Episode 479 of I’ll Drink to That! was released recently, and it features Christopher Howell. Howell is the winemaker and General Manager of Cain Vineyard and Winery, in the Napa Valley of California.
Chris Howell’s core belief – that the quality of a wine is determined in the vineyard, not the winery, and that interesting wines speak to their place of origin, not a winemaking process – is easy enough to voice agreement with, and many wine fans today would do so. But Howell is at heart an iconoclast, not a conventional thinker, believing that we’ve lost more than we’ve gained from the wine world innovations of the last fifty plus years. While some winemakers may feel that we’ve got wine quality finally figured out, Howell isn’t one of them. He states in this interview that the really important things about wine were discovered long before our own time. That doesn’t align with a view of the past as a mere prologue to an enlightened understanding of wine quality today, but is rather more in keeping with the idea of the past as the main event, to which we are now supplying the footnotes. In regards to many aspects of wine that Howell cares about, he also glimpses a lingering uncertainty. What actually causes brettanomyces to take hold in a fermentation? What would proper vine trellising look like in an environment that is getting warmer? What is a correct amount of ripeness? Can some volatile acidity be a good thing? These are not settled questions for Howell. And while the prospect of listening to an interview with someone repeatedly wondering aloud may seem unusual and even challenging, it is in fact stimulating. Howell is the sort of speaker that encourages deeper thinking, and even flights of imagination, in those listening. That those are desirable outcomes is something that most people would agree with.
I’ll Drink to That is the world’s most listened-to wine podcast, hosted by Levi Dalton. Levi has had a long career working as a sommelier in some of the most distinguished and acclaimed dining rooms in America. He has served wine to guests of Restaurant Daniel, Masa, and Alto, all in Manhattan. Levi has also contributed articles on wine themes to publications such as The Art of Eating, Wine & Spirits magazine, Bon Appetit online, and Eater NY. Check out his pictures on Instagram and follow him on Twitter: @leviopenswine