Vineyard or Cellar: What Makes the Wine?

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Global trade and technology are having the same sort of disruptive impact on the world of food and drink as anywhere else. And according to one wine educator, it means a much broader choice of styles, types and regions than ever before.

Bob Bath, Master Sommelier and professor of wine and beverage at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the Napa Valley, has been instrumental in development of the Wine and Beverage Graduate Certificate program, the first college graduate level wine and beverage program of its kind in the United States. Bath also helped to develop the CIA’s Sommelier Summit. He thinks we are in the midst of an exciting era in the history of wine, as more and higher quality wines continue to arrive in the United States from more regions across the globe.

But there are directions in which the wine world is diverging. On one hand, vineyard development technology enables wineries to identify the ideal growing location for specific varieties, empowering these grapes to express exciting, unique characteristics, says Bath. On the other hand, winemaking technology advancements now allow winemakers to create wines in the winery that are ideally suited to consumer taste preferences.

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“There are two very divergent things happening right now,” Bath says. “We have more good wine in the world than ever before and we are able to achieve them from both ends of the spectrum—from wines that are a result of the right grapes grown in the regions most suited to them, and from what winemakers are able to do in the cellar as they use modern techniques.”

Technologically, that means things like flash extraction, which is puts wine in a vacuum prior to fermentation. This technique removes the herbaceous character from Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, and extracts greater amounts of deep colors consumers seem to prefer. These are particularly impactful at the lower priced end, while at the more premium end, technological advances like optical sorters that sort berries almost one by one allow winemakers to work with precisely the quality grapes they prefer.

Bath, who will present seven wines to sample during his seminar “Wines from Somewhere or Someone?” at the 2018 VIBE Conference, says that many consumers are also looking for great wines with interesting stories. Such wines are often those unique or unusual selections that have a compelling history or story, or that at least offer something specific to their place of origin.

“There’s an assumption out there that a wine that’s from a particular place is going to cost more, but there are so many places all around the world where there are wines of such tremendous value, like Chile and South Africa, and this Millennial generation is incredibly open minded to these wines. The fact that you can provide value wines from grapes or perhaps regions that aren’t so familiar, that’s key.”

Bath is quick to point out that consumer choice today is unprecedentedly high. Bringing these wines forward, particularly to younger consumers and those with a deeper interest in wine, is important.

“Rather than trying to convince that Silver Oak customer who’s very happy and quite frankly is supporting the business in a great way, I would rather work with the younger generation or people who know a little about wine and are really curious about trying things. Whether it’s the wine list format or the training or restaurants themselves making these wines available, it’s an opportunity to share incredibly natural expressions of the places they come from.”

Bath says he hopes the seven wines he’ll be tasting VIBE Conference attendees on will stimulate thoughts and conversation about the possibilities going forward, more than anything. “As much as we can appreciate the wines as craft or style, we’re now in a position where we have a selection of so many incredible wines in many styles and from many regions, it would be silly not to try these things and keep expanding what we know, because it’s only going to become more interesting in the future.”