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Food & Dining // Vino Sense
Roberto Viernes

Revealing What Influences Winemakers

As you can imagine, I meet a lot of winemakers in my travels as well as when they visit our fair shores. I am always curious to learn more about their personalities just as much as I am interested in what makes their wines unique. I try to find out their philosophies on wine, their stylistic leanings and what influences their winemaking both intrinsically and externally.

My favorite question has to do with their favorites: “Outside of your own wines, what are your favorite wines to drink, and why?”

For some, this question is actually a very easy one to answer. Most winemakers have an icon in their minds that they hold reverent.

Others look to domains or estates where they worked previously or where they learned a lot about wine-making. They may want to make wines in the image of their icons, assuming they have a similar grape type and terroir. Or they may draw inspiration from others who make wines that are rather unique and individual.

But their answers to this question also give an insight to their palates. One can see by what they like in other peoples’ wines, what they in turn strive for in theirs. It also tells me about their exposure to everything outside of their own cellars.

There are fewer and fewer winemakers these days who do not venture outside of their own region to discover what else the rest of the world is making. But I bet you would still be surprised at the number of winemakers who don’t either have the opportunity to taste other worldly wines, or just don’t see it as all that important.

Frankly, I am confounded at some winemakers’ responses to this simple question. I once asked a winemaker of a very popular Pinot Noir who his favorite producer was, and he simply said “Pommard.” But Pommard is a place, and I asked him which producer. He couldn’t name a single one. I asked him which vineyard, and he couldn’t think of any one of those either. I just had to scratch my head.

Along the same line, I also love to ask winemakers: “If I were to tell anyone drinking your wine one thing about it to help them understand what it is all about, what would that be?”

This seems straightforward, but it is quite often a springboard. Some wine-makers launch into a dissertation on the different aspects and techniques that go into the production of the wine. Others can be more concise, and speak more of style and philosophy. And fewer talk specifically of their vineyard(s) and actual terroir. And believe it or not, there are some winemakers who cite their undying passion and effort to garner high scores.

I also like to ask them about trends. I like to know if they are aware of what is going outside of their own wineries to see if they are leading, following or bucking any trends. It also helps to get an idea of their direction for their own future and their wines. These questions are few, but the answers are as diverse as all of their wines.

Recommendations: 2008 Antica Townsend Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($95) This is the epitome of the iron fist within the velvet glove. It has gorgeous aromatics: perfectly ripe red and black fruit, sweet vanillin, spices, a hint of espresso and mocha. It flows like a tsunami on the palate with an awesome velvety texture and waves of flavors. This isn’t inexpensive, but it’s worth the money – a really dazzling wine (only 400 cases produced.) 2010 Elk Cove Pinot Gris ($14) Zippy and refreshing, this Alsatian-style Pinot Gris is filled with kiwi and Meyer lemon aromas. It is light but round and has a full plethora of fruit flavors that make it downright irresistible.

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