Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fifty-Eight Twice

I am actually 57 but I have been telling myself and everyone else for the past year that I am 58. Why, one might ask, have I done this? It seems a little bit strange to lie to yourself, make yourself older than you are (unless you are a teenager trying to buy cigarettes or beer). My reasoning is as follows. As everyone is aware, as you get older, time seems to speed up, the years start to fly, this is my way of slowing down that process, by skipping 57 I get to be 58 for two years and time seems somehow readjusted to the pace that I remember.

You may criticize me, and justly. 'Isn't this just obvious facile self-deception?' you may ask. The answer is 'of course it is', 'yes', but! it seems to work. I feel more relaxed, not under so much pressure associated with a date certain in the future, my birthday will inevitably come but it will not signal any change, all will be the same, I will just be 58--again. -- I will have a 'do-over'. We all have our dirty little secrets. This is mine.

One of the remarkable (and sometimes frustrating) things about wine is that you can't really rush it, nor can you slow it down or go back. It just takes time, all these processes of infiltration, coagulation, clarification, transmutation the resolution of myriads of complex interactions, links in the chain, rungs in the ladder that must be ascended one by one, no skipping, no going back. In wine there are no 'do-overs'.

By now the reader should be able to recognize that last paragraph from beginning to end is just one more facile self-serving lie. You can't always expect a perfect vintage, so, it is, or should be, common knowledge that a winemaker can also elect to compensate for the vagaries of nature and time. One can mask a deficient vintage with heavier oaking; a sickly Pinot can be turned into a passable Champagne; the natural bitterness of a Gewurztraminer can be easily masked with the addition of a little sugar. Steps can be skipped, even omitted. Yes, the winemaker's dirty little secret is this; the mistakes or deficiencies in wine, as in life, usually can be corrected, however, in winemaking there is no corresponding impunity; in winemaking there is always a price exacted. Winemakers who learn to correct flimsy wines with oak tannins or other methods can easily fall prey to the assumption that all their efforts will benefit from this approach. Do I exaggerate? Do I kid? How about fifteen years of over-oaked Chardonnays from California?

When correction becomes a habit instead of an ameliorative (and it always does), that is the danger. An ethic of correction inevitably becomes an ethic of over-correction. With a little marketing you can make over-oaking acceptable, even desirable. It then becomes the same in life. One can say or do whatever one wants without regard to people's feelings because it can always be smoothed over later, one can play fast and loose with quality and fix it later with a good ad campaign, the goal becomes no to do 'the best one can do' but rather 'the best one can on average'. In the world of statistics better and worse are equal heresies. It is the ethic of the 'do-over'. What's wrong with this approach, arguably, the statistically correct approach? Well maybe you happen to miss that one perfect vintage, that grape that really needed nothing or next to nothing to make a perfect wine. Maybe it will be 1 out of 10, maybe it will only be 1 out of 100 but, with the 'do-over' ethic you are sure to miss it. Maybe 57 would actually would have been better than 58 twice. The fact is I will never know. The one good thing is that 58 twice is not 116.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Blogging Blogojevich in Blogadoon

Everyone knows the story of Brigadoon, the mythical Scottish village that only appears once every hundred years. No one from the village may leave or it will disappear forever. OK, it's time admit it when the fairytale is over. We baby boomers grew up in Brigadoon, a place protected from change, a place ensconced in the mists of legend and lore and protected by the mysterious hand of fate. A place no one could never leave or it would cease to exist forever. We all knew the consequences so we chose to remain. That no longer seems to be the case. Someone has left and the next time we all disappear, it may be forever.

We must find out who it was, who was improvident enough to put his own personal good above that of his fellows, ferret out who was it that left? Was it possibly Rod Blogojevich when he departed from Illinois to appear out of the morning mists on Good Morning America and the Early Show? Was it bonny Blogojevich, the all-American tough kid from the north side of Chicago who made good and got an expensive haircut, did he ruin the spell and spell ruin for the rest of us? Did he cross some invisible boundary, thrust himself out into an unwary world at the expense of his colleagues and his state? Will the state of Illinois or possibly America disappear never to be seen again except in a Lerner and Lowe musical revival? The process of disappearing seems already to have begun. If you look on the Illinois State website for his bio, there is no Governor Rod Blagojevich, his bio is gone, missing, disappeared, nada. It is only the first sign of many? Are we all destined to now disappear, be replaced by a '404 file not found' error in the webpages of memory. Perhaps only Oprah can save us from this fate!!

For some reason I felt sympathy for Blagojevich. There was Harry Smith on CBS looking like ole' Rod was something stuck to the bottom of his shoe, something he stepped in and was glad to find himself wearing brown shoes. Yet, here I was feeling sorry for the weaselly guy who it seemed everyone knew was finished except for him. Why was that I wondered? Then I realized, --that's exactly my job. A winemaker's job is to hold on to something with very public desperation, something everyone else knows is likely to disappear, then to bottle it and sell it. Here was Rod, selling the public desperation. Tryin' to hold on to it against what all of us saw as reason.

What keeps us going? What kept Rod going?
Well, for one, sometimes we do pull it off. Sometimes we do capture that ineffable combination of aroma and taste and there suddenly it is again, the essence of that grape, swinging away like a prizefighter at the Golden Gloves.
We stop asking; How do you capture something that is evancescent? How do you recognize it when it is present? When it disappears how do you know when it is likely to appear again? How do you prevent it from disappearing forever? Can you bottle it?
And if we do bottle it. So? what happens then? Well, let me introduce you to Oprah Winfrey the junior senator from the great state of Illinois and Brigadoon.