine?

This question once creeped into my head and never left.

I suspect that if your interest in wine goes beyond deciding which red pairs best with a steak – you’ve already had or will inevitably have the same questions tickle your curiosity. Well, here are a few my thoughts.

Nothing Personal

Mind you, I am not talking about liking or disliking a producers as a person and/or his character flaws. I believe that it is possible for an utterly unpleasant person to make a top-notch wine just as easily as it is for the nicest person in the world to cook up an abomination of a wine. Person’s likability factor, in my view, has very little to do with the wine.

Sure, it may be easier to make a better wine if other people like you and want to help you. Sure it’s probably easier to sell your wine that way too. But being pleasant has nothing to do with the person’s talent in viticulture, wisdom of working with nature and intelligence, necessary to understand the nuances of the “winemaking” process.

Is it you or is it me?

It is these characteristics and winemaker’s convictions, priorities and the logic behind his/her decisions relating to growing grapes and making wine that I am concerned with. When you encounter what appears to be a good wine from a producer whose stance jars with your own convictions, beliefs or simply an understanding of what actions and inactions should be taken to produce good wine – how do you reconcile? Do you question the wine or do you question your convictions?

In my case – it’s a never ending debate.

Psychology is, without a doubt, heavily in play here. Confusing cause and effect in this instance is very easy. In a way, such situations are always a challenge and a stress test to your understanding of wine. Moreover, not only wine it’s broad sense, but also the concept of “good wine” as you have constructed for yourself.

These situations can make you feel hypocritical, foolish, speechless and, at times, flat out dumb. Or at least that’s how it is in my case. But, accompanied by some critical thought and honesty, they will always help you better understand two things:

1. Wine in general

2. Wine in the bottle (i.e. what wines you truly like and why)

If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will do

The way I look at it is – wine is a journey. As an idea and also as an individual bottle. It has to be viewed in the context. Each journey has its beginning, its path and the destination. With wine – grower/winemaker can have an immense influence on that path and, subsequently, the destination or he/she can chose to let the wine itself decide. Neither scenario is “wrong” per se, but one will inevitably feel closer and more understandable to you.

> Wine in general. It is only natural to lack a clear understanding of direction at first and to hone it, and narrow it down based on experience (both positive and negative) and understanding of many varieties of the landscape. So, if a winemaker’s way doesn’t fit in my understanding of the landscape – I must decide, while remaining open-minded, if his/her arguments are more sensible than my arguments or not. Or perhaps they are laid out in a different dimension which I’ve never thought of before. Obviously each decision isn’t final and can be changed later, but making it helps better understand why I like certain wines, not only to identify them.

> Wine in the bottle. In the bottle, being a living matter, the wine continues its journey and you get a different glimpse of it depending on when you open that bottle and which bottle you open. In the end, if left to its own devices, the wine will always come to its true self. This process is indeed a judgement of whether/how much the winemaker manipulated it at the beginning and whether the wine’s early claims have the weight and substance to deliver over time.

As in any journey, sometimes the road which starts off nice/easy/beautiful may end up being a treacherous/un-passable/ugly after a while. While a tough going at the beginning may offer plenty of interesting and enjoyable moments ahead.

It helps to know what destination you want your wine to reach and stick with those that take (or allowed to take) the paths which, in the past, have proven to end up somewhere around that destination. Of course the fun part is – there’s are some wonderful surprises out there which may challenge your understanding of wine and to discover them means taking risks.

The bottom line: I firmly believe that to be better understood, wine should not be taken out of a context (place, type, method, etc). As I mentioned before before – WINE IS RARELY ONLY ABOUT WINE, and the story of its creation is one of many aspects which makes a bottle you open much more than just a drink. As for the disagreements with the grower/winemaker’s philosophy and practices – unless conceptually unacceptable, they require time to sort out. The wine will speak for itself as it ages. The best thing we can do is to keep an open mind and to try it often to observe the evolution.

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