I worked in Napa last week and drove past some of the most well known vineyards loaded with fruit almost ready for harvest. I also drove past vineyards south of the city of Napa that appear to be setup for machine harvesting and are across the road from a lumberyard and tool rental place. This got me thinking about the differences in wines and what separates great wine from just well made, clean wine.
How much of this difference is due to the decisions of winemakers in the cellar and how much is due to the vineyard practices and place they are grown?
Terroir has long been part of the mythology of wine marketing. But is there really a difference between Cabernet grown at Martha’s Vineyard and the vineyards in American Canyon? Would we be able to taste the difference if both vineyards were made into wine by Heidi Barrett?
From my experience I’d say yes, but it would be interesting to see what some of the best winemakers would make from more humbly grown grapes. Alas, I don’t ever think we will see this in reality but it’s interesting to see what folks like August Briggs are doing at Castle Rock and his eponymous winery.
In the end, place matters but how much is open for debate. As with all luxury goods, scarcity and reputation drives wine prices but quality can be another story altogether.
All you have to do is take a trip to Siduri to see that terroir is real. Taste 4 or 5 different vineyards side by side all made using the same basic principles of winemaking, and you’ll see there is a difference in profile for each of their wines. I have not had anything from them that really blew me away, but it is a good exercise in terroir discovery. Another equally fun (but slightly expensive) experinemt, is to go to a wine shop and pick out 4-5 wines from Gary’s vineyard ( I pick that one because every serious Pinot producer in Cali makes a wine from Gary’s). After you’ve blown your $300 wad on half a case, go home and pop the cork on each one. I’m amazed at the varied styles that all come from the same grapes.
I agree that producers like Siduri and Pax are places where terroir is on display but I think they would make interesting wines from just about any decent quality grapes. I like your Gary’s Vineyard experiment and might just do this for a podcast theme.