Friday, April 29, 2011

The French Winemaker

This title is slightly misleading, purposefully.  You see, the French don't really have a term for winemaker.  They call them vigneron, or basically the person who works the vines.  For us, that generally means "grapegrower", but some folks like to get a bit fancy and refer to themselves as "winegrowers".  There's a distinction, of course, because a person can grow grapes without thinking of what they are to become--juice grapes, for example.

Winegrowers, on the other hand, do tend to aim more for quality than quantity.  We tend to think that the reason we are growing grapes is not for grapes to be harvested in the fall, but for wine to be enjoyed a year or three down the road.  It's a whole other way of approaching viticulture.

That aside, we make wine.  While the French term of vigneron implies a tending of vines, here on this side of the big Pond we MAKE wine.  We are "winemakers."  Not winetenders, not wine-nurturers.  We're winemakers. 

And with this shift in terminology comes a twist of focus as well.  I've written about what I consider the cult of the winemaker.  (This seems to go along with the cult of the chef, musician, writer, etc.)  People are fascinated by the creation of creative arts, in one way or the other.  I am, too, but I am not so interested in winemakers as people but winemakers as winemakers.  I guess what makes us a little different is that we not only create, but we create with alcohol, the feel-good classic influencer of the past couple millenia.  We make stuff that tastes good AND makes you feel happy.

This shift in thought--from tending vines to making wines--also changes us who are involved with it.  It makes us think that we are actually in control of the process.  And it is true to some extent.  We definitely have a lot more control over our day-to-day actions than the farmer trying to raise some grapes.  When bad weather hits, there's not much you can do.  But when a bad ferment takes off, we can spring into action.

Is all this just a bunch of ego-stroking?  Perhaps.  But in that sense it would seem that we're missing out on a key part of the puzzle.  Or at least my puzzle.  My long-gone friend John once told me that he aspired to be a wine-sitter.  Not a maker, but a sitter.  Kind of like being a babysitter.  Don't push the wines, just let them be raised up, like kids, as you watch them.

All of which brings me to the French term for the general procedure for making wine: elevage.  It means "raising up".  They view making wines almost the same way as they see raising kids.  Interesting.  Now, only if I could get my kids to follow me as easily as the wines do.....

1 comment:

  1. Carl,

    Presuming you are a German winemaker (not to be confused with a German-wine maker), the title of this post made me think--for a minute--that you hired someone! ;]

    I understand that restraint on your side of wine is the challenge. If you fare well, it makes restraint on my side a challenge, too. :]

    Good post. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for the challenges.

    , Lee


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