Although Ben is only going on four years since graduating from Walla Walla Community College, he has learned and experienced a lot. I asked him, “What has surprised you about being a winemaker?” He told me the term and job of winemaker is nebulous. From Ben, “There are people with my same job title who fly around the world in private jets and point at tanks and bark orders for a living. My truck is almost 20 years old and I still hand-bucket grapes from the bins to the press. I still think I'm having more fun, though.”
I think he’s having more fun, too. The term winemaker seems elusive. You can have someone making wine out of their basement in a carboy and someone with the same title living in a chateau overlooking hundreds of employees. Both are winemakers, both make the product we know and love, but some have more resources, or more experience, or more money. Regardless, no matter how expansive your resources are, you can still make an incredible product, and I can see where this job title can seem a little surprising. However, winemakers all do the same thing, to a degree. Winemakers:
work with viticulturists who manage the vineyards
monitor the grapes closely to determine ripeness
crush and press
closely keep an eye on the grapes as they ferment
barrel taste and blend
determine what barrels (new, neutral, old) the wine goes in
plan out the aging, bottling, corking and storage process!
They also seem to all have the same goal - to concoct the perfect bottle of wine.
Ben’s wine related goals equal just that - wanting to make the perfect bottle of wine! But what constitutes the perfect bottle of wine!? The perfect wine could mean many different things to different people. This may mean that the wine is perfectly balanced having silky smooth tannins that don’t over power the wine and not being too acidic. This may mean the wine is buttery or oaky, depending on how the buyer prefers the wine to be made and taste. This may mean the wine is crisp with grassy notes or no grassy notes at all and tasting of lemon-lime. To Ben, the perfect bottle of wine is ”Perfect[ly] balance[d] with expressive, varietal specific flavors that are interesting and evolve during the tasting experience.” This sounds like a perfect bottle to me!