Wednesday, January 12, 2011

But I Digress

The need to write a blog post every week or so has inspired me to troll through my haphazard collection of older books on wine, looking for amusing little sources of inspiration. These are mostly books written for the amateur wine enthusiast, which I was at one time, before I plunged into wine as a profession.

One title, published about 30 years ago, includes a very creditable section on what winemaking actually entails, in pictorial form. Titled “The Winegrower’s Year”, or something along those lines, it depicts an older mustachioed gentleman in a series of twelve hand-illustrated panels going thorough the putative cycle of his production year. The guy was certainly a polymath: not only did he make the wine, but he also appeared to do most of the vineyard work, as well as peddle his finished product to appreciative consumers and retailers.

Anyway, January’s picture showed him taking a well deserved break from his travails at a ski resort, presumably in the French or Swiss Alps, his long hand-knit scarf trailing him as he sped down the hill.

A more recent book, the fifth edition of The World Atlas of Wine, has a similar section, but the pictures have been updated, and now the jobs are divided among a number of different people, including women. No ski vacation either: January’s picture shows a warmly dressed fellow out in the vineyard pruning his dormant grapevines, while his counterpart in the winery is described as busily attending to her malolactic fermentations.

Here at Fox Run there continues to be plenty to do, though our tanks and barrels are asking very little of us in terms of intervention. Fermentations are long since finished. Winery staff do well to remember to wear warmer clothing these days, not because we’re outside pruning, but because the heat is turned way down in order to facilitate a process called cold stabilization. Tricia has promised to do an exposé on that subject in a future post, so I won’t talk more about it here (in fact, she tells me that it’s going to be a shocking exposé, so stay tuned).

This is also a fine time of year to pay visits to our fellow winemakers throughout the Finger Lakes, partly as a social gesture, but more importantly to taste their wines and see how they compare to our own. Recalibration of our sensory apparatus is a motivational factor too. Let me tell you: there are some stunning reds and whites out there from the 2010 vintage, led as usual by the illustrious and precocious Riesling.

You didn’t think I could get through an entire blog post without mentioning Riesling, did you? Even if I were composing a treatise on Current Trends in Shoe Polish, I would somehow find a way to work that grape into my narrative. And you must know by now that a near-religious worship of Riesling is not confined to our small band of fanatical winemakers either. Here’s a fragment from an article in a journal called The Riesling Report:

“What are your favorite grape varieties?” someone asked noted English wine critic Jancis Robinson during an on-line chat session a little over a year ago.

“Riesling”, she replied without hesitation.

“And your favorite blends of grapes?” added the persistent interviewer.

“Riesling and Riesling”, she shot back, as quick as a flash. “Riesling blended with Riesling would be pretty good.”

Jancis Robinson is someone whom I would call The Doyenne of Intelligent Wine Writing if I wanted to sound pretentious. (Pretentious? Moi?) She enjoys so much admiration among the winemaking staff here that we call her by her first name only, as if we were close friends:

“According to Jancis…”

“Let’s look it up in Jancis.”


Jancis knows the difference between ‘variety’ and ‘varietal’ as well as the true meanings of the words macroclimate, mesoclimate and microclimate. And she’s not afraid to insist with a gentle imperiousness that these words are not interchangeable. When the time comes for us to get on our soapbox about those terms, you will be hearing from her again.

By Peter Bell, Winemaker

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