The Best Source
By: George Balling
Since we opened our shop, The Dinner Party, nearly 15 years ago now we have always made it our policy to taste with every winemaker, every grape grower and every importer who comes through town on a visit. While it sounds like fun and most times it is, the visits from these folks seems to concentrate in the late fall prior to the holidays and in the spring before summer really gets rolling, which at times adds a work element. It makes perfect sense as these are the times when those who work in the production side of the business have a bit less on their plates.
After all once summer gets going in ernest growers are busy with the crop and the vines. Everything from canopy management to pest control and myriad other issues require daily attention, simply put the lack of attention to the crop involves much financial risk. During my growing season with Balletto Vineyards, John Balletto was gracious to take walks with me through the vineyard from time to time and it was always educational and remarkable all that he paid attention to. It shows, he is one of the premier growers in California for just that reason his attention to detail.
Once we get to harvest, growers and winemakers alike work non-stop making certain the crop is in the right spot for all they have worked all season to accomplish with their wine. The logistical “juggling act” only intensifies their activity level as harvest rarely runs at a nice comfortable pace and on an organized schedule. So, we completely understand why they come to visit when they do.
This institutional knowledge of everything that goes into every bottle of every vintage across every varietal is also why we take the opportunity to taste with every one of them when they come through town. They are simply put, the best source for every nugget of intel on their wines. Information about wine is everywhere, but that true knowledge is very rare, and winemakers, growers and importers are those who always have it, and they are gracious to share it.
They as a group are our “go to” for this column many weeks and our most valuable source when we are deciding which wines to include in our wine club, on our shelves and in our wine specials. They explain better than anyone why a wine is what it is and how it got there. They are able to explain all the nuance far better than I can, and the best at it explain it in a way that is completely understandable, for most all wine consumers.
This simple truth is also why, when we host tastings here at the shop or wine dinners with any of our partner businesses that we always do our level best to have winemakers and grape growers at the events. It’s not always realistic for the reasons we talked about above, there are times of the year that getting these folks away from “their day jobs” just won’t work. Even then we always work to have winery folks here who have the real knowledge not just information.
Over the years we have forged wonderful relationships with so many wine producers we some times lose track of how many friends we have both in the grower and winemaker communities. That is until we have a question about one of their wines. I am always in awe of the memory skills on display when I ask about a specific varietal from a certain vineyard and an exact vintage. The answer almost always comes back with a detailed explanation of why the wine I inquired about tastes like I taste it and exhibits an identifiable set of characteristics. The best then go further and explain the list of decisions made with the wine and why they were made, and how that impacted the final product that hits our glass.
We look forward to more visits with those we know and those we have yet to meet to learn what goes into the wines we all enjoy and we remain committed to bringing every grape grower, winemaker and winery owner to town for all of you to garner the same level of knowledge we get from them. As a group they are the best source.