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Understanding the Unspoken
NM: You mentioned that the vineyard speaks to you. I think that's actually what everything you've described hinges on, this dialogue between you and the vines. In your own words, what is the message that the vines are giving you?
JM: While I don't really take it as they're literally speaking to me, I do feel it; I feel my surroundings. I think when the vines are happy or in tune with you, you're harmonized with them — or whatever plants or trees it may be, whatever your passion is. You can get a sense of balance out there: are these things too vigorous or are they struggling? You can feel it when you're amongst them.
KM: It is a silent communication. A big advantage he has is that Justin walks the fields and he knows what's going on in all the different corners, what the rows are doing, what the hillsides are doing. He's always out there, whether on the four-wheeler or actually walking.
JM: Plus, I was born and raised on it as a little kid. I spent years working on all the bad areas of dirt and the good areas; you get a real sense of falling into sync with what's going on around you. And like Karen is saying, a lot of farmers use a lot of tools to measure things like weather data, soil moisture, leaf temperature — there's all sorts of information they can pull off a vineyard to know whether or not to do something. But a lot of that is fear-based.
KM: It's a matter of intuition. But human beings have been taught to not trust intuition. Here, we make our wines, as Justin explained, very intuitively: we extend things out, let it be, trust that it's going to be okay, and let the wine speak back to us.
JM: Of course, there are definitely boundaries that you don't want to let it fall out of. There are certain things you definitely don't do. But there's a style of taste and aromatics, and a feel for things like punching down, aerating, and trying to pull different flavors and components out of the fruit for that vintage. I feel you can make wine in a bazillion different styles and different ways; it comes down to personality.
NM: I want to acknowledge and perhaps even deconstruct what I hear you saying: your philosophy, not only in the making of wine but also in living life in general, is to practice looking inwardly to best understand what's going on outwardly. That's inherently non-empirical. And there is a lot of people, especially in the practice of making wine, who would have a problem with that kind of thinking. They may feel that modern winemaking has moved away from that sort of thing because it can open up problems, due its lack of control and precision, and makes the process vulnerable to the entropy of nature. How would you respond to those naysayers?
JM: That's a big question. It's the same for me, looking up at the solar system at night: "Wow, what is all that?" We're really just a finite little blip on a map, in the grand scheme of it all. I find that extremely humbling, and bringing that to what we do here today is what keeps the 'wow' in it, keeps us striving to figure out what it is that we're smelling and tasting, what becomes of it.
"It's a matter of intuition. But human beings have been taught to not trust intuition. Here, we make our wines very intuitively: we extend things out, let it be, trust that it's going to be okay, and let the wine speak back to us."
KM: That's also why we want to keep it simple. We want to be able to live this way — we don't want to grow so big and so fast that we can't be so creative. We're still less than a thousand cases; today, we're at about 700 cases.
JM: It keeps it in the abstract, rather than focused entirely on the production side of things. We're free to do what we want here, based on how we feel and where we want to go. When you're production-focused, you put yourself into a whole other gear: you're moving a lot faster, you've got to keep a lot more people happy, and there's really no sense of letting your wines be, letting them show up at their own pace, and feeling comfortable with that. You get yourself into a position of, "We need to sell X amount of wine per month, otherwise it's not going to work," when you get to a large scale of production. And I think with that, your winemaking changes, too. We're extremely lucky in that we can keep all these little fermentations going on their own, independently. If one goes bad, it's not going to kill us.