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On the Road Again

A couple of years ago, after a visit to Château d’Yquem during primeurs week, I was telling a friend of mind, a collector with a keen palate and a cellarful of Yquem, about the new vintage and the details of my visit.  “Of course,” I said when I finally slowed down, “you’ve probably been there dozens of times.” “Never,” he replied.  “I really love the wines, but I have no interest in visiting where they are made.” 


My friend is as rare as the wines he collects.  Most of us, whether we are wine writers, professionals in the wine trade or simply wine drinkers, enjoy the opportunity to meet with the people who own the winery or who make the wine.  We love the personal association with the person who has crafted a wine or who pays the bills, and we love what insights – especially as a writer – we can get from listening to a winemaker’s talk or having the opportunity for a one-on-one with her or him over a glass. 


Most winemakers understand they are their wines’ best brand ambassadors, better than a third-party wine educator, and accept, perhaps even thrive, in that role. There are a few shy personalities, and a few ugly ones, who make excellent wines, but who – the reverse of my collector friend – have little interest in talking about their wines to the people who drink them. 


Being your own winery’s brand ambassador is not an easy task – loads of travel in bad weather, dealing with foreign languages you sometimes don’t speak, pouring at consumer tastings where rowdies are over-served, trying to speak over the noise after the fourth bottle at a wine dinner, worrying about a sick child or a busted pipe thousands of miles away back home.  Marcel Ducasse, who for decades was the director and face of Château Lagrange, told me that he was on the road more than half of his life, often in American and increasingly in Asia.


But most seem to enjoy the opportunity.  Early last week, California winemaker Joseph Carr, of the winery of the same name, seemed to be having the time of his life at a wine dinner at Domaine Hudson in Wilmington, DE, near where I live.  It was a full house, Chef Dwain Kalup’s creations were good matches, the crowd was appreciative and enthusiastic as were owners Mike and Beth Ross.


Carr told me he was hosting a similar dinner the following night at Hotel Hershey and was planning to then drive to Boston to pour at the weekend wine expo there.  “The weather service is predicting a horrible storm Wednesday night and Thursday morning,” I informed him.  “Oh, well,” he said.  Then a smile, “I was raised in upstate New York.”  And he continued talking enthusiastically with our small crowd about his new winery venture.


This is the season for winemakers from around the world to roam across America.  For those north of the equator, the last vintage is sleeping in their cellars, and it is weeks before bud break.  Hopefully someone else is taking care of winter pruning. For those at the bottom of the world, this is is the quiet time just before harvest.  Someone else is chewing their grape seeds.


This week, I will be in New York to talk and taste with winemakers from the Möet Hennessy estates – Chandon and Newton from Napa, Numanthia from Toro, Terrazas de los Andes and Cheval des Andes from Mendoza, Cloudy Bay from Marlborough and Cape Mentelle from Margaret River. It’s a talented and personable group of people, and I look forward to seeing them again.  And they are just the tip of the wineberg now drifting through town.


Of course, not all winemaking brand ambassadors are on the road.  On the East Coast, many of the talented winemakers sell their wines at cellar door with little distribution elsewhere. Their customers and admirers look forward to seeing them pop into the tasting room during a visit.  As a matter of fact, I’ll send off an e-mail right now to Anthony Vietri, who makes distinctive wines at Va La Vineyards in Avondale, PA, a half-dozen miles from where I live.  As soon as we both can quit shoveling snow, perhaps we can open a couple of bottles in his tasting room on a quiet weekday afternoon and catch up on all the world’s winemaking gossip.

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