by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
A quick update on our quixotic effort to open a winery and tasting room: We got our federal bond a few months ago. Last week we got our California winery permit. I’m told we’re going to be good on septic without any modifications, but haven’t seen anything in writing yet, but feeling good on that point. Submitted our revised plans to the county for their permit. It’s possible (though probably not likely) we’ll be done in a few weeks.
As we near (hopefully) the finish line, I feel like collapsing in exhaustion. But getting the blessing of the powers that be to open our doors isn’t the end of the process. It’s probably more accurate to say it’s the end of the beginning. Instead of collapsing in exhaustion, I need to rev up and move on to round 2.
So on the assumption that we’ll be in business soon, I’m turning my attention to the many mundane matters that need to be addressed before we can actually open our doors.
So I turn my thoughts to, among other things, the wine glass.
Making a wine that’s at least good and hopefully something even better isn’t a simple matter. Someone has to grow the grapes in such a way that what shows up at the crushpad is of high quality. That means someone needed to decide what to plant where, how to lay it out, how to cultivate it, and when to pick it.
The winemaker then needs to make a bunch of decisions about how to process those grapes until, at last, those grapes, crushed, pressed, aged, oaked, etc., etc., etc., make it into the bottle.
After a journey from bottling line to warehouse to distributor and retailer (or tasting room), the wine finally gets opened and all that effort expended over years is enjoyed (or not) over a fairly short period of time (probably less than an hour and, in a tasting room, maybe less than a minute).
So it’s always been something of a surprise to me that after all that, scant attention is paid to the wine glass. I would say that at most tasting rooms (and restaurants as well), the glasses are mediocre at best and often downright poor.
If you’re consuming a glass of water, pretty much any receptacle will do. But wine is different. Its enjoyment depends to a large measure on a number of factors, not least of which is the aromas that emanate from the wine.
Unlike chowing down a glass of water when you’re thirsty, wine consumption is a sensory, at times almost artful, experience. Personally, I have some pretty strong feelings about what makes for a good wine glass. Some of those factors may not even have a whole bunch to do with the actual sensory effect on the wine. For example, a thin lip (i.e., a “sheer rim”) is critical to me. Not sure why, but it is. Does that thin lip have a sensory effect on the wine? I don’t know. But it certainly has a sensory effect on me.
I remember a wine tasting that we did a number of years back. But instead of trying different wines in the same glassware, we tried the same wine in different glassware. Without doing into undue detail, wines tasted a whole lot better in excellent glassware than in cheap glassware. There wasn’t’ a whole lot of difference from one fine glass to another (e.g., Riedel vs. Schott Zwiesel), but between a cheap Libbey glass and any finer quality, you could almost see the difference.
So when you’re at the end of that long trek from vineyard to winery to distributor to tasting room, it seems you should show off that wine with a glass of a quality commensurate with the wine. Alas, that is rarely so. I think the primary factor that tasting rooms use in picking a glass is price. I can’t say as I don’t understand that concern, as the cost of running a tasting room isn’t a minor matter. And you can get tasting room glasses in quantity for less than a dollar a stem.
But you’re not going to get a good grass for that price. First of all, you’re going to get a glass glass, not a crystal glass. When I see a glass like that in a tasting room, it’s an immediate turnoff to me. It’s almost as though they hung a sign behind their tasting bar proclaiming “We don’t give a rat’s ass about the quality of our product.” That may in fact not be the case at all. But it’s the message that that cheapo glass conveys to me.
I’m not going to single out just tasting rooms on this score. We went to one of our favorite Napa Valley haunts for dinner last night. We brought a bottle of wine and the establishment supplied us with a couple of glasses. Again, cheapo glass glasses.
At any rate, I’ve found a number of quality glasses, and I (along with my wife and partner) are going to have to make a decision on which to pick for our tasting room. More on that next week…