Our winemaker, Tyler Thomas, posts again as a guest on the notable wine blog Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. Tyler describes the personal winemaking philosophy developed over time, as a result of many wine experiences culminating in our approach at Donelan Wines.
While obtaining a B.S. and M.S. in Botany and Plant Molecular Biology, I was fascinated with plant physiology: how a static organism could adapt/interact so well to its environment. Winemaking is a wonderful professional avenue to enjoy the fruits of such interaction in a way that brings pleasure to so many people. In this industry my focus has almost exclusively been with producers who sought to maximize wine quality (and hence, your pleasure) by maximizing our understanding of any particular place and bringing forth that expression with deft work in the cellar. My desire is to produce wines of great and special character consistently and efficiently each vintage. Read more at Wakawaka Wine Reviews…
This was original published for Wines and Vines (July 2010, copyright Wines and Vines).
I (Tyler) have always wanted to be an artist. I greatly admire talent that can morph a concept into visual allegory, or capture a natural detail and evoke emotion and wonder for days on end. I don’t have a favorite medium (OK, maybe sculpture, photography, and literature), but I thoroughly enjoy pieces that seem to delve the depths of human nature. However early in adulthood I realized this talent evaded me. It’s OK, you can’t be everything and besides I’ve found winemaking.
Winemaking is about as close to artistry I think I will get without actually producing art. Now, several colleagues and probably more wine admirers would dispute the suggestion that wine making does NOT produce art, but I assert that wine cannot merit this association.
Conversely, wine is not merely a science. I have heard it time again couched that one must be either the winemaker scientist, or the winemaker artist. You are either romantic and mystical or analytical and technical. I wonder if these poles are constructs from our modern culture which seems to have trouble with nature and mystique coexisting. Why is it that one cannot be both mystical and analytical or creative and technical? In my time as a coerced scientist (read graduate student twice over) I found the individuals I worked with to be incredibly creative and imaginative. It recalls Ralph Waldo Emerson’s perspective that “science does not know its debt to imagination.” I would argue that culture does not know science’s debt to imagination. I think this is true in the wine industry as well.
What can grappling with creativity and the structure of scientific knowledge do for the winemaker, and does creative process alone make wine art? Churchill once said that “without tradition, art is a sheep without shepherd, without innovation it is a corpse.” It has also been noted – I don’t remember where – that tradition is an experiment that worked. You see it takes creativity to experiment, but good analytical thinking to provide constraints to the experiment so that in the end the knowledge gained is useful. Scientific endeavor ought to inform our brush strokes, not define what we create, but aid in how to achieve the painting. Winemaking involves many decisions that require creativity, and many decisions that are aided by analytical interpretation of known scientific entities about our craft. Blended together one may wade through the variables of winemaking to ensure a beverage of distinction, but also rest at night knowing all the possibilities were exhausted and imaginatively applied.
So is this artistry? Perhaps: the artist does learn techniques and parameters that they creatively push to achieve their goals. There are similarities to the process of creating art and wine. But where winemaking falls short of being a piece of art is not in the technique as much as in the end goal. Wine is for pleasure, maybe health, but I can think of little else. Its purpose is limited to evoking one emotive response: gladness. And while this can be euphoric and remarkable in how it uses 4 of 5 senses at once, the limit to wine’s end goal would seem to eliminate it from contending with, say the high art of Rodin’s Hand of God. As art is able to do, winemaking is a beautiful craft that can be transcendent, but it falls short of an art form.
High art has the potential to evoke so much more than pleasure and gladness. Art can connect with individuals in a range of feelings and concepts. It is a prism that can diversely project the ideas, emotions, and humanity of the artist shining into it. Wine has artistic qualities, but does it produce art? Think of a furniture maker who hand crafts furniture. You can choose to go to IKEA, or a craftsman. Both will produce a table on which you will eat. One is engineered on a mass scale, the other is crafted with extra elements of imagination, beauty, and care; but both are still tables. No matter, I am happy to forego the distinction of artist and simply be Tyler the Winemaker.
The 2012 Harvest is here! We are beginning to harvest our first Pinot Noir of the season. In this video our winemaker Tyler Thomas describes the approach behind our Two Brothers Pinot Noir. Enjoy!
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Whether you are drinking Pinot, Chardonnay, Syrah, or whatever wine you prefer we frequently get asked “should I age this wine or can I drink it now?” Or “how long will your wines age?” Donelan Winemaker Tyler Thomas attempts to tackle those questions in this video:
It is Spring! And there is no time better than now to begin drinking the Donelan Venus Roussanne in earnest. The 2010 was just released, please enjoy this description from our winemaker Tyler Thomas of how Venus is produced and click here to find out more.
I (Tyler) wonder whether the growing concern with the wine industry’s slow adoption of social media is a social media problem per se, or a historic problem of poor customer engagement. Kid Napa does a good job summarizing a recent discussion on the issue, though it also has been tackled directly by others such as Alder Yarrow, Steve Heimoff, and Joe Roberts.
Before adding my wrinkle as a winemaker for a small, boutique brand I’ll summarize well-outlined positions that are perfectly valid, and often perfectly correct. Joe Roberts notes that wineries need “engagement innovation…[or] the single most innovative outreach platform ever developed in the history of the human race – the Internet – to directly engage the people who buy their shiz” (emphasis mine). I agree with the principle, we need to engage our customers, and yes the internet is a key tool.
However I will add that many of our customers “who buy [our] shiz” don’t use social media. That’s right; our big buyers who drive the majority of our sales are not the ones engaging with us through social media. Perhaps industry ambivalence to social media is because we are not alone in this fact. We still engage the buyer in other ways and we utilize social media to engage our future customers, who are likely to use social media as another way to engage with us. It’s a matter of current versus potential customers: both are needed, both are valuable, and both desire to be engaged.
Providing ballast to Mr. Roberts, Steve Heimoff points out in “Hey Joe, lighten up on the social media thing” that winemakers are busy enough with countless other responsibilities and that adding another serious time drain is unfair. And while Gary V may be shouting “just wake up sooner, work more,” not all of us have the power to get 26 hours out of a day. Steve is correct; we do have many other tasks that drain our ability to drive the social media megaphone of the winery. That said, winemakers may need to locate the same passion and persistence in this arena that they do during harvest: overworked and overburdened as we may be, we have to roll up our sleeves and knock it out of the park anyway. No one is better positioned than we are to funnel information from site to cellar to customer. We ought to be the teachers: of the story, of the philosophy, of the vineyard, of the wine, etc. And while it can be tiring to take on these multiple roles all in one day, no more hiding behind your barrels and work orders! It is the appealing part about being a winemaker: multidisciplinary work!
Alder Yarrow, as is his tendency, brings an amount of sensibility and rationality to the discussion – as well as a good deal higher word count! He accurately points out that using social media is a necessity but that there are tools that can help wineries mitigate the size of the conundrum. Mr. Yarrow acknowledges that it’s work, but insists that it’s the right work to be doing. He’s right, and emphasizes Mr. Robert’s point in a more constructive way.
And for my wrinkle? Working with Joe Donelan – who until recently never used a computer – has taught me the lifetime value of the customer. It may have taken a bit to convince Joe of the importance of Twitter, but he has always understood the value of engagement (“engage, educate, and entertain!” he says). All the writers outlined above used the word “engagement.” But perhaps we should peel the onion back further; maybe the problem is not only a hesitation to work with social media but also a systemic problem with engaging customers.
Could it be that a historical lack of engagement (and maybe I’m being unfair) is partly to blame for the dearth of social media adoption? Haven’t consumers, until very recently, primarily been engaged with wineries through retailers? It seems the residue of an old manufacturing based economy is that we are slow to become energized in directly engaging customers. We are not the only industry that has been slow to realize that the U.S. is no longer a manufacturing-based economy but service-based economy. We are no longer just “suppliers” providing goods for some anonymous end consumer. We are service providers. At Donelan we are fully engaged in this process, even with the majority of our buyers, albeit not solely through social media. We write notes, we email, we call, we tweet, we post, we “like”, we serve our customers and anyone else who desires to learn about wine and our passion. In short, we “engage, educate, and entertain” at every opportunity.
If you’d like to engage with us, please click here!