What Did I Learn?

Craig Ploof, Brad Buehler, and Steven Mirassou (l to r) at Brad’s recent retirement party.

I think a lot about wine. Not just how a particular wine tastes, but even more about what wine means and how to put the craft of winemaking and the role of Beauty in wine into a communicable context.

In all the ways I’ve asked myself questions about wine, my friend and fellow winemaker, Brad Buehler, came up with a short question that has changed my thinking about this glorious thing we make. We were tasting a flight of wines recently, and came upon one that did not succeed on any level. Brad asked, “What did I learn from that wine?” The answer to the question was far less important than the nature of the question itself.

I’ve written before about great wine’s bottomlessness…it’s ability to continue to challenge one’s preconceived ideas about a place or a variety. Brad’s question opened a new avenue of inquiry, a very specific way of creating a context that get’s the wine lover directly into the meat of the wine-meaning evaluation process. While you can create a binary relationship between learned something = good wine/didn’t learn = not good, simply asking yourself the question every time you taste something, causes you to be a more thoughtful taster, causes you to create a system in your head that places value on certain characteristics of the wine, and opens you up to the myriad possibilities that have not been learned  yet.   In the end, this simple question, will – I think – go a long way to helping you create a wide-ranging context for the wines you enjoy most.

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The picture above shows Craig Ploof, Brad Buehler, and I on Brad’s last day at Wente Vineyards. Brad was a constant presence for more than 40 years, and I will miss his guidance, his knowledge, and more importantly, his easy-going friendship. Cheers, buddy!

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Great Wine and Altered States

Great wine defies easy description; it makes the wine lover contemplate it…forces her, even, to be open to change, to the taking in of new flavor and aroma combinations, new structural possibilities. And in the most extraordinary cases, it creates a new reality for that person.

For that wine lover…for anyone who prizes Beauty in its many forms…the experiencing of tardisit creates a (sometimes, subconscious) need to take it in again. This moving forward to find the next new experience also creates a memory-related feedback loop to the previous times that her life was subtly altered so.  Time hiccoughs as our wine lover is at the very same moment drinking a ravishing Burgundy in the present, remembering that amazing Bordeaux blend from last year and yearning for that transcendent Barolo tomorrow. Talk about a virtuous cycle!

Great wine causes these altered states. And because I believe it is in these states that more Beauty can be created, I want to devote myself to making the kinds of wine that take the wine lover everywhere and everytime.

 

 

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Balance

balanceWhile elegance, poise, pace, and length are all words that define a beautiful wine for me, the most important aspect of beauty (and, by extension – great) wine is Balance.

A wine can have all the power and color and tannin in the world, but if it doesn’t “live” in your mouth; if it doesn’t have nuance and complexity; if it doesn’t age well; if it doesn’t seamlessly balance acid/tannin/wood/fruit; then it lacks the evanescent je ne sais quoi that underscores my sense of beauty and rightness. In a questionnaire from Ilona Thompson of PalateXposure.com, I noted this about balance:

Balance means that every part of the wine is inevitable…there are no superfluous edges or flavors or aromas. Each part of the wine—its organoleptics and structure—is in seamless service to a cohesive whole.

Balance is a moral imperative for great wine, and it is the one quality that is most important in determining how beautiful a wine is. It is also the aspect of Lineage | Livermore Valley that underscores all of our grape-growing and wine-making decisions. If a wine doesn’t start with an essential balance even as early as the beginning of fermentation, it won’t have it…ever.

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Lineage and the World’s Great Bordeaux Blends

This implicit sense of urgency informs our desire to focus on making wine that creates an emotional connection with the drinker, that shows in the style and elegance of the wine, the winemaking philosophy of the wine maker. As with any endeavor that seeks superlative excellence, it is in comparing our wine to those brands that have already reached the pinnacle we are working toward that we learn where we are and how far we have to go.

Last week we had the great pleasure of hosting a very rare blind tasting for 22 of our Lineage Collectors that compared the 2010 vintage of Lineage | Livermore Valley with Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, and Harlan

Steven Mirassou with Bottles from First Growth Tasting

Estate from California. These are widely considered to be the greatest (and most expensive) wines of their type in the world, and – in the case of the wines from the Left Bank of Bordeaux – have been for centuries!

Tastings such as these serve as a snapshot in time…if the same tasting was done the next day, the results inevitably would be different…but they are nonetheless valuable in gauging progress. After the tasters ranked the wines, the results were tallied and the 2010 Lineage finished in third place!

This showing was unexpected and incredibly gratifying. Even more important for us as winemakers, though, was to be able to see the similarities and differences between the wines. We still have a tremendous distance to travel until we have made our finest wines, but it is comforting to know that we seem to be traveling on the correct road!

The first three wines:

Harlan Estate                           2.5 (average score)  $815 (price per bottle)
Ch. Haut-Brion                        2.8                              $976
Lineage | Livermore Valley   3.7                               $185

 

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Wine is Magical

Wine is not the romantic and mystical product so many of those invested in it want us to believe it is. –Hosemaster of Wine 

My friend, Ron Washam, is the “Hosemaster of Wine”…a gifted satirist who has had a long history in a number of capacities in the wine business. He posted today on his site his wine wishes for the New Year. In the course of a significantly long post was the quotation I note above. Below is an excerpt of my response to that post.

Wine is magical…

Notwithstanding any “religious” experience one might have had with wine, the mystic traffics in the unknowable-placing himself above and apart from others by virtue of his unique ability to know what no one else can know. Now, while this may describe certain wine professionals it does not describe wine.

Anyone who has had the good fortune to spend years helping to shepherd grapes from the crusher to the fermenter to the bottle, from the fermentation itself, through extended cropped-lineage-capsule-cropped-small.jpgmaceration, and then through barrel-aging and time spent in the bottle can never be so blasé about how emotionally full…how magical that process is. Each fermenter is its own Big Bang – a new world coming into existence from the nothingness of grape juice, and while we know a lot about how and why a wine ends up specifically like it does, even 20 years later, the process is sufficiently complex as to still appear magical to me.

There are a lot of people who don’t care about how the thing gets from A to Z…they’re only concerned with how it tastes. There’s nothing wrong with that. Wine’s first job, by its very nature, is to be delicious. But just because one’s interest extends only part way doesn’t mean there aren’t many more depths to plumb.

 

 

 

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Telling the Lineage (hiS)tory

History and story are inextricably bound…the Story is what we tell to make sense of where we came from and from whom. As we know from great literature, the two are very malleable. In America – maybe most especially – if you don’t like the reality of the history, simply tell a different story.

The Lineage Wine Company story is simple: Because of the inherent viticultural excellence of our growing area in general and the magic of our Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard in particular, we believe we can make a single wine that can eventually be favorably compared to the best, most iconic wines in history.

Everything we do in the vineyard and in the cellar is meant to reinforce this true story. Indeed, every effort at storytelling (including this very blog post) is also meant to break down resistance to our admittedly audacious mission.

We’d contend that in the world of great wine, the bar to the “true story” is set significantly higher than real life, and no matter how many different ways a winery tries to tell it (instagram, facebook, soundcloud, twitter), the reality will always and only be found when the cork is pulled. Each successive vintage is another chapter in the on-going, wonderfully complicated tale that is part vineyard, part season, part winemaking philosophy, and part luck.

 

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First Principles

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