Sent: Tue, Nov 10, 2009 12:35 pm
Subject: Re: Jaime Goode on the Future of Wine
See World Wine Crisis Part Three on Gerry Dawes's Spain
Thanks for making me aware of what Jamie wrote on this topic, Gerry. I think I'll drop him a line (or rather, the following lines) about it.
“I don't think the future of the wine industry will be determined top-down by the famous people who currently 'lead' the wine industry. Instead, I think it will come from an under-the-radar movement of dedicated winegrowers who are prepared to understand the vineyards they work with and make interesting, authentic, characterful wines ... not because they want to make money, but because they have to. These new great wines are made by people who see winegrowing as their vocation. Their focus starts in the vineyard and they work as naturally as possible. Typically, they prefer large oak to small, old oak to new, and concrete to stainless steel.” - - Jamie Goode's Wine Blog.
David Schildknecht (a personal message):
Many, perhaps most of the important changes in the wine industry come down to individual growers, but I doubt in predictable ways. Furthermore, today's "under-the-radar" vintner is tomorrow's superstar. In the 21st Century, insider secrets or tips can only stay that way if the grower's circle of customers (whether private or trade) is determined to keep the secret and succeeds. And in that case, by definition, waves aren't being made in the entire industry.
Whenever somebody poses this sort of (in my estimation) false vinous dilemma - and it happens continuously - I try to consider some actual cases. Take the following example from Germany.
Helmut Dönnhoff was under even the German radar in the 1970s and began to attract a German following in the 1980s. The 1988s were still sold 90% to private customers, with 1989 being the first vintage when a significant amount of wine traveled abroad (to the U.S.). Helmut's devotion was to a dream of fidelity to the Middle Nahe's great vineyards, and to the vision of wine and the traditions of an earlier generation, whose members were his mentors. His international reputation built steadily over the past 20 years, but that ascent was inseparable from and unthinkable without the contemporaneous renaissance of interest in Riesling within German, or without the fact that Helmut cultivated a continuous tradition with dry wines, which from the 1980s on constituted the only sort that any self-respecting German would be caught drinking.
Erni Loosen staged a coup at his father's commercially ailing but still internationally-known winery in 1987 and had to figure out how to prop up a collapsing market for the wines from an enormous domaine. He immediately started making headlines and showing his face abroad, which is where the market for residually sweet Mosel wine then resided - there was practically no market in Germany for Rieslings of that sort, and there still is little. Erni proved himself to be a consumate back-slapper and promoter as well as a savvy businessman; a conspicuous leader of a worldwide revival in Mosel Riesling's reputation; and eventually a flying winemaker and conference organizer who has helped to put Washington State on the world's wine map. Along the way, he also learned to craft dry Mosel Riesling according to the demands of the German market and to models influenced from abroad (especially Austria).
You could hardly pick more dramatic contrasts of commercially-driven versus tradition-driven; of being a spokesperson for one's wines versus letting one's wines speak for one; of crafting wines to fit a style versus letting a style emerge out of the conscientious plying of one's craft; of top-down management of a business versus solely managing the vines and letting the rest take care of itself. Yet, at the end of the day, nobody is going to deny that these are two of Germany's top Riesling producers and two of the wine world's super-stars.
Helmut is never going to have the kind of commercial influence an Erni Loosen does, because Helmut's not wired for the p.r. and conference-attending (much less -organizing) role. He is a star despite himself. Still, I never imagined I'd witness him holding court internationally as he has (including at Loosen's and Ste-Michelle's Washington conference). Erni for his part is never going to have the profound influence on other growers of a Dönnhoff, because the talents exhibited in Loosen wines aren't quite on the same order of magnitude and, more importantly, those talents don't reside in a single person (partner Bernard Schug is as much responsible). Does one of these figures or types represent the future of wine and the other not? I really doubt that.
You could compare Draper with Mondavi; Gaja or Rivetti with Giacosa or Bartola Moscarello; Henri Jayer with Bize-Leroy; F. X. Pichler with Leo Alzinger; Kracher with Szepsy; Chave (Sr.) with Chapoutier; Wilhem Haag with Willi Schaefer ... . From today's global perspective, they're all stars, and they will all go down in the history of late 20th wine growing as among the individuals most influential on the perception and practice of viticulture and wine. Depending on the observer's own personality, he or she probably gravitates or is more sympathetic toward one or the other of these extreme types, whether in the search for wine to put on the table or for personal heroes to enshrine in the imagination. But puffing-up personal preferences into purported sea changes or waves of the future is a stale and tiresome art.
I'll leave you with one more thought, prompted by a correspondence I had last week (during a cold snap and break in his harvest) with Klaus-Peter Keller. The subject was selectivity versus block picking and their relationship to evolving wine styles, which led him to write this:
"When my father made his first wines in the '80s and '90s, he had to impress people with his wines, because nobody knew us [or believed in the potential of the Wonnegau region]. That's why they were concentrated and massive [dick]; thinned and selectively harvested like crazy [toll im Weinberg vor- und ausgelesen] but for that reason also (according to my current taste) a bit affected [aufgesetzt]: interplay [Spiel] and elegance were missing. Nevertheless, that phase was critical for our business [Betrieb]. Then too, it's important to be open to criticism - and in that respect you helped us during those times as well (when your not coming to visit got me to thinking). And in the meantime we can afford to make our wines exactly the way we want to."
Sometimes, in other words, both the grower and his wines might have to get up on a soapbox and speak a bit loudly, self-importantly, and with slogans to get market attention so that the next generation can unplug the amps, [try to] tune out the stardom, and "simply" grow the best possible wine. But I don't need to offer you examples of the countless occasions when things work out the other way around: when one generation labors a lifetime to quietly build a great wine reputation but the style of the next generation is to turn that into an internationally successful brand with an amplified band.
Stars of all sorts will be with us always, but I wouldn't try reading the future in them.
Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel
Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.
". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009.
Gerry Dawes can be reached at email@example.com; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected): firstname.lastname@example.org