A Kid at the Adult Table
The International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) is a huge draw to Oregon wine country for producers and consumers alike. I’ve heard a lot about it since I moved to Oregon in 2000, but working in the industry makes late July a challenging time to get away from the winery. We tend to be simultaneously wrapping up bottling of the previous vintage and preparing for the upcoming one.
In 2014, I finally had a chance to attend the Grand Seminar at IPNC, which was titled “Pinot Noir and the Doors of Perception.” This was of particular interest to me, as I have been exposed to some very in-depth olfactory training over the past seven years. I appreciated Harvard historian Steven Shapin’s comments on the evolution of wine perception and with it, the continually morphing idea of what makes a good wine. Birmingham chef, Frank Stitt, reminded many of us who need no reminder that the right wine with the right food can broaden our gustatory horizons. I was most looking forward to Elaine Brown’s visual depiction of how wine tastes. Her cartoons are informational as well as interesting, and she has received a lot of press for her wine tasting notes in the form of drawings. It is absolutely time that this is a recognized form of wine description, and she is by no means the first to visually represent flavor.
When I worked at Opus One, the Assistant Viticulturist was excellent at her job in the vineyard, but had not spent much time developing a vocabulary for her palate. When she was asked to participate in blending sessions with the winemaking team, she was initially intimidated and struggled to attach words to her perception. I noticed, sitting next to her in a tasting one day, that she was drawing small forms at the bottom of her tasting sheet and assigning words later. As I began to regularly observe her drawings alongside her description, I grew to understand the language of her art. She told me it was simply much more natural for her to capture taste through pictures.
Similarly, in an Olfaction Seminar with Alexandre Schmitt in 2011, I sat next to Patrick Reuter of Dominio IV wines. A very creative person, Patrick sat among a group of 12 other winemakers, each with a pen or pencil and paper, and Patrick spread out his set of crayons. We were learning to describe and identify aromas, but Patrick was also assigning them color and shape.
Winemaking is the intersection of art and science. For most of us, the process skews more heavily one way or the other, but this meeting of left and right brain has always been, to me, a central tenet of the craft. Tasting wine (especially within the industry) is so often technical. Many consumers strive to accurately identify color, aroma, acid, alcohol content. There is an entire profession devoted, essentially, to the blind identification of vintage, varietal, region, and producer, or at the very least whether the vintage was warm or cool, whether the wine is new world or old, and whether there is a flaw of some sort in the wine. But it seems only natural that there could be a more creative way to appreciate wine. I have challenged myself to draw what I taste more regularly, and I challenge you to do the same the next time you sit down with a glass of wine. You may surprise yourself at either your creative skill or the accuracy with which you are able to capture your perception through art.