Vineyard owners love to talk about unchanging traditions. But over the decades, the style of their wines has probably changed.
The world of wine likes to tout the traditional aspects of winemaking: the long history, the sustainable farming practices, the low-tech methods that have been unchanged for millenia. And to a great extent all that is true. I do not know of an industry where the environmental impact is so closely observed as in wine grape growing and winemaking. Nor do I know of any human endeavor today where the advances of science have had so little effect overall on a craft, despite the research and science that have gone into it in the last 50 years. Most dedicated winemakers have in fact marched away from the technological approach.
However, a wine is the result of many hundreds of factors—including cellar temperature, the date the harvest begins, how quickly it proceeds, the time of day that the grapes are picked—that give a lot of room for the producer to affect the outcome. In this way, winemaking is as subject to the fashions of the moment as art.
At no time is this more obvious than at a vertical tasting, when one taste multiple years of wine made carefully from one distinctive site, a wine where a recognizable place shows through the winemaking regardless of the changes in fashion that may have influenced it. Recently, I was able to taste nearly the entire 30-year history of Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignons when Bettina Sichel, who has grown up in the wine industry and who knows a great site when she tastes it, concluded the purchase of Laurel Glen from its founder, Patrick Campbell. Here in Sonoma, Patrick has worked to make balanced and classically shaped wines from the very beginning, in 1981, and he has used the talents of basically one winemaker, Ray Kaufmann. So the tasting illustrated that even with the restrictions of place, philosophy, and even winemaking team, the wines over the decades were subtly influenced by whatever was fashionable at the time.