A few months ago I was tasting with an excellent cava producer – and no, that’s not an oxymoron.
We were discussing methods for improving quality, which is especially relevant for a category which churns out so much unfresh, unbalanced, boring wine. To my surprise, there was no mention of the usual factors such as clones, yields or dosage. Instead, the conversation centred on the disadvantages of crown cap.
Specifically, the producers asserted that during lees ageing, the use of cork closures (instead of the more commonly used crown cap) is an essential factor to ensure quality. Their conviction on the matter was absolute, and they even brandished the scientific research that apparently proves it.
Now, I mention this not to debate the validity of their beliefs, but to illustrate a widespread but consternating phenomenon in the world of winemaking: the convenience of your own uniqueness.
By that, I mean the syndrome whereby whatever unusual and particular thing a producer practices is held aloft as the irreplaceable secret behind their wines. Take the cava example again. No other sparkling wine producer I have ever encountered has mentioned the importance of closure type during lees ageing, yet this cava maker insisted it made all the difference.
On the other hand, the Champenois often speak of the unique benefits of their underground cellars, whereas English producers might cite their especially cool climate as the vital point of difference. Any one of them might claim that their biodynamic methods are the magic ingredient – or even more lazily, ascribe it to good old terroir.
Potentially, they can all produce top quality fizz, yet they all have totally different and possibly even contradictory explanations for why they can do so. More often than not, all of those explanations just happen to be unique to them. Nor is this peculiar to sparkling wine, of course. Wine producers of every style and colour can become smitten by the convenience of their own uniqueness.
Producers may well protest that the trade is constantly lecturing them on the importance of telling stories about their wine – and, furthermore, that they should avoid saying the same thing as everyone else. It’s true, there’s no pleasing some people. However, it’s also true that winemaking is very often a matter of opinion, not a matter of fact, and it’s very easy for producers to become victims of confirmation bias, whereby they promote any evidence supporting whatever they want to be true, and ignore whatever might contradict it. Meanwhile, more guileful producers are only too happy to peddle mythical nonsense in their marketing.
Hence the massive importance for anyone who sells wine to take a balanced view; to filter this confusion for their customers.
Storytelling remains an integral part of selling wine, and the most memorable ones are inevitably the best – however, they should always be viewed with a critical eye. there’s already enough misdirection and fanciful thinking in wine without retailers disseminating more.