Credit for the winemaker?

Wijnmakers behoren niet allen tot dezelfde categorie. Er zijn er die in opdracht werken en wijnen maken die de familie of het bedrijf dicteert. Of die maken waar de supermarkt het meeste omzet mee boekt. En er zijn onafhankelijken, die de wijn maken die zij zelf voor ogen hebben. Wine-Searcher dook erin en vraagt zich af wat de persoon onderscheidt van de vakman.

 

 

´Winemakers get way too little recognition for what they do. In the cellar, they are generally loathed by the crew actually doing the work, because of their repeated ability to extend and complicate even the simplest task. they are at best tolerated by loved ones for being absent three months of the year; they are generally trained, skilled and possessed of a decent to exceptional palate; they control a budget; they have to deal with staff; they have to deal with the board; they travel, host; they do public relations ; take their work home; they take all the flack; they sometimes get to take the credit.

But what is the relationship between the winemaker as symbol and the winemaker as person?

 

We don't know if another winemaker would have done a better job in the same circumstances. Maybe, maybe not. The wine before you is a fait accompli, if you will. One can proclaim that no-one could have done a better job on x wine in y harvest, but that almost says more about the person praising than the winemaker.

 

Who makes it?

And then there's the person himselve. Take some of the big-name regisseurs/regisseuses (winemaker-managers) in Bordeaux, people who are basically sub-brands of the wineries and their owners in their own well-deserved right. Is it the person or the brand or the employee who made the the wine before you? Is it the wo/man who goes home to potter about in the garage or mend the hull on the dinghy? Or is it the wo/man who takes home their (well-earned) wages from the luxury marque? Are they indivisible (do they get share options)?

Is the wo/man responsible for making any large volume, successful supermarket brand, making the wine she or he would want to make, or are they making it for the market, or for their bosses, or for some or all of those reasons? When they taste the lineup of addition trials on the laboratory bench, what's in the back of their mind: what they like, what the market will like, what the critics will like? How do they decide on the appropriate addition? How much of what winemakers do is protocol anyway – remember, it's the terroir makes the wine, right? Thus if we say "kudos" to them for this wine, how much – if any – of them, their true self (if there is such a thing), is in it?

As an aside – and somewhat ironically – the likes of Roederer's chef de cave Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon probably have the hardest job, keeping wines to a regular pattern, year-in, year-out. I know it's Non-Vintage Champagne, but it's like baking the same cake with half of what's in your pantry and half of what you trust a random neighbor to bring you each time.

 

Kudos or bravo

Moving on, one can take another tangent and ask if we're apportioning classy winemaker status only to those who work in classy appellations or who already have an established reputation: imagine our top Bordeaux winemakers were transposed into Languedoc-Roussillon without any of their current reputation, would we be using words like "kudos" or "bravo" when talking about them and their Cabardes or their Costieres de Nimes? Would they have the profile they have right now? Course not. Sure, we say some wines are gems of the region, but rarely does Marianne Lebuveur or Jean-Michel Piquette get namechecked for their efforts.
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Are we praising the person themselves and their abilities; are we praising the employee of a company for doing her or his job; are we praising their ability to please us? How do we know what wines one winemaker would make if completely free of responsibilities to the board, responsibilities to the market, the pressures of their peers (this latter is a factor, especially in natural wine circles)? In other words, we can't be sure that the winemaker we praise wouldn't have made a completely different wine to the one we like if left completely to her or his own devices. Le vrai Slim Shady, pourrait-il se lever?

That doesn't mean winemakers should not get any credit. Ypou just could be strucked by the possibility of someone out there getting "kudos" for making a wine they themselves don't like. It must be akin to an actor realizing for the first time they are being typecast´.