It is hard to separate the two at times. Artists, almost by definition, occupy themselves with their craft because they love it. The tough part is when you try to use that art to make a living; it has a tendency to become less art and more business. Finding the balance is hard, especially if things get tight when bills come along, but that doesn’t mean you cannot accomplish both.
I’ve had two conversations semi-recently, one with a new friend and another with someone I have known for a few years. Both provided arguments for and against the art of winemaking versus the business of winemaking. Here is what both had to say:
Being an artist might not have been why I got into winemaking but it is why I love it so much. Being able to make a living out of it is insane because I get to do what I love and not have to second guess anything. Sure if money was an issue it would be different but people are willing to pay me because I am damn good at my craft. There have been opportunities to move up in the world financially with other winemaking gigs but they didn’t interest me because I would have to give up so much about what I love about winemaking. I would move to a bigger company where I would be more of a cog in the machine striving after ratings instead of just making great wine. I would have to forego my personal winemaking endeavors because they are seen as a “problem” and a conflict of interest. My sole purpose would be to get paid for making great wine. Not to make great wine and get paid for doing so.
There is no reason why you can’t just make a killing in the wine industry financially, especially when you consider the amount of good wine that you can find on the bulk market. You might as well make a “great” small production blend from bulk juice instead of worrying about buying grapes, finding a place to make it, all of the labor involved, buying barrels etc etc. Just buy some juice and blend it. Hell don’t even worry about releasing a “first” vintage. Just tell everyone that you sold out of this awesome wine that know one has ever heard of at hundreds of dollars per bottle. Talk it up, make it viral, get the hype going and line up accounts. Then bottle up that “great” blended wine and release it as a second vintage for some price that makes your margins beyond juicy. All of a sudden you instant demand and people will pay some ridiculous price for it because they think it is going to sell out and you “can’t find it anywhere”. Create a cult wine just like that and collect your paycheck.
Now… they are both right. There are plenty of folks you have done either one of those things and probably quite a few that do both. Mr. Business is talking about a négociant-style program and artificially creating demand to build a brand; taking already made wine from small or large producers that won’t be utilized to build a blend and sell it. People have been doing that for centuries and it is a very quick, easy and pretty affordable way to break into the wine “production” side of things. I have some friends and acquaintances that do just that. The difference is that they are up front about how they do business. They don’t flat out lie to consumers and their cliental. They say that the juice was purchased for the purpose of making “xyz” blend for our label.
I have been in a room with someone, who will remain anonymous, that was using this négociant-style to produce a blend that was in the neighborhood of $150-$225 per bottle. He/she/it were using some “premium vineyards from Napa” to obtain the juice to blend and sell it as this high end luxury wine. To his/her/its credit there was no direct lie about how the wine was made. He/she/it would just leave out where the grapes or juice were coming from and how it was made. My issue started was when the wine sold out when there was still demand for it. Folks still wanted this wine so he/she/it purchased more juice from other “premium vineyards in Napa” to sell more it (and sold it did). It was a very smart business move. It was likely that consumers would never know the difference UNLESS one of them happened to purchase wine from the first round and the second, where there were some decent differences. As I understand it no issues arose but the artist in me saw it as getting away with murder.
He/she/it didn’t care about the “premium vineyard sources” much less the farmers that cultivated those grapes; they just wanted to cash in, which is fine albeit disingenuous in my eyes. I might not agree with that style of business but hey, it works. It did teach me a valuable lesson in finding out where a wine comes and how it was made. It became one of the reasons why I love to geek out about wines. I would rather have specific info regarding the source of the grapes and/or juice AND how it was made but even then you might be working with a tasting room or hospitality person who was given specific tasting notes to read from so that certain things aren’t revealed about how a wine was made or where it really came from. Even writing this post the eternal pessimist in me is yelling, “This whole industry could just be one giant lie!”
Enter Mr. Artist to restore my hope and faith. He agrees with me but in the same light understands the need for folks like that to exist because without Mr. Business, Mr. Art would be irrelevant. You wouldn’t have craft winemaking, brewing, distilling or plenty of other artistic mediums because there would be no one out there pushing the boundaries and doing it for the love of the game. We’d all just be cogs in some winemaking machine. Mr. Business drives Mr. Art to be different and push the boundaries of an industry or artistic medium.
The reality is that neither one of these individuals were incorrect. To me one side seems very disingenuous but the other side probably sees me as wasting my time. It is this ying and yang kind of balance that every industry needs. It is just a matter of deciding which side you want to play it. I always want MTGA to be the genuine, craft production that it currently is. If for some reason I “stray” toward that other side I would want to be up front about it because every wine has it’s purpose. $2 bottles of wine to $200,000 bottles of wine might exist because a lot of art was put into them (necessarily). I just hope that as you move up that scale that the art becomes more and more apparent and meaningful. At the very least I hope whoever buys those high-ticket wines enjoys them because even though a price tag may be hefty that is why that wine was created (hopefully).