IPNC 2014 kicked off on a brilliant, cloudless morning on the lovely little campus of Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. Seventy-six winemakers were introduced from near and far. Some names were new to the crowd. Others, like Burgundy's Dominique Lafon and Germany's Ernst Loosen, were international legends. David Lynch, who has won awards as a sommelier, wine writer and restaurant owner, gave the opening remarks. His humor totally captured the audience.
After opening ceremonies, we were off to the Grand Seminar. British wine writer Jamie Goode chaired the session and made opening comments. The subject was how we perceive--and describe--wine. The panelists ranged from a Harvard professor to a perfume maker...and included several wine writers.
One of those writers, Josh Reynolds--who covers pinot noir for Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar--follows the deconstructive approach used by most wine critics. He breaks the wine down into color, aromas, body, flavors, acid, tannin, finish, etc...and then applies a score. And given the thousands of wines he reviews and describes each year, perhaps--as he said--it's the only approach he can take. But beyond having to use it, he finds it most meaningful and useful. On the other hand, after years of trying to use that approach, I've concluded it isn't meaningful to me. It isn't how I perceive wine. To me, it's a bit like trying to describe a a forest or a tree by tracing the leaves one by one--the shape, the color, the stems. Accurate and "fact-based"...but at the end of it, I still don't have a sense of the forest.
Then Elaine Brown, who writes a well-regarded wine blog known as Hawk Wakawaka, described her approach, which is very different. She uses line drawings to characterize her perception of wines. She does a pretty good job with words, too, but it's the drawings that make her unique. Interestingly, later I talked to a winemaker who absolutely agreed with her--he thinks of wines primarily in terms of shapes.
I also think of wine in terms of the arts...just not graphic arts. For some reason, I tend to characterize wine in terms of music and dance. A Chambolle-Musigny might be a ballerina--lovely, graceful, taut, balanced,and on point--light on her feet, but with subtle power. A pinot from the extreme Sonoma Coast might be a string quartet--understated and elegant, with quiet intensity but no extra weight.
Those are meaningful to me. And meaningful to some other people (I still remember the guy next to me at IPNC 2013 who leaned over and took pictures of my notes with his iPhone!). But to others--perhaps the engineers and lawyers of the world who live in a data-based environment--they're likely meaningless and frustrating.
The point? There is no right way or wrong way to perceive wine. Each of us perceives it just a little differently. And that's fine. We just need to make the effort to find the way that's most meaningful to us.