When I saw our story this week about AIG’s current CEO making wine in Croatia, I have to admit I cringed a bit. I don’t know many fans of the giant insurance company that had to be bailed out last year. But, to be fair, Robert Benmosche wasn’t part of the huge failure; he was brought on earlier this year to try to put the company on stable footing.
Despite what you may think about AIG, the story raises a question: Is it accurate, and fair, to call Benmosche a winemaker? Or is he just a wine investor? I can see the eyes rolling already …
Does Benmosche have a degree in enology or come from a long family line of winemakers? No. But if someone, large corporate CEO or not, chooses to start a winery and make wine, are they really not a winemaker? Sorry, but I can’t make that leap. Doing so is like dithering over what your definition of "is" is. If you make wine, be it as a winery owner from afar, a still-wet-behind-the-ears UC Davis-trained whippersnapper or crusty old dirt-under-the-fingernails, this-is-how-my-grandfather-did-it grape farmer, you’re a winemaker.
I’m curious, if the article had every reference to "AIG executive" removed, how would it have read? It probably would’ve come across as another cool wine story about someone chasing their passion in an unlikely place. But that one little bit of context throws it off kilter for some people. This is why certain contexts (producer, price) are not beneficial to have when tasting, by the way.
Personally, I prefer the mud-on-the-boots vigneron who lives next to their vines and fashions traditionally made wines of terroir. But rather than cutting down every celebrity or former technology mogul who starts a winery for supposedly not having the soul to be a "true" winemaker, I instead choose to shine a spotlight on the wines and winemakers I do like and that I think represent a search for quality, regardless of their style or methods.
If politics has taught us anything recently, it’s that it’s better to set up a big tent and invite folks in for constructive discourse and build consensus. If you personally have a very specific definition of what a "winemaker" is based on how you view wine, that’s fine. But take a positive approach by clarifying your definition and defending it as opposed to attacking something simply for what it isn’t.
[You can now follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1]
ROBERT MILTON — Newbury Park, CA — December 23, 2009 5:23pm ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — December 23, 2009 5:41pm ET
David Rossi — Napa, CA, USA — December 24, 2009 8:26am ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — December 24, 2009 8:53am ET
Eric P Perramond — Colorado Springs, CO — December 26, 2009 11:24am ET
Scott Elder — The Dalles, OR — December 28, 2009 3:32pm ET
Jonathan Davis — Birmingham — December 31, 2009 7:56pm ET
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