Is it possible to make 62 different wines, from different vineyards, and have each one taste not just outstanding but also distinctive?
Philippe Cambie is the top winemaking consultant in Châteauneuf-du-Pape—he works for 25 wineries in the appellation. He also has 37 other clients, mostly in the Southern Rhône Valley, but also in the Languedoc (where he grew up), Provence, Corsica, Spain and even Macedonia. His wines routinely score outstanding and classic in Wine Spectator's blind tastings. I profiled Cambie in our Nov. 30 issue and found him to be a warm, friendly, complex man. Watching him interact with his clients was fascinating.
But is it such a good idea for one man to produce wines for 62 clients?
Kingsley Amis, writing in 1972's On Drink, relayed a recipe for a concoction he had heard to be "Queen Victoria's Tipple." Ingredients: 1/2 tumbler red wine, Scotch. "The quantity of Scotch is up to you, but I recommend stopping a good deal short of the top of the tumbler," cautioned Amis. "Worth trying once," cringed the author, who in the same pages recommends waking up to a shot of tequila in one hand and one of tomato juice in the other.
I asked Logan Leet, winemaker at River Bend Winery in Kentucky, whose signature Bourbon Barrel Red is given a brief spin through used bourbon barrels, if he had ever heard of this kind of abomination in Louisville. "Most people like to keep their wine and their bourbon separate, by and large," he assured me.
Walk-around tastings. Auctions. Winemaker dinners. The wine world has no shortage of social gatherings, and with each event comes the seemingly silly, yet kind of important question: What should you wear?
In these days when hoodie-clad tech execs top the Forbes 400 and Malvasia gets more attention than Meursault on Brooklyn wine lists, yes, you can wear whatever you want to wine events. End of story. What's really important at these things is the company you keep and what's in your glass, etc., etc.
But let's get real. It's telling that many comments on Talia Baiocchi's blog post last week about a new generation of Napa winemakers revolved not around stylistic decisions in winemaking, but the clothes winemakers wear—specifically whether it was apt to describe 1980s Napa as "linen-wearing." Clearly, this stuff matters.
"I am a winemaker. Not a shepherd or a steward." Sine Qua Non founder Manfred Krankel spoke those words during the third day of Wine Spectator's New World Wine Experience, and I started clapping. Then I realized I was the only person clapping in a room packed with 800 people and sheepishly stopped. I shouldn't have.
The Wine Experience is Wine Spectator's annual gathering of the best winemakers in the world for three days of tasting, talking and having fun. The whole weekend provides a chance to discover some great terroirs-you can taste wines from more than 200 wineries, often from regions you've never tried-and chat with the people behind the wines. The winemaker or owner is often the one pouring. It's a chance to learn from some of the best.
But I often feel like people who work in wine (or write about it) like to pretend that winemakers don't actually matter. A decade ago, some consulting winemakers like Michel Rolland and Carlo Ferrini got a lot of attention. Today, so many producers I speak to insist that they are merely stewards of the vineyard. When they make the wine, they just try to let the vineyard speak for itself.