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Corley Family Napa Valley

Chris Corley
August 23, 2008 | Tasting Wine | Chris Corley

Sprints and Marathons

Making wine is a craft that blends art and science, it's a melange of imagination and numbers. There are decisions that at times need to be made rather quickly -  like whether or not a tank is ready to press off the skins or whether you should pick a certain batch of grapes that morning because it may (or may not) rain later in the day. There are other decisions that can be made over much longer periods of time, sometimes years, such as determining the proper clonal selection for your vineyard, or assessing which barrels are just the right match for each of your vineyard blocks.

I can think of two people who each are a great example of these traits.


One is a family friend, who we had dinner with at Monticello last night. His name is Bill Patterson and he is a very talented artist in addition to being an all-around great guy. Bill specializes in very vibrant paintings that depict high energy racing scenes. You can check out his works at On Thursday night, Bill performed a live-painting at our next-door neighbor, Andretti Winery, in which he created a piece of art from scratch live. The finished painting was fantastic. You feel as though the car is going to burst right off the canvas and run you over! Bill mentioned to me last night that he enjoys doing these live paintings, because he can paint fast and without thinking. It must be an exhilirating creative release for him.

Sometimes winemaking decisions work like this as well. Many times, I taste a blend and I just know its 'the one'.  There may be no logical reason the blend should work, but it does. Sometimes blending wine requires lousy math.  1+1 can equal 3 when it comes to blending wine, and you've just got to believe in it. When you taste grapes in the field and proclaim that the wine is going to taste great, what you're really doing is working from your instincts. There's an enormous amount of variables between getting the fruit off the vine and getting the wine into the marketplace 3-4 years later. Instincts are more valuable than formulas in the field and on the crush pad. They're also more exhilirating.


Although I've never met the man, I've been intrigued by a fellow named Dean Karnazes lately. He's a talented dude, but what amazes me is his ability to run - very long distances - like hundreds of miles at a time. He recently ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. His time in the NY marathon on the 50th day was something like 3 hours! I know you don't believe me ... check out his website What does a long distance runner have to do with making wine?

In winemaking, we need to run marathons as well as sprints. As effective and exhilirating as sprint instincts may be during a blind blending, we need to have a long term marathon outlook as to what we're doing. Once we have that creative surge on the crush pad or in the field that captures an essence of the fruit, we need to step back and make sure that we're still focused on the finish line, which like a marathon may still be much farther down the road. It may be several years before that incredible blend is released. It may take many years before a new planting is complex enough to garner its own designated bottling. While there may be many instinctive sprints in the meantime, we always need to be sure that they don't distract us from completing the marathon ...


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@ Jan 5, 2017 at 8:57 AM
A winemaking decision could be a challenging task, but proper handling and monitoring will make all the process easier and bring a lot of profit. There are many examples of successful winemakers across the world.But a high quality of wine producer is making a high quality wine.

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