CHEERS TO THE SMALL GUYS, (& GALS)!
I am currently sitting in a Portland hotel room writing this and reflecting on my career in the wine industry. I'm here with Valerie to attend a wedding located at one of my favorite Oregon wineries, Soter. This is pure joy for me. Not because I'm on a fancy wine trip, or able to dine in some of the hippest American restaurants, but because I'm able to connect with the people and the place. To interact with the real essence of wine-making; away from the slick Spectator ads and social media influence. I can stand on the soil, feel the weather and inspect the vines. I can talk to the vineyard workers and the winemakers and connect with their passion and witness their dedication. I can hear their stories first-hand.
Visiting ground zero for a winemaking venture always reminds me of the core reason I love what I do.
Hart & Cru exists to bring these stories of authentic and humble producers back to you.
In our everyday existence, marketers vie for our attention and invade our psyche. Even looking around my typical hotel room I can count up to 15 brands (Aquafina, San Pelligrino, Crest, Ray-Ban, LG...you get the picture). And the wine world has embraced branding and marketing as well. The big names dominate the shelves at the supermarket and the real estate on many wine lists. In an attempt to break through this clutter I want to champion the small, independent, artisanal producers and evangelize their importance in the market.
First, as I walk vineyards with the growers I admire, they all state the same thing: Great wine is made in the vineyard. It takes a deep understanding of the place where the wine is being grown.
Second, farming and winemaking aren't glamorous. While it may be "on trend" to purchase organic or farm to table goods, I've seen first-hand the back-breaking labor, the rigor, and routine of these farmers. When people imply this is a labor of love, it's not a metaphor.
Third, the connection with their land is paramount to their process. It's hard to find the right word to describe these makers' connection to their place, but perhaps intertwined might be close. Great winemakers will tell you the second they stop walking their vines every day they lose that connection. They feel detached from their understanding of the terroir they are trying to express through the grape and in the bottle. This philosophy is exemplified in the wines and winemakers that truly move me: Arianna Occhipinti of Occhipinti in Sicily, Giuseppe Vaira of G. D. Vajra in Barolo, John Lockwood of Enfield Wine Co. in California, Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards in Sonoma California, Thierry Allemand of Allemand in Cornas, Michael Schmlezer of Monte Bernardi in Tuscany, James Cahill of Soter in Oregon.
Fourth, it isn't about the money. In many cases small poducers are struggling with their business models. They begin because they are stewards of the land, are obsessed with expressing something pure, and somehow merging with the cycles and inevitabilities of nature. I have seen winemakers nearly shaking with fear after a drought year, knowing their yields would be so low that they were not sure if they would produce another vintage. I've seen communities rise up when earthquakes fell a barrel room. These producers are heroes in an industry that has become over-commercialized and commoditized.
So while I have your eyes and ears, consider my plea. Support these underdogs. The people who put everything on the line to make something true in this age of hype.
So here’s to the small guys (& gals). They have ethic and drive, and I believe their results can be pretty epic. The challenge they have is getting you to know their name. So let's get started:
See you next Sunday.
the Cru - Kevin O. Hart
SMALL GUYS (& GALS) WE LOVE
A few names to get to know and remember.
- Occhipinti: Vitorria, Sicily IT
- Jean-Louis Dutraive: Beaujolais FR
- Jacky Blot: Montlouis, Loire FR
- Nicolas-Jay: Willamette, Oregon US
- Enfield Wine Co.: California US
- Hirsch Vineyards: Sonoma California US
- Matthiasson: Napa US
- Monte Bernardi: Panzano, Chianti Classico IT
- G. D. Vajra: Barolo, Piemonte IT
- Julien Braud: Sèvre et Maine, Loire FR
- Fanny Sabre: Pommard, Burgundy FR
- Nanni Cope: Campania IT
- Léon Barral: Faugeres FR
- Ruth Lewandowski: Utah US
- La Garagista: Vermont US
- Skeleton Root: Cincinnati, Ohio US
I am sure this reading has made you thirsty. Feel free to reach out and let us curate some incredible wine just for you.