Hire the Expert
By: George Balling
If you need a job done, and want it done right hiring the expert almost always makes sense, in any arena. Just last week we needed some work done at our home getting television and related wiring put behind the walls and components moved. In this time of a hectic real estate market and many new folks coming to the area many contractors have more work than they know what to do with. We got a referral for Meyer Home Theatre a newer local contractor. It was a great referral, he was fast, efficient and reasonably priced. The job came out perfectly.
So, right now you are asking, “What the heck does this have to do with wine?” Like any other industry or business, and wine is a business, winemakers and wineries become expert in certain things. Working in their appellation of origin they get to know the terroir, that set of soil, weather and other less tangible conditions that make that area special. The best winemakers are driven by passion and that passion comes through in every bottle they produce. It comes through in winemaking style, in varietal selection, and even in where they choose to “put down roots”. These passions in the best winemakers and grape growers drive expertise. For those passion driven folks, they work diligently to know all they can about what they are working with.
Expertise is also developed from going through many vintages. The best winemakers and grape growers adjust their approach and style to the uniqueness of each growing year. Weather throughout the growing season throws many variables at the wine industry and the best at it understand they must adjust their crop and production style to what each year offers and what each year takes away. This experience driven expertise is invaluable.
What we are getting at is it is highly unlikely that you will find one winery or winemaker who is great at everything. My good friend Dan Cederquist who I worked with at Balletto Vineyards told me one time that, “Chardonnay is the easiest grape to make into wine”. In my opinion Dan is a Chardonnay master, his wines are always perfectly balanced, and they show all that Chardonnay can be. I would suggest though that not all winemakers feel the same about the varietal. Dan’s ease with Chardonnay is driven by his expertise with Chardonnay.
Many winemakers will agree that Pinot Noir is one of the most challenging grapes to deal with. It likes very specific climatic conditions, the same conditions that can potentially destroy the grapes. It is why you see the great winemakers of Pinot Noir huddled together in small specific areas. The Willamette Valley of Oregon, the Russian River valley and Sonoma Coast in Sonoma County, parts of Santa Barbara, Burgundy in France and other areas are specifically well suited for growing this most finicky of varietals. The experts, those who are really good at making Pinot Noir have all gravitated to these areas and have honed their expertise for crafting lovely silky fruit laden Pinot Noir. Conversely, you won’t find many trying to do the same in Walla Walla. Too hot, too dry and the experts know it is not where you grow and make Pinot Noir.
If you have a specific varietal, style of winemaking, or terroir you are looking for in a bottle whether it be for a special occasion or just your everyday enjoyment your best bet will always be to hire the expert. Take the time to seek out the winemaker who is really good at what you enjoy most. You will no doubt identify your favorites that will become your go tos, understanding that a winemaker who is good at everything, may just be a “unicorn”.
Equally important it best to avoid the one offs that come out of a winery or winemaker known for one thing but for whatever reason they decide to take a crack at something new and different. Winemakers like anyone will try new things and get good at them. This is not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to someone who is a master at a specific varietal from a region he or she knows well, but gets offered some grapes and decides to make something completely new to them. Exciting for sure but also there is some risk, and for consumers most times it will likely make sense to hire the expert in the wine they are pursuing right then.
Wine will always be passion driven both for producer and consumer, learning which winemakers are the real experts at their chosen craft will result in you as a consumer getting great bottles, for your palette most of the time.