Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Quality, Critics, and Wines for Those Who Know

A couple of fascinating articles and blog posts I read this morning have reverberated around in my head, knocking loose again these bedeviling personal questions.

What is Quality? How does the notion of a standard (with its implied underpinning of the "objective") of quality affect my business when the method of constructing that standard relies on mostly subjective inputs? How is the wine critic important to me and to those who love our wines?

My goal has always been to make wines from the Livermore Valley that are the equal in quality to wines made from any other appellation. The longer I make wine though, the more I come up against the ineffable, if not illusory, nature of the goal itself. In the larger world of wine, the standard for a variety's excellence is, at best, a confederation of opinions; the most important being that of the critic with the largest bullhorn at any given time. The bullhorn changes hands occasionally, and as it does, a new set of criteria for excellence seeps into the wine arena. Should our notion of quality then change too?

With experience and the coming to terms with what is really important in this adventure, the questions above become a bit more rhetorical. For the Steven Kent Winery, the only definition of quality, by necessity, has to be my own. Ultimately, every wine we release is the physical manifestation of a collection of decisions made by the Steven Kent Winery...everything from picking date to press date to yeast used to bottle chosen to artwork on label employed to how the wines are presented in our tasting rooms. The finished product is something we are proud of, that displays the maximum quality possible for that wine, that year. If we find enough people who feel that same way about it and the other wines we make, as we do, we might have a successful business.

Ultimately, I think this is the only kind of trade I want to be involved in...our efforts as a group
to make wine that hews as closely as possible to the personal vision we have of excellence in exchange for the passionate "yes" from those who respond the same way.

The real goal then becomes passionately making our wines as well as we possibly can for those wine lovers of like mind and heart. We'll leave it up to them to tell us if we've succeeded.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Child-like Awe

Every year it happens. Centuries have gone by, hundreds of vintages, thousands...you know it will happen, you even know about when it will happen, but still...there's a moment (when the first buds break and infuse your dormant vineyard with a living energy) of child-like awe.

Well, here it is.

On March 26th, bud break occurred on our HRV Sangiovese block, and was followed a couple of days later by Barbera and Cabernet. Though there really isn't any first step in this circle of life (cue the music!), bud break is generally acknowledged as the beginning of the growing season. From the buds come the shoots that serve as the nutrient bearing architecture for the fruit that will set in another month or so (depending upon the variety, of course).

In the next six to seven months fruit will set, shoots become canes; we will drop unripe fruit, thin leaves and canes, take numerous fruit samples testing for acid and sugar levels; we will move wires, harvest fruit, press and ferment. All these things, we've done before; they've been done for millenia...but it starts now, and it is inspiring.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Better Driveways Make Better Wines

Sometimes it is the little things that can have the largest and most important impact. And while the addition of a couple of thousand square feet of concrete doesn't make the world safe for democracy, it sure can improve the overall experience our guests can have.

Years of waxing and waning potholes led us to pave the entrance and part of the exit to our two tasting rooms. We hope that over the course of the next couple of years the entire roundabout will be similarly beautified.

Being a small company requires constant choices in how we spend our very limited resources. I think we finally have a handle on barrels and fruit sources (more important to the wine making process perhaps, but only a part of the entire equation), and it came time to make another quality statement.

From the very beginning, I have believed that ALL aspects of our winemaking and winetasting regimen need to be as perfect as possible to create the best possible experience. And though our wines have made a lot of friends, the entrance to our facility set the absolutely wrong tone for what was to come. Too often it takes too long to set the wrongs right. We've made a first step.