Defining a personal “style” of winemaking has always been a difficult proposition for me. I still consider myself an unexperienced rookie, then I glance at the calendar and realize I’ve been at this gig for quite a while. As visions of past vintages scan by quickly in my mind, I recall my early days in Nova Scotia through my time as Viticultualist at Creekside Estate Winery. I’m suddenly astounded when it hits me that I’ve been making wine for Five Rows since way back in 2004! Has it really been that long?
Questioning my personal style is standard practice around this time of year, as I debate what tweaks to make in each of our of 2011 wines. The quandary is whether to mess with the formula that has produced a certain style of wines people have come to expect and enjoy. The safe move is to keep thing status quo, but that’s not why I got into this. I want to push envelopes and ultimately change perceptions of St. David’s Bench Terroir. But what if I screw it up?
I present the case for my 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. Previous successful vintages (2007-2010) could be chalked up to equal parts fruit quality, terroir, and winemaking technique. Beautiful late-summer weather assured the success of this year’s crop, with ideal acid and sugar parameters, ripe seeds and classic Lowrey Sauv Blanc flavours.
Do I treat this fruit the exact same way as I did in previous vintages or do I make a few subtle changes to the winemaking protocol in an effort to improve? “Fence-sitter” Wes says, “Don’t rock the boat, people like it as is. There is no need to alter the oak to stainless steel ratio, yeast type, fermentation temperature, and residual sugar content if you don’t have to.”
“Devil May Care” Wes says, “Deep down you know there was some room for improvement in the 2010 Sauv Blanc (and I don’t care if it sold out already!). Trust your instincts and do what it takes to make the wine you envision. When you first started making wine you didn’t care about defining a style, you just wanted to achieve the best possible representation of your terroir. Ultimately, if you like the wine, so will everyone else.”
I chuckle at the irony when I read this over and tend to agree with “Fence-sitter” Wes, but all kidding aside, I feel it important to proceed without the boundaries of a defined style in all my wines. The success or failure of a wine should not be judged by public perception or sales figures, but on whether the winemaker achieved their goal.