A Winery General Manager's Dilemma

Many publications have devoted columns to winemakers’ dilemmas. There are so many variables in this complicated winemaking process, many of them uncontrollable. Winemakers are so often faced with immense uncertainty along the way toward a quality wine product; several ‘two roads diverge in a yellow wood’ moments with each wine. When to harvest, at what temperature to ferment, what type of yeast to use, oak or no oak, what to blend and what not to blend, etc., etc.

But winery directors/general managers, those responsible for the direction of the business, face similar challenges. Here we explore one of many.

Under the Silo has had a ‘punk rock wine’ attitude from its inception (see our ‘Episode 0’ post). It’s our nature to view common thinking as Groupthink in this business and raise a fist in defiance. Our reaction to another cursive-texted Chateau such-and-such winery spans from eye-roll to full on gag reflex. The movie Sideways contained choice words for California Merlot. We use the same vocabulary when drinking a direct press Merlot rosé because Every. One. Does. It.

At Grace Estate, many of our wines exemplify this heavy desire to be counter-cultural. Look no further than our 100% Malbec Rosé that cuts against the grain in style and profile. Or that we devote so much effort into growing and making Tannat, Sauvignon Blanc, and other wines that seem experimental relative to Virginia. As the hardcore rock band, Comeback Kid, told us:

Forget about the boundaries
We'll leave the past behind
With every step we take
We'll finally redefine

But the danger of defiance can be self-involvement. Solely making counter-trend wine because it’s interesting to us may result in embodying the aloof wine character we protest, and, not having any customers…

From the GM’s chair, there’s always the matter of the dollars-and-cents of every decision. Making wine people already know and easily enjoy brings us an equal measure of fulfillment, and, can attract customers in droves. Plus, Viognier, for example, does well in showcasing Virginia’s wine quality throughout the state. Everyone should make it!

Alas, the dilemma. Upheave custom to be pioneering, running the risk of pleasing only the most daring; or, deliver the classics at a high level of quality to impress but also appreciate the comfort of the greatest number of potential customers?

Our answer is to do both. You will always find wines you recognize in our collections. But we’re here also to carry on a trailblazing spirit, not only to lead to new discoveries that serve the local industry, but because it’s fun! The experience of our customer, then, can be both drinking-what-you-love and building on that to try something brand new with us. It’s not that choosing both means no choice at all. It’s instead embodying an ongoing dialectic within what we do, even if the GM loses some sleep over it.

Peter DimmickComment