Wine Pages

Mike Steinberger's Wine Diarist


Farmers, Artists, Trailblazers, Winemakers

A few days after Thanksgiving 2007, I read Joe Dressner's tribute to his friend André Iché, owner and winemaker at Chateau d'Oupia. I met Iché a couple of times at portfolio tastings, and have known and enjoyed his wonderful, character-filled, affordable wines for several years. His passing reminded me that many people in business of making wine are true farmers, passionate about their land, and masters at the artistry of growing grapes and blending wines.

I recently finished reading the updated, re-released "The Heartbreak Grape" by Marq de Villiers about the California Pinot Noir pioneer, Josh Jensen of Calera. Jensen returned to his native California after learning the ropes of Pinot production at Domaine Romanee-Conti. He invested a great deal of time, energy, and money in finding and producing world-class Pinot Noir from high-elevation limestone vineyards. His is a great story of passion, dedication, and ultimately, success. I had the chance to participate in a horizontal tasting Jensen conducted in NYC in early December, and am glad to see that his wines are still very much distinctive and exciting (after a bit of a lull a few years ago).

I've just finished reading Paul Pintarich's "The Boys Up North," about the pioneering winemakers in Oregon. It amazes me what some of these guys did: bucking trends, ignoring people who told them wine grapes could not grow in Oregon, all while living in trailers and tents on their farms and often maintaining full time jobs in Portland to pay the bills. From their start in the 1960s, these "boys" established a wine industry in Oregon, which now numbers over 300 wineries.

All this goes to show that there are real people behind the wines we drink. Sometimes they are operating machinery, removed by technology from the wine itself; but often they are getting dirty in the vineyard and rolling up their sleeves in the cellar, with a passion and mission behind their actions. I like to think there is a great personal story that goes with every bottle I drink - and learning those stories can be pretty inspiring.