Florence, the home of many of the world’s greatest art, is where I was inspired by the philosophy of Michelangelo. He saw a soul in the block of marble, and felt that it was his duty to liberate it for the world to see. My 11-year-old daughter, Alex, a gifted artist in her own right, understood this artistic sense of duty. She said, “Sometimes when I look at a blank canvas, I can see what it will become.” As with almost everything, I started to think about how to apply this philosophy to food and wine. The truly artistic chef, like a sculptor, can see the essence of a simple tomato, plum, or chicken and coax out the best flavors. And the same holds true for the truly gifted winemaker—their passion and essential knowledge of the grape is evident in each sip.
One of the reasons I try to focus my wine selections on the small producers from around the world is that I want to taste that passion. The artistry in winemaking exists in the winemaker’s skills and their ability to interpret what the terroir brings them. The wine starts in the vineyard and finishes in the cellar. Michelangelo worked with the simplest of tools: his eyes and hands, a chisel and a hammer. The small winemaker usually has to rely on a similar set of basic tools: a few choice implements and his nose, since they usually can’t afford the state-of-the-art technology that makes everything easier. In the end, they tend to use less process, which, in my humble opinion, leads to unique wines with personality. As in great art, the wine can be extremely reflective of the artist’s skills and thoughts.
Though to be fair, this is not to say that large producers can’t impart passion. There are many that can, Ridge Vineyards, for example. I like to track down and find these unique wines, large or small. And I should also say that not all small winemakers have something that should be imparted. Like in art, nothing is cut and dried.
There are many winemakers that are following the lead of a great artist: Elisabetta of Montenidoli, Cyril Marès of Mas des Bressades, Bob and Jim Varner of Varner Wine, just to name a few. For my part, I will continue on this quest to present these wines of personality to you.
Angela Camacho, a certified sommelier and author of a best selling wine tool, The Wine Wheel®, shares her obsession with wine and food.