Winemaking is simple in its basic process. In fact, it is the natural decomposition of the grapes. Yet on the way to fine wine, it can get very complex. Wine, at its essence, is a snapshot of the ecology of the vineyard. By the ecology I mean the slope, soil, exposure, wind, sun, grape variety, and weather that particular year. At Mount Eden every bottle is a succinct expression of the vineyard’s ecology. Year in and year out we produce wines from the same vines, in the same cellars, by the same people. With that purity of expression comes a true “vineyard wine”. This is so even with our non-estate Chardonnay from the Wolff Vineyard in Edna Valley.
Most large commercial wines in the marketplace are blends from several vineyards and are what I call “winemaker wines”, meaning the composition and harmony are built by the palate and pocketbook of the winemaker. “Vineyard wines” differ in their basic approach and are usually very small in volume. I know it’s a well-worn cliché, but I do believe that all great wines are “made in the vineyard”. Therefore, over the years I have found myself working in my vineyards more and more. The connection to the estate vineyards and my influence over the quality of the fruit is my biggest satisfaction.
Not to say that the wine cellar is not important or satisfying, but the challenge and creativity is greatest in the vineyard. There is also a larger legacy left in the vineyard operations. The overall design and health of the vineyards that I will leave my successor one day will be the best possible, and I take a lot of pride in that. In the winemaking arena the approach has always been to let the wine and the vintage speak for itself. A gentle handling of the fruit, no pumping for instance, is the first step, as well as careful monitoring of the fermentations using natural yeast populations. Like an airline pilot, I intervene only when necessary, guiding the process and being there should any unexpected turbulence occur.
The human factor in any vintage is significant. For instance, harvest parameters and subsequent wine style, method of fermentation, type and age of barrels used, length of aging cycle, how one finishes the wine (whether or not to filter) are all important and are totally in the hands and head of the winemaker. Experience is a great help, and I am fortunate to have spent my entire career here at Mount Eden. The style of our wines are for a select few who typically have a long and wide wine-drinking history. Our customers are able to appreciate the intensity of character and purity of the terroir because of this.
Fine wine should be fun and delicious. Whether with food or without, it shouldn’t be too serious or pretentious, yet it often is. I try in my public persona to communicate this levity and hedonism whenever possible.
Jeffrey Patterson, Winemaker