If I've been silent for the last week, it's for a good reason: I've been drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
But it's all in a good way. Really truly! Nothing but the finest of fine red wine. My wife the Goddess of Punctuation and I were invited, along with 250 other lucky souls, to the 25th birthday of Charles Melton Wines, which is an ultra-high quality winery in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, an hour's drive north of Adelaide, which is a 2 hour flight from where we live in Sydney. So a fair way from home. In times BC (Before Children) we used to go winery visiting once or twice a year, but this trip was only the second time in 11 years that we had both been away from our girls. The girls were fine with it; I had separation anxiety.
Charles Melton is best known for the amazing wine called Nine Popes, which is made from predominantly Grenache grapes, with some Shiraz and Mourvedre thrown in.
The Barossa has a reputation for producing very high quality wine. Penfolds Grange, which is widely considered one of the best wines in the world, is made just up the road, and Nine Popes does for Grenache grapes what Grange does for Shiraz.
I won't bore you with piles of wine talk (I hope) but there were two highlights I must mention.
The first was an international tasting. Charlie brought in 12 wines from all over the world for a comparative tasting of four grape types made in totally different ways in different places. Slovakia, France, Italy and the US were on the list. I'll particularly mention the 2005 Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel from California, the 2008 Christian Morery Vallions Chablis from France, and the 2008 Aston Hills Reserve Pinot from Australia. All amazing wines. And Charlie imported all these for us to taste at his own expense. Every drop of wine all we 250 guests drank over three days, both the imports and his own, plus some amazing food was given us by the winery as a massive thank you for our support over the years.
The second highlight was the vertical tasting of every vintage of every wine Charles Melton ever made. He had Nine Popes on the table from 1996 to 2008, and it was an amazing experience to taste one after the other. You could even taste the difference between the normal sized bottle and the magnum of exactly the same wine, and believe me, the difference was very clear. Same goes for his Shiraz wines and his Rosé.
The Melton Rosé by the way is named for his wife: Rose of Virginia. He also has a Shiraz called The Father In Law. There's no law says fine wine can't have a sense of humour.
Charlie talked about how he was running a small business, which he said to us in a huge shed surrounded by large vats of fermenting wine. If that's his definition of a small business, he should try writing.
Here's the Goddess of Punctuation. I think she might be checking one of the Grenache vines for missing semi-colons.
Now all this caused me to think a lot about how wineries are like writers. (Yes, drinking nothing but lots of fine wine for three days straight inspires thoughts like this.) But really, the similarities are there:
Tastes differ. In wine as in books. No one can satisfy every taste.
When people like you, they come back for more.
It doesn't take too many bad vintages (or books) to destroy your following and wipe you out.
I don't know about where you are, but here in Australia there are a zillion small wineries, all producing good stuff, and how's one winery to get noticed over another?It's a craft and an art.
It makes people happy.
So what lessons can I learn as a writer from how Charles Melton made it as a vintner? I don't know what he thinks, but here's the way I see it:
Go for quality. The highest quality you can reach.
Quality + Hard Work + Outstanding Service = Vast Success
Be generous to your supporters. Charlie funded a party for 250 people with world class wines. He now has 250 rusted on customers who will love him forever. (But I thank God I'm not his accountant).
Have fun. At the final dinner, the staff got a standing ovation. They deserved every bit of it and more. The smiles never left their faces. They put up with us all. They did the near impossible and even looked happy doing it.