These days wine has everything going for it. We have insanely skilled winemakers, efficient vineyards, and global warming (heat ripens grapes faster). More people are drinking wine now than ever before. But, have we gotten too good at what we do? Have we homogenized wine styles in major wine regions to the point that we are losing the interesting and exciting wines? With this efficiency, grapes are missing…..something……that “je ne sais quois”. When I first started learning about wine, I was drinking #1 a lot of cheap crap and #2 a lot of mid-priced California red wine. Even then (probably 10 years ago) I was frustrated with how many overripe, high alcohol fruit bombs that we were producing. My thoughts were “isn’t there something different we could be doing”? Anything…..
Ultimately, I think there has been a loss of the terroir. Globalization has happened in our world, and that includes in our wine. Terroir is hard to put into words, but I still have my flash cards from the Level 3 exam and on them, terroir is defined as “the ensemble of environmental influences that give a wine a sense of place.” Isn’t that beautiful? It’s essentially saying that you try a wine and know, just know, where is comes from. Ultimately, it’s saying that the wine should be indicative of the place. It’d be like eating a regional Italian dish, perhaps a plate of homemade trofie pasta and fresh pesto (see picture below) and knowing you were in Liguria, on the Northwest coast of Italy. Perhaps in Cinque Terre enjoying this dish at a small restaurant in Monterosso?
Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Sashi Moorman, who was our guest speaker on the topic of winemaking. Sashi has almost 20 years experience with grapes. He career began at The Ojai Vineyard where he spent 5 years. He has since consulted with many wineries over the years and is owner or partner in a few of them in the Santa Barbara area and Oregon.
Sashi’s presentation to our class was amazing! We even got to taste some barrel samples of some of his wines that are in progress. He’s got such a love and a passion for the vines and for every wine that he is a part of. I felt that so much of my wine-isms aligned with his, which is a terrific confidence booster! Below are some fun, interesting tidbits he shared with the class:
-Sashi does not use any pesticides on his vines. As he proclaimed, “the ground is special and we don’t want to poison it”. Shouldn’t it just be as simple as that. What about the people who walk and work on those grounds, including vineyard workers and grape pickers? Don’t we want them healthy and safe?
-He sang the praises of importers. Vineyard owners and winemakers rarely leave their vineyards. They’re stuck in their bubble onsite and busy tending to their grapes and wine. Importers have the distinct job of finding vineyards and winemakers that they believe in and trying to sell their wine to people who don’t even know what that wine is. People who only know what they see on most wine lists. Who was the person who first took the risk to introduce new wines and new wine regions to the consumers? It was probably importers. They are helping to make our restaurant wine lists more interesting.
-These days, most wine is consumed within 1 hour of purchase. That is an incredible statistic. So much for winemakers selling wine and thinking (or hoping) that their customer is going to cellar it for 3, 5, or even 10 or 15 years and wait until it hits its peak. In my opinion, this is an example of the consumer speaking to the wine industry. The industry needs to spend time on making ready to drink wines. That doesn’t mean abandoning wine that needs time in bottle. It just means to step outside of your winemaking bubble and taking a look at what is going on in the market.
-Sashi shared a great California-ism with us. The expression that “grapes grow on trucks”. Most winemakers (who don’t grow grapes) don’t ever see the vineyard their grapes come from. They get reports from the vineyard and decide when to harvest based on the chemistry they read in those reports. They literally meet their grapes for the first time as the truck is backing into their winemaking facility. Contrastingly, Sashi doesn’t decide when to pick grapes based on chemistry. He decides when to pick based on how the grapes look and taste. That’s old school and simple.
-Not every wine has to be vanguard. According to Sashi, All wines have a purpose. YES! YES! YES! I couldn’t agree more. Just a few days ago on this same blog I proclaimed: there is a time, a place, and an audience for each and every wine in the world. The great winemakers of Burgundy who have Grand Cru designations know that not every vintage, and every vineyard, and every vine, and every grape will be ab fab. Sometimes they have to make wine at lower designations because the earth did not give them Grand Cru grapes at that moment. There is a humility in that.
I’m only beginning to scratch the surface here on the wonderful things that Sashi shared with us. I hope you enjoyed them!