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.

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