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Friday Fishwrap
The Right Way To Make Wine-—No Thanks

By Stephen Eliot

I have generally found the people who actually make wine to be more balanced and far less judgmental in their views of the same than those who write about them and fancy themselves to be the true arbiters of taste. While I recognize that evaluation and, yes, judgment is my bailiwick, I have always appreciated the tempered comments of winemakers when speaking about what their competition may do.

From time to time, I will hear a disparaging word or two from a winemaker cast in the direction of one of his or her own, but they are rare and almost always carelessly thrown by younger winemakers who are so new to the game that they still believe that they know all of the answers. Comments about this or that style being patently wrong or being undrinkable or fit solely for the ignorant masses may be uttered in conversation behind closed doors, but most of the winemakers I have come to know over the years have abiding respect for the choices that others may make in their vinous pursuits.

The world of wine journalism, both amateur and professional, as we all know, is far less collegial and tolerant. While warm words abound about diversity and the wonderful range of wines to be had these days, they are too often drowned out by the sanctimonious bleatings of those who not only look down their noses at certain types of wine but also at the people who might like them.

My tastes are my own, and there are to my thinking both greater and lesser wines. I have worked for a good many years, first in selling wine and then writing about it, to find useful words that might convey my thoughts and reasoning to others, but I fervently believe that there is absolutely nothing that is foolish or childish or intellectually indigent about anyone liking the wines that they like. I have long argued that the championing of one wine or winemaking style should not come with the imperative of demeaning another, and, while I suspect we who are passionate about wine must accept some guilt for doing just that from time to time, there is no room in this business for a steady diet of righteous vitriol however well disguised it may be.

Late last September I wrote on the topic of terroir and the role that the winemaker must necessarily play in its expression, that a given site lacked the ability to speak unassisted. A couple of days back a new comment appeared to that posting, and, while I confess that going so far back to check on responses is not something that I regularly do, I am happy this time that I did. It was from rising star winemaker and viticulturist, Steve Matthiason of Napa, and has served as inspiration for this morning’s ramble. Here is what Steve had to say:

Thanks for including the winemaker in the definition of terroir. One of the many pleasures of wine is deciphering the winemaker's personality--the winemaker is the lens through which the site is translated, and unless the wine is mass produced they pretty much always leave their mark. I was lucky enough to taste Burgundies with Aubert De Villaine, and we tasted two from the same vineyard, totally different, one open and one closed, and he explained that one winemaker was outgoing and the other was very private. And this is Burgundy, where terroir is everything. The site comes through too, of course, but the entire process is the magic--soil and (wo)man. So I don't really care what processes or tools etc. the winemaker uses or doesn't use, as long as they are making the wine they like to drink. That's the key. Hopefully we get to experience both the terroir and the person. How cool is that? We can love the land, love people, and love to drink, all at the same time.

Now, Steve has been held up by some as the model for the right way to grow and make wine in a time where so many folks are doing it wrong, but here is a man who seems to have no philosophical agenda other than that winemakers should make wines they like to drink. While we may or may not agree on which of those wines are most to our liking, (and, as an aside, I happen to like his very much,) I am heartened to hear the very catholic convictions of one who genuinely loves wine.

Thanks, Steve, for the reminder that one size never fits all. Wouldn’t it be a boring world if it did?


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Can I Get
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:11/15/2013 12:09:38 PM

An "Amen"/

by Robert Milton
Posted on:11/18/2013 3:27:10 PM

There, you have your amen.

by Bill Goetz
Posted on:11/19/2013 5:42:37 PM

I second that.  Now we can have a vote

Winemakers and taste.
by Eric Walker
Posted on:12/5/2013 3:33:18 AM

Dave Caparone has been saying for many years "I make wine for my table and what's left over I sell."  Couldn't be put better.

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