Artisano: Wine, Food, Art, Yum
In today’s gourmet food and fine wine world, the descriptor “artisan” gets rather overused, don’t you think? When the shelves of Costco and Trader Joe’s offer products with labels that announce themselves as “artisan,” what does it really mean anymore? Through such ubiquitous use, this once-illustrative word has lately begun to dissolve itself, its definition remaining so vague that one could argue it applies to food products of any quality as long as they’re produced by hand. “Artisan”: a term in danger of carrying no measurable meaning due to a desperate urge to oversell in (American) marketing speak (“diva,” “epic,” “classic” anyone?). We make cheese at our home—are we artisans? Probably not, maybe, of course: it all depends on your perspective and your own definition of this nebulous term.
While a blurry vagueness pervades the Americanized concept of “artisan,” there much less confusion about the meaning of “artisano.” It calls to mind the Italian masters in the kitchens, studios, and workshops who have produced so much art with the skill of their hands. They have helped build the reputation of Italy as a cradle of design and flavor for centuries. Many Italianos possess a commitment to quality that pervades everything they create by hand, whether they work in the medium of food, wood, wine, or stone. “Made in Italy” still means something today because of the power and commitment of its artisanos.
An Ultra-premium Promise
And so did I follow that Italian siren song (an email, actually), promising an artisano sensory experience of wine, food, and art. On a lovely Saturday afternoon in mid-fall (made even lovelier for having passed through the morning drizzle of the Bay Area), this delightful event in Geyserville featured a collection of small California wineries pouring their delicious small-lot, ultra-premium wines. Because they’re produced in such small quantities, these wines rarely get presented to the general public.
Many of the wineries represented at this inaugural Artisano event don’t even have tasting rooms. The back forty of the beautifully situated Geyserville Inn served as a communal tasting room for many of the wineries from this less-frequently visited winemaking landscape in the northern reaches of Sonoma County.
Do you know that feeling, when you’ve tasted through a whole menu of wines at a winery and you like every one of them, and some of them very much? That’s what happened at this event, again and again. “You’ve got to try Skipstone—they’ve got awesome wines. Oh, and Garden Creek, and Domenichelli, and….” So many wonderful things to taste, so many wineries to recommend.
Thoughtfully-prepared eats complemented the wines. The good-sized, well-behaved crowd enjoyed the cooking demonstrations, the auction, and the knowledge that monies raised will fund the Slow Food School Garden Project, one of the efforts of the Slow Food Sonoma County, North chapter.
Pouring a Favorite Child
Many of the winemakers pouring their wines at Artisano work for someone else during the day, contributing their enological skills to producing wine for their employer. Everyone who worked for a larger winery made sure to not mention its name.
The wines they brought to pour-—these privately produced and nearly privately enjoyed wines—were favorites. Like proud young parents accompanying their child prodigy to a talent show, many Artisano winemakers seem so thrilled with how wonderful their small-lot, hand-crafted wines are tasting. Pride in their own finished wines beamed out from so many faces. Artistry layers every phase of the wine production process, from vineyard management practices to barrel production to winemaking. Overheard: “I don’t care about points.”
The Vineyard Calls the Shots
The most passionate winemakers seem super attuned to what the land and the fruit have to say about the finished wine. Demonstrating the powerful influence the fruit and vineyards exert on his craft, one winemaker described how the “fruit speaks to the winemaker: ‘blend me.’ Or, ‘leave me alone.'” With an intense look and the seriousness (without stuffiness) of one completely engaged with the winemaking process on a quasi-chemical-spiritual level, this winemaker explained how in the winery’s topographically-rich vineyards, “the vineyard calls the shots.” Based on the wonderful experience of these wines, I’d say it pays to listen to your vineyard. Holy cats, that’s a good wine.
The 2009 Artisano event certainly repaid in spades the effort of traveling to this lesser-visited corner of Sonoma County. The outstanding wines featured in this first iteration promise an even more wonderful (and likely more crowded) event next year. The taste of the wines and the images of the vineyards linger in the memory and imagination.