words with winemakers Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Wine Barrels in a Napa Valley Winery

Perspectives on the Wine Industry & Reflections on Winemaking
— An Interview with Five Northern California Winemakers

Any enthusiast will agree that wine has the potential to inspire our minds, fulfill our hearts, and arouse our souls like few other things in life do.  But in experiencing the magic of wine at its best, it's not very often that we stop to think about the very people whose talent and skill are essential in making it all happen.  Curious to learn firsthand about the personal impressions and professional experiences of these craftsmen, outside the context of any single wine brand, I gathered together a group of five winemakers, all of whom have made wine over the last ten years in Napa and Sonoma counties for boutique and medium-sized wineries and/or their own private labels.  On an unusually cool summer afternoon in the Stag's Leap District of Napa, I engaged them in an animated conversation touching on various themes: attitudes on the wine industry at large, both in California and worldwide; observations about wine consumers and trends in the marketplace; positions on evolving wine styles and practices in production; and finally, reflections on the lessons they've learned in the process of raising vines and crafting wines.  Whether in expressing the satisfaction they've enjoyed in this unique vocation or in describing some of the challenges inherent in it, their candor, insight, and occasional irreverence made for a discussion that was engaging, enlightening, and altogether entertaining.

Sally Johnson (SJ) is winemaker at Pride Mountain.  She was previously at St. Francis and St. Hallett (Australia), and made wines for Lalys (own label).

Robbie Meyer (RM) is winemaker at Jericho-Canyon, Versant, Peirson-Meyer (own label), and Vogelzang.  He was previously at Peter Michael, Lewis, and Sage.

Matthew Rorick (MR) is winemaker for Forlorn Hope (own label) and Elizabeth Spencer.  Previously: Peter Michael, Miura, Chasseur; worked in Chile, South Africa, New Zealand.

Elizabeth Vianna (EV) is winemaker at Chimney Rock.  She was previously at Napa Wine Company and Trefethen.

Timothy Milos (TM) is winemaker at Rubissow.  He consults for The Bounty Hunter, Black Coyote, Hidden Ridge, Haber Family, Howell at the Moon, Loomis Family, Liquid Sky, Sedna.  He was previously at Girard, Cliff Lede, S. Anderson, Opus One, Stags Leap Wine Cellars.

Observations on Changes in California's Wine Industry

NM:  All of you have been making wine now for about a decade.  In that span of time, what changes have you witnessed coming about in California's wine industry, particularly in this immediate region encompassing Napa and Sonoma?

EV:  I have a little joke about wine: in Los Angeles, everybody's is writing a screenplay; in New York, everybody's writing a novel; and in Northern California, everybody's got a wine label.  And I think that's become so much more the case in the last decade, in particular.  It's become very trendy [to make wine].  And the custom crush facility has changed the face of the wine industry, so that you don't even have to own a facility in order to make wine.  Not that people weren't doing that before, but I think that now it's really exploded.

TM:  Yeah.  The only spin I'd put on it, though, is that while there has been a rise in the proliferation of small brands and labels, in the last five years, the large, corporate wineries have been picking up most of the mid-sized wineries.  So, for producers making up to a thousand cases, there are lots of independent guys, but anything at around 50,000 cases or above, it seems like the trend at that scale is going in the other direction, becoming part of fewer and fewer conglomerates or larger groups.

Winemaker Robbie MeyerRM:  Especially with that figure you threw out — 50,000 cases — absolutely!  There are some independents at the 10,000 or 20,000 case level, but when you get up to 50,000 cases, it's almost all corporate wineries.  But as far as the proliferation of brands goes, even though it's true and we joke about it, realistically, anytime that happens, it actually elevates the industry as a whole, because it creates stiffer competition.  And during tough economic times, that's just fine because it 'shakes the tree' and gets rid of people who aren't really serious about doing this.  But it also puts on notice those who are serious — if you're not doing your best, there's a thousand other brands right behind you that will push you right out the way!  So, I think the competition is healthy.  At the same time, I know that we, as winemakers, can sometimes get a little frustrated when people just come in from the outside — not knowing much about winemaking, viticulture, or much else about the wine industry — and don't really want to pay their dues, but rather just buy their way into the business.  That can be denigrating.

EV:  I think that, as a whole, the growth is actually a positive reflection of the fact that American consumers are drinking more wine — we know this, right? — and that the country is becoming more of a wine culture.  I think we're all grateful for that.  All of us who have come into the industry have wanted from the get-go to see Americans drink more wine; we want to see it be part of the table at lunch and at dinner, every day — because that's how we live.

MR:  I don't even think we've ever had a downward trend in wine consumption since the beginning of the modern era of American winemaking, say, the early '70s.  It's been trending upward, albeit slowly.  But in the past decade, there's definitely been more interest in wine, more brands in the marketplace, and more people exploring and enjoying wine.  I know we live here in a very cuisine-centric area where people are really focused on gastronomy, which goes hand-in-hand with wine, but even outside of Northern California, you still see that carrying over.

"The proliferation of brands actually elevates the industry as a whole, because it creates stiffer competition. It 'shakes the tree' and gets rid of people who aren't really serious about doing this."

NM:  So, I'm hearing from you a lot of positive changes you've seen in the local wine industry over the last decade.  On the flip side, can you tell me what changes you've seen in the same span of time that you feel have negatively impacted the wine industry and which perhaps might trouble you?

RM:  The proliferation of brands.  The corporatization of wineries.  {laughter}  The same things we just said a minute ago!  All that can go both ways.

MR:  The proliferation of brands means competition, like Robbie said earlier, and competition brings better products.  But it also means…

SJ:  It's harder for us!

EV:  We have to work harder to stand out.

MR:  …it also means that you may not have as broad a consumer base as you once did, because you've got ten or fifteen other brands that are getting into markets that you can't necessarily get into, yourself.  You can't be everywhere at once.

Vineyard in SummerTM:  For instance, take a vineyard like one that that's pretty well known in Napa, To Kalon Vineyard — 30 wineries get fruit from Tokolon!  How do you differentiate yourself, making your own $100 bottle of To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon, from the guy who has the four [vineyard] rows adjacent to you who's also selling his own $100 Cabernet Sauvignon?  Sure, the difference comes with the winemaker, the methods, and all that.  But the wine's supposed to be about that place.  And so that's part of what happens with the proliferation of brands — once upon a time, there was only one or two brands that made wine from that place; now there's dozens.

Winemaker Elizabeth ViannaEV:  Nowadays, marketing has become such an essential component.  I think, as winemakers, the dream for us would be that people would just drink our juice and be like, "This is the best thing I've ever had in my life; I can't live without it."  Well, it's not that simple.  Again, if 30 guys are making Cabernet from that same vineyard, it then becomes about 'who's got the coolest story?'

RM:  With so many brands out there, one of the negatives is that you have pack mentalities that are created.  Once upon a time, there was only a handful of wineries in the valley.  Everyone did their own thing, they each had their own audience, and they did what they were passionate about.  And there was real variation between appellations and between wineries, very strong differences.  Now there's a lot of people in the same area making the same type of wine.  But what's worse is that, with the fierce competition for consumer attention and critical acclaim, when someone catches onto something, the rest of the pack wants to do exactly what that person does because they want the same recognition and the same sales — rather than doing their own thing.  There's so much background noise from ten thousand different brands out there, all of whom are claiming that they're different and unique, but most of the time they just aren't.  And so, when something comes along that is unique and is original and is varietal or from an appellation, then it often gets drowned out in the all the noise!

MR:  It does become difficult to identify yourself, particularly in a situation where there is that pack mentality.  When someone (a consumer) knows that I make a particular wine, they might ask, "Well, what's it like?", wanting me to compare it to another producer's that they like, so that they can figure out if they'll like my wine.  But if my wine really is like that other producer's wine, then where's the real difference?  How do you differentiate between them?  The whole point is that you should try it, to see what the difference is yourself.  But then you get into this whole thing where comparisons are still being made.

Observations on American Consumers and Trends in Wine Consumption

NM:  It sounds like there's a disconnection between wine producers and consumers.  Is that from a limitation in consumers' understanding of wine, or rather a limitation on the part of producers in understanding their consumers?  And what aspects of this issue are unique to the production and consumption of quality-driven wines in this region?

MR:  Well, it's not the consumers' fault, but we do have a wine-buying public in the States that historically is not a wine consuming culture.  They're still learning the ropes, to some degree.  It's not a fault, per se, but rather a learning curve.  They've come to realize that they can go a store and get a very inexpensive bottle of wine off the supermarket shelf that might taste alright.  The problem is, that wine doesn't really say anything about the place it's from, nor does it quite mesh with a meal in the way that a really nice wine might.  But I think, as a culture, we're moving towards a more nuanced attitude about wine.

EV:  Consumers are still figuring out how they're going to decide what to buy.  The more complex it gets and the more sources of information there are, the more room there will be for all these brands.  And changes in shipping laws should really facilitate things as well.  But in the end, consumer confidence is always my goal as a winemaker.  I want to convince people that they can decide what they like, and that they need to taste wines and need to be open to different things.

Wine ServiceSJ:  As consumers are exploring more and becoming so open to wine and learning more about it, one thing I wonder about is our comfortable position here in Napa, where we're making these phenomenal and expensive wines that have gotten to be very similar and easily identifiable, with their ripe fruit, high alcohol, and supple texture.  I think the more that people begin to explore other regions and find other wines that have their own distinct personalities, the less that Napa will be this gold standard for American wines.  I really wonder how our position will be affected as people learn more about wines and broaden their palates.  With the internet, there's certainly so much more access to wines from all over the world, along with wine information and tasting notes — a consumer doesn't have to go just off a producer's ratings or reputation, or the buzz about some hot new brand.

Winemaker Timothy MilosMR:  I absolutely agree.  It'll be interesting to see, too, because there are a lot of wine regions outside of California, throughout the U.S., that are very rapidly climbing the learning curve on how to grow great wine in their specific regions and climates.  I recently had some amazing wine from Ohio — shockingly good!  It was a Chardonnay that was unbelievable; it was almost Chablisienne in its intensity and purity, at 11.5% alcohol.  It was gorgeous!  And how apropos to a challenge in the primacy of Northern California!  Although, I don't know if that [primacy] will ever be dislodged in the American wine-buying public's imagination.  But it will be interesting to see other regions get up to speed and people start to explore [wines] locally, instead of thinking they have to buy California wine.

TM:  What I'm hoping this all does for Napa and Sonoma is that it drives out the development of marginal vineyard land that's planted to Cabernet.  People expect that land to produce great wine just because it's in Napa or Sonoma.  If you take Bordeaux as an example, Margaux is fabulous — but everybody else around it is just okay.  Similarly, I expect the same thing to develop in Napa, where we'll have more localization of quality.  In that scenario, the benchlands next to the Napa River will be growing Sauvignon Blanc, instead of bad Cabernet or bad Merlot.

"It will be interesting to see other regions get up to speed and people start to explore [wines] locally, instead of thinking they have to buy California wine."

NM:  This is a good opportunity to segue into a discussion about varietal wines and their gravitational pull in the market.  From your perspective, in terms of varieties that have waxed and waned, what happened to Merlot in the '90s and what is happening with Pinot Noir currently?  And in terms of varieties that have remained steady, what's been happening all along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay?  And where is Syrah in all this?  What's your opinion on what the future hold for varietal popularity?

SJ:  Well, we make Merlot [at Pride Mountain] — it's been our flagship wine throughout our history — and our sales of Merlot have not dropped, regardless of the Sideways controversy.  But I think the most important thing is for producers to make wines they believe in…

EV: And not just jump on a trend!

SJ:  Yeah, not jump on a trend, not plant Pinot in Calistoga just because it's now worth $5,000 a ton, or plant Merlot in Carneros because everybody is drinking it.  Those vineyards are not being picked and aren't being sold; they're ending up on the bulk market.  But for me, it's really interesting what's happened with Syrah.  Ten years ago everyone said it was going to be the next Merlot; this was before anyone thought about Pinot.  I still love Syrah — I think it's a great wine; it's still my favorite wine.  But nobody wants it, you can't sell it, no one plants it anymore, it's kind of a dead end.  It's not because the wines aren't great; it's not because producers don't have the passion for it.  It's that consumers don't understand it: it's not a big Cabernet that goes with steak, it's not a light Pinot that goes with fish.

Grapes at HarvestMR:  It's so curious to me, too.  Because even with what's going on with Pinot Noir right now — first the big surge, and now the drop off — quality Pinot that's grown in the right place and produced conscientiously is doing fine.  The Pinot that I make for Elizabeth Spencer hasn't seen any downturn.  A lot of that drop off was with Pinot that was grown in sites that the vine is indifferent towards, which ended being bottled as crap.  People were like, "Ooh, yeah, Sideways!  Pinot's great!  I want to try it!"  And then they taste that wine and go, "This tastes like shit" and then never drink another Pinot again.  So, I think the producers who are making Pinot well continue to have a solid audience.  Whereas those who planted it just because they were thinking they could cash in on the big boom were the ones who got bitten.

SJ:  I've seen Pinot on the Russian River at 8 tons an acre and they're getting $4,000 a ton.  That sort of vineyard will be ripped in five years because that fruit will never be worth that price; the quality won't be there.  It's just taking advantage of a blip in the market.

Winemaker Sally JohnsonMR:  Which itself is ridiculous because you're already so far behind the curve, if you're trying to take advantage of a blip, by the time you get a vineyard either grafted or planted over!  But the whole Syrah question is so confusing to me.  The value that you get out of a bottle of wine at $20, if you compare a Cabernet, a Pinot, and a Syrah — hands down, the value you'll get out of a $20 Syrah will more than likely be head and shoulders above the other two!  And so the irony is that overwhelmingly, so many consumers looking to spend $15-$20 on a bottle of wine for dinner will buy a Cabernet or Pinot, when they could be so much happier with the Syrah!  Not that you can't find a good $20 Cabernet or Pinot, but you've got to really hunt for them.  For whatever reason, Syrah has failed to latch onto the American wine-consuming imagination…

TM:  Except that they buy Australian Shiraz.

MR:  That's not Syrah.

RM:  Fine, but they buy that from about $5 to about $20 a bottle.

MR:  Right, and there are some producers in California who are making wine that fits that profile.  But that's different.

EV:  Australia has done a better job at marketing.

Attitudes about Changes in Wine Styles: Alcohol Levels & Extraction

NM:  Let's talk alcohol.  I'll start with the premise that alcohol levels have been steadily increasing in wines over the last few years.  Though this has been the case worldwide, it seems to be more prevalent in New World production.  There are conflicting opinions on this.  Wolf Blass himself just last year stated in an interview with Decanter Magazine's Catherine Woods, "No table wine over 15% should ever get any medal, anywhere in the world, ever."  Conversely, Kent Rosenblum recently stated to Wine Enthusiast's Steve Heimoff, in response to concerns about a wine at 16% alcohol, "I think it's a wine writer issue. I don't think it's a consumer issue."  So, tell me: what's your own take on increasing levels of alcohol and where do you see this trend going?

EV:  I think wines can be made in balance at all alcohol levels.  Are there trends?  Certainly.  But it's really narrow thinking to look at it from [Blass's] perspective: anything above 15% should never get a medal?  That's absurd.  It's being controversial.

RM:  That's just saying something to say something.

TM:  It got him in Decanter Magazine.  Let's put it that way.  And that's the value of that statement, if nothing else.

RM:  I've tasted wines high in alcohol and have been shocked that they're high in alcohol!

EV:  Exactly!

MR:  You have to call to mind how many times you may have drunk a wine on its own or with a meal and thought how wonderful it is — and during those times, alcohol never entered your mind because the wine was in balance, it was integrated.  Then you might notice it's 15.5% alcohol: "Oh! I would have never guessed!"  Certainly that's happened to all of us.  Of course, it's also happened that I've tasted a wine and instantly felt like I'd taken a shot of whiskey…

Winery CellarTM:  And that at 14%!  I've had white wines at 14% that were grossly out of balance, and I've had red wines that were completely in balance at 16.5%.  I made a Merlot one year when I was at S. Anderson that was at 16.8% natural alcohol, fermented completely dry.  And when I asked [some fellow winemakers], "What do you think of the alcohol level of that wine?"  They said, "Oh, 14.5%, maybe 15%."  And that was because the wine was in balance!  The level of alcohol doesn't make any difference — again, as long as the wine is in balance!  Of course, not every wine can take that.  I'm not saying that the wine was better than the same wine at 15%, but that's how it ended up being, made naturalistically as an expression of that place, that vintage, that year.

Winemaker Matthew RorickMR:  I think about this issue constantly, the alcohol levels in wines, both in wines that I make and in those that I drink.  And I think back to the wines in my granddad's cellar that he poured for me — California wines from the late '70s and early '80s, around 11-12%, very rarely over 13%.  I've seen the change; there's certainly been an increase in alcohol, on the average.  Interestingly, though, I feel like it's actually going in the other direction right now.  We've pushed it to a certain limit: "Oh, look how ripe we can get things!  We can pick at a ridiculously high brix and make this wine that's monstrous and hot!"  Some winemakers are still doing that and will continue to do so.  But I think a lot of winemakers are now saying, "Hey, I don't need to leave the fruit out there [ripening] that long; I don't want to constantly worry about those high alcohol levels in my finished wine.  And as a matter of fact, even when I pick them a little earlier, the grapes end up not being underripe!"  Sure, there's a certain segment of the consumer population that likes a particular profile in their wines — really big and ripe and high in alcohol.  But there's a growing segment, too, that's re-emerging and that likes wines a bit more restrained.

RM:  Definitely.  The trend is reversing from what I see; alcohol levels are coming down.  But this all goes back to that pack mentality I mentioned earlier.  Someone in the To Kalon vineyard might have previously picked their fruit at 24 brix, but then the next year someone else picks theirs at 25, then the following year the guy next to him picks his at 28, then the year after that someone picks at 30 — and then pretty soon everyone is picking at over 30 brix!  That's all well and good if it's all done in balance.  But pretty soon people realize, "Well, I can still make the wine at this [higher ripeness] level, but I preferred it five years ago when I picked at a lower level.  So I'll return back to the style I really like."

"I've seen the change; there's certainly been an increase in alcohol in wines, on the average. Interestingly, though, I feel like it's actually going in other direction right now."

NM:  Assuming that the trend is, in fact, reversing and alcohol levels are coming down again, how far in that other direction will the pendulum swing?  Will we see a return to California wines at 12% alcohol?

EV:  No, I don't think so.

SJ:  No, it's too hot here.

MR:  But, wait a minute, is it hotter here now than it was in the '70s?  If anything, we're supposed to get colder here before we get hotter, because of the increased onshore flow…

EV:  I just think people were modeling their wines after Europe, where the climate is different.  They were picking here to match the profiles of a lot of European wines.

TM:  But also look at the rootstock choices, the vine choices, the virus freaks of nature.  There are many other input changes that have occurred.  I've asked a lot of people who have been in the business for thirty, forty, fifty years who have been trying to solve this question.  I'll hear, "You modern winemakers pick your fruit way too late, it's way too ripe, the alcohol's too high, and so the wines are out of balance!  What are you guys doing?"  Okay, so what are we doing differently?  Well, the rootstocks all changed about twenty years ago when people replanted with rootstocks other than AXR-1 and St. George.  So, that's one massive change.  The other massive change is that most of the new vineyards that were replanted were mostly virus-free. In the older vineyards, the viruses were slowing down sugar accumulation, because that's what AXR did for you — at five and half tons to the acre, at 24 brix, picked on October 28th!  Vines in Autumn But that's the same time frame we have now; it hasn't changed in fifty years.  So, it's not that we should be picking in September; it's that we've got lower croploads, smaller vines, different rootstocks, different clonal material that's also cleaner, and vertical shoot positioning (which produces an extremely efficient solar panel) — all of these things are contributing to the higher alcohol levels.  It's not one single factor!  Plus, there's the fact that many people actually want super-ripe flavors and soft tannins.

Five WinemakersRM:  But diversity is good!

EV:  Diversity is good.  And so are stylistic choices.

MR:  I hope that diversity explodes!  That would be a beautiful thing in terms of the proliferation of small labels: a million different styles — how wonderful would that be? — instead of five hundred examples of something that all tastes the same.

Thoughts on the Ups and Downs of Winemaking

NM:  What do you find most rewarding about making wine, whether it be under your own label or for a winery, and conversely, what do you find about your work that's challenging and that you wish you could change?

SJ:  I love the entire process of making wine.  I love the tangible nature of having the bottle at the end of the day and saying, "I made this."  I love being in the vineyards.  I love the energy of harvest.   And I love not only taking something that has a real sense of place but also putting my stamp on it through the choices I make and through the process of blending.  I think it's a great career for me.  The hard part is the sales aspect because there's so much competition.  I just wish I could bring everyone into the winery, walk them through the vineyards and caves, have them taste out of barrel and explain why I love it all so much.  Selling wine is not the reason I got into making wine.  And though it's definitely a really important part of the process, I would say it's the least exciting part for me.  Another challenge is that every vintage is different and some years are very stressful — that's the part that keep me up at night, wondering what Mother Nature will throw at us next.  Every year we say, "This is the most stressful harvest ever!  I've never seen anything like this!  Why can't we get a normal year?"  But there's really no such thing as a normal year.  Then again, that's also what makes it so fun!

"We're making something that's a snapshot in time. It all ties back to being connected with the seasons."

RM:  We can bitch and moan about topics all day, but there is no way I would do anything else!  Making wine is the best thing in the world; I love everything about it!  One of the most rewarding experiences happens when I open a bottle that I made or even a friend made — that's the best thing because there you have a finished product that you created.  We may say that we wished a bottle turned out perfectly every time or that every vintage would be great, but that's not really true because then we'd never get the same satisfaction as when we do accomplish something great, after all the blood, sweat, and tears.  And so, at the end of the day, I wouldn't change a thing!

MR:  I love that the nature of the work changes with the seasons.  Doing different things based on what part of year it is, you feel so connected with the passage of time.  I love that.  I love being out in the vines — in the winter for pruning, at budbreak, through the summer, and during [grape] pick.  I love being able to take something from that first little green bud at the beginning of the year, all the way through the growing season, into fermentation, then years on in the bottle, and finally having that to share over a meal in the good company of friends.  Plus, there's the fact that you're making something that's a snapshot in time.  It all ties back to being connected with the seasons.  I couldn't find it any more rewarding than I already do.  On the flip side, though, I hate bottling and I also hate sales — it drives me crazy!  I just want to open a bottle with people and say, "Drink this with me!  If you like it, you know where to get more!"  Another thing I hate is the government; they need to get off my back!  I just want to make some wine and get it to people!

Fermentation TanksEV:  Personally, I love not working in a fluorescent cubbyhole somewhere. {chuckling} And I love measuring my life in seasons.  It's all very enchanting.  The disenchanting part is that, in the end, it's a business that has to work.  I think it's very easy to get carried away in the beauty of this land and this product, but somewhere at the end of the line, somebody's got to make a profit.  I think it's probably easier when you own your own brand to stay aware that it's got to be a functioning business.  I really lose touch with that, making wine for somebody else.  Overall, I'm in love with this piece of land and every year I do the best job that I can.  And I hope I can keep doing it until I retire!

Wine Aging in BarrelsTM:  For me, a lot of it is being involved in expressing a place.  What I do, since I consult for a lot of different producers, is to help people realize a dream that they've had.  One of my clients actually burst into tears the first time we opened a bottle of his wine, six months after harvest, on tasting the fruition of years of getting to that point.  It's experiences like that which are so amazing.  Wine is one of those magical things that's remarkably humanizing.  If we sit down together and have soda pop, it would be a very different experience than sitting down and having lunch with a bottle of wine.  Wine brings people together.  So there's that part, the communication aspect, those humanizing experiences, plus the reflection of time and place.  In that bottle is the quintessence of a vineyard, a vintage, and the people who put it there, each one.  And next year, it'll be different.  And I only remember this stuff when I tell other people because the act of doing it so often can be a drudge, or at least appear to be — until I remember what other people's lives are like, and then I stop and say, "I'm whining about this pleasure?!"

Reflections on the Lessons Learned from Winemaking

NM:  What have you learned in your work as a winemaker that you've been able to apply to your own life and which perhaps has made you a better human being because of it?

SJ:  The human connections I've made have been so enriching for my career.  Fifty percent of my day is spent communicating with people about something that they really love and have sought out.  Many have gone on vacation to come to where I work and talk to me about what I do, to talk about what they love and hear about what I love so much about wine.  I think it's great the way wine brings people together.  And that's something most people probably don't get out of a traditional career, that sense of relating to people and forming connections and friendships over something that we do as a job.

"Viticulture is so metaphorical for everything you can possibly imagine."

EV:  I think managing a crew during harvest has taught me to be a better person.  It's pretty hard work learning how to motivate people and getting them to really want to make the best product that they can for the same reasons that you do.  And it's also being aware of all the different things that actually go into making wine.  There are a lot of safety issues and other things that are really important for you to think about in the interest of all these human beings who are working for you towards a common goal.

MR:  If there's anything to the old cliche, 'In Vino Veritas,' then this career has certainly made me a much more truthful person.  Working more and more closely with the growers that I deal with, I've learned more than I ever thought I would about what goes on in the vineyards, and how it affects the vines and the people who are involved.  It's all made me a lot more sensitive to the impact that we all have on the environment, and by extension, each other.  I haven't given up my car just yet, but my work has made me more conscious of environmental issues — things like the change in climate, which we're all abetting, and things that impact all of our livelihoods as well as the livelihood of our children and their children.  It's made me think about it a lot more; being tied-in agriculturally has made me a lot more conscious of what impact we have on the world.

TM:  It's hard to pick out a single thing.  In all the things we do, we gain different skills — things like managing people and understanding the needs of others.  The easy answer for me would be the public speaking skills I've learned, which have helped with general self-confidence.  But I think that more than anything else, working in this valley, is my increasing awareness of the social structure, the difference between the landed aristocracy and the peasant class — which we very much have in Napa.  There are well-paid, but still modest-wage, workers at the bottom end, and then there are people who have untold millions at the upper end.  I've become very aware of and sensitive to that difference, as well as the reality that we rely so heavily on people who are making under $15 an hour.

Vineyard at DuskRM:  Viticulture is so metaphorical for everything you can possibly imagine.  Everything we do on the daily basis is a metaphor for something in life, in general.  Just as you develop and train a vineyard, you raise your own children.  Just as the finest fruit comes from vines that are stressed, you reap rewards from living your own life with challenges.  I think all of us, whether we're in grape-growing or not, are biologists at heart, realists at heart, existentialists at heart.  And we see that with such realism on a day-to-day basis in the vineyard, in the winery, and in the business life as well.

Connection.  Understanding.  Truth.  Awareness.  Metaphor.  One might argue that many of the things winemakers learn in the process of tending to vines and crafting their wines are those which consumers themselves might also be inspired to explore as they experience the numerous facets and dimensions that great wines have the potential to convey.  For just as any artisan-driven endeavor, the process and products of winemaking are but a reflection of the human condition. v