A couple of weeks back we wrote about how wineries and winemakers develop their style, and while it will evolve over time for the best winemakers, it becomes a part of their brand — their signature, if you will — on each bottle they produce. But what happens when you notice one of your favorite winery’s products makes a really big shift? By big we are trying to spur your memory to changes that really have two factors: the changes are abrupt and they are significant enough to where you notice the results are not to your liking.
When you do notice changes that are significant you may be dealing with a change in the winemaker. With the exception of wineries where the owner is the winemaker, these changes happen. It is just part of the business, and no different than when a restaurant changes chefs and you notice the food isn’t quite the same. Winemakers, like chefs, bring not only different skill sets to their jobs, they have different preferences in how they like to make wine. Also, no different than wine consumers, their palates are different. All of these subtle differences between any two winemakers will no doubt result in a big shift in how the wine tastes.
It is only in a winery with the strongest management and most consistent presentation of their product over time that a wine can stay consistent when there is a change at the top of the winemaking team. Is it possible to pull that off? Sure it is. But, more frequently, it will create the kind of change in the wine flavor and profile that we described.
The change will typically show up about three vintages after the original winemaker, the one you were so fond of, has left. This lag time in the change is due to the fact that a winemaker will likely have a couple or three vintages in barrel, aging and just waiting to be bottled. The new winemaker is left with the somewhat easier task of getting the wine into the bottle, and at times, some blending of barrels or varietals will still need to be done.
It is only when a winemaker has taken full control of the process from harvest through fermentation, aging and bottling, the wine will fully be his style. That is when you will notice the change. However, if you are not aware that the winery has made that change, you might just be left to wonder what the heck happened to the wine you have loved.
Many times, if you have purchased the wine at a wine shop or other retailer, they will know if there has been a change in winemaker. Your other option is to call the winery and simply ask if the winemaking team is still intact. While a winery may not want to advertise a change in winemaker just as a restaurant will not want to proclaim a change in chef, they typically will tell customers when asked specifically. They will want to keep you as a good customer, so it is in their interest to emphasize the positive aspects of the change and attempt to allay your concern.
For you as a wine consumer, your best bet might be to follow the winemaker to his or her next post. If you are that fond of the style they showed at the original winery, you may find that they will work the same “magic” at any winery.
It’s also a good idea to revisit wines from the original winery that changed so much. Wineries, like any business, don’t like to lose customers, and if the changes you noticed as being quite large result in their business declining on a large scale, they will work diligently to bring the wine back to its former style and quality.
We all have our favorites and we all hate to see those go-to wines go through big changes. It is better to know the changes happened due to a change in the winemaking team; at least that way we will know how best to adjust our purchases.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.