Are wines made in the vineyard or the winery? The answer is both, but today more wine professionals say soil, grapes, and the skill of grape growers to deliver the personality of their acres is the essential component.
This tracks with the debate about what makes people who they are: nature or nurture? In wine, if the grape grower delivers magnificent fruit to the winery, the wine maker can either mess everything up or allow the magnificent fruit to be bottled as magnificent wine. It is a team effort. Nature and nurture.
At its core, wine reflects the soil where grapes grow. Reflects the grape variety. Reflects the weather. Reflects decisions made by skilled people who tend vines—by pruning, by choosing when grape clusters are harvested and which grape clusters are harvested. Vineyard management is an art, not a technical checklist.
For quality wines, all these variables deliver the individual character of that vintage. There are tanker truck loads of wine made for mass consumption where juice from everywhere is blended into a commodity product—“Coca-Cola wine” is the derisive monicker. Such wines have their place—I review and enjoy them. You have, too. But, then, there are special wines.
Special wines have a third element after soil and character—soul. Many wine makers insist you can taste the difference in wine made by happy people. This flows from families with generations of making wine on their special plot of Earth. It comes from well-treated winery workers, also often multiple generations. Joy begets joy begets special wine.
I get it that some of you are rolling your eyes now. You reject voodoo biodynamic growers with their cow horns filled with manure and Zodiac-guided schedules. You reject treating workers with dignity and respect because they make better wine. You reject their belief that they consider their acres of Mother Earth and the vines that grow there are a sacred trust to be nurtured and preserved for the next generation. And the next. And the next. Okay. But then, when the smoke clears, there is their superior wine. It is what it is.
When you pull cork on a quality wine, you taste the work of thousands of years, of thousands of fellow humans striving for excellence, striving to make this hour—this minute—special for you. Savor.
Last round: Duck: “Do you have bread?” Wine server: “No.” Duck: “Do you have bread?” Wine server: “No! Ask me again and I will nail your beak to the floor.” Duck: “Do you have nails?” Wine server: “No!” Duck: “Do you have bread?”