Perhaps because I’m about to embark upon my thirtieth harvest here at The Ojai Vineyard, I have been spending some time reflecting on my work. When I first started in the wine business, it was difficult to imagine doing anything in particular for five years, let alone thirty. But there is something alluring in a craft that presents innumerable variables together with a rather long time-line during which many changes occur. The work is endlessly confounding and fascinating; I still have much more to learn about wine.
In this quest there are a few objectives I have pursued to help focus my energies. First, I have consciously approached my work as a craft and not as a business, because, as soon as you get worked up about the cost of a cork or a cluster of grapes quality seems to take a back seat to expediency. While it is nerve-wracking to invest heavily in something without really knowing what the return will be, I have had success taking a no-compromise approach to wine quality. People are sick of the McDonaldization of products and have been receptive to our attempts to make the genuine article: hand-made wine.
My intent has always been to make the best, but over the years I have learned enough to realize that the devil is in the details and that one must focus on these with utmost attention. In the vineyards we went from gently nudging the growers to insisting that they make radical reductions of yields and adhere to vineyard practices that might seem crazy to some–but the aim has been to do everything and anything that might improve quality. And in the winery we went from the fringes of conventionality to the absolute extreme as far as the making and handling of the wines is concerned. I regularly freak out my more conventional winemaker friends when I tell them how little sulfur dioxide I add to my wines and how little and how late I rack them.
Keeping the winery small has kept this work rewarding and fun for me. As a born empire-builder, I have had to fight my natural instincts, but in order to continue to focus on making better and better wine, I can’t be bothered with thelogistics required to make and sell more and more. And making better is the essence of what I am trying to do here.