Communicating with Your Wine…What did you say?

OK. So, I’ve got your attention… For just a few moments, I’m going to play the role of a self-help guru and point out how by learning to communicate with your wine, you will find that you have a better relationship with your wine and your wine will be all you ever hoped it would be.

Let’s first consider some of our everyday relationships and the significance of effective communication within those relationships.

Relationship #1: You and your dog – Rover needs to be let out to do his business. How do you know? Well, you listen him – perhaps he makes certain noises that tell you? You watch him. Perhaps he stands by the door to let you know. Your relationship with your dog is based upon visual and auditory cues. A mistake in interpreting these cues could mean an accident that will need to be cleaned up.

Relationship #2: You and your baby – You need to understand why it is that your baby is crying. If you happen to be a parent, you know all to well the process of elimination through which we determine why the baby is crying. Does the baby need to be changed? We accomplish this through sensory analysis; touch via the finger test for wetness and smell to see if baby has a “gift” for us. It goes beyond this to evaluating for gas, hunger, or even illness and with a baby the stakes are high.

Relationship #3: You and your significant other – This has got to be my favorite to discuss. I say this because it is the one relationship that I’ll mention that actually includes the element of verbal communication. You would think that a combination of body language and direct verbal communication would equate to very effective communication. Yet, how many times have you said to yourself – “What is this person talking about? What? Huh? I just don’t understand what this person wants…” The important point of this relationship is that even with lots of information, that information is only as good as our ability to receive it, to make sense of it, and to respond appropriately. If we are not listening and do not know how to respond we are destined to a relationship that is not as good as it could be or even worse – a complete failure.

Relationships are about communication. As you can see from the examples presented above, that communication happens in different ways and using a variety of cues. Relationships are improved through adjustment, more of this and less of that. However, the adjustments will only be effective if, in fact, they are the appropriate response to the communication. That requires developing the ability to effectively interpret the communication. Finally, relationships cannot be forced. In other words, there are times when we simply cannot make a person or thing into something that it is not.

I’m sure that by now you may be thinking “What does this have to do with wine?”. Actually, it has a lot to do with wine. From the time we purchase our grapes, the grapes have information to share with us – if we are willing to listen. We open the lines of communication by establishing that we care to know what the grapes have to say. We do this by taking the appropriate measures for Sugar, Acid, and pH. For instance, a must might say that it is a Cabernet Sauvignon, it has a Brix reading is 25, a TA reading of 6.2 g/L, and a pH of 3.5. Without fail we ask these questions of our must because we care to know how it is doing and if it is positioned well to develop into a fine wine. We know that it will fair the best in yielding a fine wine if it communicates numbers like the ones suggested above. However, what if your must communicated a reading of 30 Brix, a TA of 4.4 g/L and a pH of 3.9? With these readings, our must would be communicating…”I need something from you in order to produce the wine you are looking for and I need your help to do so! Please help.”. We respond by making the necessary corrections and bring our must into a state where it can communicate desirable numbers and subsequently produce a wine that we can be proud of.

Now, please don’t think I’m suggesting the relationship that you have with your wine will be like those I used as examples. Nor should you anticipate your wine actually speaking to you. If it does, I assure you it is not normal and you might wish to seek some professional help. What I am suggesting to you is that like our other relationships, our grapes have information to share, if we care to listen, and that information can only help us.

It is a perfect one-sided relationship. The winemaker seeks to produce a wine according to certain expectations. We’ll assume the grape develops on the vine for no other purpose than to satisfy the desires of the winemaker. All we need to do is to make sure we maintain our lines of communication. We as winemakers take readings that extract the information the grape has to share. We evaluate that communication to determine if the particular must is capable of meeting our expectations. Perhaps it is capable as is, perhaps it will be capable with only a few adjustments, or perhaps it is simply not suitable for the type of wine we wish to craft. Armed with valuable information, we can take our relationship into a suitable direction.

The juicegrape.com web site has more material on gathering and making sense of the information your grapes have to share. My purpose in writing this article was simply to point out that there is a relationship between the winemaker and grape and like any other relationship, the best outcomes occur when the communication is good and frequent. So, take those readings and do so regularly. Write them down. If you don’t know what the readings mean, refer to the juicegrape.com website and have a good reference book that will assist you in understanding what your grapes are communicating. Finally, have a set of expectations for the wine you wish to craft. Perhaps the grapes you have can meet those  expectations – perhaps not. Either way, you are better positioned to work with the grapes in crafting a wine that can fall within your expectations and a wine that you can be proud of.
Nick Coppola
Juicegrape.com support