Grilling the Candidates


As I explained in Spoofulated or Artisanal?, the conversion of grapes into that stuff in your glass is obviously a major technological reshaping every time. Unlike the free, open ‘70’s and ‘80’s, today’s winemakers are lying low and keeping mum while paparazzi fire live ammo over their heads.

I don't like it, I don't accept it, and I don't think you should either. And I tell you, we can go back. We just have to start up some honest dialogue. Begin with this: the real truth is that wines, and I mean all wines, become distinctive through artifice. That’s what winemakers do, don’t you know. You just can’t draw the line at no manipulation. You have to pick and choose.

Of course most folks just let the winemaker pick his own tools, a method I strongly recommend. Choose your winemaker with care, then delegate the details. Representative democracy is based on the notion that people are more expert at evaluating people than complex issues.

So let's say you get a chance to size up a winemaker at a dinner event or retail store, or better yet at the winery. How do you conduct the interview?

In an election year, we are all keenly aware that wisdom and charisma seldom coincide. The primary skills of good winemakers are focused on the craft, not their personal presentation, and most have simply not taken time for a media makeover.

That said, straight talk has its own radiance to the receptive listener. When you interview a winemaker. try to appreciate that we live in awkward times. A profound disconnect exists in the unfiltered flow of information about winemaking techniques.

Do’s and Don’ts in choosing winemakers:

-Do know his or her name. Not the media phenomenon person, but the one who really makes the decisions.
-Do interview the winemaker face to face, or talk to someone who has. 
-Do be suspicious of the tasteful dresser and blowback hair.
-Do quiz the winemaker on natural winemaking. “I believe in doing the minimum” is not an answer – everybody says this. Encourage them to tell you how far they are NOT willing to go. You might learn something.
-Do read the website and email follow up questions. 
-Do visit the winery if you possibly can, or talk to someone who has. The place itself will speak volumes about the winemaker’s priorities and beliefs.
-Do appreciate weeds in the vineyard.
-Do ask embarrassing personal questions. This will give you sense of the winemaker’s passion for full disclosure, and will also reward you with amusing stories for the dinner table.

-Don’t be put off by black fingernails and uncombed hair.
-Don’t rate your experience at the winery by conformance to your preconceptions. Every winery is its own world. 
-Don’t zone out when you hear technical terms. A winemaker at ease will forget you don’t speak the same language. Ask what the words mean.
-Don’t be impressed by the pristine bare earth and sculpted fruit set.
-Don’t choose the guy who lies the best. As in politics, simple pat answers are a tipoff. Any smoothie who distracts your inquiry with stock phrases is probably blowing smoke.
-Don’t discuss wine in its absence. It’s gossip and it’s rude. Wine is like music, and you can only know by sampling whether a winery’s style suits you.
-Don’t keep mum if a wine displeases you. The exploration of honest conflict is the root of good conversation from which both of you will benefit.

This list is just a start. Please contribute comments on other Dos and Don’ts you'd suggest for this list.




Jerry D. Murray:


A few more do's and dont's:

Don't believe the hype around "gravity flow" wineries.

Don't be swayed by expensive fancy wineries.

Do question what 'meticulously farmed' means.

Do ask what a winemaker means by 'made in the vineyard'.

Do look at a winemakers shoes ( boots versus dress shoes ).

Don't believe statements that include 'always' and 'never'.

Do trust your gut.