Conversations with winemakers on Twitter

Yeah, I’ll admit it, Twitter sometimes keeps me from blogging more. When fatigue sets in, it’s easier to keep to the under-140-character format, and just stay with the conversations and the flow of information, rather than piping down and getting that blog post finished.

Mind you, as I look back on 2009, I must also point out that Twitter also helped me get a new food blog started, as I explained in my first post on Because the conversations are more than just distracting. They can also be engaging and stimulating – and even instructive.

I’ve had great Twitter conversations and debates, over the last few months – and incredible stretches of trading wine-related puns –  with a number of great wine tweeps. I’ve debated the virtues and vices of wine monopolies, the importance (or lack thereof) of the whole Cellared in Canada debate and much more with the likes of Shea Coulson, Anthony Gismondi, Bill Zacharkiw, Rod PhillipsRick Van Sickle, Mark Shipway and many others. The discussions have sometimes been fierce, sometimes enthusiastic, sometimes lighthearted. That’s what’s great about Twitter.

Beyond that, though, one of the most interesting opportunities offered by Twitter is the possibility of conversing with some top winemakers who have decided to engage with an audience of wine lovers on Twitter. One of my great motivations in studying wine – and talking about it – is understanding where wine comes from, how it’s made, and what makes particular wines distinctive. Getting answers straight from those who deal with that every day is a great way to go about learning more about that.

At the top of the list – if only because of his staggering number of followers – is Randall Grahm, president for life of Bonny Doon Vineyards, and creator of such well-known wines as Le Cigare Volant and Big House Red (although that last one, as he patiently tells his Twitter fans on an almost daily basis, “is no longer a fine Bonny Doon product”). Meeting Randall on Twitter allowed me to have great conversations about his favorite wines, his road to terroir, his book Been Doon So Long, and the merits of nebbiolo, frappato, grenache and albarino. Online conversations and in-person conversations, since the Twitter banter eventually led me to meet with Dr Doon at a dinner in Montreal (see my French blog post here), as part of his book tour.

The dinner gave me the opportunity to taste Bonny Doon wines again – something I’d done less of in the last few years. Le Cigare Volant 2005 was awesome, and the 2005 Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo was the most piedmontese nebbiolo I’ve tasted outside of Piedmont. There are still some strangely technological bents to the winemaking at Bonny Doon, when you think of how much Grahm now insists on how much he wants to make vin de terroir, but the wines have clearly gone up in quality and focus. He may not be there yet – he admits that he is on the road, not at the destination – but his is going to be an interesting path to follow.

Randall Grahm is pretty much a legend in the wine world – and rightly so – even though he struggles with some elements of his legacy (see his chapter on labels in Been Doon So Long, for example). Getting a chance to meet him in person was something I never thought would happen to me – even less so through Twitter. But it did, because we started some genuine conversations on that most informal of contexts, and found much to talk about.

That’s certainly the key point here. Twitter is about conversations, about establishing connections. There are a lot of wineries and a number of winemakers on Twitter, but getting into conversations with them has to do with how much they want to get into conversations, and if you find things to actually talk about. With Cathy Corison, the winemaker at Corison winery, I got to talk about the effects of leafroll virus on ripening grapes, on the way the even heat of the 2009 growing season is making this an exceptional vintage for Napa and much of California, on cover crops and tilling, as this most remarkable winemaker generously shared here opinions and knowledge on the matter.

I’ve tasted Corison wines twice, and was incredibly impressed both times. One was a 1997 Kronos Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, at a 1997 California cabernet horizontal tasting, and the other a 2004 Corison cabernet sauvignon, at an Appellation St Helena tasting I attended right after the 2008 Wine Bloggers Conference. In both cases, the Corison wines were head and shoulders above the others, not because of power and intensity, but because of their balance, subtlety and complexity. This may be why Corison’s followers number in the hundreds, rather than the hundreds of thousands, and also why her winery remains one of the most underestimated in California – even as so many California winemakers would benefit from following in her footsteps. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to have these conversations, and to learn more from her vast, exceptional experience.

There are many other winemakers I’ve been following, and occasionally chatting with. But there are only a few that have become less casual acquaintances. There is Bradley Cooper, of Township 7 and Black Cloud Wine, in the Okanagan, whose Bradinator persona provides as much wine lore as playful banter and opinionated argument. There is Emily Towe, who has just started a Garage winemaking operation with her husband, and who tweets and blogs about it with great spirit. There is also Creekside Wine, one of the most original Niagara wineries, whose Twitter account is held by one of the winemakers, leading to explanations about why their tanks bear human names, among other fun things.

And last but not least, there is also Matthew Rorick, of Forlorn Hope Wines, a small winery that makes wines from a most unusual list of grapes (sémillon, torrontès, verdelho, brancellao, petit verdot…), something I have to find a certain kinship with. Beyond the wines, which I will have to find out more about in 2010, we also bonded because of a common love of music, food, baking and puns of every level of quality, from the most witty to the most grunt-inspiring. I would be hard-pressed – get it? – to find a more original companion among winemakers who tweet.

As a New Year’s resolution, I am certainly not going to promise to tweet less, in 2010. But I do hope to blog more, and that Twitter conversations will allow me to learn more, and thus make my blog posts even more interesting.

Cheers, everyone, and a very happy New Year.

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  1. Posted December 31, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    What a fantastic and inspiring year-end post. Thanks for including me in such illustrious company; it’s truly an honor. Let the conversations continue in 2010!

    All the best,

    • Posted January 1, 2010 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      It’s a pleasure. I liked our conversations, and I think your blog offers a rather unique perspective into first winemaking experiences – something I’ve also started experiencing at the same time. I’m sure we’ll have plenty more to trade on, wherever the wine is “mis en bouteille”.

  2. Posted January 8, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Remy – thank you for your writing, your wit, and your willingness to share it all via blog and Twitter. Like Emily, I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation in the coming year, as well as tasting your maiden Chardonnay, jamon Queberico and fresh-baked brioche. And anything else you conjure up in the meantime!

    A bientôt,

    m. rorick

  3. Posted January 11, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    The street is by no means one way!

    One of the greatest things about Twitter is not YOUR ability to talk to winemaker, but the WINEMAKER’S ability to talk to you (in a broad general public sense). Too often we get cozy in our little circles of well-known wine critics and fellow winemakers and lose touch with the wine lovers out there who are as eager to talk to us about our wines as we are to share our ‘babies’ with them. The amount of feedback, (refreshingly) candid conversation and ease of access makes Twitter extremely powerful.

    Looking forward to more conversations in 2010. Bonne Année!

    • Posted January 13, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Good point, Erin. That should be true for wine writers as well. All of us “experts” tend to get caught up in our specialized discourse and to get a bit in a “closed circuit” situation. Indeed, the very general and immediate dialogue on Twitter can help us resituate ourselves. That’s all for the better.

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  1. By Twitted by emilyldt on December 31, 2009 at 12:19 pm

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