A Master of Wine visits the winery


Monday I was visited by an earnest and energetic MW who dragged her hapless but cheerful husband and son to my winery for a chat about the evil things I do and how on earth I can go on living with myself.  Well, she was a lot kinder than that, but I did sense her concern.  
She felt she needed to see the offending equipment up close.  This proved a very good idea, for as her hubby remarked, it’s just a pump and a stack of filters and what’s the big deal?  I said I didn’t know either, but maybe they’d like to taste some wine.

So we spent a while looking at the round, fine structure we get through micro-oxygenation on our rather massive WineSmith Cabernet Sauvignon, and deliberating whether that was more interesting than the leaner but more energetic Cabernet Franc.  I switched the overhead lights off to show how different they taste in a dionysian low-light environment, that in which reds were mostly consumed before Edison. 

Then we went barrel tasting and I showed off our three vintages of sulfite-free Roman Syrah – some of our most exquisite wines ever, and really the pinnacle of GrapeCraft, requiring all the elements for success: mineral energy from living soil, optimum ripeness (good grippy unresolved tannin), good must nutrient condition without additives so we get a healthy fermentation to a nutrient desert, aromatic integration through a refined oxygenated structure, and microbial equilibrium in the cellar.  The result has enormous soulfulness.  If we do everything else the same but add sulfites, we get a wine like a beautiful house with nobody living in it. This kind of winemaking is like climbing Mt. Everest without an oxygen mask – only an expert or a fool would attempt it.

In the end she asked me what advice I had for MW’s in all this.  I mentioned two things.  First, we need critics to tell us whether we are doing our job.  This is not the same as telling us how to do it, a subject about which the MW course prepares one not at all.  Instead, winemakers really need to hear whether their work has lifted your soul – they’re too close to the work and can’t tell for sure when they’ve nailed it.  They need to know when you find a style annoying, and that certain people actually care whether a wine falls apart in the cellar. 

Second, MW’s need to promote inclusivity.  Rather than tout your personal glory and secure your employment by befuddling those around you, be an ambassador for having fun with wine, and above all, get average people to trust their own taste.  Get them to look forward to the next new wine as if it were a novel they hadn’t read, not the same experience over and over.  Wine is an adventure, a perpetual tour throughout global space and time as varied as music or cuisine.

People worship the opinions of critics because they’re afraid to form their own.  At a cocktail party in Annie Hall, a woman’s voice can be heard offering up “Well, I finally had an orgasm, but my psychiatrist said it was the wrong kind…”  This is what consumers fear – to get caught loving a wine that’s considered really junk.  MW’s need to reassure those they serve that it’s actually hard to louse it up.  If you liked it, that was definitely good.