Jim’s Musings

Early Feb, 2023

J.K. Carriere 2023 State of the … Winemaker

Annual musings from Jim Prosser

Cloudy and cold amidst the vines this day. Mud will accompany me to lunch. I’m happy. It’s almost my birthday, and I’m doing what I want, pruning, on my day off.

Last year is gone. Our 24th cycle as a winery just begun. Hopeful, sums the sentiment. Hopeful, not shallow, the opposite of cynical, and holding some depth. It feels likely born on the back of years of striving, and for whatever reason, it’s got me ruminating on the idea of mastery.

Now, I’m what could be loosely described as a clueless man, in that I’ve never been able to theorize what exactly I should be doing. Think, yes, until I’m blue, then I’ve always had to just start running, in a direction, towards an inkling, picking up clues to adjust my course along the way. It’s a sort of life “sharpening,” I suppose. Dull moments there too.

Given my endorsement for the act of tripping through life, I do feel lucky to have been between lives (aka jobless and broke) in the mid 90s when the “try or get this monkey off my back” possibility of cellar work crossed my radar. I stepped and, honestly, got tumbled in. I was stopped dead in my tracks by craftsmanship, absolute head and hands.

A continual experience of endless arresting details unlocking myriad questions whose answers become physically manifest in the cellar and beautifully temporal in bottle? Hell yes, I’ll lend my hands. Time spent became a series of self-perpetuating cycles and seasons, a trance, a study in all-in. I sought other masters here, and abroad, practitioners of nuance, creators of beauty, and immersed myself.

That and a dedication of years will get you quite far. Though if you’re intent on all-the-way, eventually one has to step out from the shadows of your masters. To not step is to become derivative, a cover band. So, you keep going. You work. You take chances. You make mistakes. You get to know the nuance of your craft well enough to improvise at the margins. You search out and heed the inklings. Keep on the path and attain mastery, right? 

Spend a couple of decades winemaking and one might expect so. Oh wait, that’s myopic, as there’s a lot to get good at in wine. So, you add biologically intensive organic farming and drop to the bottom cog of knowledge, feeling as if you are tearing, renting, surface peering into complex soil systems that actually require far more than a microscope. You’re all-in again, wearing a new hat of humility and a new timeline to attain mastery, right?

Nope, mastery is not yours to proclaim. Comfortable in your skin and confident in your skills might be better. Authenticity seems the most likely word. Individual or genuine are two others. So, where did we get to on this idea of mastery? The best I’ve got is an endless pursuit, an ideal, something that someone else might tag you with as a means of shorthand for competence. In first person it seems about as achievable as the horizon, ever more distant as knowledge increases, no matter your speed. To say it about oneself, well, that’s called master douche-baggery.

I am not certain of many things, including mastery, but the mud on my boots and the age on my wines does feel right to me. My inclination is to keep trying to know what it is that I’m supposed to be doing, while moving forward, eyes on the horizon. Hmm, I might just get sharper.

Jim – A jack of a few trades, master of …