What It Takes to Make a Bottle of Wine

Kudos to the San Francisco Chronicle for beginning today a promising 39—part (!) series of articles, explaining the numerous  steps which go into making a bottle of wine — from dormant vines to popping the cork at the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York. The first chapter, run on the front page of the Sunday edition, complete with a large above—the—fold color photograph of a vineyard, is only slightly over—written.

Based on day one, the series is likely to spend a lot ink on The Larger Issues and The Meaning of It All. I am all but certain that the plight of the immigrant labor force, whose backbreaking work in the fields is utterly necessary for the survival of the industry, will be decried. I just hope that attetion will be paid to the fact that Italian immigrants, in their day, paid exactly the same dues, and that Italian—Americans have risen to wine industry wealth and glory, because the American Dream is real, and available to anyone who is willing to work for it. Mexican and Central American immigrant laborers now are beginning their own ascent in the industry, and I am all but certain that in another generation, we will be reading proud Spanish names on the labels of outstanding California wines.

Nevertheless, the large investment in reportorial and editorial resources is to be applauded. Better that the Chron do this sort of serial than send reporters out to cover scores of 12—person demonstrations for obscure left wing causes.

Speaking as a partner a winery, who mucks about in the vineyards, winery, and even in marketing, I can assure readers that there is more than enough material to carry a 39 part series. There are literally hundreds of decisions, made by viticulturalist and vintner alike, which affect the quality of the final product. There are many, many ways to ruin good grapes, and no ways at all to make good wine out of lousy grapes. At times, the process is magical, and at other times, messy and unpleasant.

The people involved in the wine industry tend to be very fine people, indeed. There is, for many of them, a sheer love of the grape and its end products. There is also a humble respect, even awe, for the power of nature, indeed the Deity, to create and transform such a marvelous gift to humanity. We who work in the industry are but handmaidens to forces far more powerful than us. I have worked in many industries, and I have never encountered another in which people have such fundamental regard for one another, and a willingness to trade insight and knowledge. It helps that everyone knows that an unforeseen pest —— a bug, a virus, a fungus —— can destroy their best efforts, at any time.

The particular winery chosen for the series, Ferrari—Carano, produces good products. The specific wine in question, the 2002 Fume Blanc, is accessibly priced at about $14 a bottle, retail. In my opinion, not a bad wine at all, though far from my favorite wine made from that particular grape. If you intend to read the series, go out to good wine store and buy yourself a bottle or two.

F—C's owner had the great advantage of starting out in the wine business with a nine—figure fortune. The oldest joke in the wine industry goes that there's a sure—fire way to make a small fortune in the wine industry: start with a large fortune. Don Carano's fortune shows no sign of being 'small' yet, except by the definition of the likes of George Soros. In an industry notorious for financial secretiveness, he allows as how his winery's gross sales are around $25 million a year. Bigger than most wineries, but a pittance compared to giant Gallo, or to a medium—sized maker of, say, wiring harnesses. That's a nice size hobby business for a man with his fortune. But such is the power of the grape, that the winery appears to have absorbed —— and repaid —— most of his energies.

I am not a big fan of the San Francisco Chronicle, but I will be reading it eagerly for the next several weeks.

Kudos to the San Francisco Chronicle for beginning today a promising 39—part (!) series of articles, explaining the numerous  steps which go into making a bottle of wine — from dormant vines to popping the cork at the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York. The first chapter, run on the front page of the Sunday edition, complete with a large above—the—fold color photograph of a vineyard, is only slightly over—written.

Based on day one, the series is likely to spend a lot ink on The Larger Issues and The Meaning of It All. I am all but certain that the plight of the immigrant labor force, whose backbreaking work in the fields is utterly necessary for the survival of the industry, will be decried. I just hope that attetion will be paid to the fact that Italian immigrants, in their day, paid exactly the same dues, and that Italian—Americans have risen to wine industry wealth and glory, because the American Dream is real, and available to anyone who is willing to work for it. Mexican and Central American immigrant laborers now are beginning their own ascent in the industry, and I am all but certain that in another generation, we will be reading proud Spanish names on the labels of outstanding California wines.

Nevertheless, the large investment in reportorial and editorial resources is to be applauded. Better that the Chron do this sort of serial than send reporters out to cover scores of 12—person demonstrations for obscure left wing causes.

Speaking as a partner a winery, who mucks about in the vineyards, winery, and even in marketing, I can assure readers that there is more than enough material to carry a 39 part series. There are literally hundreds of decisions, made by viticulturalist and vintner alike, which affect the quality of the final product. There are many, many ways to ruin good grapes, and no ways at all to make good wine out of lousy grapes. At times, the process is magical, and at other times, messy and unpleasant.

The people involved in the wine industry tend to be very fine people, indeed. There is, for many of them, a sheer love of the grape and its end products. There is also a humble respect, even awe, for the power of nature, indeed the Deity, to create and transform such a marvelous gift to humanity. We who work in the industry are but handmaidens to forces far more powerful than us. I have worked in many industries, and I have never encountered another in which people have such fundamental regard for one another, and a willingness to trade insight and knowledge. It helps that everyone knows that an unforeseen pest —— a bug, a virus, a fungus —— can destroy their best efforts, at any time.

The particular winery chosen for the series, Ferrari—Carano, produces good products. The specific wine in question, the 2002 Fume Blanc, is accessibly priced at about $14 a bottle, retail. In my opinion, not a bad wine at all, though far from my favorite wine made from that particular grape. If you intend to read the series, go out to good wine store and buy yourself a bottle or two.

F—C's owner had the great advantage of starting out in the wine business with a nine—figure fortune. The oldest joke in the wine industry goes that there's a sure—fire way to make a small fortune in the wine industry: start with a large fortune. Don Carano's fortune shows no sign of being 'small' yet, except by the definition of the likes of George Soros. In an industry notorious for financial secretiveness, he allows as how his winery's gross sales are around $25 million a year. Bigger than most wineries, but a pittance compared to giant Gallo, or to a medium—sized maker of, say, wiring harnesses. That's a nice size hobby business for a man with his fortune. But such is the power of the grape, that the winery appears to have absorbed —— and repaid —— most of his energies.

I am not a big fan of the San Francisco Chronicle, but I will be reading it eagerly for the next several weeks.