Are Winemakers Magicians?
Years ago I wrote an article for The Surfer’s Path Magazine about my good friend, Oded Shakked, who was then winemaker at J Vineyards. During the interview he commented about how people make such a big deal about winemaking. “Winemakers don’t really deserve all that attention,” he said. “After all, we are only making a beverage.”
I have heard other winemakers make similar proclamations. One told me that successful winemaking is, simply put, not making any mistakes. I took all of these comments with a grain of salt, though, thinking they came from famous people who were just shrugging off the attention.
On the flip side, on trips to France winemakers would wax exultant about their craft, talking about it as though the entire process were infused with winemaker pixie dust. “Winemaking is an art that I have learned through six generations of working in our cellar,” or something along those lines. Oh la la.
What I have discovered after five years of working with Lane Tanner is this: it’s a mixture of both magic and common sense. It is a little pinch of not making mistakes, mixed with a smidgeon of routine, a sprinkle of trial by error, and accented with a dash of pure blind luck. Much of what we do is exactly like what we did last year. The glory of it all is that every year is totally different, and carries with it delicious new surprises – some of which are challenges, and some of which are revelations. The longer I participate in this craft, the more I realize that it is the decisions along the way that define a winemaker’s style. What blocks to choose from, what vineyards, when to pick, how long to cold soak, when to press and barrel down: these are the tiny details that make our wines different than our neighbors, even if they may be using the fruit from the next row over.
With our 2014 vintage now on the market, I can say that we have made some good decisions along the way. Our wines have been scoring high marks with the critics, and are as affordable as ever. Thank goodness for all that common sense, and for that little bit of winemaker pixie dust.
– Will Henry