Winemaker hopes and dreams
Had coffee yesterday with a winemaker named Darek Trowbridge and his assistant winemaker, Steven Washuta. Darek owns the brand Old World Winery, up in Sonoma County. He’s related to the Martinellis, and founded Old World when he learned that there was no place in that winery for him.
Darek told me he hadn’t put much time or energy into marketing Old World, a mistake he’s now out to rectify. He was describing his dreams and visions, when suddenly it occurred to me that Darek wasn’t just speaking for himself. He was speaking, albeit unwittingly, for an entire generation of young winemakers, men and women who are embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. They’re coming out of V&E school, or perhaps transferring into the wine business from other careers, and entering a field filled with challenges and stress, at possibly the worst time to launch a winemaking career in recent history; but they’re game for anything. I watched Darek’s handsome face as he talked about winemaker dinners, his small distributor in Louisiana, his and Steven’s nascent efforts at social media, people he buys grapes from, the production level he hopes to achieve, and I thought about the many young winemakers I’ve run into lately, from Santa Barbara up through the North Coast. They’re all so hopeful and enthusiastic, so filled with energy and ideas, willing to endure just about anything to realize their dreams. And it struck me that, of all occupations in the world, making wine has got to be the most optimistic.
I’ve been meeting a lot more of these younger winemakers who have been below my radar, after the magazine divided California up into inland and coastal tasters, leaving me freer to sink down into the coast and meet these small, exciting producers. When I put the word out, via my blog, Facebook and personal contacts, that I was in search of this more or less hidden level of winemaking activity, I wasn’t sure what the response would be. In part, I feared that the smaller, younger producers wouldn’t be interested in a print magazine writer reviewing their wines in the traditional way. Because of my experiences writing this blog, I’ve been exposed, and rather strongly, to an anti-magazine attitude out there, on the part of Millennials who feel that everything that needs to be done can and should be done through social media. It wouldn’t have surprised me, then, to learn that a newer generation of winemakers had no interest at all in connecting with me.
Instead, it’s been exactly the opposite. Everywhere I go, people seem interested in making my acquaintance, and I am certainly delighted to make theirs. It’s been reassuring to find out that actual (as opposed to digital) relationships still matter in this business.
I’m going to work very hard at cultivating these new relationships. I want to help these younger, less well known winemakers achieve success. I still get irritated by the snobbery out there on the part of certain sommeliers, writers and, yes, some winery owners, who promote the same old stable of aging elite brands and turn up their noses at everyone else. I was talking just yesterday to a P.R. guy, an old friend, who just got a job with a super-famous Pinot Noir house in Sonoma County. They’d never sent me wines to review. I asked if that could now change. My friend said no, they just don’t send wine to anyone. To no one, I asked? Well, he said, they send to Spectator. I replied, live by Spectator, die by Spectator. It’s so 1990s, so yesterday, such an anachronism in a wine world that’s forward looking and thinking and open to change.
So, to all my new winemaker friends, present and future, here’s looking at you, kids.