Ambassadors of Wine
Where is California wine going?
In my opinion, we are at a place where the path of California winemaking starts to fork. At the same time that technology invades every aspect of grapegrowing and winemaking, more and more producers embrace less-scientific means like biodynamics and are actually turning the clock back in the winery, opting for more traditional and even primitive methods, such as whole cluster and wild yeast fermentations.
Some winemakers seek to tease out the traces of terroir through minimal intervention, while others try to balance extremes and build richness and flavor through maximal intervention. While the story of wine has always been one of the interaction of the human mind and hand with the grapevine, the nature of that interaction deserves intense, soulful questioning more than ever.
I have not been trained as a winemaker. When I started my wine project (Parr Selections) in 2004, a winemaker from Napa Valley made a sarcastic comment: “Oh my god, another sommelier turned winemaker.” Most sommeliers who start wine projects try to make a wine people will like to drink. For that reason I think we are a voice in the wine world. We are inspired by people like Michael Bonaccorsi and Larry Stone (my mentor).
I love rich wines and oftentimes drink high alcohol wines, but as a whole the wines must have balance. My goal is to make California wine with minimal intervention that expresses the deepest truths of the land in which the vines grow while still being balanced and utterly delicious. To me, these qualities are not mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite: They are one and the same.
Furthermore I must bow to all those people who are “Ambassadors of Wine.” Not only to the sommeliers (who are the most important link between wine and the wine drinker), but also to the producers, who have dedicated their lives to the soil and the grape. My work in the wine world is an homage to these amazing vintners.
I would like to raise a toast to those who have taught and set an example for the newer generation of winemakers. The wine world would have no direction without the help of these great leaders: Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, Josh Jensen, Bo Barrett and many others. The future is in the hands of the few who deliver “Balance” in their wines. I hope the new breed of winemakers--including Sashi Moorman, Wells Guthrie, Chad Melville and Jaimie Whetstone--continue to perform and achieve the peaks that their predecessors have set.
I have not been trained as a writer, either, and it has been an honor to be able to blog for Wine Spectator. These last few months have given me a new perspective on writing about my experiences. It has always been very personal, but sharing it has been more fun.