Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Pilgrimage to Burgundy

In the modern wine world Jill and I are an anachronism. We have managed to create a family business where a day of work for me might entail driving the tractor to plow between the rows, checking on the wine in barrel, and then driving to the airport to fly to Utah for a market visit to sell wine. A day for Jill could be to take the kids to school, then pay bills, reply to emails from customers, meet with our label designer, write a press release, then go to pick the kids up again. We are literally soup to nuts.

As the Napa Valley has prospered over the years the wineries have gotten bigger and the jobs are more specialized. Most of our peers do one or more of the above jobs, but almost none literally do it all, from farming their own land themselves to making the wine to figuring out how to sell it. Through a lot of luck, patience, and hard work we were able to buy our small vineyard, but it has been a herculean effort, and most people our age either haven't been as lucky or haven't chosen to make the sacrifices. That's not to say that they don't work incredibly hard, but it's just not as common these days for them to engage in the entire process: the farming, the winemaking, and the business. This makes it just a little bit lonely at times to make the struggle. There are plenty of exceptions, but it's not the norm.

I'm on Air France flight 84 right now on my way back from Burgundy--first trip--and I have to say, I am feeling incredibly renewed from the kinship I felt--the wine producing community there is composed of a whole lot of families just like ours. I met with incredibly hard working farmer/winemakers...vignerons...who deal with all of the challenges that we encounter, and who are driven by the same fanatical desire to control the entire process as us. Only they are the norm. Burgundy is a really magical place in that regard. Through some combination of geography, inheritance laws, family tradition and local culture, there remains to this day a true community of small family operations. They pool resources, understand each others problems, and enjoy the seasonal lifestyle that farming entails with a synchronicity that I envy. When it rained they were all in their cellars checking on the secondary fermentation. When the sun was back they were all out in the fields pruning. For someone like myself, who finds his meaning through his work, that was magical. It was like a homecoming. It inspired me to start the annual cycle back over again.

And the wine was pretty good too.

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