Monday, August 11, 2008

What is a winemaker?

As the singular vintner-rebel Sean Thackrey is fond of pointing out, there is no word in the French language for "winemaker." The word used instead, vigneron, means "wine-grower", but it connotes vinification as well (Rosenthal, memoirs). Paul Draper, the wine-maker/philosopher in charge of Ridge, asserts that wine is "grown, not made." Who, then, is a wine-maker?

Perhaps, he (or she) is one who through a quixotic mixture of love and harsh upbringing, coaxes the subtleties of terroir out of his grapes. His duty during vinification is to quite simply get out of nature's way.

Perhaps he is one who imposes his own personality on the grapes, resulting in a duel, or a duet of vintner vs. nature. His wines always have a bit of himself in them.

Perhaps he is a skilled artisan, removing all flaws, then standing aside to let Nature take care of the rest. His wine is different from year to year, as nature is different from year to year.

Perhaps he is a slave to the vine, giving up long hours for the opportunity to drink some of his own wine with good friends.

Perhaps he is a visionary, seeking to change the world of vinification. He knows where winemaking comes from, and wants to take it to a new place.

The few winemakers I've met were humble and extremely friendly. They value the growing of good grapes above all, and love to share their great works with friends. I hope to meet many more over the course of my life, and perhaps I will come closer to an answer in the future. At present, I have none.


HamishWM said...

Hi. Good blog.
A winemaker sounds like an alchemist, when surely as you mention he or she is someone trying not to get in natures way. I always think of a top chef. They can be great, but without good raw materials they are useless.
Maybe 80% Viticulture and 20% Vinification....and lots of luck!


Rajiv said...

Thanks for the comments, Hamish. My sincere hope is that one day, probably a long time from now, I will have the chance to give winemaking a try myself :)