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Media Shy Winemakers


Rebel Rose
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I've had some reason to think about this lately, as our winery is one that suffers from a winemaker so media shy that some of our customers think he's another one of my urban myths, like the story of our label.

I think many people have a perception fostered by winetastings, winemaker dinners, and advertising, that winemakers as a rule are a glamorous group who like to jet around the world promoting their wines. And there certainly are quite a few who enjoy, even thrive on, being in the limelight.

But there's a subculture of winemakers who avoid talking to the media, detest being in front of a crowd, and resent having to wear grown up clothes and comb their hair. But if you are fortunate enough to corner one with a small, non-threatening group, they often turn out to be funny, entertaining, knowledgeable, and wise.

Have you ever had the opportunity to talk to someone like this? Or is there a reclusive winemaker you would really like to meet, and why?

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Mary Baker

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In my experience, most wine makers are not glamorous at all. Domestic or foreign!

Who are these jet setters you reference?

Most of the promotion seems to be from winery owners or negociants or importers.

My guess is that wine making is difficult work and requires a lot of attention--few wine makers would seem to have much time to be traveling around doing PR work.

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I am a proud winemaker who is not shy....I am very approachable....yet I must hear this 50 time a day where are the other winemakers I have questions... when people see me with my shirt that proudly says winemaker they freak out and love it.....knowing most of the winemakers around this region..... they are best to be kept in the cellar....I think sales would fall if they got to talk with someone..especially the ones that hate wine and drink beer.....yep ...not all winemakers like wine ...strange but true......also most move around during their winemaking years so the owners of wineries are at risk promoting a winemaker...and then they leave...not good for the winery or their image......so I can see 2 reasons not to showcase a winemaker..one is they look like a train wreck and two if they leave and your clients follow them.....as a owner winemaker..weatherman...garbage man.. etc.. running a small winery you have to have something...this is me... the winemaker.......and co-owner...the wife is the real boss... :unsure::blink::cool:

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In my experience, most wine makers are not glamorous at all. Domestic or foreign!  /  Who are these jet setters you reference?

I'm completely with JohnL on this.

Q: "Have you ever had the opportunity to talk to someone like this?" I don't know if you limit it geographically, Mary, but here are a few, in business more than 10 years. (Some I know reasonably well, and I apologize publicly to them if this is embarassing which I think it won't be.) All are publicized but I don't think they seek it. (N.B.: in Burgundy there are many more women winemakers.)

Josh Chandler, Lazy Creek (Anderson Valley)

Ed Kurtzman, at large (earlier Testarossa)

Jeff Patterson, Mount Eden

Hermann J. Wiemer, pioneer of V. vinifera in Finger Lakes (1990: "I was just profiled in the Wine Spectator. I was not in very good humor ...")

George Troquato, Cinnabar and elsewhere [you asked for it George, when you mistook me for Robert Parker a dozen yrs ago]

Paul Draper, Ridge [by anonymous poll on Parker Web site, most respected US winemaker]

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How funny . . . I was thinking of Ed Kurtzman as I typed my post, although Ed did not inspire the question. Ed is highly intelligent and talented, and a super nice guy who loves kittens and music. He was the enologist at Chalone before moving on to August West and other projects. In fact, when I recently tried to order some August West (they've been sold out since Feb. 15), Ed responded in person.

John, I know that you and Max have a more in-depth knowledge of the wine industry than most and are aware that winemaking is often a grubby business, but I work in the public arena, and trust me, the winemakers and winery owners most people see create what the public expects to see when they visit a winery. Gina Gallo, for instance, is the poster girl for vineyard glam. Gallo had one ad with language about how Gina is so deeply involved in the vineyard . . . and there she was, crouching by a vine, holding a cluster of grapes next to her downy face . . . and dressed in an expensive butter-yellow suede jacket and the softest of deerskin gloves. And they were purple grapes.

Quite a few winery owners/winemakers have their own planes. And you are right, it is mostly the owners as opposed to the winemakers, who travel frequently, but some winemakers are also required to do:

*monthly black-tie winemaker dinners in the cellar

*restaurant sponsored winemaker dinners in other cities

*appearances at major food and wine festivals like Florida Wine Festival and Taste of Vail

*wine cruises

Plenty of winemakers may be busy, but are certainly not media shy. They'll give interviews and photo opps frequently.

Also, some new wannabe cult winemakers are very generous with personal tours and barrel sampling, which sets up an expectation among certain buyers that every winemaker should do this, or they're not as friendly.

So it's often the winemakers (or winery owners) who are grabbing for press attention that get it, but there are plenty of unsung winemakers out there who have great talent and are really fun to talk to. And it becomes an extra-special experience to become one of the few who find them.

Hence, my question: Who are your favorite media shy winemakers, and why?

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Mary Baker

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Hermann J. Wiemer

In the Finger Lakes region....because he doesn't play around...and will tell you the truth ..even if it hurts..... an so this true story goes.... one day a women was tasting his wine during harvest.....and he was serving the wine.....farmers freak out during harvest..is it going to rain..how hot is it..how cool...can I get a few days of sun to really get the harvest right...are the birds eating my ripe fruit..etc.... this is what we think about.....

back to the story..fruit flies are prevalent during harvest and crush I have munched on a few myself by accident or that fact I was too drunk to care...so the woman asks for a new glass because a fruit fly landed in her glass..Hermann refused the request..and then told her "you think that little fly will kill you... think again... and then he poured more wine..and she shut up and drank away.. he has a way with words... so for me he is very hard to approach unless you know his reputation..so if one were to meet him they would call him eccentric....I know him and just call him Hermann...he also does not allow limo or buses to taste..another story...I guy get out of the limo to buy a case and walked up to the tasting-room and they tell him "no wine for you' why....the limo...the man "explains how they parked it on the highway and walked up to the tasting-room ...he was told to leave....he hates the camera and being interviewed so he has others do this for him...modest yes ...and very stand off ish.....yet I love his wines and this perfection is in the wine...it's all about getting it right and Hermann will not let distractions...enter his life....

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there's a difference (I think)--Gina Gallo has the family name and was likely brought up in a manner to be an ambassador for the family and the brand.

Few wine makers experience this.

some of the most engaging folks I have met are:

Bob Foley

(maybe if your name is on the label there's more to it than just making the wine! though he got his real start at Pride)

This guy is a wine maker--degrees in both enology and viticulture from Davis. Also possess a real California kind of attitude--a kind of wine dude if you will. Laid back erudite knowledgeable and funny.

Olivier (Zind) Humbrecht

became a MW taking the test in a language other than his native tongue

This guy. like Foley, knows grape farming and wine making. If ever there was anyone capable of talking about terroir in a manner that makes sense it is him!

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I find it hard to believe that there are winemakers who really don't enjoy wine.

This business is a really competitive one (meaning lots of players) and getting into the public eye is just one thing that can get your brand a leg up. I would think shy winemakers would really have a disadvantage in this business. The wine biz more than any other is about hospitality. You MUST be able to meet with people and talk about your product. Its the passion that winemakers (and growers) have for their work, is what most consumers are interested in. I'm certainly not in this line of work for the money, I'm in it for the love of the product and the lifestyle.

Eaglepoint Ranch-Mendocino County

"Behind every bottle of wine there's someone driving a tractor!"

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I find it hard to believe that there are winemakers who really don't enjoy wine.

Casey, I never claimed that there are winemakers who don't enjoy wine. I know quite a few winemakers and growers who shun media attention, but are still very, very passionate about what they do. Take, for instance, 72-year-old Benito Dusi, who still farms the 85-year-old vineyard that his grandfather planted. (I have mentioned Beni before in the California Wine Blog 2007 thread.) Beni has never married, and shuns any contact outside of family, close friends, and his buyers. But he will come over to look at our vineyard, kick the tires, and talk "dirt." His vineyard is his life, and he tends it like a park. His workers adore him. I think of that as passion in action. :smile:

I agree whole heartedly with your other statements, however. People really enjoy getting to know the people and the back story of their favorite wines.

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Mary Baker

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Most wine makers are employees. They are hired and fired at the pleasure of negociants, winery owners/management etc.

In turn, many wine makers move around at their pleasure, from winery to winery.

(I heard this on my recent trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains)

I doubt that most wine makers would agree that their job description includes selling the wine (I would guess that most would probably ask for a salary increase or maybe a piece of the action from their employer to take on this additional task).

The wine maker's name rarely appears on a bottle of wine.

Wine is first and foremost a business. The public is fed a steady stream of romance from wine writers and the industry itself. The same folks who tell you that wine is just a simple drink to accompany your food will turn around and proclaim it "art in a bottle." Whatever view that convinces you to buy a bottle or preferably a case!

I don't know of any wine maker or winery that is making wine for the love and giving it away!

That said, wine is a magical drink. There are many passionate people who make and sell it. My guess is that the wine makers who are glad to take on the role Mary indicates in her initial post are also owners of the or have a piece of the action in the wine making operation. Even so, wine making is a fairly intensive business and I doubt there is much time for wine makers to travel about selling their wine and talking about their jobs.

Many passionate wine makers are really consultants. Michel Rolland et al consult for many wineries all over the world. Helen Turley makes wine (or oversees the making of the wine) for a number of wineries. These folks certainly do not have much time to

promote their work and I doubt that the wineries they consult for would want them to. Egos aside there are ethics involved! I bet there are very few Chateau owners in Bordeaux who want their wine makers to be out taking credit for their work. In fact, I doubt, many wine lovers could even name the wine makers for the various chateau or Domains in France (or really anywhere).

I have been to many a tasting where a winery owner or a negociant or an importer will "bring along" the wine maker who invariably is a rather soft spoken humble person who is clearly along to support the main attraction.

As an example one of the most charismatic and engaging people in the wine world is Michael Twelftree who is a relentless promoter of wine, Australian wines, and specifically his wines, and not necessarily in that order! I attended a tasting led by Michael who brought along his wine maker, a young quiet chap who seemed to respond only to direct questions from Michael (or the audience). It was Michael who was the empresario!

As a final note. In my experience, one has to take with a large grain of salt anything a wine maker (or empresario) tells you. Especially about their own wines. And really, would we expect a grand parent to admit that a grand child may not be all that talented or beautiful. Likewise, is the President of Sony going to admit that their current line of TV's is not up to snuff?

Mary, If you really want that wine maker of yours to get out there and represent the brand, why not make him or her a part owner and put their name on the label (in the front). That should do the trick!

Edited by JohnL (log)
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Mary, If you really want that wine maker of yours to get out there and represent the brand, why not make him or her a part owner and put their name on the label (in the front). That should do the trick!

Good comments, John, and thanks for the suggestion. Dan Panico is the majority owner of Dover Canyon, and the winemaker, cellar rat, vineyard guru, wine club packer and my significant other. He is, in fact, Dover Canyon, and his signature is on the back label of every wine we produce. But he's a humble man who is always surprised when his wines are reviewed well. He is incredibly bright. Other local winemakers sometimes come to Dan when they have problems like stuck fermentations. Dan has a phenomenal memory and a sensitive palate--he once picked out a corked wine when we were dining with eight other winemakers, when the others had previously thought it was okay. But Dan has always been very uncomfortable with public speaking and formal tours. When he worked for his former employer as a full-time winemaker he was required to give stand up presentations at black tie dinners every month for eight years. It was torture for him. Dan is actually very friendly and funny, as many media-shy winemakers are. He just prefers to deal with people in small groups. He grills lamb racks for hundreds of people on wine festival weekends, but he's so unassuming, everyone thinks he's the caterer or the cellar help. (In fact, visitors usually think our ebullient, white-goateed Papa Eddie is the owner.)

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Mary Baker

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Mary,

Unfortunately, Dover Canyon wines are not easily found here on the East Coast. I'd love to try em. I was in Monterey and Los Gatos last week and picked up a Paso Robles winery brochure. I am amazed at how many wineries I have never heard of or are not distributed much here, though not unexpected with small artisinal producers.

You were a bit too far south for a side trip!

Maybe Dan's traits are part of what enable him to be such a good wine maker. Probably, rather than formal power point presentations or stand up schtick, it's best just to have him kind of mingle or hang out at tastings or events once in a while, where he can be conversational and more relaxed.

I think, in the end, nothing speaks so well as the wines themselves. If the wines are good then just getting people to try them is more than enough. I am a huge believer in word of mouth (word of "palate??) --especially with wine. (something tells me you are well aware of this).

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