With the immense amount of technology that the wine world has at its fingertips there is a plethora, nay cornucopia, of avenues to take when it is time to make wine. With harvest around the corner it is always interesting to see how production methods or ideas evolve. Every year there is something to be learned or improved upon. The caveat is that with so many options it is easy to get bogged down and end up on the manufacturing side of making wine rather than maintaining the art of winemaking.
I am a firm believer that winemaking is 60% cleaning shit, 40% art and 10% science (or somewhere around there). For those of you who have worked in a cellar you know that nearly two thirds of the time you are cleaning stuff and the other third or so is actual winemaking. Not to discount cleanliness, because it is extremely important, but it is what we spend the most time doing. The art of winemaking is much more subtle and the science is largely there to be the framework.
At a certain point the science can take over. If you are making an immense amount of wine (tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of cases) you can’t cut any corners to make your wine but it can become more of a recipe. Producers in that echelon generally have to ensure that they maintain a very particular profile in their wines. Vintage variation becomes more of a problem than an interesting characteristic. On the small scale you also want to ensure that you have a similar flavor profile but there is more wiggle room. There has to be consistency and a clear path from one vintage to the next but a slight variation isn’t all bad.
Having really started MTGA with the 2010 and 2011 vintages it was weird getting into the “normal” hot and dry growing season of 2012. That said I feel like there is a clear evolution and consistency from one to the next. Now that a fourth vintage is going to be released this fall I am excited to do some vertical tastings to ensure that that is the case.
Anyway, the reality is that there isn’t really a wrong to to go about making wine. Well, there is but that usually means you are out of business right quick. It really depends on what style of business you are looking to dive into. For the small production side of things you might have all the cool tech-y gadgets that allow you to make wine from the comfort of your own home using an iPad. You might be on the other end of the spectrum where a macro bin with manual punchdowns is about as high-tech as it gets. Frankly I am a fan of the latter but to each their own.
I still have my numbers and science to back up what I am doing but they are very much a guideline rather than the end all be all. The numbers give me a good indicator of what to keep an eye on. When it comes to the production side of things I feel like I have more flexibility to ensure the wine ends up where I want it to be. As a small producer you can twist more knobs and push more buttons that make extremely tiny but oh-so-important changes to the process. If you rely to much on the science the wine starts to homogenize to everyone else who is putting their focus on the science side of winemaking. You still have that whole terroir thing “x-factor” of the facility and winemaker but if you start to standardize and control more variables the less variable your wine becomes.
Again, there is no right or wrong answer. You can probably find complexity or quality in either camp. In the no frills camp though you find both plus a little something extra.