I recently learned what a true violet smells like. What a revelation.
Who knew something so delicate could create such an aromatic frenzy of the senses for me. Some violets actually have what is called an ionone compound, which temporarily desensitizes ones ability to smell, luring you to keep smelling, like a mirage, until your nose recovers. What a beautiful habit of nature; the ability to release magic at will.
Violet, fresh-cut grass, marzipan, butter, asparagus and manure (yes, it is true, apparently some varietals express this scent; think Provençal lavender fields next to cattle pasture) are just a few of the fragrances in the new Wine Aroma kits created by a master perfumer and sold through Enartis, a company that sells winemaking supplies and services. I learned about them through Enartis manager Amy Kolberg, whom I appreciatively call my wine therapist. We meet regularly to talk shop. I select a topic, like fermentation temperature, she relays the science, I relay winery results, then we bridge the gap by dissecting winemaker practices based on experience, folklore and superstition. We also create mini-experiments along the way to test our ideas on the ground. It is a marvelous way to enhance both of our professions while digging deeper into their challenges.
You’d be surprised to know the things winemakers do that have nothing to do with science and what winemakers do that only involves science. This is where the responsibility and ownership of decision-making comes into play. Anyone can make wine. Take grapes and jam them in a jar on the countertop and eventually something will happen. Yeasts are everywhere. It is the nuance of the decisions you make along the way that dictate your results. Starting with vineyard site selection through vintage release date, everything matters. There are a lot of things to consider and many ways to consider various choices. Knowing what you want to say is as important as knowing what you don’t want to say. Oftentimes you can hear everything in the silence. Having the confidence to execute your personal expression is what winemaking is all about for me. Science, folklore, practical experience and superstition all have their rightful place.
To me, the more I know, the more I know I don’t know, which means the more I want to know, and the vicious cycle of knowing and not knowing continues ad infinitum. I love it. All the certainty in the world isn’t enough to control a living organism. The incredible mysteries of winemaking are humbling, profound and connective. We are sharing them right now. These mysteries are also what keep me coming back, vintage after vintage, working to figure out how to keep making wine another year, and hopefully many, many years thereafter. I like to talk, I love to listen, and I have a lot to explore. Like sniffing violets, I work harder each time to renew that elusive revelation.