It takes a vineyard

Dear Reader, This was an article I originally wrote for a few years ago which I thought needed to be revisited (and rewritten.) It's an important part of my philosophy that I want to share with you here.



When I talk about wine, I often find myself making comparisons to the human condition. I've found that it’s often the best way to help people understand the "mysterious" topic of wine. The similarities are really quite striking.

Take for example, the life of a vineyard. Grapevines have the same average life span as humans - approximately 70-80 years. In the beginning, young vines can produce a great deal of fruit yet wine quality may be lacking. Older vines tend to decline in output in their later years, yet can produce quality fruit and wines that are profoundly wise and deep. Sound familiar?

The issue of terroir becomes much clearer when discussed in sociological terms. Vines (like people) will react to the environmental conditions around them. Both vines and people are biologically the same the world over, yet when grown and raised in many different places, take on the characteristics of where they live. Both are affected by outside factors as well as the influence of others around them - yet all maintain their inherant genetic code. For people, this manifests itself through speech, customs and mannerisms; for vines, flavor, aroma and structure. Over very long periods of time both will slowly evolve to become more suited to their surroundings. And you thought terroir was just this crazy French concept that only related to wine…

Grown and raised well, vines and people will be healthy, fruitful and productive and live their lives to the fullest. Mismanaged, neglected and abused, both can produce inferior results and come to a premature and disappointing end.

The analogy holds true when discussing wines in the bottle. Some start out young and attractive – better enjoyed in their youth - only to fade quickly, aging poorly and offering nothing later on. Others might be cantankerous and deficient in many ways during their youth only to bloom later in life, becoming all that they were expected to be. There are always the ones that start out crummy and end worse. And of course, we have that segment of the population that truly has their parents to blame. They might have been good grapes when they began but through bad winemaking (i.e. parenting) they became rude, obnoxious and spoiled, providing little enjoyment. The true corps d'elite will always be beautiful and vibrant when young but will age gracefully and still be attractive and giving in their later years.

There is a belief among some that wine lasts indefinitely – but wine (like people) must eventually come to the end of its life, even when stored under the most perfect conditions. Interestingly enough, the culprit that causes aging in both wine and people is the same. Oxygen (and oxidation) is the double edged sword of our existence. The myth of immortality has always been a part of human history and it can come true - not in the physical sense but in the emotional realm. At the end of the day, we will remember and sing the praise of the good, quickly forget the unremarkable and forever curse the inferior.

I'll be writing more about the association between the human condition and how it relates to wine - where it's raised, and how its grown and the ways it can be guided, both good and bad. For winemaking - just like good parenting - requires a delicate combination of love, intelligent guidance, timing and discipline and where often a wise, gentle hand - without too much intervention - can be the best combination for success.