WOFW article on William Kelley

I posted this but I think it was a bit hidden on a tasting note thread

A good article by (disclaimer - my friend) Paul Day in WOFW on William:

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There certainly is a lot of sensibility to the advantage one develops from actually making the stuff as opposed to just drinking it. I have read a decent amount about wine making (as well as visited many wineries) but know that actually doing it would certainly help greatly in my understanding. Years ago I fancied doing the crush pad thing in California but since I don’t live there. Curious if anyone on this board did that.

I did in 2019 - with help finding my feet from the ITB folks in this community. And I’m still here. Admittedly, I was pretty sure I wanted to get into the industry - my wife and I moved out here permanently before I’d even started - but it wasn’t a sure thing back then.

So how do you think it changed your understanding of what you taste in wine - maybe validating things you kind of knew but hadn’t really participated in creating? Maybe William will chime in on some of the epiphanies he has experienced in going from a critic to a creator.

It changed the way I taste in a variety of ways. I think most fundamentally it gives one skin in the game when tasting, in that you have to make critical decisions by taste (picking, macerating, pressing, press wine incorporation, barrel choice, racking, when to bottle, etc), and then you see the consequences. That helps to make the transition from iteration (tasting a lot of wine) to actual experience, as those consequences are very evident.

Beyond that, it makes you more aware of the parameters that influence tasting from barrel (temperature, reductions, levels of dissolved gas, sulfite additions, turbidity). And more sensitive to deviations (brett, VA, acetate, different sorts of undersirable élevage impacts). Farming adds a layer to that when you can see the way agronomic choices and vintage variables translate to balance and tannin quality—or not.

I think the downside is that you can become hypersensitive to minor details. For example, wood that stands out a bit (and which might integrate in a decade), or low levels of EPG from brett, or the flavors imparted by old barrels that have been preserved by burning sulfur matches for several years, are intensely distracting to me now, and I have to work to make sure I taste like a consumer and not too like a producer when I am working.

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Know someone who showed his wines during a stage overseas to fellow ITB and someone commented that the wines showed brett. I think it got to him and he started to experiment with filtering for a couple of years. He thinks those wines have turned out a little boring in comparison 10+ years out.

Is this the Paul Day who’s one of the biggest Madeira guys in the UK?

Yes.

I’ve been to quite a few Madeira tastings with him then.

A lot of William’s responses resonate with my own experience. Of course I’m not a wine critic or writer so that part doesn’t come into it.

I’ve become a much more technical taster, which in general I’d say is something I like. I like to understand why things are the way they are. It also makes it easier to see, tasting over a series of wines from a single producer, how much understanding and control that winemaker has of/over their wines. And I’d say that’s true regardless of their viticultural and winemaking style and philosophy. If I taste a bunch of natural wines and they’re all mousy, or all so Bretty that they taste of nothing else, I honestly don’t have a lot of respect for that process because it feels like the winemaker doesn’t have a lot of respect for their consumer or knowledge of their vineyards and winery. It is so easy to not make horribly flawed wine. If I then taste a bunch of natural wines from another producer and they all have some microbial complexity but everything is in balance, then I want to talk to that person because they probably understand something important about their wines and I want to learn from them. This has happened several times in the last year.

I’ve become more frustrated by how common it is to see what I consider to be excessive reduction in white wines. I’ve become more impressed by barrel fermentation. Working with Chardonnay made me fall back in love with it. As a former geologist, I’ve become much more enthusiastic about terroir since I started actually working with vineyards. I’m also amazed at how many vineyards in California are planted to the wrong grapes. Paradoxically, I think the red grapes that are most likely to be planted in the right place are the least popular, because they have had to prove themselves in a site to avoid getting ripped up/grafted over and replaced by Pinot or Cab. Syrah and increasingly Merlot read this way to me. Zinfandel too, to some extent.

I’ve also become much less tolerant of high pricing in the US, but that’s a personal gripe.

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Thanks to Ben and William for thoughtful replies. To Ben, regarding reduction in white wines is that a response to Premox?

Maybe in some cases but in general I don’t think so, though there are some similar themes. Some of it is excessive elemental sulfur use in the vineyard too close to harvest or bunch closure. Some of it is the popularity of extremely reductive winemaking in Sauvignon Blanc, which is a reduction-prone grape to begin with. Some of it is the rise of screw caps, though this is getting better with newer generations of liners. Occasional examples are actually probably light strike, made worse by the popularity of colourless bottles.