The Confluence (a 2nd thought)
Terroir, the Role of the Winemaker, and the Label
I am still intrigued as to how the idea of terroir is rejected by many (most?) New World winemakers. Mr. Stehbens of Katnook was no different (see previous post). So what replaces the terroir model in terms of a unifying force amongst this school of vignerons? In his analysis of the direction of Australian winemaking, he repeatedly emphasized the need for his winemaking brethren to be true to the character of the grape, or ‘varietal integrity.’ The danger as he sees it is that if the trend continues, Australian wines will no longer need to be identified by cépage, rather they will be simply labeled ‘Big Aussie Red.’ His fidelity to the cépage is so strong that he excludes even the idea of blending (even if grapes like Petit Verdot can be used to supplant some of the usage of tartaric acid).
So if varietal distinction is important, and terroir is not, then that leaves human intervention as the defining influence on the eventual character of any bottling. There is no denying that wine is a human construct, however, here is where the most important distinction lies between the ’terroirists,’ and those who deny its importance. For winemakers like Stehbens, it is he who ultimately defines the character of his wine while the terroirists believe that it is the temperature, soil, indigenous yeasts and other classic terroir influences. They are simply there to coax the whole process along, limiting in fact as much as possible the influences of human intervention.
Stehbens and his compatriots are part technicians, part artists, part scientists and 100% god. Any and all interventions are ok as long they approach their personal model of what they want their wine to be, even if it means the negation of the influences of growing conditions inherent in the use of acids, commercial tannins and yeasts. He even maintained that he often describes the final product to his winemakers even before the grapes are picked.
Both of these approaches can make good, distinctive, personalized wines. But as a consumer, I would like to know more about what goes in to making the wine that I am drinking. If I want to know what was used to make my Doritos and Coke, I just have to look at the package. Is it not time for the wine industry to do the same? I would love to know not just about the chemical interventions and exact sulfite content, but also the exact blend, both by the grape of by millisème. I would make a nice change from the three paragraph blurb on the back label that tells me what I should smell and taste, and whether or not some Gomer believes that this bottle is really a great ‘chicken wine.’
I can figure that one out for myself.