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vertical vineyard Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

vines_elevation_smallMG:  Well, it's an absolute joy from a winemaker's perspective, because I'm able to work with a number of lots that are all good — not one of them is mediocre.  Any single one of them would stand alone as a great wine.  In fact, the hardest thing to do is to figure out if there's a way to carve a certain amount of it to do a separate bottling, perhaps to represent a specific style or part of the vineyard, and do so in a way that won't take away from the core character that I'm trying to manifest across the wine as a brand.  But that's not a bad thing; it's a wonderful dilemma to have in dealing with an embarrassment of riches!

NM:  Exactly!  Because you are wanting to stay true to whatever the Hidden Ridge character is, and yet you've got this leeway, this room to play with.

MG:  Part of it, too, is my philosophy that I want the vineyard to be the star of the show.  I want the bottle to be representative of the vineyard, not of what I do.  And I think that view comes with being a consultant for a number of different projects: I'm very sensitive to the fact that I don't want all of my clients' wines to end up showing a single 'Marco' style.  That wouldn't be doing any of them a service, but would be hurting them [and their brands] in the end…

NM:  So you're not aspiring to be another Michel Rolland?  {laughter}

MG:  I might aspire to have his bank account!  {laughter}

NM:  Well, the only reason I make that comment, as irreverent as it may sound, is that there are many who have argued that what a consultant like Rolland is doing is actually duplicating a single formula (albet a complex one) for whomever his clients might be.  So it begs the question: is this about a vineyard and its terroir, or is it about a man and the ratings he helps to garner?

"If we don't have to spin our product to sound romantic, it's a wonderful luxury and something that lends a level of credence to what we do that many producers simply don't have."

MG:  Yes, I think it's definitely a problem in our industry, that whole idea of the cult of personality.  It's not the people who should be highlighted here; it's nature, it's the vineyards!  Because how many products do we have in our world where the raw material as it comes from the ground is what could potentially separate it from all the others?  There aren't many things in the world like that, given the way that products are manufactured and manipulated.  There are fewer and fewer things about which you can say, "Whenever I taste this, I think of that place."  Thankfully, there's a resurgence of that whole mentality around food, where a little more care is being taken to bring that to the consumer.  And we have a unique opportunity, and a bit of a responsibility, to be true to whom we are and what we're doing.  Otherwise, we might as well just go make wine out of the Central Valley on a big scale, while cutting our costs down and getting it out at a very low price.  Now, there's nothing wrong with that; there's definitely a place and a need for it.  But that's not what we're doing here.

NM:  I imagine, though, it's still a challenge to decide on what degree to allow the vineyard to really express itself, and to decide on how much to intervene in order to make that all happen.  How do you strike that balance?

MG:  It's one of the interesting enigmas of our business.  The better things are, the less I actually need to intervene.  In many respects, the best vintage out of the best vineyard from which I make wine, is the one to which I have to do the least.  That's the wine that I can just forget about, because the vines are perfectly balanced, we nailed the picking date at just the right time, we didn't have any unforeseen problems in the winery, and so my job is done.  On the other hand, it's always the vintages when it rained when we didn't want it to; or had a frost that damaged a bunch of fruit; or the wind blew all the leaves off before we were ready to pick — those are the times when I do need to start manipulating in the winery to get from a position of being relatively out of balance into something that hopefully captures at least a little bit of what the vineyard should give us.  Those instances [even with my corrective efforts], I know deep down were missed opportunities.  Sure, we had no control over them because it was what nature dealt us.  But fortunately, one of the beauties of making wine in California is that, frankly, those things don't happen too often.  We're lucky: we're not Bordeaux where the climate can by iffy, we're not in Italy where they can get sudden hailstorms pounding a vineyard, we're not in New Zealand where they might get frost just before harvest.  Yes, it's a lot more work here to deal with the steep hillside, but on the flip side there's a lot less risk in terms of those extreme weather events occurring.



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