Don’t be just odd – be good as well.

Monday, 18 March, 2013
Cathy Marston
The theme for this month on  is ‘oddballs’ which made me rub my hands in glee, certain sure that there must be a myriad of oddities in this, our wonderful wine industry, which I could lampoon, parody and gently poke fun at in my normal manner.
But then I stopped and thought a little longer and it came to me that although I love oddities, relish eccentrics and take enormous pleasure in the peculiarities of people, situations and places – I only really enjoy them when there’s a point.

There was quite a fashion many years ago (I’m talking 80’s here folks) for funny sayings on stickers to suddenly appear around offices, on car bumpers and the like. One that particularly caught people’s imagination was “You don’t have to be crazy to work here – but it helps!” – ooh, split my sides with laughter. Suddenly everyone daringly claimed the right to be wacky, mad, just don’t care – crazy young things whose only craziness in actuality was leaving teaspoons in the office sink instead of washing them up neatly and putting them back in the drawer. Such rebels. Bless.

Winemaking offers huge opportunities to be crazy, rebellious, odd – or just plain different. Every day I get peppered with press releases claiming some new, amazing way of making wine. No sulphur, no inoculated yeasts, no de-stemming, Nomblot eggs, amphorae, open fermenters, closed fermenters, old barrels, too many new barrels, different wood, different staves, weird blends, cow horns, dancing naked by the light of the moon – something, ANYTHING that the PR’s can grasp onto to try and differentiate the wine they’re promoting from all the others. I don’t mind any of these things – you can do all of them at once for my money – and I don’t mind the PR’s drawing my attention to them either, because that’s their job. All I ask is if you’re going to do something that you think makes a difference to your wine, then that difference should make it taste good.

I’m just the tiniest bit tired of people buggering around with their wine for no reason other than to be different. The inimitable Bill Bryson said it best when imagining the conversation from the architect who designed the Pompidou Building in Paris “Look at me – I stuck the pipes on the outside of the building! Am I cute enough to kiss or what?” Some grape varieties just don’t work in some areas. Some varieties taste awful when blended together. Sometimes less oak might actually allow us to taste the wine and not pick splinters out of our teeth. There is such a thing as ‘too oxidative’ - it’s called ‘faulty’, not ‘natural’. And no number of ducks in your vineyard, horses pulling your carts or cows earnestly crapping in designated spots will improve the final flavour of your wines - not in isolation anyway.

Every generation needs to push the boundaries and test the limits, and with technology in winemaking advancing at the pace it is, that’s probably a good thing.  But not everything is going to work and all I’m saying is - please don’t use weirdness as the sole reason to bottle and try to sell a wine. Perhaps there is someone out there who can make a superlative Grenache from Constantia grapes or who can produce a really great wine using 300% new acacia wood barrels, but unless your weirdness and wackiness gives us something which tastes absolutely fantastic, it might be best to rather remember the nursery rhyme about the little girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead; “When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid.” Be weird if you want to and you can, but whatever you do, please don’t be horrid.

Be weird, but don't be horrid
Be weird, but don't be horrid

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