Since I have become a semi-accomplished professional winemaker, I have often made the comment that the key to making great wine is to get the absolute best grapes you can get your hands on and don’t f*** it up. That is largely true, if somewhat oversimplified. Almost anyone can make a really good wine at home by following a few basic principles. Some may argue that making a great wine is not that simple, but a lot depends on what one considers a great wine. Wine tasting is very subjective, and even among the wines that are universally considered “great,” there is much disagreement among the supposed experts. This was perhaps best demonstrated at “The Judgment of Paris” in 1976. At the time, everyone knew that French wines were the best in the world, and the upstarts from California were second-rate amateurs. That was until Steven Spurrier (not the loudmouth football coach, but the British wine seller and educator) organized a blind taste test of various California and French wines. The winners of the competition were a California Cabernet sauvignon and a California Chardonnay, a result that even dumbfounded the organizer. The bottom line is that a great wine is a wine that tastes great and complements the meal you happen to be eating at the time. It’s really that simple. I have been told by more than one fairly astute taster that many of my wines border on world class. On the other hand, I have been told by more than one aficionado of Pennsylvania sweet wines that my wines were pure shit. The bottom line is that a great wine is a wine that one enjoys and enhances the enjoyment of whatever it is paired with.
2019 marks 38 years of wine making experience for me; more accurately, I would argue that it marks one year of experience repeated 30 times plus 8 years of true experience. I started making wine when I lived in Erie, using Pennsylvania and New York grapes. For the first 25 years or so, I stuck to what was close and some years I made some pretty good wines, some half way decent wines, and some that I just had to throw away. Because we preferred the dry reds, it was very difficult for a minimally accomplished winemaker to make a drinkable dry red from those grapes. The whites were another story; I made some pretty good Riesling over the years. That being said, some of the more accomplished winemakers in the area, amateur and professional, were able to consistently make some good dry reds. In my opinion, they really couldn’t compete with the California reds, but who knows? In a blind tasting I may well have been fooled just like the French wine snobs mentioned above.
After I moved to Zelienople in 2001, I started to get California grapes from the strip, and from then on, my wines were consistently pretty good, but nothing I would consider selling. When my daughters and I decided to open an Italian restaurant/winery in 2013, we obtained a limited winery license, ramped up production to the point where we couldn’t afford to toss our entire yearly production, and suddenly it mattered. At the time we were getting grapes from the very warm mid-central valley, the wines were consistently good, but just missing something. Then we found Ron and Mario from CFP winemakers, and things started to take a turn for the better, big time! They traveled regularly to California, toured vineyards, and have a close relationship with the Lanza’s from Wooden Valley Winery in the Suisun Valley, CA. Between having a supplier that would only sell the best, along with their expertise in wine making, as well as their contacts in the industry both in California and locally, we learned a lot in the past 6 years. I realize I am biased, but I really do believe our wines match up very well with many winemakers who are much more accomplished than I am. I have learned to get the very best grapes I can get my hands on and not f*** it up.