What’s love got to do with it?
February. Ground hogs, presidents, Mardi gras, (this year, anyway), and Valentine’s Day, which is a not-too-contrived segue to “love.”
Good wine and love go very nicely together. There’s family love, birthdays and holidays; there’s romantic love, dates, weddings, and anniversaries, but this is about love of land, of producing something unique, and of excellence and accomplishment.
Much of the world’s wine is produced in massive quantities by huge agribusinesses, and while it is usually inexpensive and usually drinkable, it is usually not very interesting. The makers of the wine are corporate engineers and chemists, not winemakers. To borrow another song title, “Where is the love?
`Remember the “Aha,” the epiphany, the first time you tasted a really good wine, that “I didn’t know wine could be this good” feeling? That’s what I’m talking about.
Most of the world’s better wines come from small holdings, ranging from three or four acres up to a few hundred, many of them centuries old, family operations. And, in the hands of modern “upstarts,” working New World vineyards, amazing, multifaceted wines are emerging, challenging the old masters.
Small wine growers live on passion; a vigneron does not own a vineyard in order to get rich, though certainly, some do. Their goal is not a generic product that fits a “taste profile,” but rather a wine that is unique to their vineyard and winemaking skills while still reflecting the grapes from which it is made. Although “boutique wine” may conjure visions of a Prada price tag, most are able to remain competitive.
While the big corporations rely on maximum yield and mechanical harvesting, the small, family winemaker spends every day in the vineyard, clipping, pruning and even removing bunches of grapes, lowering yields to produce rich, concentrated wines. Come harvest time, only some grapes are meticulously selected each morning and picked by hand. When the family name is on the wine, when it is one’s life as well as one’s livelihood, there is no such thing as “good enough.”
A classic example is Palazzo il Poggio, a family winery I visited in Tuscany, where the father and daughter were the winemakers and the two older sons managed the vineyard and marketing. During my visit, the whole family was engaged in bottling a vintage from three years earlier. In the courtyard the women were labeling the bottles by hand while a younger son placed them in cartons.
In Sonoma, we tasted several excellent wines with the owner/winemaker in the corner of his barn, our glasses on a yet to be filled barrel, while across the road stood a fabulous mansion, a monument to the production and marketing of mediocre wine.
Last year, one of our suppliers made one barrel of Chardonnay, one barrel!
That’s just twenty-five cases for the entire vintage. We managed to get one case, and sold it almost before we could claim a bottle for ourselves.
Some terms to look for on a wine label include, “estate bottled,” “single vineyard,” “mis en boutille au domaine,” in France and in Italy ”imbottigliato da origine,” indicating the wine is produced and bottled at the vineyard.
True winemaking is an art; that’s what “love has to do with it.”
© text Black Sheep Wine and Beer Shop 2012
Photo credits: Bigfoto.com, Morguefile.com