This is a copy of an article I wrote for East Coast Wineries, but I post it again here for my fellow Hudson Valley winemakers.
Over the last several years I have found myself saying over and over again to winemakers up and down the east coast – Do me one favor. Make one good barrel. No, it means more than that, but in its essence, it means everything.
There is a simplicity about what I am saying that you have to let seep in. One good barrel.
Small boutique wineries are about passion. I am asking winery owners to show me their passion. To show all of us their passion. I want them to make the best damn bottle of wine they can make. And I am only asking for one barrel.
Make one good barrel means this – make one barrel where you use every best practice you’ve ever heard of, no matter the cost, for that one barrel of wine.
Each winery needs one barrel to show how great it can be. It needs to set a stake out there – for itself and its customers.
It starts in the vineyard, where all great wine starts. Pick a few rows, pick a small block, your best block, and make sure each plant gets touched 8-10 times a season. Hedge, leaf pull, weed, drop lots of fruit, make them look like topiary. I always tell people who ask, as you’re driving in, if the vines look manicured, you’re usually in for great wine. Big, bushy, weedy….that’s pretty much how the wine will taste.
Sort. I hate sorting. Sorting is a bitch. As if harvest is not long enough, sorting makes it all seem like it’s happening in slow motion while the clock spins wildly out of control. It’s expensive, time consuming, and goes on and on like it will never end. No green berries. No berries that aren’t mature and tremendous. Ideal fruit. Like out of a Caravaggio painting.
Once the wine is in the barrel. Test it. Send it out for testing. Make copious notes so you can follow them next year.
Oak. If you’re going to oak, do me a favor, make it a slightly older barrel –NOT A NEW ONE. You only use new oak for large batches where the wine will be blended into a larger unoaked batch, or where you have swapped out wine time and again after short periods. No one wants to taste your new barrels. You want to taste barrels, go to your local furniture store and lick a dining room set. Subtle. Enough oak for structure, for correction, roundness, but not for featuring.
Aging. In neutral oak or stainless steel. Don’t rush this wine. Top the barrels and let them sit in a corner of your place. And every time you stick a wine thief in it, make sure you top it off and close it back up properly.
It's very rare that your best bottle will be a single varietal. Forget the varietals. Make a blend wherein each of the components will make up for the other. Make something mature and complex and mysterious. A blend will help you make the best wine. Sure, one can dominate, but blend.
Bottle age it. Everyone winery owner I know hates to see aging inventory sitting on the warehouse floor. It’s their money just sitting there. Screw your courage to the sticking place and let it sit three to six months.
Why? Why all this hassle? This pontificating? This winemaking and enology from an idiot like me? I am no winemaker. That part was for the consumer, so they know what goes into making a great bottle of wine. That’s why it costs so freakin’ much!!!
Now, the next part is for the winemakers.
As a consumer, I need YOU to make ME a GREAT bottle of wine. The best bottle of wine you can make. I need a wine I can pour right next to the best….from anywhere. Because each winery deserves one best barrel. Charge whatever you have to for it. Don’t be afraid to make it expensive. Don’t be afraid to put an expensive label on it. It’s great wine!! Great wine costs money. Whether it’s from California, France, Italy, Germany, or New Jersey, great wines cost more, because they cost more to make. Don’t worry, you will sell it. People like me who go to wineries, by and large, like great wine. And we’ll pay for it. Make it more expensive than your other wines by $10? Don’t worry. If it’s good, I’ll buy a bottle. I always do.
Don’t want to pour chateau wine for the masses? Fine. Charge an extra tasting fee for those wines. You deserve it. We will pay it. And yes, you will sell the wine. I guarantee it.
More importantly, the east coast needs it. As the world wine market gets more competitive, your wine needs to improve. I say this especially to my east coast brethren. Each winery needs one good barrel. To enter into competitions. To send to magazines and writers to review. To taste in your tasting room.
If each winery on the east coast made one great barrel of wine each – the single best barrel they could make, period, showing their terroir, their winemaking skills, their passion - imagine what could be accomplished? Imagine what you could show the world? But the same goes for every region. And there are many competing ones rising. Niagara in Canada and now on the US side as well. Croatia’s best wines are as good as any I have tried. Washington. Oregon. Michigan. New York. Virginia. Hungary. And the marketing between the big regions is getting more intense.
One thing always trumps everything else. One good barrel trumps all the other press you will try to garner.
If each region, or breaking it down, each wine trail, if each of their members made their one good barrel, and you poured only them at a wine tasting, how well would that go? Imagine what could you accomplish together? What could that mean for a wine region’s reputation? Bloggers would buzz. It’s a catapult.
Then consumers would get what we deserve. Great wine. And the winemakers would get what they deserve. Recognition.
The reward. You made one great barrel. Then what? Can it be done again next year? Can you improve it? And then can you make a different wine with the same intense effort? And then you had two great barrels. And we’ll buy both wines.
Lastly – don’t sell all your wine!! I am amazed how many wine makers sell out their last bottle. They are always so happy. Ugh! From your bottling, always take two or three cases and put them away. How does your good barrel taste a year out? Two years out? Three? Now you can charge a fee for all those case club members who want to do a vertical tasting of your one good barrel. Because it’s exciting to see great winemaking on display! We’ll gladly pay and taste. It’s something special.
Make one good barrel. Make it your best. We consumers will pay for it. We’ll drink it. We’ll buy more.
Let me ask winemakers a simple question – if you’re not doing this already, and a good deal are – how can you afford not to make one good barrel?