2015 was a big year for me as the winemaker at Hightower Creek Vineyards. Specifically, it allowed me to turn something I was passionate about into a career. 2015 was my first harvest as a full time winemaker, and I am so excited about how it turned out (seriously, look out for the 2015 Trillium when we bottle it in spring. It is DELICIOUS).
However, anyone that knows me knows that I’m only really happy when I can continually set goals to improve, so below are my resolutions for 2016.
1) Drink more wine
Specifically more local wine. The Georgia wine industry is here to stay, with producers offering some truly top-notch wines. As a winemaker, it’s important for me to taste as much as possible – not only to broaden my palate, but to understand what “Georgia wine” or “Upper Hiwassee Highlands wine” is and what it can be. I’ve only visited a fraction of the vineyards in our area so far, but I hope to remedy that in 2016. Now to find a designated driver…
2) Get out of the cellar more often
Most of my time is spent in the cellar, tasting, testing, blending and bottling our wine. However, I’m finding it more and more important to become involved with the other aspects of our family business. In 2015 I spent a bit more time in the tasting room, and I’ve become more comfortable talking to guests about our wine. It’s still tough when a wine doesn’t click for someone, but I’m not completely terrified to ask for feedback any more. I’d like to continue this in 2016 (in fact, I’m behind the bar every Wednesday – come visit!).
In 2016 I also want to make a point to spend more time in the vineyard. There’s an old cliche´ that wine is made in the vineyard, not the cellar, and like many old cliche´s it’s also true. My job is mostly coming to an end when the grapes are harvested. It starts in spring with the last pruning, and I’m excited to be more involved with this aspect of the farm.
3) Don’t be scared of intervening when necessary
In a best case scenario, a winemaker’s job is to simply shepherd clean, ripe, delicious grapes on their journey from the vineyard to the bottle, with as little human intervention (in the form of adjustments, filtering, new oak, etc.) as possible. I’m coming to the realization that a) we rarely encounter a “best case scenario” and b) that this is a very dogmatic and naive approach to winemaking.
I’ve made some good wines with this approach, but I’ve also made some wines that would have been better had they had a bit more acid on the finish or were a little bit bolder. I’ve also made some wines that were not stable, that turned and refermented in the bottle – something that could have been avoided with further intervention before bottling. In neither case did I as a winemaker do full justice to the character of the wine.
As we grow, I’m learning to choose when and how to deploy these low intervention techniques and when to step in further. Some techniques will always be a part of our repertoire, and some new techniques will be used in 2016. I still want our wines to be distinctive for each vintage (where’s the fun in making a wine that tastes exactly the same each year!), but I’m starting to understand that part of allowing a wine to fully express it’s vintage/varietal/vineyard is providing the tools for it to show in the best possible light. If that means a new oak barrel or a sterile filtration to ensure that the wine is stable, then it’s my responsibility to give the wine what it needs.
4) Get involved with our community
While our winery may be 10 miles out of town, I still smile when I label each bottle “Hightower Creek Vineyards – Hiawassee, GA.” I grew up here and some of my fondest memories were made in Hiawassee. I’m proud of our town and I want the town to be proud of us. I’m not sure what becoming a better member of the community looks like yet, but I know that we have a responsibility to show Hiawassee, GA in the best possible light and I want to make sure that we are good neighbors.
5) Make more wine
Seriously, I’m overjoyed that so many people love our wines so much. It’s really a mixture of pride and disappointment when I have to start telling people in August that we’re sold out of rose´. In 2016 we’re going to take concrete steps to try to expand our production and make sure that we’ve always got your favorite wine (and maybe a few special surprises) in stock.
Those are the big ones for 2016, but of course we always have some small projects going on as well. Did I miss anything? Do you have any wine resolutions of your own? Let me know in the comments.