The original theme of this month’s edition was going to be the second half of our “Top 10” list. Trust us when we tell you that it’s not easy to write a short list of things that inspired us over the past year and ideas that keep us so passionate about what we do. Next month we’ll talk about things like Hipsters, Service with a Smile, and the concept of Short and Sweet. In the midst of looking ahead to a new year and the opportunities of 2015, the words of one of California’s iconic winemakers really got us thinking about the balance between science and art, and how the gentle combination of the two can make for great success.
Sean Thackrey makes wine, but he’s not a winemaker per se. Years ago in an interview with a Master Sommelier, he was repeatedly asked about his formal training, and though he did take some classes to avoid making grape kimchi, his response was priceless. He likened having a degree in enology and being a winemaker to a food scientist being a chef: “If chefs were trained the way winemakers are, you’d rarely eat out.” Roughly translated as, winemakers are trained like chemists, so if a chef were trained that way there would be no passionate instinct. Instead of touching a steak to determine whether it was medium rare, you would have to use a meat thermometer every single time. Boring to say the least. While the science is important, much of learning comes from making mistakes, building experience and having confidence in instincts that aren’t quantifiable. What is more important – knowing why fats emulsify from a chemical standpoint or knowing how to emulsify them?
This leads to one of the most recent additions to our spirits (and wine) portfolio. Tad Seestedt started Oregon’s Ransom Spirits in 1997, a time when there were very few craft distilleries in America. That number has gone up exponentially over the last 18 years as more and more forward-thinking breweries realize they are halfway to making spirits. Seestedt is truly one of the pioneers, originally making only grappa, brandy and eau de vie with fruit sourced from the wine-producing regions of the Pacific. After quickly getting into wine-production (their Cabernet Franc from Rogue Valley is one of the best examples of the grape from anywhere in the world) the spirits portfolio began to expand.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the once nomadic Ransom has a permanent home on a 40-acre farm in Sheridan, Oregon. Some of the barley used to make the spirits comes directly from that farm, and everything (yes, even the VODKA!) is made in a traditional copper wood-fired alembic pot still. The vermouths are even fortified with brandy made in house! What really makes us stop and think about how passionate they are is the tagline on the back of their recently released Dry Gin: “Made entirely by hand without the use of computers and robots.” Like the winemaker who determines ripeness of grapes by tasting them on the vine, all of the decisions made in the production of spirits are done with a nose and a palate. By combining years of experience and trusting his instincts, Seestedt manages to make world-class spirits without the formulaic use of technology. Now that is something to be proud of.
Cheers to smarter drinking!