Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
June 24, 2011
Every year at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, a terrific cadre of wine folks gather to talk, taste and just have a great time. For some, a life in wine means spending time in vineyards or cellars, growing and making wine. Others spend more time on planes or in airports, as they travel the country promoting and selling wines. And then there are those who write and speak about wines. At the Classic, I spent time with a number of these wine professionals and discovered just how unique and diverse their career paths can be. Take Paul Roberts, for example. As the estate director for Bond Estates in Napa, Calif., his mission is to make the best possible Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon possible. Bond’s goal is to produce a wine that is the quintessential example of the grape and the terroir of the region. Well-funded by an owner, Bill Harlan, who understands that patience and precision can be more valuable than money when it comes to producing perfection, Roberts has the opportunity to focus on quality.Roberts’ day-to-day activities revolve around ensuring that his brand, which produces a limited amount of wine that sells for hundreds of dollars a bottle, is the best it can be. It is a niche, but one that involves providing his team the requisite talent and resources.Conversely, Randy Ullom, the director of wine for Jackson Family Estates, oversees a massive winemaking operation that sources grapes from more than 14,000 acres it has under vine on the California coast. Ullom’s team produces great wines at the top end, but his task is to make lots of juice that appeals to a much broader audience than Bond’s. Ullom’s life is spent in vineyards and cellars, but he is equally at home in a boardroom with a number of Kendall-Jackson winemakers talking schedules, numbers, etc. Then there is a guy like Richard Betts. A former and now honorary Aspen local, Betts also makes wines, but he does so in other people’s wineries. He travels the globe looking for great grapes and when things feel right he cuts a deal and makes some wine or, in his case, Mezcal. His goal is to provide products that are authentic to the region, to the grape, to his vision.All three men are winemakers and yet their approaches and their day-to-day tasks are completely different.And that is not just the case with those who make wines. Those who communicate, who tell the tales and tout the attributes of fine wine, have unique job descriptions as well.Consider Ray Isle, executive wine editor for Food & Wine Magazine, who is responsible for all of the publication’s coverage of libations. His job may find him sipping suds in the Dogfish Head brewery one day and in a master’s tasting of Bordeaux at Pebble Beach the next. Always on a cell phone, he may be taking notes, texting assignments to other writers, proofing copy or simply changing his plane reservations. Contrast that with Mark Oldman, who hustles around the world as an independent, writing and lecturing about great grapes. Mark was in Aspen this past week, basking in the glow of having his latest book, “Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine,” capture the 2011 Georges Duboeuf Best Wine Book of the Year Award. Oldman has perfected the art of providing “wine speak without the geek” and he makes a living by educating consumers about wine. His persona and personality, combined with a whip-smart take on making wine approachable, have enabled him to craft a wine career on his own terms.And Andrea Robinson is moving in many different directions. Andrea is a pioneer and one of the most popular people in wine. One of the few women to hold the honor of Master Sommelier, she is the author of numerous books and has served as the corporate director of beverage programs for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. She has now launched a series of stemware called the “The One.” These lead-free glasses, one for red wine and another with a slightly different profile for white wine, are designed to simplify the selection of the best glass for a particular wine. It is a perfect extension of Robinson’s brand, which is all about helping consumers enjoy wine on a daily basis. Six different people, six different jobs. And yet all have the opportunity to see many of the world’s most beautiful wine regions, taste many of their wines and live a life that most envy.Especially when they visit Aspen for the Food & Wine Classic.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.