The first day of each Winemaker Magazine conference has fallen into a comfortable pattern. Grab a real breakfast about 6:30, because the pastries and fruit breakfast at the conference won’t keep me going until lunch. Hit the conference registration table to pick up my badge and bagful of freebies and the conference schedule and workbook. Stick four or five copies of Making Fine Spirits in the conference bag, tuck one copy under my arm (showing the colors, doncha know), and enter the breakfast hall, looking for old friends and/or interesting people.
I find both at one table, a Jesuit brother I met three years ago and really enjoy, and the owner of a complex of vinyards that grows, buys, freezes, warehouse, and ultimately sells, grape must from which hobbyists and commercial winemakers will make wine. I drop my bag by a chair, place the visible copy of Making Fine Spirits face up on the table to grab any interested parties, and fetch some coffee and fruit.
When I return, no-one has bitten on the idea of hobby distillation, so we all just chat and catch up on what’s happened the last year. Aside from socializing, a major endeavor at breakfast time is choosing the day’s seminars. When my wife Pat is with me, she takes all the vinyard management seminars, I take all wine chemistry seminars, and we divide the others depending on how we feel.
This year, I take “Reducing Sulfites” just to see what’s happening, “Home Vinyard Q&A” because nothing else in that time slot catches my attention, and “Techniques to Add and Remove Tannins”, which turns out to be the best session in the conference, at least for me. While the lecturer thinks he’s teaching me about the chemistry of tannins in wine, he is actually giving me great insight into the flavor chemistry of tannin as it is leached into aging liquors from the oak they are aging in. Specifically, he relates tannin harshness, mellowness, and solubility to molecule size, giving me great clues to reducing oak harshness in “over-oaked” spirits. A great session.
Dinner at the Winemaker Magazine conference is always great fun and an incredible wine-tasting opportunity, both to taste the wines of others, and to have others with experienced palates taste your wines. When the hall is opened for dinner, the tables are fairly well stocked with an assortment of wines, typically from sponsors and presenters, but the conference attendees come through the door bearing armloads of their own wines, to be shared with any and all.
In this crowd, the quality and variety of wines shared is stunning. While traditional French styles still predominate, it seems that more Italian styles were present. In my case, I bring an Amarone and a Nebbiolo the first night, and I’m not the only one with Italian wines at our table. On the exotic side, someone brings a Montmorency (sour pie) cherry wine. Forget your images of treacly homemade fruit wines; this wine is first-rate in every sense, and a big hit.
Understand that, quantity of wine consumed notwithstanding, we are artisans and craftspersons, and our exchange of information is orderly and sober, although necessarily lengthy. That’s why we are all deeply hurt when the authorities have to turn off the lights to get us out of the hall.