Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sipping the Winemaker

So I have a confession. I love wine. You know that. But more than I love sipping wine, I love sipping the winemakers. I love reading about the adventures of those who dare trade their nine-to-five gigs for the long shot, the jagged dream of making money as grape juice hustlers. These aren’t descendants of centuries-old wine families. They are everyday people who stumbled into a bottle that inspired them in the same way that music inspired Aretha and poetry inspired Plath. Helen Turley is the winemaker behind labels like Marcassin, Bryant, Colgin and Peter Michael. Wine Spectator Senior Editor—James Laube wrote in a 2010 article that Turley is a native of Augusta, Ga., where she grew up Southern Baptist raised on a diet of fried chicken and meatloaf. Not exactly a foie gras-Sauternes background, is it? In 1968, Turley and her man drove a VW bus cross-country, hippie-style, ending in California. It was a 1980 Sea Ridge Pinot Noir that changed her life. Mac McDonald came from a family of Texas moonshine makers. Laube wrote in a 2004 Wine Spectator article that MacDonald’s mother, Elbessie, along with her brother and sister, made sweet wine from apples and cherries. But that didn't pique Mac's interest. It was a 1952 red Burgundy that changed his life. When he was a teen, a group of doctors hired his father to take them hunting, and one guest left Mac with that '52 Burgundy. About eight years ago I met the Michael Duncan look-alike in downtown Brooklyn where he rose from the Lafayette Avenue subway stop wearing overalls and a straw hat. I got goosebumps when he explained that he aged his Pinot in Hungarian oak. Are your dreams aging? I know sometimes it feels like mine are. Afraid to take that long shot? Maybe it’s not that long. But are we willing to do the work, pick the grapes and see what ends up in the bottle?

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