. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: Grapes Vs The Winemaker's Hand: Which is More Important?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Grapes Vs The Winemaker's Hand: Which is More Important?

A symbiotic relationship exists between man and vines, where the grape is domesticated by man, and man, in turn is eventually rewarded by the grapes - the care of a human hand is repaid by the grapes the plant produces. The grapes are obviously a key factor in producing a good wine but without the hand of man, the juices will naturally turn to vinegar, which is very good on your salad - a little less tasty in your glass. So, considering the relevance of the two equal, let me ask another question; how important is the grape varietal? I believe that it is important, but that it also has to be appropriate for its environment. I love Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, for example, but if I have land in a warm and dry place, I would most likely not have good results with those grapes, no matter how good of a winemaker I am. So at an early stage, the importance of a man's hand is key. But, it is also true that we have found naturally cross bred grapes like the Caberlot in Veneto and indigenous vines abandoned like the Schioppettino in Friuli that now produce great wines. In these cases, the plants had found their homes by themselves, but needed the care and the patience of man to restore them to health and productivity. The Finca (vineyard in Argentine) Altamira owned by Achaval Ferrer has a story that illustrates that same idea. After a long and strenuous search, the operating partners of the winery came across a little flat in between mountains, at a hight of 1200 m above sea level facing north (in the southern hemisphere the best exposition is north). The flat was inhabited by what appeared to be old abandoned vines, that in few years were brought up to produce perhaps the best Malbec in the world. What happened here is that the men found a hidden treasure (the vines were over 60 years old) that needed restoration and time to recover. Their care, in this case, was repaid by the quality of the final product. So who had more relevance to the final result in this case? The man that brought the vines back to life, and transformed it into a beautiful wine? Or was it the vines, with the complexity and concentration that several decades of life can give? I would say in this case that the input is pretty even. It shows a kind of relationship like the bond between humans and dogs - the man gives the dog care and food and the dog grows loyal and protective of the owner. With wine, the plant produces healthy grapes that the man needs to bottle an exceptional wine that, after sold, will give prosperity and financial security. You might argue that all kinds of vegetables, plants and fruits have that kind of a relationship with their farmer, and I think you would be right. I would add, however, that a grapevine is one plant that needs more care to survive - most trees and plants do not need that much attention. There are also several passages that require the care of man in order to turn grapes into fine wine. Other plants, like olives, do not need that many passages. once they are pressed, voila - olive oil! The grape, on the other hand, becomes must after it's pressed, must which has to be fermented, filtered, fined and cared for, not to mention AGED before it even comes close to the end of its transformation.

It is also enlighting to see how differently the same grape tastes after it is bottled, even if it is coming from the same area. Just think about Burgundy, where 2 adjacent vineyards, owned by the same estate, planted with the same grapes (Pinot Noir in this case) are separated by just a ditch - the grapes result in two dramatically different wines that are differentiated, for a trained nose, just by smelling the glass. That wouldn't happen with, say, potatoes - if they're planted in the same soil, they will not taste different from each other.
So - I think the best answer to the original question is that is that both the grapes themselves and the hands of the winemaker are important, and it is essential that the relationship between the vines and humans stays as balanced as possible, where one cannot exist without the other.
I'll be going on vacation for couple of weeks, and I don't know how good my internet connection will be, so I might be silent for a little while. Also, a reminder - the shop will be closed from august 11th to the 27th.

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

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