Sunday, June 2, 2013

Where Passion Lies

Maybe I’ve been a winemaker too long.  When I was younger, I worked very different jobs, fancying myself a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none.  I took a lot of pride in that, trying to align myself with ancient Greek ideals of a sound mind in a sound body.

But after a while I realized that I was getting tired of not being good at something.  As a kid, I figured out how to get by on the minimum quantity or quality necessary.  I remember that a lot of my report cards used to say something to the effect of “he did fine, but it would be good if he applied himself a little more…..”  I’m sure there are a lot of kids out there who worried their respective parents and teachers with the worry of lost potential.  Maybe you were one of those, too.

So, I’m now in an industry—and, specifically, a profession—where it’s almost a given that I be in it because I have a “passion” for what I do.  There are professions in the world where the concept of “passion” is thrown about a bit.  But for winemakers, it seems to be amplified.  It’s part of the marketing of the wine.  The winemaker is always described as someone who is “passionate about creating wine from X in X region.”  You read it so many times, it starts to sound hollow. 

In fact, I know good and well that a lot of wineries aren’t fueled by people passionate about creating great wine.  Instead, they’re very passionate about creating a commodity that lots of people will buy and return for, falling beautifully into place with their business plans.  There’s nothing wrong with being like this, I would just argue that it’s a little disingenuous.  Sure, it’s “passion.”  But is this really the passion that people really are talking about? 

Granted, we at Allegro make wines that we’re not passionate about.  Yes, it’s part of our business model.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t make them well—we do.  In fact, I’d argue that our more popular wines are better made than most popular wines due to our passion for making great dry wines.  Here’s an analogy that I like that demonstrates this: NASCAR.  These million-dollar cars that the teams race around tracks on weekends are a great spectator sport for us.  But all the pressure that it takes to make a great race car fuels research into making those cars better.  And the technology that gets developed trickles down through the manufacturers into the cars that you and I drive everyday.  I think the same thing applies to winemaking.

What is happening for me at Allegro is that our popular wines are getting, well, more popular.  We’re spending a lot of effort and time producing them for you all.  And this is part of the plan, because in a nice circular way, these wines help pay for the dry wines we’re passionate about. 

But, conveniently, our dry wines are getting more popular as well.  Even with our 2011 reds on our list, the sales have been great.  This was a tough vintage, but I think people have started to recognize that when push came to shove, we pulled out all the stops to make some really nice wines with our backs up against the wall.  That’s what passion does to people.

As I look ahead to this fall, I’m planning new things to try out in the cellar and vineyard to make our wines even better.  This will be my sixteenth vintage this year, and it doesn’t get old even though I do.  The days seem longer, the nights shorter, and overall it’s tougher.  And with every passing year, the passion only grows stronger.  Tells me I’m in the right place.