Deciding on what bottle to write about month after month, is not as easy as you might think. Why? Because “ it matters.” For every well-balanced and masterfully crafted wine that I write about, many more poorly balanced and disappointedly crafted bottles lay in its wake. Yes, I do write about impressive wines and the hard working, passionate people who create them, but finding that diamond in the rough takes tasting and drinking, tasting and drinking and even more tasting and drinking. I end up drinking 8 to 10 bottles a week of some pretty shitty wines, just to find the gold. Someone’s got to, right? Yeah, I know, “It’ s a hard-knock life” and “It’ s a hard-knock life”.
For the most part, my writing focuses on California. I could rattle off a hundred reasons why I love California wines, and I could easily name 20 to 30 brilliant wineries that I’d like to write about and some, I have. However, when faced with the task (one of my own making) of finding the gems, the ones few people know of, the ones rarely mentioned, research is an essential. It’s one of the things I’m really good at, and it’s something I love. (again, I do this for you!) When I find a wine or winery I really like, it’s likely to come about one of three ways. Either, I fell in love with the wine, I fell in love with the winery, or I fell in love with their story, and since “I AM” a story teller, I’d be remiss not to share. So when I get that spark, that hit, it’s magic, and I get kind of obsessed, as artist’s do. The history of the winery, their entire back story, the people, the struggle, ups and downs, the painful heartbreaks, the exhilarating wins and the breathtaking joy of producing a vibrant, beautiful wine. Since I can only imagine what it must be like to actually be there, it’s my job to bring their story to life, and I do that by writing something compelling about each of them, month after month. Let me be perfectly clear, the research has its challenges, but truthfully, it’s fun as hell.
It’s a luxury to purchase wine that I get to consume and then, write off on my taxes as research. Trust me, that’s not lost on me. So, you won’t hear me bitching.
My friends, I uncork and pickle my liver, each and every month, to entertain you and at the risk of sounding corny, to inspire you, even a little. So, whether it’s wine under $20 or wine over $500, it’s all exploration, it’s all for you, and I’m not complaining.
A couple of times a year, wineries will send me a bottle or two, to review. I welcome it like a rat on a Cheeto. Usually, I’m sent some swag (stuff we all get) as well. You know, branded tchotchkes companies are so fond of giving away for marketing purposes. Some companies really do it right, but that’s a whole other story and maybe worth looking into at some point, but not today. I have a large drawer in my kitchen of wine openers, foil cutters, wine bags, and other wine related paraphernalia, all from companies wanting me to remember their name and ideally, buy (more) of their wine. Does it work? Rarely. But they keep doing it. We are consumers after all, and when I go to a party or somewhere I’m bringing wine, I’ll often throw some of the free goodies in a bag and share with the host or anyone who could use it. Again, not complaining. Seriously. Send me anything. If I can’t drink it, I’ll find a good home for it.
When it comes to the people in the business, I’m taking those on the ‘front line,' I take them and their art, seriously. Those with their hands in the soil, up at dawn, in the fields, tending to the vines. Those with stained fingers and purple tongues, the sleepless, relentless, passionate, mad scientists toiling over getting it just right. The grape whispers who dote on them, doing whatever it takes, be it howl at the full moon, play Maria Calla’s most beautiful arias or dance naked under a midnight sky, all to give those beauty’s everything thing they might need to produce lighting. Lastly, those who dared to think ‘they could’ and then did. In other words, those who work their asses off to provide remarkable juice, for us to savor. To them, I toast.
Getting wine out into the world is just a first step in an already long, arduous, painstaking journey. Once it’s produced, bottled and out there, it’s followed by getting people to find it, take notice of it, drink it and fingers crossed, like it. That kind of magic could be compared to hitting a big lottery. For every well-known, highly praised, award winning wine, there are 100 more you’ll never hear of. Wines often produced by small vineyards, on sweet parcels of land, with their fermenting grapes, barreled and ready, just waiting to be found.
California, with all its excellent small wineries, many of which are being gobbled up by corporate conglomerates, doesn't stand much of a chance against giants. And believe me, they are giants. No windmills here. For a new winery or the ones not wanting to sell or merge, finding reliable and sustainable brand awareness can be daunting. I would imagine at times, many of them must feel that without the kind of backing and leverage a big merger would give them, the odds of their brand being recognized or taking a lead role are slim. Yet, as I’ve said many many times, the work they do takes heart and guts and stamina, and a willingness most don’t have. That’s why I love them, champion them, seek them out, research my ass off and write about them. It’s the ones who stick with it, year after year, giving something they love the chance to come to life, learning from their mistakes, taking their licks, getting back up, doing it again and again, getting better as they go, who somehow, despite the undeniable odds, wind up producing a truly quality wine and out of sheer passion, stick-to-it-iveness and a willingness to stay teachable, they make it. They’re the ones who have the best shot at keeping the lights on.
Out of all the wines I wrote about this past year, the one that stands out the most, the who produced a phenomenal wine, the one whose long history speaks of working inch by inch, day by day, year after year to carve out a name for themselves and the one I’ve named my Winery of the Year, is Schrader. Their reputation for quality is never questioned. Schrader’s commitment and tenacity for excellence are never compromised.
To learn more about them, their story, their creative decisions to hire the best people, and their spectacular wine read the original piece I wrote on them in November of 2016.
John Turi has had an impulsive career as a writer, wine critic, and artist. He has two published books of short fiction and poetry. He is a former child actor with the anxiety to prove it. He began college with a major in Mortuary Science, later switched to Creative Writing, and, finally finished at a free love hippie art college in Southern California with a degree in Graphic Design and Marketing. During his college years he worked in the wine industry and acquired a delicate palate for varietals. For the last 20 years he has become a private rare book and wine collector. He desires California Pinot Noir from Sonoma County in Northern California. As a way to pay for his wine and book collection he works as a Senior Marketing Manager for one of the largest adult sex toy companies in the world. For the good of his sanity, he is a columnist at ConnotationPress.com, where he writes a monthly wine column featuring only the best bottles. He currently resides in Southern California with his beautiful wife Shawn Marie, a motivational speaker for female entrepreneurs. Enjoy John's latest book 'A Drinker With A Writing Problem - A Wine Lover's Retrospective' available at Amazon in softcover, ebook and audio book formats.