For decades I’ve been enjoying wines from Cahors, Madiran, Sardegna, Corsica, the Languedoc, Provence, Puglia, Romagna, Sicilia, Marche, Campania, Calabria, Basilicata and on and on. Delicious wines crafted to bring pleasure to your life - to make it better. Now I’m making wine in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon and it feels good to be part of that club.
So many winemaking regions aspire to be Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne - and now Napa because that’s where the big money and points are, but, as famous and expensive as they are, they are not where the soul of wine is to be found. Just a few decades ago you were not likely to find the wines from Cahors and the other regions I mentioned above, and their many cousins, outside of the regions where they were produced, but today they’re almost everywhere. I'm aspiring to join them.
There are certain pleasures and freedoms in making wine in a no-name appellation from varieties never likely to become fighting varietals. First among those freedoms is the privilege of taking real risks that have the potential to make your wines better. First among those pleasures is being able to sell your wines at a moderate price - in making wines people can afford to drink.
When you have no star power there are no multi-million dollar auctions with celebrities, no obsessed collectors willing to pay (or actually hoping to pay) outrageous sums for the privilege to possess a few bottles. There are only people looking to enjoy your wines with friends and family. To pull a cork from a bottle of your wine with anything from a Wednesday night cheeseburger to a special birthday party with friends. There is no ceremony when your corks are pulled as everyone is just having too good of a time with each other.
There is something that really feels good about making wine for, well, people.
As pretentious and high-profile as expensive wine imbibing can be, most of the world’s wines are industrial plonk, nothing more than beverage alcohol. Our big wine stores are full of these wines. You go to a grocery store and there is row upon row of chardonnays (or cabernet or merlot or pinot noir), but in reality, they are all more-or-less the same wine. In fact, sometimes they literally are the same wine despite sporting different labels. The truth is in the world of wines the ones that offer the most pleasure, individuality and affordability are the bottles from places you may not have heard of, not from the names that are famous for being powerful brands or for being objects of desire for those with unlimited funds.
In-between the plonk and the pretense is real wine. I am not talking about cheap wine here. These are wines the sell from about $15 to about $50. They are expensive wines for the majority of wine drinkers and they have a right to expect something made with integrity and passion. These are unknown emotions in industrial wines and surprisingly rare in expensive ones. It’s not about funny labels or big points, it’s about bringing pleasure into people’s lives.
Now the Applegate Valley is not Madiran or Sardegna or places like that that have had decades, if not centuries, to understand their soils and varieties. These places know who they are and we are still learning. However, these older regions are now making far better wines than they did a few decades ago due to advances in viticulture and enology. We’re very lucky as they had to wait for generations to take advantage of this knowledge and we get to use it all right now. We can improve our wines more quickly as we stand on the shoulders of giants.
Why are we focused on varieties like vermentino, tannat and malbec? It’s simple. These are the right varieties for our soils and climate and they make better wines than easier to sell choices like pinot or cabernet. You have to make a choice. To me, it’s an easy one. If you want to bring real pleasure to peoples lives your wines have to have personalities as interesting as the people that drink them.
What makes a wine great? New oak, power, price, big bottles, wood cases and fame? Not anymore. Maybe thirty years ago there was a wide gap between a few famous place names and the rest of the wines produced, which were often no more than rustic country wines for locals. This is no longer true. The gap has not only closed, but today those once rustic country wines can actually surpass the old guard in quality.
It’s a new world of wine. I’m glad to be part of it. In-between the plonk and the pretense is real wine - real wine, real life, real pleasure.
Drink it up.