Saturday, February 7, 2009
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.