Dirt matters

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May 2007


by Jeff Cox, Wine and Beer Merchandiser

Just about any winery with a shred of marketing savvy will tell you that “great wine is made in the vineyard.” From sales representative to tasting room staff to Web site, a populist connection to the good earth is recited like a rosary with its companion mantra, a commitment to the full expression of terroir.

Meanwhile, Oz performs alchemy behind the curtain, turning plant matter into gold. The winemaker is the high priest, the shaman who transforms mere grapes into the glorified, rarefied über juice that transcends vineyard and varietal to gain the blessings of Cardinals Shanken and Parker.

As America becomes largely an urban society, people who get their hands dirty for a living have become further marginalized. Farming often is considered “blue collar” or rustic, somehow backwards. Our culture rewards men with clean, soft hands, the moneychangers who foreclose on hardworking, honest people who can’t make a go of farming any longer.

Of course, these days to own a vineyard (in the right neighborhood) is to pass Go instantly, collect the two hundred and land on the Park Place of “Gracious Living.” Owning a vineyard can be the ticket to modern day nobility, an entrée to polite society, the mark of the fully rounded man with hands in the portfolio and feet in the soil.

Still, someone has to do the actual work, and beyond the reverence, ratings and image of effete refinement, wine is still a farm product. As in dirty hands, mites, mold, powdery mildew, up-before-dawn, hard freezes, 100-degree heat, harvest, bud break, pruning, trellis systems, green harvest, rot, bird cannons, deer fences, tractors and pickup trucks. And all the other things that have to do with winning a living from dirt.

The word “winemaker” doesn’t exist in French. A vigneron is one who cultivates a vineyard, translating earth to fruit, while one who “makes” wine is an éléveur — raising it in the same way that one raises a flock or a child. Not coincidentally, every great “winemaker” I’ve known views his or her role as that of humble assistant, aiding and abetting where necessary, but ultimately standing aside to let the vineyard sing its aria.

Great wine — from humble to fine — reveals its mysteries in poetry that speaks of earth and place. Savor, learn and tip your hat to the “winemaker” who had the humility to play a supporting role. Most of all thank farmers — and worship the dirt they walk on.

Jeff Cox

About the author

Jeff Cox is the wine and beer merchandiser at PCC. Over the years, he's built close relationships with vineyards worldwide and in our neck of the woods. He's even worked with select local vineyards to create some of the spectacular wines we carry.

In addition to this monthly column, check out his featured wines list.