Ok, so here I am, sitting in a train station in Cootamundra, (why don’t we have names in the U.S. like Cootamundra? I love these people!) thinking about everything. Thinking about home, what makes home home, what I want home to be, thinking about Australia, thinking about the future and thinking about wine. I also am thinking that I haven’t written in this blog for a while. Suffice to say things have been eventful on this side of the world, with a trip to Melbourne, closing in on making a decision as to where I will be next vintage, (either going to be working in Russian River Valley, Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley) and being en route to a trip to Sydney, Osaka, Bangkok and Singapore. However, if you want to hear about that, you’ll have to give me a ring or something.
So I guess this is a good time to tell you about Casella wines: the real dirt of the issue. Casella wines makes wines in a dramatic and factory-like manner. Some of the things they do seem down-right alien, and through-out the process, the chain of command is long enough that by the time it reaches the worker at the bottom the wine itself, the wine seems like just red stuff that it’s our job to process as if it were oil in a refinery. The fact of the matter is because of the sheer volume of wine and the gross size of the winery, it doesn’t make sense to make wine the same way we do in another winery. You can’t drain a tank, then hop in and shovel out the tank when there’s 200 tons of grapes in the tank. So what we do is we hop on top and shoot down wine like firemen with powerful hoses to make a muck we can pump out. It seems ridiculous, but it’s just the reality of this volume. Even transferring a tank is a day-long operation, setting up lines that stretch some ½ mile long to get from one 1,100,000 (look at all the pretty zero’s!) liter tank to another.
It was definitely a positive learning experience nonetheless, however. I’m learning that every winery in the world is going to do things differently, and I’m learning to roll with it. Stone Hill made wine one way, Fresno State another, and now, Casella another. It makes sense, as it allows them to make wine cheaply, and spend more money on grape quality (or not, depending on the product), but it’s not for me. The wine-makers here have their hands somewhat tied. You can’t take a risk with a million liter tank, you have to play it safe, and being careful and gentle isn’t really an option here, the processes here are not of the wine-maker’s design, rather, they are pre-set to handle large quantities of wine quickly and efficiently.
That’s not to say that there aren’t good wines being made here, there most certainly are, especially the wines that came from the Riverina before the rains in March, but the biggest reason things here aren’t for me is the lack connection with the wine. I think one of the romantic and fun things about wine is the intimacy: the experience of watching a wine grow into something beautiful. The feeling of making something gorgeous is what drives any creative person to create, but here the watching is casual, and the beauty, well, let’s be honest, this is bulk wine…