If the purpose of life's journey is to gradually invent oneself from cradle to grave, the identity of a vigneron presents a challenge to that ideal. For those unfamiliar, vigneron is a French term which has no English equal. Winegrower comes pretty close. A vigneron plants and farms an estate while also crafting and bottling wines from each successive vintage. Soup to nuts. Kit and caboodle.
The "genius" of a wine estate lies in the ability to maintain excellence, not to annually re-invent transcendental fruit and therefore wines. I would posit that it is a relatively monotonous existence to be a vigneron. This is not to say it is soulless, on the contrary. I personally find the duality of artisanal and agricultural life to be deeply spiritually rewarding. It is however formulaic and in that sense a somewhat static existence. I welcome opinions to the contrary, but the process of farming, fermentation and élevage involve the basic unwavering scientific processes of ripening, fermentation and integration. There are a great many other details that vary from cellar to cellar, but there are clear limits to the exploratory potential of farming and producing. It is also significant that for the most part, oenophiles prefer consistency, not existential grape-juice vision quests.
There are of course exceptions to every rule and I am lured yet again into what many consider to be winemaking’s parallel universe: music.
The creme de la creme of music is widely considered to be classical. To that end, opera is classical music’s most widely lauded vessel. Staging and wardrobe may be fluid throughout the ages, but the formula, the music and the libretto, remain consistent. The art form has been perfected, the score is the law and deviation is not acceptable.
On the flip side of that coin is popular music, blessed with endless creative options both within compositions and throughout the lifetime of the artist. Genres are invented regularly and the scope of popular music is essentially infinite.
One can argue that winemaking has endless explorative possibilities, with over 10,000 different grape varietals, undiscovered terroir and new methodology helping to perfect and develop our craft every harvest.
To summarize this rant, I m surmising that Grand Cru and Opera may well be synonymous. There are absolute rules to greatness that consumers reward with loyalty.
As far as popular music, we have entered into a realm where “rock star winemaker” is actually a term. These winemakers often employ cutting edge techniques to farm, process, ferment, age and market wines with intent to cultivate a fan base of wine-club devotees.
I am proud to mention that my dear friend and mentor Justin Smith of Saxum is being honored as Winemaker of the Year in Paso Robles. I think they ought to just make him a damn statue and make this a permanent distinction. He always encouraged us to develop a wine brand that spoke both our individuality and the fundamental principles rooted in terroir. Classical and popular musics dancing together so to speak. To throw the conventions and limitations of tradition out the window while keeping one foot firmly in the vat of the worlds greatest wine estates.
Rock me Amadeus.