The Sport of Wine Making

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I’m so excited: my team won.

La Crema’s Virtual Vintner project is underway – they are pioneering a project to craft a limited edition wine based on feedback from a swelling number of participants from all over the country and around the world. There were well over 8,000 Virtual Vintners who participated in the initial decisions (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay) and appellation (Russian River or Arroyo Seco).

Russian River Pinot won the day (I had my fingers crossed for that outcome personally, because, yum!). Now that we’ve narrowed it down, the VV project is at the tail end of decision #3 – selecting a specific vineyard within the Russian River appellation. There is still time to get in on this really fun and interesting project – they’re in the final hours of vineyard selection now, but after that will come more decisions about yeasts, barrels, and more.

Specifying a single vineyard is a process that can really give you a lot of insight into why wines are so varied. La Crema’s website gives detailed information on the two properties in contention, describing them and explaining what factors will influence the character of the final product. Do you know what the pros and cons are to older versus younger vines? Whether pinot noir grapes do better in rich or poor soils? What the influences of the highly variable coastal microclimates might mean for harvest timing and volume?

La Crema’s winemaking team, headed by Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, is giving people who love wine, but don’t necessarily have a long career of creating it, a remarkable opportunity to become more educated drinkers and have a lot of fun doing it. The winery is thrilled with the number and diversity of participants and they welcome more folks to get in on the action. I recommend doing this. Even people who make wine stand to learn something from the process, and those of us whose focus is more on, well, drinking it – this project offers a unique opportunity to be part of a highly complex, unpredictable and exciting transformation experience, in which sunlight turns into grapes and grapes turn into liquid poetry.

Sign up, folks. Seriously. This is not a paid opinion. Russian River Valley is an hour’s drive from my house – I know those hills and valleys pretty well, and am fairly familiar with the considerations that go into crafting a batch of il vino. And I’m learning a ton from watching this chug along. You will too. Oh, also, signing up puts you in the running for some cool prizes including a deluxe jaunt to Ground Zero to tour, talk, taste – and hey, maybe find out why the clay under Sonoma County is something people are known to deliberately take a long bath in.

After you get your terroir issues sorted, the next phase will be a fungus-fact-finding mission and a decision on the yeast strain that will rev up the fermentation process. Yes – seriously, the specific type of yeast matters. That is why you cannot make San Francisco sourdough bread in Saint Louis, among other things. The decisions can be endless and minute and seem like fussy obsessive craziness – until you imagine how you’d go about it. Then out of nowhere the world starts to open up. This is called “learning,” and it is incredibly cool. Especially when the end result is something silky and high in finesse with dark cherry and subtle florals on the nose and a firm, youthful body – and you can appreciate it that much more because you know what it took to create it.

Read up on it at La Crema. And get creative.