Sleight of Hand

sleightofhand.jpgToday there are key words that wine writers love; gravity-flow, indigenous yeast, low-yields and on-and-on. Key words are great for writers, but have little to do with the realities of making wine. Good winemakers are quick to spot problems and deal with them in the best way possible. Often these solutions do not meet the idealistic simplicity of right and wrong that most wine journalists push. However, they can make better wine. Using the advances in winemaking knowledge in a judicious way is not always some evil sleight of hand. Like most things it’s not only what you do, but how you do it that matters. Good winemakers have to think on their feet and react quickly to what nature has dealt them otherwise they’ll have a lot of wine that has to be poured down the drain. Consumers need to taste with their own palate, if the wine is good it’s good. Like most things, modern winemaking techniques are not simple black and white issues, but provide a full menu of solutions that can be both used and misused. For example, Luca Currado, the fine winemaker at Vietti in Barolo, abandoned his experiment with roto-fermenters for obvious reasons, but he kept just one “for emergencies”. While roto-fermenters destroy the character of good vintages, in a bad vintage he can use it to help improve his wines. No, they won’t be great wines, but they’ll still be very good if Luca decides to put his label on then. Yes, even the evil roto-fermenter can have its place when used by thoughtful hands in the face of disaster. Good winemaking is never a simple recipe to be followed, but must be adapted to new situations with each vintage. Today’s best winemakers use what could be called a minimalist philosophy, in other words they do as little as possible to their wines, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do something when it needs to be done. It’s unfortunate that the wine press, whose simplicity shows their ignorance of what it takes to make great wine, has made winemakers afraid to talk about  anything that is not seen as politically correct winemaking. This makes them seem like they are using some kind of ethical sleight of hand, when, in fact, what they are doing is giving us better wines to drink.