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Guest Stars
Guest Stars

The producers take to the road, part two

Winemaker Roundtable

How much of a priority for you is visiting other wine regions?  What is the NEXT wine region you plan to visit, and why?

Michael Silacci, Opus One Winery (California). It is very important to visit other wine regions to keep our minds open and to see what other winemakers and viticulturists are doing. What works well for one winery may not work for another. The key is to understand, select, and implement the techniques that will enhance the quality of our grapes and wine. It is vital that I am not the only one from our team visiting other wine regions. Each year we have a field trip for the vineyard crew and another for the cellar crew. Every other year the trip is outside of Napa Valley. I will visit Chile in March to catch up on what acquaintances, friends and colleagues have been doing. It is important to visit a few wine regions every few years to maintain a familiarity with them and a connection to them.

After Chile, I will join the Académie Internationale du Vin (AIV) in Paraguay and Argentina. The AIV meets twice a year. A scientific symposium is held in early December in Geneva, Switzerland, and members travel together to a wine region in the spring. The advantage of traveling with a group and focusing on one region is the insights gained from hearing the perspective and constructive criticism of others. I learn as much in the bus or at the table as I do in the vineyard or cellar, because of the opportunity to reflect on what has been seen or tasted. Even though the principle grape variety we work with is cabernet sauvignon, visits to regions focusing on white and other red wines keep me sharp.

Brian O’Donnell, Belle Pente  (Willamette Valley , Oregon). I love visiting other wine regions, especially those that focus on pinot noir and cool-climate whites as we do here in Oregon. It is rare that I walk into a vineyard or cellar without learning something that may be useful back home. Having said that, I must admit that my behavior does not match my desires. It’s been almost 20 years since my last visit to Burgundy, and I have yet to visit the Mosel or Central Otago. So it is embarrassingly clear that I have not made it a priority. But my next destination is likely to be Piemonte as I’ve become intrigued by the wines over the past few years, and since pinot  noir is not a focus there it will seem more like a real vacation and less like work!

Chris Figgins, Leonetti Cellars (Walla Walla, Washington). I find visiting other regions around the world tremendously important, particularly being from a very young New World region. I have found in practically every area of the world I have visited that a majority of growers within that region are prone to “group-think,” and this includes my own region as well. Exposing oneself to multiple viticultural viewpoints throughout the world helps a grower establish a perspective and knowledge base that is global, allowing him to make decisions that may not be the “norm” for the home area in any given situation. I think this is particularly important here as we don’t have generations of trial and error on our soils and climate that have “honed” that knowledge base to standards that are worth following.

The next wine region I happen to be traveling to is California’s North Coast, though I am most particularly looking forward to a trip to Southern Italy’s provinces.

Yves Cuilleron, Domaine Yves Cuilleron (Condrieu, France). For me it’s very important to visit other wine regions. I try to visit another vineyard two or three times each year. You always learn from these visits, especially if it’s very different way to work.

I always try to visit a new area that I’ve never visited before or haven’t visited for a long time. The last region I visited was the Moselle Valley in Germany. It was especially interesting for me because they have the same kind of terraced vineyards [as we do in the northern Rhône], but with very different styles of wines. My next trip will be to Argentina or Chile.

Ken Forrester, Ken Forrester Wines (Stellenbosch, South Africa). Sure, visiting other wine regions is always interesting, fascinating even, to some of us, but that may not always extend to your traveling party, family or friends! The integral nitty-gritty of soil types, cultivation techniques, canopy management, row direction, pruning regime, etc., are minutiae that hold an interest only for the few.

Then there is the issue of time: just how long can one spend languishing in a far-flung vineyard or wine area? Consequently there are just so many factors that one has to try and assimilate all at once, or at least in the day or two or three that one has set aside, and so often first impressions can be misleading. Was it the warm hospitality, the romance of the surroundings, the perfect blue sky on the day, or simply the adventure that made the vineyards seem so perfectly manicured and the fruit so even?

Take a familiar example. Can one possibly visit Opus One and not be blown away by the layout, the architecture, the reception rooms, the laboratory, the painstaking attention to detail with each barrel, carefully colored, and the mood lighting of the cellar. What of the climate, the soils, the aspect, those terroir issues, the sustainability of organic farming practices—or not?

You’ve got myriad individual items on a long list all waiting for an assessment, but viewed as a snapshot, a moment in time, and somehow this contributes to the whole movie, the impression and memory of the place. And one must ask, just how accurate can that be?

As a result, visits to wine regions for me are truly relegated to vacation time: “interested bystander” status, where one actually wants the embellishment of the warm hospitality, the mood lighting, and so on; one wants the happy memory and with that the inevitable ranking as to just how they stack up in the grand scheme, Burgundy vs. Rhône vs. Bordeaux, etc. Can one visit the Loire and not be blown away by the ancient cities, the fairy-tale castles, the endless rolling hills, the morning mists in autumn? Such a delectable palate of options, new and yet familiar experiences, vast differences, in the mechanics, philosophy and even the automation of canopy management, the hygiene factors of the cellar, and just how all these separate issues integrate—this is always going to remain a constant puzzle, open to assumption and even broad misunderstanding. But it all leaves an indelible impression that years later in a totally different context on a return visit may all seem quite strange and new—or did they perhaps change their ways in the years since you last visited?

If one truly pays attention, just walking one’s own vineyard, there are manifold changes each year—the flowering date, the berry set, the relative soil moisture, the sunshine hours. Some days I feel that revisiting my own vineyard is like a trip to another place! From nature we will always be able to learn, and we may never fully understand all the processes and the variables we pursue each vintage, hoping it may just be that great one.

Mounir Saouma, Lucien Le Moine (Burgundy, France). When time permits, it’s a necessary thing for us to visit other areas. Last year we did a few visits but the most important one for us was visiting riesling producers in Germany—we tasted, talked with growers and visited vineyards for two days and this was great.

Next stop is going to be a technical visit at Chateau Margaux, a chateau I love. It’s one of my favorite Bordeaux/cabernet sauvignon/terroir/finesse experiences ever, so we will take time to try to understand a bit more about this unique monument.

You can ask: What will a producer of Burgundy learn by tasting riesling and cabernet? When I was learning to be journalist at 18 years old, they used to teach us mathematics. One day I asked my philosophy teacher what mathematics had to do with journalism, and he answered, “Our objective is to give you culture, not to teach you to write.” Helpful words even today .

Chris Camarda, Andrew Will Winery (Washington). I was in Burgundy twice in 2011. We plan to visit Northern Italy and Germany this March. I have been to Oregon often in the past as my wife is from there. I don’t go to Napa as much as I used to but love the restaurants. I would love to spend time in Alsace and travel the length of Italy. More importantly my cellar has a lot of Loire Valley and German wines as well as bottles from Piedmont, Rhone, California, and tons of Burgundy along with my favorite Washington wines right next to a wall of Bordeaux. So maybe I travel more through my cellar than I do through the air.

The reason for the German travel is a show in Europe, but I have long loved German wine and consider it one of the great values available to wine lovers. I have followed Piedmont since the early ’60s; in the last decade or so I have lost touch (except for the 2007 vintage) but there is always time to renew the acquaintance. The winemakers of all these regions provide me with inspiration and fresh insight into what I am doing as a winemaker. Otherwise a kind of monotonous view of wine sets in. We need only to look to the major wine press in this country to see this. The same old words with the same old vision. Often one could switch the vintage and leave the verbiage and have the same thoughts expressed.

Alberto Antonini, Wine Consultant (Italy and Argentina). I have been visiting many wine regions on a regular basis over the last 18 years because of my consulting work, and it has been not just my job but a very enriching learning experience. I still visit other regions as often as I can because I find it inspiring, so according to the time available I’d say it is quite a priority. I’m planning to be in Burgundy again in the next six months as I find it a source of ideas and inspiration for my work and for me as a person.

The whole thing is more about soul than brain. It is not the search for making something perfect but is more about making something unique, about micro-terroirs rather than perfect blends, the pure expression of a site often made with very little technology.  Many little villages, each one with its grand cru, premier cru, etc. And knowledge that comes from centuries of trying to understand this parcel and the other one, preserving their expression and uniqueness. I find it just amazing and charming.

January 17th, 2013 | no comments

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