Monday, June 08, 2009

Nobody "makes" Wine Anymore

Have you noticed how nobody "makes" anything anymore?
Take a look at the picture of Heinz Ketchup, and pay particular attention to the "Grown Not Made*" slogan  below the tomato:

Compare these two statements:
      "Wine is made in the vineyard"
      "Ketchup is grown, not made"
Say, where in either of those statements is there room for the person who takes the ripe fruit and processes it into the end product that graces your tables? I can see an argument for the farmer being present in either case, but not anyone else, and this is not right.
Originally I had contemplated posting on the "Death of the Rock Star Winemakers", a breed which has declined over the past 5~7 years. Sure, there are still many big names out there, but the frequency you used to hear about all but the top hoity-toity "rock stars" has all but died off. And while I feel this is still a valid topic I might get around to in the future, one of the reasons winemakers roles are being downplayed actually eclipses the topic completely. But I do see the point, after all who needs a winemaker if the fruit has done all the work already?
I was going to start by mentioning how the last few years have had more involvement from owners, with winemakers public exposure as "rock stars" diminishing. The main reasons were the need of the owners to make sure that if/when a winemaker left their brand, that the "loyal" following that had migrated there with them didn't then leave. But I think the real reason is that winemakers as a whole are being displaced by the rush back to authenticity and naturalness - by the need to be greener than the next guy - even to the point that we remove ourselves from the equation entirely...and I mean ALL of ourselves, not just winemakers!
And that is why something as common and kitsch as ketchup is now modeling itself as having been dropped into the bottle by Mother Nature herself, without any interference from mankind at all!
The "authenticity" debate maximizes value of non-intervention while minimizing role of the winemaker and cellar staff. This also allows the owners of the brand to maintain the focus of the trade upon what THEIR vision is, and not that of the winemaker (who was making sure the fruit was harvested properly, fermented correctly, then blended, filtered and bottled correctly). We see the people who do all the heavy lifting get the shaft in the PR/Media, while the brand continues forward as an unblemished rose or virgin snowbank, neither of which had been contaminated by the Human hand.
But WE ARE part of Nature...and we DO need to make decisions about how fruit is handled, and what the final taste should why can't we acknowledge that? 
I'll acknowledge here that we are the only species which has developed the earth (for both good and ill) to the extent it's been changed...
But why is it that Mankind isn't allowed to "make" wines anymore? Why is it preferable that "we" haven't made anything? Why does "manipulate", which foremost means "to handle, manage, or use, especially with skill in some process of treatment or performance", get used in nothing more than its negative connotations when referring to foodstuffs - and wines in particular? Certainly there are reasons people have gone this route, and there have been numerous times in the past that fraud has occurred - and no doubt it will happen again in the future, and not just with the highest priced bottles...but I fear we've gone a bit overboard in our reaction. Listen carefully to all the winery representatives talk up their wines at the next big tasting you go to. Likely that the majority of what you hear will be about how fantastic the vineyards are and how "the wine is made in the vineyard"...
I know many people who read this blog will have gotten tired of hearing this explanation, but much of this is rooted in the 17th century Romanticism and the back-to-nature movement it spawned. However, it now goes to lengths that dismiss many natural treatments which were in play back then as well as now: isinglass, egg whites, milk protein (casein) are all now somewhat vilified in the popular wine press as "manipulation" (only negative connotation). 
Filtration, too, is a victim of the authenticity drive, and is spun by many producers as a evil process which robs the wine of fruitiness, structure, or both. Frankly I don't let anything I work on go out the door without filtration - it's your last chance to secure the wine from subsequent spoilage of microbes present in the wine. And that means better consistency for the consumer, which is never a bad thing. Does filtration diminish your wines somehow? Not in my experience. But I do take good care to educate all the staff on how to do it properly, as its when its done wrong that you can screw up your wine. If everyone is vigilant and well versed on how to get it done, then there shouldn't be any problem - though I'll acknowledge that there's quite a spectrum of opinion on this subject, and you'll no doubt hear from well educated people on the other side of that argument as well.
They'll have different experiences, and I can respect that and their different opinions here.
But I still don't think you can separate Man from Wine. 
Wine just doesn't exist without willfull interference from mankind, any less than ketchup could exist without mankind. Raise a glass in honor of your favorite cellar, and remember ALL the people it takes to bring that product to your table - from the vineyard through to the grocery store.

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Blogger dougsmith said...

Good post, Vini. A lot of this talk of authenticity amounts to a marketing campaign for a particular sort of winemaking. The shame is that it obscures a more nuanced discussion of which sorts of manipulation are good and which bad, both for the wine and for the environment. The notion that somehow manipulation per se is bad makes no sense at all. Wine does not make itself, much as some like to claim otherwise.

June 08, 2009 7:16 AM  
Anonymous Arthur, said...

Coming soon: "Rock Star Vineyard Managers"?

June 08, 2009 10:55 AM  
Blogger Rob said...

This reminds me of a few years back when all consumables touted themselves as being "chemical-free!" A big misnomer as everything has chemicals in it - like all of these "sulfite-free" wines now. No such thing!

Although, I would save a lot of money if I grew my own ketchup plants...

June 08, 2009 10:59 AM  
Blogger John M. Kelly said...

Yes Arthur, I have heard the term applied to vineyard managers (though not by the managers in question themselves).

Vini, I agree with everything in this post (except the bit about filtration, but then that is a topic for discussion among professionals - too bad the marketing flacks got ahold of it). I was considering escalating the topic with my own diatribe, but I just don't have the energy for it this afternoon.

So for me the issue of "manipulation" and wine boils down to a simple rhetorical question: Which came first? Wine? Or Man? Case closed...

June 08, 2009 4:26 PM  
Blogger Roger Mexico said...

Romanticism is an 18th (not 17th) Century movement.

Why is there no equivalent in English for the French vigneron, someone who works the vines and makes the wine?

June 08, 2009 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Granted, some folk do take the hands off approach too far (to the detriment of their wines) and conversely the notion that we can make every wine BETTER by our magic touch is just as laughable.
Absolutes are to be feared, filtration dogma is an example!
Love the post, never actually noticed the 'grown not made' before... which answers the age old question, 'Does anyone read label text anyway?'

June 09, 2009 7:00 AM  
Blogger Micah Nasarow said...

Good post! This is my first read of your blog and wanted to respond. I am a simi-"hands off" winemaker mainly for reasons of cost and size. I posted a similar thought on my winery blog here Filtering and fining is a preference and part of the winemaking process that keeps all of the wines we all drink different. As a Food Scientist, I understand retorting, filtering, pasteurization, etc. to prolong shelf life and stave off bacteria spoilage..but there are times when I enjoy natural unfiltered apple juice because I want to feel the grit and weight in my mouth.

I plan on reading more of your archives as time permits.


June 09, 2009 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Jason said...

The "made in the vineyard" cliche seems to have runs its course. Now the big thing is that wine is "crafted." At least this is closer to the truth, but still misleading. Those of us in the production end of the industry that grow grapes and "make" wine do so, in relative terms, within a narrow window of how all fine wine in the world is made. For most of us, the major variable is weather. That the wine can be significantly altered (from how it was going to turn out anyway) by applying "craft" - is suspect.

The rock star winemaker is someone I have never met. I'm thinking it's as much an invention of the media as anything else. Now the blogosphere has gotten tired of writing about it and has moved on to other things. The actual amount of wine made by these winemakers is very small, and only relevant to those that spend A LOT of money on wine.

BTW I filter on a case by case basis and it has never been an "issue" with me or any other winemaker I've spoken with!

June 09, 2009 8:41 AM  
Anonymous Phil Klug said...

Roger - I think the term you're looking for might be "winegrower"......inelegant at best


June 09, 2009 9:38 AM  
Blogger Vinogirl said...

Hear, hear...well said!

June 09, 2009 8:44 PM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

I'm not sure why there isn't an equivalent term in English for "vigneron"...but I think we've gotten along alright without one, eh? Perhaps we never felt the need.

@Doug - again, we need to go back to basics and stop the knee-jerk reaction. What I usually ask people when they complain about procedures is "why aren't you in favor of that- why is it wrong?"
I get some decent replies from those in the industry, but the public is usually following lock-step with the latest press release from their favorite winery-of-the-moment.

@John - yeah, it's a good reply to those kind of onslaughts. Sadly, many of the authenticity/ anti-manipulation people will assert that wine came first.....oh, well...

@Rob - "chemical-free" means about as much as "all natural". I seem to recall that arsenic, strychnine, etc, are all naturally occurring. Just because something is "natural" doesn't confer "beneficial" or "harmless" status upon it! "Sulfite-free" may be dependent on the level of such things being considered normal (some are produced by the yeasts) and the producers can use DMDC in lieu of SO2, etc. However, your argument is well taken, there is some agent still added for a preservative effect.

@Micah - good observation about costs, and filtration does add cost, as well as generate some more waste from the filter media used. When I drink something unfiltered it's usually close to the source (juice, wine or beer usually - I'm just not into unpasteurized dairy products so I won't go into that topic). If there's any intention for shelf life then I'd go for filtration, but I have that budgeted into my operation. I don't view wine as a short term consumption product, so I tend to filter as a precaution.
Oh...and why is there no picture for your "Baby's Got Racks" post?

Cheers to all,

June 10, 2009 7:41 AM  
Blogger Vinogirl said...

After I left my comment last night I sat down to watch a little bit of telly...and what was the first commercial?...a new Heinz one with the bottle of ketchup growing on a vine, on a picnic can't make this stuff up!!!

June 10, 2009 7:41 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Still connected to the vine?

I started the comparison with ketchup because there's really no more "artificial" product in the eyes of wine aficionados than ketchup (except maybe Paris Hilton). That it was now employing the same "authentic" arguments that wine is - as well as some of the same style imagery - is too much!

Thanks for the follow-up, Vinogirl.

June 10, 2009 7:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just filed a compaint with the FTC about this blatant false advertising. Since it's not 100% pure tomatoes they're selling, it's obviously made, or assembled.

June 14, 2009 6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice Post
Steven Spurrier

June 22, 2009 4:09 AM  
Blogger Leftcoast said...

Another angle on the death of the rock star winemaker: Celebrity chefs.

I heard recently from a big time charity auctioneer that nobody wants to pay big bucks to hang out with a big name winemaker anymore. Celebrity chefs are now the hottest thing in the food and wine world.

Top Chef on Bravo is the most recent reason for this but the Food Network really started the trend.

Winemakers don't get airtime and therefore don't get the same level of exposure.

Wine on these cooking shows is more like just a necessary element to the meal, nothing special.

June 22, 2009 2:05 PM  
Anonymous Soma Meds Online said...

Nobody can make a very good wine like Blac Label. They really did well on their part.

June 22, 2009 9:03 PM  
Anonymous Soma Online John said...

Wonderful and fantastic point you have and share. Continue this one and I think you will create a masterpiece of your own!

June 22, 2009 9:04 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Thanks for the post, made me think if stuff was actually made or grown. To me, wine has to be both. A great winemaker is able to counter-act some of the negatives of the growers while accentuating the positive. This personal touch makes wine special, compared to beer and other drinks.

July 27, 2009 12:19 PM  

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