On “Voice” and Wine …

I recently had the opportunity to join Paul Draper in a lunchtime conversation with a guest from the UK,  a guest whose visit beget a rather unusual tasting.

More often than not, when Paul is hosting, we’ll be showcasing a combination of current and back-vintage Monte Bello, alongside new estate releases; primarily zinfandel and cabernet.

But the guest in question had asked if it would be possible to taste only small-production, winery-only wines unavailable elsewhere, and so it was that we were all together in the kitchen last Thursday, with the following wines in front of us:

–2010 Ridge Vineyards Buchignani Ranch Carignane

–2007 Ridge Vineyards Mazzoni Home Ranch Zinfandel

–2007 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Estate Syrah

–2006 Ridge Vineyards Dynamite Hill Petite Sirah

Quite an eclectic line-up indeed, for both Paul and our guest, and I must say, the conversation at the conclusion of the tasting was quite fascinating.

What both Paul and our guest ended up ruminating on was a) just how disparate the wines were, yet also b) how undeniably linked they were.

Which leads me to the concept of voice.

When we talk about literature (as but one example), we often refer to an author’s voice; that certain presence, character, style that somehow unites book after book after book, despite whatever changes may occur as regards subject matter, storyline, genre, prose techniques, etc.

It’s just that certain something that manages to tell us who we’re reading, even when it’s new and unfamiliar territory, for either us, the author, or both.

James Joyce is a classic example. Despite the stunning differences between, say, Dubliners and Ulysses, it is undeniably the same author at work in both; an author we know by his voice.

William Faulkner is another example, with As I Lay Dying his Dubliners, and The Sound and The Fury his Ulysses; they’re worlds apart in so many ways, yet still undeniably united, and what unites them is the voice of the author.

And it’s worth noting that voice is not necessarily the ability to convey identity via the utilization of a differently chosen and assembled roster of components; this is why the aural voice is the metaphor for the written voice; it’s one thing to sound different when, say, you’re playing the trumpet, as opposed to playing a marimba. It’s a whole other thing to sound different playing the trumpet, when put up against all the other trumpet players of the world. You’ve a bell, three buttons, and a mouthpiece, and from that, you must create your own distinct voice. It’s not easy. Not everyone can be Miles Davis. In fact, only one could.

And so it is with the written word. You’ve the page, your writing instrument of choice, and your language. That’s it. Now go. Create voice.

And so it is with wine. Grapes. Tannins. Acid. Alcohol. Now go. Create voice.

Anyhow, as regards the tasting in question, what struck me perhaps most of all is that Ridge Vineyards truly does have a voice.

There is a certain something about every bottle of Ridge Vineyards wine that somehow manages to transcend growing season, varietal, vintage, etc., and tell us in some visceral way that it is still a bottle of Ridge wine.

This is, to me, when wine becomes art.

To find one’s voice is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing any author. We hear it in their own writings on the subject, we hear it in writer’s groups, we hear it in MFA programs. Find your voice. Find your voice. Find your voice. Poets weep throughout the journey, typewriters fly through the shattered windows of frustrated playwrights, novelists fall silent for decades at a time. All in pursuit of the voice.

That Ridge Vineyards found its voice so early on, and that this voice still rings so vividly and so clearly today, is to me living and delicious proof that wine can indeed attain the level of art.

When wine is made by the right people, in the right places, in the right ways, wine finds its voice.

And we listen. And we drink. And we are thankful. For Paul Draper, for James Joyce, for Miles Davis, for Ridge Vineyards.

For The Voice of Wine.

Categories: Carignane, Monte Bello, Paul Draper, Petite Sirah, Rhone varietals, Syrah, Tasting Flights, Varietals & Blends, Vineyards, Wine & Art, Wine & Poetry, Wine Tales, Zinfandel

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7 replies

  1. I like James’ question, but what a wonderful post and what a beautiful way to describe the art of wine as its unique voice.

  2. Ok.. so, for you, what is that `Ridge voice.’ You leave it undefined, which is a bit of a let-down.

    • To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how one goes about actually “defining” voice; to borrow a line from a supreme court judge, who noted something to the effect that while he didn’t know how to define pornogrpahy per se, he certainly knew it when he saw it, I think voice is a similar phenomenon; it’s not something you necessarily “define,” it’s something you recognize. I think this is why the metaphor works; after all, how does one define another person’s voice? Your mother’s, your lover’s, your child’s? I’m not sure you do, but you know it intimately. For me, this is Ridge’s voice; it’s not something I can necessarily define, in fact, I’m not even sure it’s something I want to define. But I know it, I recognize it, I feel it. Is it an elegant voice? Yes. Does it convey power in controlled fashion? Yes. But of the timbre, the register, the rhythm? Hard to say; perhaps a warm high-tone baritone, with a hint of roughness at the edges; a trace of melancholy in the phrasing that belies the boisterous delivery; I’m thinking Jacques Brel performing “Amsterdam” live …

  3. Dear Christopher,
    You have truly captured the essence of Ridge. It is classic, yet innovative…mature yet young. Thank you so much for your voice. Cheers, Victoria

  4. And for you, Christopher: the voice of the Ridge blog!

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