While minimalist has become an overused catch-word for many a winemaker, it does mean something. Many wine journalists with minimal understanding of what minimal winemaking means now ridicule winemakers who make such a claim as using a trite phrase with no meaning. However, minimalist does mean something to those who practice it even if the journalists don’t understand and over-romanticize the concept.
I guess there are two types of minimalist winemakers: one group that follows some holistic recipe and the other group that does as little to a wine as nature will allow. Too many wine journalists, with a naive understanding of what it takes to make both great and very good wine think that minimalist winemaking is only the former and that those who practice the second as hypocrites using the phrase for its marketing impact. There is often the view that those that follow their holistic winemaking recipe every year, no matter the vintage, are somehow more natural, but this not the case. The fact of the matter is these “idealists” often make faulted wines that are well reviewed by writers that can’t tell the difference between funk and terroir.
Minimalist winemaking should be defined as those that do as little as possible to a wine, but that will intervene with the most natural, unobtrusive solutions available when a wine is about to become dreck. Any winemaker that lets their wine become undrinkable swill because of vineyard or cellar problems is irresponsible and perhaps even incompetent. Unfortunately there are many famous names that fall into this category and get away with it.
As these two minimalist paintings demonstrate you can be either energetic or monochromatic within the idiom. A winemaker must make the same choice, but, as in the painting above, to add color and perspective does not mean you are not a minimalist artist. You do not have to paint your canvas in only one color to be a minimalist winemaker. The wine press wants the winemaker who uses only plain gray techniques to be called minimalist, but this is an ignorant position taken by those who have learned about winemaking from books instead of in the cellar.
A winemaker should let wine make itself only when capable of doing so. When that is not the case they have to live up to their name and make the wine.