Did you know that the word “luck” and the word “wine” were derived from the same ancient Phoenician word? No? Good. Because I just made that up. I have watched a group of bloggers do these monthly writing challenges on a given topic and it seems fun so I thought I would throw my hat in the ring. The subject of this month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge is “LUCK.” Because the whole spirit of joining this challenge is to get out of your standard writing box, I’ve decided not to write on a single aspect as it relates to a wine-luck interface, but some thoughts I had about a few different aspects.
Lucky for us, somehow wine and yeast found each other. Think back to somewhere around 4500 BC when wine production was first being developed. Keep in mind that this is a solid 6000 years before Louis Pasteur convinced the world that there were organisms that were too small for us to see with the naked eye that affected our daily lives…and made our wine. Some of you know that I am a scientist. I am actually a plant breeder. A geneticist. So as you can imagine, organisms evolving to become useful to humans fascinates me. But sometimes it just seems lucky that something as critical as wine and wild yeasts finding each other long before humans really had anything to do with it. I mean think of it. Some ancient Macedonians or Phoenicians smashed some grapes and had the good fortune that those grapes carried on their skins some magical, microscopic dust that would turn that juice into magic. Long before humans ever crushed grapes and threw it into some pottery and let it rot in a cave and then, perhaps out of desperation drank it, grapes and yeast had already formed an everlasting love affair. Much like anyone finding their soulmate, it takes a lot of luck. But in reality, yeast is actually a total whore. It loved grapes one day, but the next those same damn Ancients were throwing it in bread. How could they utilize this magic dust so well 5000 years before modern science was born? Must have been luck.
Fast forward several thousand years and we land here at the present day. Winemaking has become a calculated science. But as the saying goes, “Exact science is never an exact science.” Everything is measured. Everything is controlled. Is anything left to the gods of luck anymore? It depends on how you look at it. What kind of weather you get is definitely all luck. In poker they that sometimes people get lucky but the great players get lucky a lot. This is similar to winemaking. A great year of weather conditions can yield good wine, but the great winemakers can produce quality stuff even when they don’t get so lucky with weather. I guess everyone has to get lucky that their interns mix the sulfites properly or don’t drop and crack a barrel full of wine. However, the winemaking process was subject to a lot of lucky twists of fate over the years. Back in ancient times they had problems with the wine oxidizing in the jars they stored it in. Luckily, some enterprising young Phoenician put a layer of olive oil over the top of the wine to protect it from the air. How many times did they get that wrong before he hit the lucky combination of wine and oil? How did the first Roman that figured out that if you burn sulfur candles inside wine jars it would prevent them from turning to vinegar? That had to be luck.
My third thought I had is how not to get lucky with wine. That’s right, how NOT to get lucky. What I mean by this is that the casual wine drinker goes to buy a bottle of wine, a lot of times at the supermarket, and are presented with at least one giant aisle of bottles of wine. How to choose? Say a quick prayer to the gods of luck. This is not what I want for you folks! This blog aims to give advice to the budding lover of all things consumable. There’s a surefire way to get a decent bottle from even the most disinterested of retailers. The answer is: Do a little research. I know no one wants to spend their lives memorizing all the wines in the world and their ratings but there is a quick trick to avoiding a situation where you have to rely 100% on luck to get a good bottle of wine. Firstly, figure out what you like. If you like Cab, drink Cab. Pinot really gets your juices flowing? Go for that. After you figure out what you like, that gives you a foothold to start doing research. You can go about this by purchasing all sorts of wine and trying them and taking notes. I have found this to be quite expensive and rather time consuming not to mention rather intoxicating. The best way I think is to learn what I call the “Rule of 3.” Those three things are: Varietal, Year, Location. It is much easier to learn that Cabernet Sauvignon from the Alexander Valley of California in 2007 is, in general, really great stuff. See how easy that is? The Rule of 3 can be applied to almost every varietal and instead of keeping tracking of every wine ever and how it rates year to year, this general rule will never let you down as a casual wine buyer. Leave luck out of it. You have enough things in your life that are totally out of your control. You might as well be in charge of your own wine destiny.
The fabric of luck has weaved itself throughout the history of wine. These days, we try to keep luck as the smallest ingredient in wine, but there is certainly a little drop of luck in every bottle.