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WineInk: Why is wine important?

Wine is Life

Kelly J. Hayes
WineInk
The Frank Family winery in Calistoga, California.
Courtesy Frank Family Vineyards

I spend so many hours each week writing this column that it has become habit. But, occasionally, I am asked to write something about wine for another purpose. Such was the case this past week, when a wine-industry organization requested I submit a 500-word essay on the very broad, but also very specific question, “Why is Wine Important?”

Now, that question could be answered in a multitude of ways and from several different perspectives. My initial thought was to approach the subject in local economic terms. After all, follow the money, and you are usually on the right track.

So, I started to contemplate just how many jobs in the Roaring Fork Valley, and in Aspen in particular, that are dependent upon the global wine world for their very existence. When you stop to consider that we are a resort community that sells wines in restaurants, in wine shops, and directly to consumers, there are likely hundreds of jobs in this valley that are here because of wine.



Begin with the servers and sommeliers who are the front line to the buying public. There is no question that selling expensive bottles of wine to guests correlates to a boost in total tips. At least, it should. Then, there are those who are employed in our many outstanding wine shops. Their livelihoods revolve around their ability to inform customers and interest them in buying cases rather than single bottles. And, before either of those two get to interact with the consumers, there is a cadre of knowledgeable and hardworking folks on the distribution side of the business who represent wineries and whose job it is to sell and stock the shops and restaurants. And, let’s not forget those who drive the trucks and deliver the wines.

Yes, when you add it all up, wine is important because of the direct business impact it has on any and all communities.




The Frank Family winery in Calistoga, California.
Courtesy Frank Family Vineyards

But somehow, I don’t think that was what the Napa Valley Vintners was looking for exactly. They had presented the question to large group of wine writers from around the world, and I think they were interested in a bit broader answer than just how wine affects one local community. So, I regrouped and redrafted and came up with the following:

Simply put, wine is life.

In its journey from the soils of the earth to the glass of the consumer, wine touches and interacts with nearly all the scientific, financial, and cultural foundations of our civilization.

And, beyond that, wine brings enormous pleasure to those who drink it.

Since the beginning of recorded time, there has been a quest to create and consume fermented juices that please the palate and alter the senses. To this day, the fundamental goal of those who produce wine relies on these basic principles. Make great wine, and the world will beat a path to your door.

But, it is the process of producing and marketing wine that makes it such an engaging subject.

It begins with the dirt. The sciences of geography, geology, and climatology all influence what a wine will become before a single vine is planted. The places on the earth, the composition of the soils, the way the wind blows — these most basic elements need to be in perfect harmony to produce a great wine. Each of these sciences is a field of study in its own right, but it is the interaction and the necessary knowledge of all three that set the stage for what an individual wine will eventually be.

Next come the agronomists and winemakers — vintners, if you will. They are farmers first and then chemists, planting vines and tending to the harvests in the fields before fermenting and perfecting the production of the final products in the wineries. While often overlooked by the ultimate consumer, these simple essentials — a vine, a grape, a harvest, a fermentation, and aging — are what give us the wines we love to drink. It is a fascinating process and, for some, an obsession.

But, in today’s world, wine is more often seen as a commodity, something to be packaged and sold just like any other product on the shelves. And, that, too, has its fascinations. The way in which a wine is packaged, the decisions about where it is sold, how it is priced, and how the “brand” is positioned has created a multi-billion-dollar industry with tentacles that impact financial markets and the fortunes of not just individuals but entire regions on earth. We, as wine writers, frequently pen more pieces on the way a wine is marketed than on the way it is made. It is a sign of the tenor of our times, but wine is money, and money moves the world.

At its core, though, wine is an elixir that plays a vital role in our culture. Wine brings souls together and provides us with a moment’s pleasure. Its visceral purpose is to connect. To connect us with the earth, to connect us with others, and to connect us with ourselves.

Simply put, wine is life.

Todd Graff, winemaker at Frank Family Vineyards.
Courtesy Frank Family Vineyards

That, in a nutshell is the reason I spend the time to write about wine in this space each week. The subject is so vast, with so many different components, that, in nearly 800 columns (next week will be the 800th edition of WineInk in The Aspen Times), I never seem to run out of things to write about. Each week provides a new opportunity to mine a new subject: be it an ecological element, the story of an individual winemaker or sommelier, the way in which a wine is being marketed to the public, or just the way in which a wine impacts a drinker.

The grand world of wine has become more than just a collection of topics to write about; it has become, dare I say it, an obsession. After all, wine is life.

Frank Family Wines
Courtesy Frank Family Vineyards
Under the Influence

Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

I have included Frank Family Wines in Under the Influence in the past and recently suggested their sparkling Blanc de Noir as a fine choice. But, this Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2019 vintage provides a great example of how a single bottle can provide so many things to discover.

Begin with the people. This year, Todd Graff celebrated 20 years as the winemaker at Frank Family. One of the most talented and engaging winemakers in the region, he is a story unto himself. And, the owners of Frank family, former Disney executive Rich Frank and his wife Leslie, a one-time Los Angeles television news anchor, traded lives in media for wine. A year ago this month, they sold their winery to Treasury Estates for a reported $315 million. There’s the money angle.

But, nothing is as important as how the wine tastes, and that is the ultimate reason to write about any wine. This 2019 vintage was perfect and produced wines that are bold, rich, and vibrant. Typical Napa notes of black currents, a bit of vanilla, and tobacco are all a part of the mélange of flavors to be found in this deeply-dark purple wine that feels like velvet on the tongue. At around $60 a bottle, it is one of the great value Cabernets from Napa.

Correction:

In the original issue of this piece, it was stated that a fire impacted the Napa Valley vintage of 2019. The Kincade Fire in 2019 was over the mountains in Sonoma County and did not have any influence on the 2019 Napa vintage. In 2020, the Glass Fire burned in the Napa Valley. Out of an abundance of caution, Frank Family did not produce any red wines from the 2020 vintage.

Founders of Frank Family Vineyards Rich and Leslie Frank.
Courtesy Frank Family Vineyards.