Flying Winemakers

Hello Everyone,

This week we’ll discuss one of the most controversial developments in the wine world — something that has inspired movies, websites and heated conversations about which way the world of wine should spin.

Try a new wine this week!


One of the most influential developments in how that wine you just purchased tastes is the flying winemaker. It has also caused some of the most polarizing conversations in the world of wine, contributing to the development of movies, websites and discussions about how valid those scores are.

What is a flying winemaker? He or she is a consultant, someone who gained fame in one region and loaned — rented, actually — their expertise to wineries in other parts of the world.

Some have covered a lot of ground.

The most famous is probably Michel Rolland, a native of Bordeaux, France. His practice currently has 100 clients in 12 countries, some quite famous. Needless to say, he’s not actually stomping the grapes for each one.

Much more likely is that he suggests microoxygenation, a practice for which he’s been known. Figuratively speaking, it involves squirting oxygen into wines, mostly reds, to make them taste better when they’re young. I suppose it’s a little like artificial aging. He also believes in oak, ripe grapes and wines with lots of concentrated fruit. His friend, Robert Parker, the world’s most influential wine critic, likes this style of wines, but others regret what is called his global style. To see this side of the argument made very artfully, watch the movie “Mondovino” (world wine).

In today’s global market, it may be good business to remember the saying, “You can sell people what you want to sell them, or you can sell them what they want to buy.”

The market seems to say yes to this global style. Others miss the days of individuality when a wine expressed its local growing conditions of soil, weather and tradition, what the French call “terroir.” There has been something of a backlash, a return to traditional, local, individual styles. I think maybe the organic movement might be contributing to this.

Another result is that winemakers who work in different parts of the world gain great experience for themselves. Among the most experienced winemakers in the Napa Valley today is Larry Levin. After graduating from UC Davis, he spent 17 years at northern Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Vineyard where he made wines for 18 vintages.

Mount Veeder, Robert Mondavi, Estancia, Ravenswood, Quintessa and Ruffino (located in Tuscany). Currently he is winemaker for Grayson Cellars and also consults for wineries in the Stag’s Leap and Oakville districts in Napa and Sonoma.

Robert Parker likes this 2008 cabernet from Grayson Cellars. It retails in the $10-$15 price range.

Categories: Legacy Archive