|“Well the Universe is shaped exactly like the Earth. If you go straight long enough you’ll end up where you were.” – Isaac BrockAugust is the month of pre-harvest rest and reflection in the cellar. With this in mind I headed out to the local movie theater last night to catch a film with a friend. This writing I guess is an attempt to explain why I loved Bill Cunningham New York, a documentary about the New York Times fashion photographer. The unadulterated passion for and mastery of subject, the honesty, the modesty, these are all the characteristics I can only hope to bring to my own work. I don’t think I’ve seen a more inspirational embodiment of my ideal in this funny little world we must work in. Sacrifices of life that must be made to keep to that ideal are too vast to follow myself, but I love to be reminded that there are so many paths to so many pinnacles.
It also reminds me of one of the underlying features of wine and wine making that I love so, the all encompassing nature of the craft. Try as I might, it would be extraordinarily difficult to apply lessons from the life of a Spartan fashion critic to my previous path of synthesizer of research pharmaceuticals. With wine though, whatever idea presents itself, there seems to be a relationship one can find to expound upon. One of the sub-currents of the film that fascinated me was that of the cyclical nature of the fashion world. How styles and designs come in and out of being the leading edge of the day. Along with that, one begins to see the cyclical nature of all those industries that are based upon aesthetics and taste. Styles of dress, art, writing, music, film, design, architecture and yes, wine all seem to be progressing in a self-referential way that by nature must look back upon itself as it moves forward.
Beyond the obvious agrarian cycle of wine production itself, there are other cycles in the wine industry we must confront. Varietals go in and out of vogue. What is considered balanced is a moving target because it has no true definition, being rather one of those Justice Potter Stewart subjects that you know when you taste it. Regional styles get acclaim, then become passé and fade. The techniques of the winemaker, from the treatment of the fruit to the materials of the containers are all in constant flux. From this we get the ideas, trends, and styles of wine that come, go, and then return.
This all flashed through my mind today when a taster asked me what “my goal was” when making the 2007 York Mountain Cab. I was stuck on the basic response of “just trying to make the best wine I possibly could.” (Sadly, in all honesty, this is still the best answer I can give without writing a long blog post about it!) But so much more was at play than just trying my best. The hundreds and hundreds of discussions and reactions I’ve been privy too involving our 2005 and 2006 Cabs obviously had some say. The lessons from the winemakers I learned from and the opinions of friends and peers all manifest themselves somehow. Even the monthly tracking of inventory depletions creates a most stark criticism which is difficult if not impossible to simply ignore. All these factors create the context from which my personal expression comes forth.
This frees me from worrying too much as we plan for the emmient harvest. The pre-season is done, it is time for the real games to begin. I’ve spent the last 9 months in reflection of all my previous harvests and in adding new life experience which are bound to bring new influence to what will come. Decisions about ripeness, acid, brix, stems, soaks, temperatures, extractions, pressing, oak, racking, oxygen, which beer to drink while hosing down the destemmer must all be made. All of which are choose your own adventure questions leading you to a mysterious outcome. The past is our only guide, thus in showing the way will make itself known. It cannot return in whole though, being more the candle casting light unto and creating shadows of the current vintage. Just like life itself, despite all the best plans and forethought, making wine is an act of constant improvisation.
This fact, along with the rarity and one time nature of the vintage create such a unique excitement. A new start, all possible outcomes are again out there to be reached. This explains the butterflies in the stomach feeling that walking in the vineyard invoked this morning. The arrival of veraison, like the firing of a starting gun has officially set harvest in motion. It is time again to create the best possible wine we can, and I can’t wait to try.