What’s the most sacrosanct supplier in the entire food chain of any legitimate winery? It would have to be vineyard sources. These are precious and, in many cases, irreplaceable.
If you grow your own grapes on your estate dirt or elsewhere, you’re master and commander of your vinous fate. This applies to those who grow for others and those who grow strictly for themselves. It’s up to you to do the right thing by those vines you’ve taken under your wing.
Having a stake—or, in the case of vineyards, many many stakes—in the wellbeing of those vines probably drives you to treat them and the dirt that anchors them to terra firma as your most important asset. Certainly, any chateau in France does.
If you don’t grow your own grapes, you, as a winemaker, are in the catbird’s seat. You get to pick and choose from whence you source. By and large, you get to decide what you will and won’t pay for a ton of the sweat equity of another person—or, in the case of vines, the sweat equity of many, largely immigrant individuals who are making the entire agricultural industry of this nation possible.
While you might not be able to just ring up the owners of Stagecoach, Sangiacomo, Diamond Mountain, or To Kalon and order a half-ton of their best fruit, (actually, there’s no way you’re getting anything from these folks, unless you know them personally—and even then, get in line), you have a fair amount of choice. People are still insane enough to be planting more vines, goddess bless them. And most of them aren’t in a position to give fruit away or cut you a deal just because you think you can find a better price elsewhere.
Which leads me to the point of etiquette, a practice sorely undervalued and seldom practiced in our current nation state or, perhaps I should say, state of the nation.
When you buy grapes from other people, you should at least be nice about it. It’s really despicable behavior to buy grapes from someone, make wine from it that you and your customers love, then go back the next year and tell them you want to pay less for the fruit. In what universe is that fair?
In a parallel scenario, vineyard owners who sell fruit to others should make every effort to be honorable as well. If you’ve repeatedly sold this block and that block of sauvignon blanc to said winery for years, and said winery has paid its bills in-full and on-time, why would you suddenly, one month before harvest, inform that winery (along with many others in the same grape boat) that no fruit will be available to them, because it’s all going to someone else? In what universe is that fair?
Some might say, “Nothing is fair.” But why is that? Because we tolerate unfairness?
Behavior is a choice. Etiquette is a choice. People, we need to make better choices. A little consideration and respect goes a long way. Let’s all drink to that.