Archive for April, 2018


A Winemaker’s Skill Leads To Great Wine


What makes the difference between poor wine, jokingly called plonk, and truly great wines with complex characteristics? The current explanation dictates quality is determined by terroir, elements of nature:soil, the amount of sun, rain, wind, and even the influence of nearby rivers or oceans. Unquestionably, a great wine’s concentrated flavors are the consequence of grapes grown in mineral-rich soils that are often volcanic or strewn with pebbles and rocks No farmer would choose to plant a tomato in these soils. But its precisely these seemingly difficult soils that are perfect for grapes, forcing  vines’ roots to dig deeper to find water and to extract flavors from soil’s various strata. Vintners with a goal of complex wines choose soils because they give their vines a head-start. Deep, loamy, soils produce grapes without character and flavor since the roots stay closer to the surface, reducing the opportunity to extract complex mineral and other flavor components. Winemakers at many large- scale wineries are less fussy about soils since they prefer optimum quantity over optimum quality.

Soil and terroir are the first two parts of a three-legged stool. The winemaker is the third leg of the stool, challenged by each vintage by the infinite steps that start anew each season. A winemaker brings acumen, training, philosophy, artistry, patience, and aptitude to the task. To say wine is totally determined by nature is akin to saying a Beethoven piano concerto flows from the keyboard without the pianist, or paints jump onto the canvas without some help from the painter.

What makes a good winemaker? According to Andre Tchelistcheff, one of America’s first great winemakers and mentor to winemakers who would put California on the map for great winemaking, said in a 1985 interview, the first prerequisite of a winemaker is practical and theoretical knowledge. “Outside of that, … the winemaker … must understand the wine, to really know how to listen. I believe every wine has its own voice.”

In order for a winemaker to produce the best wine possible it’s necessary to manage every detail starting in the vineyards every step of the way, from spring to harvest in the fall through fermentation, and when necessary through aging in barrels, on to bottling, and marketing. The hardest decisions come at harvest because a whole year’s income often rests on those last days in the vineyard checking the grapes’ sugar levels and hoping diluting rains stay away.

Good wine is never made from behind a desk or by committee. An individual winemaker infuses wine with passion, heart, soul, and personal style.