Even after nearly 11 years in business we thankfully get a solid stream of new customers to the shop. Those who come in that are more focused on the wine part of the business frequently ask, “Do you specialize in a particular kind of wine?”
The response has been largely unchanged since we started and remains true to this day. We started with varietals that do well in the Northwest and then branch out after that for grapes, wines and styles we can’t find here, all with an eye to helping our customers expand their own personal wine journey. Our true specialty though, is helping consumers find the perfect bottle for them at that moment, regardless of where they are in their wine experience.
As for winemakers and wineries, it is a very different answer you will likely receive. For winemakers, it is driven by passion and by the grapes that do best where they are located. The second part of their answer dates back to wine’s roots, and I mean way back. In the old-world, viticulture and wine making were all driven by what grapes did best in the area you were located in. Terroir is, and always has been, the ultimate arbiter. For hundreds of years varietals have been grown and wine has been made simply, because the varietal we are talking about, whichever it is, does well in that area. You would never expect a winery in Burgundy to grow and produce something other than Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Similarly, you would never expect Pinot Noir or Chardonnay to be grown in the Rhone Valley or Bordeaux, any more than you would expect Nero d’Avola to be growing in the heart of Tuscany. These regional specifics are so entrenched that laws are passed in European wine producing regions and countries cementing them in place.
Enter the new world, and with some notable exceptions like the Willamette Valley of Oregon, everything is pretty much planted everywhere. While Cabernet and Chardonnay are king and queen in Napa, one need not look very long or very hard to discover vineyards planted to Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah and a smattering of many other grape varietals. In Spain, Italy and France this would border on heresy. In the States though, it has come to be this way, driven by opportunity and microclimates that are so small and so specific that many varietals are packed into small geographic areas.
So, with this new world approach and the climatic conditions that enable it, how do wineries choose their specialty? One word- passion! It is rare, and I would go further to say nearly impossible, for one winemaker to handle all varietals well and to be able to drive markets to many different grapes and styles of wine. The best winemakers know what they like and are self-aware to the point of knowing what they are best at.
Certainly, there are wineries and wine companies that span the old-world wine region varietal designations, but typically you will see a number of different wine making teams, each specializing in a regional and varietal field. For small wineries though ask the winemakers how they decided to make Rhone, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany or Priorat, and almost always they will say, “It is what I love.”
We have always embraced the notion that wine making is equal parts science and art, but in some instances, the artistic side of the business that’s driven by passion becomes even more important, and in the case of selecting what wine you decide to produce and in what style, it is paramount. Once that decision is complete with the proper motivation it would tough for a good winemaker to go bad.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party — a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.