It’s difficult not to swan-dive into pretension when describing wine in the same terms as music – let alone naming your wine after a musical device. So I’m not even going to try to avoid it. If we go there, we go full-tilt, I’m even bringing art into it; the word quixotic may appear.
In musical language, an étude is a composition designed to provide practice material for a particular musical skill. They’re frequently highly complex and extremely challenging to play, taking dedication to master.
There’s a very definite decision made when you become a self-described winegrower rather than a winemaker. It speaks of an understanding that wine begins in the vineyard, not just in the winery – and that’s just how founder of Etude Wine, Tony Soter, sees himself. Working with him are vineyard and winery team Franci Ashton and Jon Priest. “Inspired grape growing,” Jon says, “diminishes the need for winemaking ‘intervention’.”
Choosing Etude as the name for his wine is a reflection of Tony’s philosophy – not only that practice makes perfect, but that the practising craft is a form of enjoyment and of art. The winemaker (or in this instance, winegrower) is the performer on stage and we, the drinker, are the audience. There is pleasure to be gained both from performing and enjoying the performance.
So far, so poetic. It may border on grandiose, but wine is often – and especially to those who make it – a form of art. There’s ‘low’ art and ‘high’ art, fine art, and there’s certainly commercial mass-produced art. A winegrower expresses themselves and their vines in their wine. Plenty of people will sniff at the idea, but art should elicit an emotional or sensory response – whether it’s the print you bought at IKEA or a Rembrandt hanging in the Louvre.
And so to Tony Soter, who understands that wine is about pleasure, and the pursuit of crafting that pleasure is as important as drinking it. His section of choice is the Grape, and his instruments are chiefly Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. A fitting choice, as he explains, “There’s no better vehicle with which to study or practice the craft of winemaking than Pinot Noir. It is the most challenging, unforgiving and quixotic of all wine grapes, and yet the most delicate and transparent.”
If his étude to Pinot Noir is an ode to delicate complexity, the Etude approach Cabernet Sauvignon reflects the different characteristics and bolder nature of the grape. It’s an expression of craftsmanship in the vineyard before it even reaches the winery. The winemaking ethos and passion echoes the spirit of Chateau Montelana and their kin who ‘won’ the Judgement of Paris in 1976 – this is top level wine made with style and elegance.
In short, wines like this are what make California great. Exciting, soulful and passionately made wine to challenge the very best the Old World has to offer.
We’re very lucky to have secured an extremely limited parcel of the Etude 2009, and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Like most art, they’re finite; unlike most art, we know how much they’re worth but are able to offer them for much less – get them while you can. UPDATE: We had 78 cases of each and they vanished in a flash! Check out some other awesome Californian wines here.