Tin Barn Vineyards | Amy Tsaykel

Happy Accidents

In Uncategorized on 09/29/2009 at 8:10 pm

Lately I have been thinking about imperfection–in people, in art, in life, and (of course) in wine. When is it a detriment, and when is it actually an asset?

This all arose  when, the other day at the winery, I opened and (eek!) served a bottle of corked wine. Cork taint occurs when  2,4,6 trichloroanisole–a chemical found in many pesticides and wood preservatives–infects a cork and causes wine to taste and smell of damp newspaper.

Cork tree (Quercus suber)

Cork tree (Quercus suber)

I’d discerned cork taint before, but this time missed it. Was my head cold to blame, or did I just make a rookie mistake? Either way, by the time a customer–who happened to be a veteran winemaker–sniffed it out, I’d sold 18 bottles of the stuff to eager buyers, none of whom noticed any problem.

This begs the question: In this instance, was cork taint such a bad thing? Tin Barn winemaker Mike Lancaster doesn’t cut himself much slack.  “In the end,” he says, “a flaw is still a flaw.”

Reassuring. And certainly this modus operandi rules the Tin Barn cellar–a spotless and well-kept workplace. But I wonder if a flaw can also simultaneously be a benefit?

In college, I studied painting, creating countless oil reproductions of obscure works by the Masters. My work was based on the urging of a favored professor, who (doubtlessly quoting one artist or another) claimed, “You have to know the rules in order to break them.”  He wanted us to feel free to interpret and improvise–but only after we knew what we were doing.

Mike would likely approve of this philosophy. Certainly there are rules of aesthetics in oenology just as there are rules of aesthetics in visual art.  So … where does one start throwing rules out the window?

One day, my professor showed us a slide by French Romanticist painter George Ingres:  “La Grande Odalisque“. We were all quite taken. Unanimously, students preferred this painting to the previous slide, a similiar figurative work from an earlier era.

Why? Imperfection.

Famously, “La Grande Odalisque” features a female nude whose back is rendered grossly disproportional to the rest of her body. Critics agree this makes the image more alluring. It apparently was a good time for Ingres to break the rules.

La Grande Odalisque

Something here is not quite right ... and that's exactly why it works.

I ask Mike about the possiblity of flaws being harnessed for a wine’s benefit, and he tells me about Brettanomyces. In Rhone and Burgundy, winemakers regard the earthy, barnyard character of “Brett” as a good thing. Round these parts? Not so much.

Hmmm, I smell subjectivity …

Here are a few other flaws to consider (…not that you’d find any of them in a Tin Barn bottle, of course!).

Alas, I’m still learning the rules; I’ve only just begun. So I won’t be breaking any rules any time soon, and will certainly beware the insidious cork taint.

Still,  where imperfection rears its head, why not try and drink it in? You might just find you like it….

  1. Of course we all know that white zinfandel was originally considered a flaw, and was made by mistake.

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