Last November, I took my Level 1 Introductory Course with the Court of Master Sommeliers. As is the case with almost everything I do, I did it because I felt intrigued and drawn. Something about wine was calling my name, other than its general deliciousness. Writing about wine may seem like a bit of a departure from what I've been up to, but actually I had a truly great aha moment that brought several threads together.
The single most important thing I learned about wine is this:
If you ask it, the wine will reveal itself to you.
It's made to reveal itself to you. But you must ask and you must know how to listen. That's what winemaking and wine tasting are all about. Wine is, in fact, about storytelling and our relationship to the earth.
The wine tells its story visually (brightness, concentration, color, rim variation, and tears), through smell (intensity, age, fruit, organic wood, and earth), through flavor (fruit, organic earth, and wood), through structure (sweetness, bitter, tannin, acid, alcohol, body, texture, balance, length/finish, and complexity). Ultimately it reveals which part of the world it's from, its grape variety, country and region of origin, quality, and vintage. The wine is in direct relationship with its makers and the place from which it came, and is designed to reveal its story to you. What beauty.
It's like living, evolving, organic poetry.
"The Earth has her own erogenous zones -- a few places of harmonic convergence, where every facet of the vineyard and every nuance of the grape fit together like chromosomes on a DNA helix. In these rare places, grapes and ground are transformed into thrilling wine.
Vit, the Latin root of the word viticulture, is also the source of vita - life itself.
During the last three decades of sweeping technological advancement, wine-making -- not viticulture, the science of grape-growing -- has often claimed most of our attention. But if machines have sometimes seemed more sexy than dirt, it is only because in the history of wine, dirt has been a constant while machines are fascinatingly new. No thinking winemaker anywhere, however, would suggest that a vineyard plays any less important a role in wine than a mother does in the birth of her child."
- The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil
The history of wine is one of human resilience, celebration of life, and adventure. Wherever travelers landed and could make wine, they planted vines and made wine. And wherever vineyards were destroyed by war and pestilence, people replanted and started anew. Winemaking dates back to the ancient world, and has been created from at least the Neolithic Era through today.
"Fermentation and civilization are inseparable."
- John Ciardi, American Poet
There's a process and a great, slow reveal here. It's a dance and an art and a celebration. A ceremony and a business. A partnership and a conversation. It's about time and healing and sunshine and all the small things. Every sip unveils the journey. And in its greatness we find distinct character, integration, expressiveness, complexity, and connectedness.