A Commencement Speech to Grape Graduates of 2013
I cannot believe that I am standing here in front of all you young grape graduates about to give you a commencement speech. As I stand here and look at you, I see wide-eyed yellow, green and red grapes of all sorts. Hello Albariño on the 50 yard line and cheers to the good ol’ Pinot Noir standing next to the Gamay on the 32 yard line. I am so proud to see that this year so many more grapes have graduated than in any other year. Yes, Malvasia, I see a bright future for you. Hola Tannat, this too is going to be a good year for you! I know that this is what each and every one of you want to hear. Unfortunately, I cannot tell a lie. I cannot stand in front of you and say the same for all of you.
I wish someone told me that when I graduated from college, life was going to be hard. I swore I had it all together. I was going to paint and do sculptures, show my work in galleries and become a famous artist. My commencement speaker never told me that I was going to end up working in a restaurant and that the dream of being an artist was unattainable in the 21st century. So I stand here, as a man who will tell it as it is, you grape graduates are in for a ride!
—“get this guy off the stage”
Easy, grouchy Grenache, I am just getting started.
Look, I know you are all looking at each other, evaluating your Brix, measuring your pH. The competition is harsh. Just because Mr. Cabernet is standing tall at 26 Brix and you Syrah are just at 21, it does not mean that one will have a brighter future than the other. Syrah, you will go through summer school and ripen late into the season, you will see that you too will reach optimal ripeness. And I say this to all of you grapes who sit there and wonder when will I have my fame? Life plays tricks on all of us. Be ready, because your time to shine can be instantaneous. All it takes is one day for Raj Parr or Michael Madrigale to taste you and praise you as a grape which shows true terroir. But are you ready for that day?
Each and everyone one of you has a spirit burning inside. Each of you want to be acclaimed as Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux in the 1982 vintage. I see it in your stems, you have that eye of hope and wonderment. What you do not know is that you are entering into a new world.
The grapes of the past had it easy, their commencement speech was pretty simple. When addressed to Cabernet from Bordeaux they said “you will be great.” When the commencement speech was addressed to Sauvignon Blanc, it went like this, “Sauvignon Blanc will be great in the Loire and with some help of Semillon you too will shine in Bordeaux.”
Our grape ancestors had it easy. If they were from the right region, they were destined for greatness. Class of 2013, you do not have that luxury. Greatness is not that easy to come by now. It used to be, that if you came from a great place you were to be great. I remember seeing all the blonde kids in my preschool class when I came to the US and thought they are going to be great and I, a lowly Mexican boy had no chance. Look at me now…I’m blogging! You too have a chance to change your destiny!
I see you Pedro Ximenez, confused, thinking “what should I do? Should I follow my father and become sherry or should I go my path and be a dry white?” My little PX, only you know the correct answer. I will say that you are at the crossroads. If you become a sherry you will live in barrel for ever and ever and never know when you will actually be released. But when you are, you will be sweet and delectable. If you take the adventurous route and ferment dry you risk never being discovered. However, you might get lucky and be discovered by Tim Fish of the Wine Spectator who praises you as the best summertime white ever created.
Each and every one of you grapes is at a crossroads today. Each and every one of you can be great! Some of you will not have to try, others will get lucky and others will fall victims to a movie like Sideways. Regardless of what your destiny brings you, you need to be true to yourself. Be true to your terroir. Greatness in this day in age is not what it once used to be. Before, greatness was an entire vintage. Today, greatness is as long as your hash tag is trending on twitter.
So what do you want? That is what I ask of every single grape in front of me? Do you know who you are? Do you know your true potential? Before you answer you this, be careful…you don’t know what life brings ahead.
Some of you will be sold to Constellation brands and end up in a box wine, drunk by a high school sophomore and pissed out on the 50 yard line you stand on now.
The more lucky ones will end up in a bottle as a blend and praised by Jon Thorsen of the Reverse Wine Snob wine blog for being a good quality inexpensive wine.
There are a few of you that will end up with a well-known winemaker. You will be sold in all the top wine shops and the best restaurants.
I see some of you lesser known grapes eventually making a go of it. You receive attention from some of the top somms and end up as a beautiful photograph on Alder Yarrow’s Vinography.
Your future is dependent upon those that buy you, ferment you, age you, bottle you, store you, sell you, ship you, sell you again, buy you again and finally pull your cork. Achieving greatness is difficult. It will take the right winery to buy you, the right winemaker to ferment and age you, the right owner to bottle you, the right salesperson to sell you, the right distributor to ship and sell you again, and the right establishment to buy you again and finally, the right consumer to taste you.
It is a long road to greatness! It’s a unguaranteed road to greatness. It is out of your hands! You are just a grape in a bunch, a bunch in a press and combined with the juice of your brothers standing on the 28th yard line. But don’t be depressed, this is great! We are one! You are all in the same boat! In this day in age there is not one of you greater than the other. You are all subject to circumstance.
My beloved grapes, the answer is simple. Realize that you are what you are. Do not be limited to what you think you are. If your future takes you into a plastic bag within a box, be proud and be the best damn box wine ever made. If you are subject to a one of many in a blend, unify! Be happy that you get to spend your time in a bottle with other grapes. Guys, I hear Viognier is pretty hot! If you happen to be selected by Mark Herold for a new project, congratulations. However, don’t let it go to your heads, it only takes a movie and California wine is dead.
What I ask of all my young grape graduates, is that you stay true to yourself. Be open to what the future brings. Raise your leaves high, straighten you stems, flex your skins and hold on! No matter where you go, what you become you are GREAT! Stay true to yourself, to your terroir and greatness will be inevitable.