At the symposium, The Art of Balance, Cool Climate/Maritime Wines in a Global Context, the globe was evident. The subject of an international style came up, with derision, and hints were made at competition in the market place. European winemakers sat side-by-side with American counterparts and all spoke passionately, reverently, irreverently and specifically about their creations — wine, a product, beverage and art form that more than any other commodity envelopes all that is good with the world. The subject of wine brings up history, science, culture, economics, politics, marketing, relationships and pleasure.
Yet as many decry the parkerization of wine and its growing hegemony, sitting in the audience at Stony Brook University’s Southampton Campus, I found little reason to worry, because each of those who spoke had a different idea of how wine should be made. Some were idealistic, some were practical yet all described their goal differently.
Alessio Dorigo, maker of the eponymous wine from the Fruili region of Italy, said 15 times, if he said it once, that he wanted to make wine with personality. To achieve this intangible result he listed his rootstocks, the names of his preferred yeasts and offered a bubble graph that pinpointed, with as much precision as the definition of a good personality, “wines to sell.”Wines to sell fell in the overlap of three ovals, each labeled “wines you can do,” “wines you like” and “wines you can sell.”
Gunter Kunstler, the scion of a winemaking family in the Rheingau, where the land has been under vine for more than 2,000 years, showed slides of the holes he dug two meters deep in his vineyards to analyze the soil so he could, among other things, tell his customers total true information. “Then they believe you, so they come back,” he said. All this is done because, he said 15 times if he said once, you “must get better.”
Katia Alvarez, who makes wine from the albarino grape in Rias Baixias, overcame a significant language barrier to impress the audience with the amount of research her company, Martin Codex, has done to elevate — and sell — their variety. Any market research was not presented, but the charts of rainfall, soil composition, trellising trials and aromatic studies showed focus on one grape in one region.
Steve Clifton from Santa Barbara County in California showed slides of his vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills where fog covers the land until 1 p.m. everyday when the warm current from the south blows off the previous night’s cool current, which had become trapped on the southside of the only east-west running mountains in the state of California. This not only gives him cool nights that preserve acid, but also creates a nearly 10-month long growing season, which produces wines with high alcohol and high acidity.
“This is where I make wine,” he said. “I love making wine here.”
Pascal Jolivet makes wine in Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. He talked about natural winemaking and blending the wines from vines from three different soils — clay, flint and chalk — to make wine in his style. When asked if he makes wine differently for different markets, he replied with the gallic blend of hauteur and matter-of-factness “It’s our job to impose our style.”
Needless to say, all the above speakers (I had to leave to go to work before I could hear Eric Fry of Long Island and Jacques Lurton of Bordeaux) are successful. And in Clifton’s case, someone to whom the raters have been exceptionally kind.
And does Parkerization exist? Yes, I believe it does. And has Parker and the “international style” influenced the market place and created a sea of similar wines? Yes, it has. But hasn’t wine consumption in the U.S. increased? And didn’t Wonder Bread just go out of business? Sooner or later all comestibles hit a point of homogenity. And so surface the those who never bought in, and those who wish to buy out are created.
We can argue about terrior, and the panels did, and whether minerality is something created in the vineyard or in the winery or whether it exists at all, but when people who make wine are asking, like Thomas Lazlo of Heron Hill Winery in the Finger Lakes “Does the character of the man change the wine or the character of the wine change the man,” and when Mr. Kunstler says a wine bottle has a lot of love in it, I just smile. Parkerization is a bugaboo; it’s a concept to sell books; it’s a good thing; it’s a bad thing; it’s a globe thing. But the globe is made of a lot of small parts, and that’s where love and innovation can surpass factory farming and static acid levels.
It’s just another story people use to sell wine or their ideas. And speaking of stories, Long Island needs one. Or better yet, a movie. Since what Steve Clifton called a kind of crappy movie with characters he didn’t even like came out, he says he no longer has to explain that they grow grapes in Santa Barbara.