02 August 2009

People, Passion, Pleasure

People, Passion, Pleasure. That’s all there is. If you don’t know yet that wine is about people, you’ve missed something. That’s OK. You’re probably still enjoying the heck out of some seriously delicious vino. And rightly so, although you may not have recognized that behind that wine are very special people, who see to it that what you have in your glass tastes mind-numbingly great and not like raspberry vinaigrette. Though you may have never met these special people, they care deeply about you. In fact, most of them care passionately about everything, from folding laundry into crisp and perfect squares, rinsing every wine glass by hand to utter spotless clarity, to lining up every fork, spoon and knife even with the edge of the table. They are meticulous, and pathologically so. In this they ensure that habitual passion and attention to detail make it into the products they produce as well. And when they spend every night and day thinking about what they could be doing better, what would be healthier in the vineyards, how to be more hands-off in the cellar, when to pick...know that they are your intercessors. They are asking these questions on your behalf. Because you want an honest wine, you want attention to detail in the vineyard and the cellars, and you want something that brings an immense amount of pleasure from the second it hits your lips until it wets your gut. But you have no control over that process, only over what you buy.

You also have control over how you enjoy wine. Do you drink it by yourself without food? That may be the sign of deeper problems, not deeper pleasure. Or do you share your wine and break bread with family and friends? Are there fellowship, laughter and good eatin' at the table when the vino starts to flow? These questions are the very confluence of people, passion and pleasure. The people behind the wine--the ones detailed above--are important. But wine will always leave the winery with seams, a little disjointed and flustered. In the end it needs something to bind it all together again, to stitch the seams and seal the joints: It needs fellowship, the same ingredient in every loving family, congregation, friendship. Is it any wonder that a wine tasted for the first time with the best of friends and the greatest food never quite tastes so good again when tasted alone? If you have a 500-bottle cellar and no one to share it with, then you have 500 missed opportunities. Every bottle of wine I ever bought, I had someone else in mind who I thought could love it even more than I: the wine was predestined to be shared with those I love (even those I don't love so much).

My demand is that the wine I buy and drink be produced by someone I know personally or have read about extensively, and in turn have been convinced by his or her passion, his or her integrity with respect to viticulture, processes, and philosophy, and his or her focus on bringing pleasure to the palate, not points. I want to know these people, because I feel when I know them (or ‘know’ them, as the case may be), I begin to understand the true context of their wines, their true nature. I begin to trust them, and in turn the families behind them. The circle is complete. Terroir is important, without question; I will harp on climate, exposure, and soil to a tormenting extent. I will preach on a multitude of other things as well. But ultimately, the winemaker, the owner, and the folks in charge of babying the vineyard: They are the holy triumvirate, and ideally they are One. They will affect a bottle (or box!) of wine most completely, by leaving it utterly alone and still, or interacting with it as necessary toward an agreeable goal.

A parting note on what I hope this agreeable goal becomes in the near future: I hope it's something that truly-as in honestly-brings pleasure. It is exceedingly difficult for me to equate atmospheric alcohol, excruciating tannin, or extremely unlikely color saturation, with pleasure or integrity. The prices paid for such self-proclaiming monuments are irrational, and seldom can I conjure a rational explanation for how this trend continues to pervade and poison the wine scene. I little bit of research will reveal an ocean of wine for relatively no money that delivers pleasure in a more accessible and more timely fashion, something that should appeal to those who can't stand to wait 30+ years for right-bank Port-deaux to 'mature', or who simply won't be around in 3o years. That little bit of research may even unveil the story of one or two families that aren't too different from yours or mine, a story that makes the wine closer to home than it ever could have been before, shadowed on the dusty shelves of some forgotten corner grocer. With wine, families are the most important story-not terroir, not hang time, not barrels, not anything. Wine is about people. Passionate people. Folks who want nothing more than to make wines that mirror their charisma, their virtues, their criteria for what makes a wine worth drinking over and over again.

Wine is family, reduced.


  1. Jeff! Your passion for the people involved in producing the wines you purchase and for the pleasure you derive from sharing your wines with those you love was evident in our recent visit. I appreciate your insights, your enthusiasm and your wine selections!

  2. Great idea Jeff! Us down-to-earth wine snobs are out there but it's people like you who bring us together. Our latest find: 2005 Bodega Luigi Bosca Malbec Single Vineyard Lujan de Cuyo. We tried in an awesome restaurant in Kerry, Ireland. Only scored a Spectator 86 but it was wonderful-full of flavor and fantastic finish. I was tempted to get another bottle but we all know what happens to Katie when she has too much wine. Can't wait to get you back to try some more. -Tom