How a local wine advisor cultivates his own kind of counsel.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Although David Coventry is Monterey County’s closest thing to famed wine consultant Michel Rolland, the two grape-juice gurus couldn’t be farther apart.
When Rolland appeared in the popular wine documentary MondoVino (2004), the world’s most powerful consultant was wearing an immaculate suit and a bling-bling wristpiece. Coventry, the area’s only card-carrying wine consultant and a winemaker himself, usually wears shorts and sunglasses as he coaches wineries on how to help their picked grapes become palatable, or as he hand-delivers his limited-production De Tierra “Silacci Vineyard” Pinot Noir to local restaurants.
Rolland’s paid by world-conquering wineries like France’s Château LeGaffelière, Italy’s Ornellia and Chile’s Casa Lapostolle (and hundreds of others) to arrive by private jet and apply his formula for success.
His advice for most of his clients: “We must micro-oxygenate”– apply a process in which wine is aerated to simulate aging so it can be drinkable sooner. He guns for super-ripe, supple, deeply colored and instantly gratifying wines.
Coventry is more spontaneous in his approach, and shares his case-by-case epiphanies with local small-production wineries like Parsonage, Böete and John Alan. He works in the opposite direction– beginning with the inventory of ingredients and creating wines with subtle-but-distinct personalities– rather than starting with uniform-but-reliable rules for success.
When hired, Coventry tastes barrel samples like all consultants, but takes extra time to do more than taste, familiarizing himself with the soil and climate, remaining in tune with wine’s higher power– Mother Nature– checking which vines face south, how steep their slopes are and what time the fog rolls in.
He says that connection, for both the consultant and the winemaker, is paramount. “The most important thing [in winemaking] is the winemaker’s shadow,” he says. “The more time the winemaker spends in the vineyard, the easier it is to make the wine.”
Wind, frost, rain and amount of sunlight– Too much? Not enough?– are critical. Armed with this information, he triangulates how to advise his client wineries on whether to filter, refine, and rack the wine.
“Being a wine consultant is like being a great chef that can make a great meal with poor ingredients,” he says.
Coventry doesn’t deny that Rolland has been good for the industry– agreeing with Rancho Cellars owner Jacques Melac, who recently attended a seminar with Rolland. “If it wasn’t for Rolland, a lot of these wines he consults for would taste horrible,” Melac says. “He’s elevating the level of mediocrity.” Nor can Coventry deny that Rolland rescues dozens of wines every year– or that his wines, although infamous for being a bit generic in their youthful stages, can show distinction with age.
Coventry simply points out that Rolland’s philosophy doesn’t always allow for the unique sense of place found in the wines he develops to shine through, something he prioritizes. “That guy’s done more to homogenize wine than anyone I know of,” Coventry says, “and not in a good way.”
So Coventry works on a different wavelength, with diminutive, character-rich local wineries. “It’s the big wineries that draw attention to Monterey County,” he says, “but it’s the small ones that bring greatness.”