Sam Pillsbury: Treat Your Wine Tasting Room with Respect
A comment overheard recently:
'If it looks like a Bar, sounds like a Bar, it is a Bar.'
It's hard enough to grow and plant wine grapes in Arizona, or anywhere for that matter, and fortunately this is not a majority opinion, but I beg to differ.
Let me explain about the gap between these two statements above...
There are people who described a certain painting as made by a dog vomiting on a piece of canvas.
I think it was a Jackson Pollock.
I pour wine for people who have spent a lot of time in a bar: they clutch the crystal stemmed wine glass by the bowl, chuck the fluid down their throats, sigh and declare their opinion. It's called 'chug.'
A bar is a place where you go to drink. Ok...socialize, eat, listen to music, pick someone up...I'm not knocking bars. But there is a big difference.
You basically go to a place to drink a canned beer or a whisky made by someone else from somewhere else, the stuff arrives in a big truck, which then takes the money back away to somewhere else. And the state gets a nice chunk of that change. That's pretty much an end to it.
A place where you can try locally grown and made wine is another story.
You can chug a bad wine. In fact, you have to. But if it's a good wine, you'll be missing out on sensual pleasure.
Hence, 'Madam, you're missing out...'
Here's what I like to tell her...
Hold the glass by the stem. This is so you don't warm the wine. Now hold it up to the light...that's because sight is 100% of your initial pleasure. That's why restaurants arrange your food on the plate. It's also why you buy a car, but that's another story...it goes away once you taste, but it's a good way to start...anyway, the wine can be hypnotically, magically luminous, the light dancing through the liquid...it might even give you goose bumps. Enjoy this moment...
Now swirl. More beautiful still, the luminosity, but now you can start to get the aroma. Many great wines exude an intoxicating aroma from the pull of the cork, but this really turbocharges it.
Keep swirling...the light is really dancing in that glass now. Now raise the glass to your nose. The tulip shape of the glass focuses the aroma of the wine to your nose, and the swirl has exposed much more of the surface area of the wine to the air, where the natural elements of the wine, especially the alcohol, release the wine's aromas.
Do it once more. Inhale deeply. Now sip.
Eighty-five percent of taste is smell. So you can immerse yourself in this first tiny sip of a good wine and really wallow in it. Notice the first burst of flavor as the wine hits your tongue. Wait a few seconds and notice what happens as it flares in your mouth after the first hit. A good wine will give you its best moment here.
Wait again. If the wine has anything going for it you will get a looooong enhancement and change in the flavors you have been experiencing. It's called 'finish'. This can last for minutes.
Now, try the whole thing again. In a good wine, all the sensations will be even better the second time around.
Actually, this is why with a really good wine you tend to drink less, and more slowly.
And, this is what the chugger has been missing out on.
Now try all this with a Bud Light.
Or a really lousy wine.
It's just not as much fun.
But there's more...think about France, or Italy.
What's there? You don't fly there and have a ball and shell out bucks for a bar. You go for wine, food, and art.
The Medicis funded culture, not bars. And hundreds of years later those countries are still raking it in. Man, what an amazing investment!
And that's what your local winery tasting room can be. It's culture. It's real live human beings pouring wine they grew from our own soil, picked with their own hands, crushed with their own feet (yes, sometimes still!) and tasted and checked and nurtured for months and months in oak barrels, until it was ready to be bottled, then carefully aged in dark cool rooms until it was perfect to drink.
And we use a fraction of the water of other crops. And we're organic.
This is truly living magic.
This is not Bud Light that arrived in a truck from somewhere else.
But that's only part of it.
Our state legislators nixed tax breaks for film producers to make their films here. Man! I know that business. I made some of the first films in New Zealand over 30 years ago with government tax break money. Of course people whined 'If it looks like a tax dodge, it is a tax dodge.'
When I first started travelling to the US and Europe in the '70s with my movies almost nobody knew where NZ was. 'Oh, is that near Greenland?" was one of the best ones.
Now when people ask about my accent and I say NZ, almost without fail people respond 'Oh! I've always wanted to go there. It's on my bucket list.'
Me and my buddies started that. With government support. Peter Jackson put the cream on the cake. With government support. Because??? An enlightened government funded a cultural movement, not a bar.
Now let's look at Napa. At the very least, billions of dollars in revenue, not just from wine; from tourism, hotels, restaurants, art galleries, antique stores, hundreds of thousands of salaries, cheese, honey, crafts, clothing, and on and on...the total transformation of a region and a culture.
My local supermarket, with a section on NZ wines, and nothing for Arizona; New Zealand, a whole country with a population less than Phoenix. Because the government there didn't treat winery tastng rooms like a bar.
And we're not even asking for tax breaks. We just don't want to be called bars.
Take a look at the desert.
A bar isn't ever going to turn that into Arizona's Napa Valley.
'Everyone Gets a Turn' wine recommendation: Eric Glomski, Page Springs Cellars, is excited about his 2011 Vino del Barrio: 53% Syrah, 22% Petite Sirah, 16% Tempranillo, 7% Alicante, 2% Mourvedre.
Sam Pillsbury has made dozens of documentaries, TV series and feature films in New Zealand and Hollywood as writer, director and producer, and now grows grapes and makes 100 percent Arizona wines in Arizona. He lives in Phoenix. You can get more information about his wines and tasting room at pillsburywine.com.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.