~In the vernacular of the nineteen fifties, television offered America the Little Ole Winemaker, a jolly man with a singsong voice and a nice pair of lederhosen. He was supposed to represent winemaking at Italian Swiss Colony Wines, one of the largest operations in California back then.
~Surely, the old man was a marketing ploy. Italian Swiss Colony had long before shed its Old World immigrant roots. It had become part of Louis Petri’s United Vintners, which also owned Inglenook in the nineteen fifties.
~In fact, it was those Little Old Winemaker television ads that helped bring Italian Swiss Colony wines across the nation.
~Those winery names don’t mean as much these days as they did back then, but the idea of a little old man making personalized styled wines ain’t dead yet—just read the back label.
~I wish someone would hire me to write wine back labels; some of the stuff is truly sadly done, from the hokey concepts to the special wine industry grammar that often defies the English language.
~Alas, I may never get the chance to be one of those back label writers; I write mainly nonfiction!
~The little old man on the many back labels still produces wine with the family tradition as his guide. He grows only the finest grapes, picks them at their peak of ripeness, gently crushes them as if they were his infant children needing a loving squeeze, and then watches over them day and night, like they really are his children.
~By the time he gets the wines into the bottle, the old man must feel as if he is sending his kids off to college—but when these kids leave they bring money in, not take it away.
~In truth, few of those little old winemakers exist these days, especially in California, where it costs more per acre of prime land than it would to buy a small country. Most of the family wineries that have survived are either part of a bigger company or quite big themselves; and any remaining little old winemakers likely have blackberries with them in the vineyard, to give and receive information from their multiple properties, some of which are tended by robot-like computers and then, at harvest, are picked by the robot’s offspring.
~In the winery, the old winemaker doesn’t need to get up in the middle of the night any longer to make sure that the red wine fermenting cap is punched down. The vineyard computer’s cousin likely takes care of that kind of activity now, just as sure as the computer takes care of a lot of the winemaking processes from pressure during pressing to temperature control while in tanks.
~Even the bottling line, which often was the final purview of human wine production intervention, is almost on automatic control.
~It’s nice to think of the idyllic life of a vintner, and idyll may still be an accurate description for some winemaking, but it isn’t exactly an accurate description for most wine production.
~The idea of a dedicated old man hunching over his oak barrels in the wee hours of the morning to make sure that we get the very best in wine quality sells just like the words “natural” and “organic.” But wine is often about big money; if you don’t believe it, read below about the money recently spent on the Charles Krug Winery.
~I snicker at some of the back label gibberish, but I suppose I am equally captured by the idea of a dedicated person giving singular personal attention to his (or her) wines. That’s why I still read back labels and that’s why I still search for such wineries. They exist, but generally they will be found these days in unlikely places, perhaps in the 46 United States that are not part of the top four wine producing states in the country. (I hear some of them indeed exist in NAPA—see the link below.)
~One other type of winery that gets my attention is the one that thinks about the environment. It may not be obvious, but beyond the potential pollution of the environment through grape growing, wineries are major water and energy users. That’s why the story in the GREEN link below makes me perk up.
~One day I'll get to write that back label. Who knows, maybe when I do I'll wrap myself up in the idyllic and forget reality? That could be nice.
NOTE: This will be my last entry for September. I am going to be traveling. I’m scheduled to return in early October and am aiming to make the next VinoFictions entry around October 6.
Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
September, 2007. All Rights Reserved.