Can great wine be premeditated?
A recent BBC story about Californian Pinot Noir producer Clos de la Tech reported that the billionaire producer TJ Rodgers has a mission statement to make the best Pinot Noir in the New World.' On Twitter, Neal Martin responded to me with this insight:
In April last year, I wrote about whether money was the only thing necessary to establish top quality wine. This story begs the same question.
The most prestigious wines in the world tend to have a long track record, often with a historical connection to a particular piece of proven terroir. The story about Clos de la Tech emphasises the ambition of the owner, the use of bespoke technology and the enormous sums of money involved - the premeditation which Neal mentions.
As the BBC piece asks,
However, the Clos de la Tech vineyard is in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which is in fact home to proven terroir with a long track record in the shape of Ridge. Furthermore, Rodgers apparently employed Ted Lemon of Littorai (another highly respected Californian producer) to consult on the viticulture.
As wine commentators, is cynicism about a project such as Clos de la Tech justified? Or is it unfair to assume that something premeditated can't achieve genuine quality?
Answering those questions isn't straightforward because it involves two fundamental variables in wine: personal opinion, and emotional connection.
You could argue that so long as the person drinking Clos de la Tech likes the taste and loves the brand then whether it has been premeditated is irrelevant. Yet authenticity is a hugely important part of how people appreciate wine too - especially fine wine, which has to have the same credentials as any other luxury product.
For wine professionals, Clos de la Tech's marketing seems somewhat phoney. Yet what if critical opinion agreed it was great quality? Would that validate the wine, irrespective of its story? This may be a moot point, as it happens, since the wine seems to have minimal coverage in the main wine outlets - especially in Britain. Indeed, until this BBC article, I'd never heard of Clos de la Tech.
Perhaps their marketing strategy is focused on mainstream media such as the BBC rather than traditional wine writing platforms - although that wouldn't exactly chime with their ambition to become the best Pinot Noir in the New World - surely they would seek validation from the biggest critical names in the business.
It's hard to not pre-judge in these sorts of scenarios. Until I taste the wine myself, l'd like to think I'd be open-minded. But surely making the best Pinot Noir in the world isn't just a matter of money.