We have long preferred a non-interventionist approach to winemaking. The style that is more common among European and smaller lot producers domestically and abroad focuses on letting the wines become what they are meant to become while at the same time recognizing that changes in approach are necessary, vintage to vintage and varietal to varietal.
We hosted a wine dinner this past weekend with Rob Newsom, owner/winemaker at Boudreaux Cellars in Leavenworth, Washington. As we listened to Rob talk about his wines and winemaking style, we were struck by two things: his unyielding emphasis on quality fruit from some of the best growers in Washington, and his intent to "leave the wines alone." He talked about when starting out, how important - and at times difficult - it was to just leave the wines be, once fermentation was done.
"Racking" is the part of winemaking when aging wine is pumped out of barrels into a large stainless steel tank to blend the various lots, and then pumped back into barrels for further aging. It is a necessary part of winemaking. Rob's approach is to only rack the wines twice. This is minimal by the winemaking standards of larger producers, and part of a non-interventionist approach that we prefer. While Rob had many anecdotal and humorous stories regarding his winemaking, it hit home for me on the wines I like best.
Rob also spoke of how he ages his wines while in barrel, placing them in the "12-foot hole he dug under the winery," a true cellar where the ambient temperature varies between 49 degrees and 59 degrees year-round. He never heats nor cools the cellar, just allowing the wines to stay there and again, "leave them alone."
There is a long list of winemakers with this approach. Doug Nalle from Nalle Winery in Sonoma County, John Abbott from Abeja in Walla Walla, Bob Lindquist from Qupe in Santa Barbara, John Lancaster from Skylark, Failla Winery, Honig Winery, Trefethen, Pride and others; the list could go on for quite some time. What all of these wineries have in common is an approach focused on high quality fruit, low cropping levels, balanced and dynamic approach to vintage and varietal and yes, letting the grapes become the best that they can be with minimal intervention. They share this approach with Boudreaux cellars.
The result for wine consumers is you end up with seamless and elegant wines that have all of the components you look for in great wines that maintain harmonious balance. No sharp edges, no dominant flavors that seem out of whack. The wine press is taking notice of this approach, showering accolades and awards on many of these producers on a regular basis. Wine consumers, too, are taking note, if the appreciation for the Boudreaux wines during our events is any indication.
Wines that are made in this style vary in price points. While the wines from Boudreaux reside in the super premium category, there are others that are more gently priced. You will not typically see this approach with large bulk producers. While there are still good wines made by the largest wineries, their need for mountains of fruit, blending of large and varied lots of wine, and their desire for consistent albeit less complex productions require more frequent racking and other winemaking techniques that can be traumatic and certainly change the wines quite a lot.
What each of us likes remains the most important arbiter when it comes to judging which wines are best for each of us to purchase. Trying wines that are left more to their own potential, though, can be educational for your palate and can increase your overall wine experience. You may discover some new favorites among the non-interventionist camp of winemakers.
If there is a topic you would like to read about or if you have questions on wine, you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com, or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d'Alene Press.
George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party, a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d'Alene by Costco. George is also the managing judge of The North Idaho Wine Rodeo and is the wine editor for Coeur d'Alene Magazine (www.cdamagazine.com). You can learn more about the dinner party at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com. You can get all of these articles, as well as other great wine tips, by friending us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.