Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Little Wines

To Mediocrity?

It’s probably not true that everything can always get better. Once decline or senescence sets in, it may be impossible to reverse. But for those things in life that are still healthy and vibrant, they can usually get better. Given sufficient resources we can usually find a way to improve them. So it is with wine. Take your favorite wine or winery. As good as they may be, surely it’s possible for them to improve the quality of their product.

This is why it makes no since to give wines a 100-point score. It implies that no improvement is possible.

Of course improvements may not be easy and may not be linear. It may be necessary to take a step back in order to move forward. But there is never a reason, apart from senescence, to assume that improvement is out of the question.

But this general truth that most things can improve makes me suspicious of wineries that aim at consistency every year. When I see that I immediately suspect they’re complacent, too happy with where they are. If you’re not struggling to improve you simply will not keep up with the competition.

The struggle to improve is always a struggle for originality and individuality. That is incompatible with the search for consistency.

This makes me wonder about cult wines with a 10 year wait to get on their allocation lists. They have every incentive to rest on their laurels. But if you set the standard, if you’re the benchmark, imitators will proliferate and some will probably succeed. It takes remarkable individuals to resist that complacency.

Wine quality is as much about distinctiveness as it is some sort of scale of deliciousness. It is admirable when producers turn out great product year after year. But what we should be asking is whether they’re becoming more distinctive or more predictable, beginning to slip into a self-imposed mediocrity by playing it safe.

This is why I love winemakers who are constantly experimenting, dissatisfied with what they’ve done in the past.  Not every experiment works of course but it’s the only way to move forward. A winery without experimental projects is a winery in decline. And when you visit a winery you can usually sense how much excitement is directed towards innovation.




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