When I first began my serious entrance into wine, I could see it written all over my father’s face as he put together the first of my wine racks. My daughter is becoming a wineo. I look back now wonder which he would’ve preferred, me drinking the periodic box of cheap wine like my mom, or me spending money to stock rack after rack in my crawl space. I don’t think either prospect was too splendid for a man who has lived a frugal, conservative life and never really sipped alcohol until he became the primary investor in my brother’s bars. Even then, it was only beer here or there. As time has gone on, and my fascination with all things wine has escalated, I’ve attempted to make inroads with my father on my preoccuaption with this fruit of the earth.
My significant exploits began a couple years ago, thanks to my incredibly supportive bestie. She knew I wanted to try local Red Mountain wines so she created a trip and off we went. I was instantly hooked. The majesty of the hillsides lined in well kept vines (my OCD side was in heaven) with small bunches of fruit dangling and the promise that fruit held. The thought of all the work that went into getting those vines so pristine, the pruning and more pruning. All the work during harvest as the grapes made it to the winery for production. If that wasn’t all enough, then came the critical decisions to be made regarding production, whole cluster fermenation or destemmed, native yeast or innoculation, how long to keep reds on the skins, how long to keep white on lees if being used, stainless steel, new french oak or used or a percentage of each, then if blending, what percentage of each. The options seem infinite. But that is just the beginning.
Then I started to look back at wine history. I am not a history buff, by any stretch, unless it involves baseball or wine. Wine has been an integral part of the world for centuries. The earliest known wine is from The Republic of Georgia in 6000 BC and the current oldest grape producing vine is from the 17th century in Slovenia. Upon reading these facts, then reading about the religion that is Georgian wine production, it made me want to visit Tbilisi. I texted a friend and I’m pretty certain they wanted to commit me. I told my dad and I’m sure he was ready to drive me to the asylum until I started to explain the Qvevri (underground clay pot) wine storage, the tremendous level of pride the families take in their wine and their excitement in sharing their creations with others that can appreciate it. He wanted to know more, I was gently tugging him down the rabbit hole.
I then began explaining how wine draws me to agricultural corners of the world. How I want to visit Chile, Argentina, the Canary Islands, Santorini, Slovenia, Hungary, the Finger Lakes region of New York, and the list goes on. My itinerary for these locales does not include city centers or historical landmarks, but rather straight to wine country to interact with locals and experience the culture. The curiosity was furrowing his brow.
Last Christmas, my bestie, gave me the book Wine and War: The French, The Nazis and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure. My father took it from me and began reading excerpts aloud. If you haven’t read it, and I highly suggest you do, it is a compilation of interviews with those that either survived WWII or were offspring of those that did. It delves into what measures some took to keep their most prized possessions safe during war from those that couldn’t cherish it fully. I could see in his face, he was beginning to be fascinated and intrigued.
Even just tonight, I told him that my wish in my next life is to be a vineyard sheep. He thought for sure I’d want to be one of my spoiled rotten dogs. No, I’d rather be a vineyard sheep left to graze 6 months of the year in the vineyard I love and treated as royalty as the biodynamic and responsible agriculture movements sweep across the world of wine. Then I had to explain what their purpose on the farm was. I again had struck a cord.
Recently, I listened to a conversation the owner of Tablas Creek, Jason Haas, had with an environmental responsibility group and I couldn’t help but think what an exceptionally rewarding place Tablas must be to work. They are the first certified regenerative winery in the US, they make exceptional wines on the premise that if you care for the earth, the earth will make your wines for you. Then, after that, they do their best to decrease emissions on the shipping of their wines as well. Meanwhile, I come from an industry that seems to have zero regard for its environmental impact.
That brings me to the French theory of terroir. It’s almost like a term that is used as a bullseye to pinpoint those just learning of wine but the deeper I go, the more appreciation and loyalty I have to this term. They believe that all factors, soil, environment, weather, human interaction, wind patterns, etc, impact the wine produced. As I taste it, I can’t help but concur. My favorite wines in general are produced by the wineries best at vineyard maintenace. I love researching wineries before I visit and seeing what vineyards their wines are produced from. Then I visit the parent winery that cares for those vineyards. They are generally small production because they make a majority of their income from the sale of their fruit but what they do produce is fantastic.
I love the sense of comradery amongst wineries. There’s a sense that they are all better if the believe in each other. I’ve received some excellent recommendations from some well known wineries to visit some lesser known properties and they’re spot on. I heard a story just today of a very well known and respected Napa winery that got their first vine clippings from their neighbor (unbeknownst to the neighbor!). Years later, the original vineyard was struck by Phylloxera and needed starts of their vines, so they went to the winery that ‘borrowed’ them and got their vineyard replanted. There’s no trash talking about one another, just one large community working toward the same goal of exposing wines to customers.
Then, I remember back to that first trip to Red Mountain and being asked what the varieties in a GSM are. I had no clue. I cringe now but there was no judgement passed by the sweet lady pouring. Wine is a forgiving place. It is a place that allows you to be as close to the Earth as possible. I mean, when was the last time you examined your broccoli for minerality and sense of place? If a wine is done right, it brings you one step closer to Earth and what it has to offer. It is a dynamic product, ever evolving. Wine can be exhausting, rewarding, comforting, fascinating, and grounding (in addition to so many other things).
Now, every time I order wine at a restaurant with my dad (which hasn’t been for a while thanks to Covid) or open a new bottle in his presence, he’s happy to take a taste. I think he’s up to around 9 varietals by now. It still doesn’t keep him from calculating the value, or cost, of the all bottles in my cellar each time I have him assemble a rack for additional space but I think he’s beginning to understand that those bottles aren’t just here because his daughter is a wineo, I mean oenophile. I hope he, and so many others, understand those bottles aren’t just here because they contain alcohol. They are my art exhibit. They are pieces of all the people that worked on them nurtured them to the point of being bottled. I have over 300 pieces of the best parts of people in my cellar (wow, that sounds sadistic but you know what I mean) and I hate missing out on what else is out there.
I hope the next time you pour a glass, you think of this! Cheers!