A Different View
Doesn’t your fight resemble tilting at windmills? The question is what we consider a victory. If everyone wakes up tomorrow and starts drinking true wine, it’d be a tragedy for us. There’s not enough true wine for everyone – there’s very little of it, to be honest.
Interview with the creators of TrueWine.ru
(Interview for the magazine Guide to Good Wine, Ukraine)
A veteran corkscrewer Mikhail Volkov and devotee-aficionado Dmitry Rudakov really love wine and love talking about it. And they also would like more people to love and appreciate wine. And no commercial, marketing wine that might as well have been poured from one tan – that kind of wine they speak very harshly about without esteem for any big names. Misha and Dima talk about true wine that’s becoming less and less common – the kind many people do not even suspect exists.
What do you mean when you say “true wine”? What are its criteria? Can wine that costs less than 10€ be “true”?
Dmitry: I can say with absolute certainty that true wine has zero to do with the price. I mean, you can find true wine for 7€ or for 200-300€ – the price does not play a defining role here. It’s partially connected to that which we are battling against: globalisation and international marketing which dominate over the wine market. It was this situation which caused us to start our blogging. Winemaking is an art of finding balance with nature – sometimes it bears fruit and sometimes it doesn’t. But economically speaking, no one is interested in this approach. That’s why it goes like this: the wine standardises, turns into general, hip wine that everybody understands. I call this “a Johnson & Johnson product” – i.e. made according to the process standards. It’s not a bad thing: they have a quality control, they use fine ingredients, but it’s not wine – it’s just a wine drink, made according to some formula.
At one point we realized that people of our generation can live their whole life without ever trying true wine, made with feeling, in harmony with nature. And not because they don’t want to – simply because they have never encountered it. Our job is to tell people about true wine’s existence. And sadly, it’s becoming less and less common. An itch for gain, economical efficiency, global marketing squeeze such wine out from the market, because you can’t mass-produce true wine. Take champagne: champagne houses make million bottles a year, but it’s not wine – there’s almost nothing left of wine there. Meanwhile, for many wine retailers there’s nothing to gain from working with those who make true wine. And those winemakers have no means or opportunity to tell people about themselves. We don’t have much either, but we do what we can.
But can the, as you call it, standardised wine serve as a transitional step towards the true wines? It must be better than drinking Thunderbird and the like?
Mikhail: We’re addressing those who already drink wine, whichever wine it is – not those who drink hard liquors or don’t drink at all. And we’re saying: when they tell you, for example, that “Moët & Chandon” is champagne, they’re lying.
We’re actually here to save your time – in case you’re interested. You don’t have to waste seven years – like I did – to come to the real wines. I’ve long since harboured an idea of a wine blog, but I always thought that I don’t know enough to do it. Dmitry suggested another format: instead of trying to cover all the wine there is, we could just talk about wine we like and stuff you just shouldn’t drink. Which does not contradict the amount of knowledge we have: if you just try it, you’ll see for yourself that Poggio di Sotto is a true wine, and Frescobaldi is pure bullshit. You don’t need that much knowledge for that.
Dmitry: The idea was to make our blog quite opinionated – that’s the whole message. Because a lot of people talk about wines. But to get across the idea that people can live their whole lives without ever trying true wine we needed to be adamant, judgemental. That’s why our attitude is quite drastic.
To duly appreciate something, there must be room for comparison. So maybe let people try commercialised wine first?
Dmitry:It’s actually very rare – almost impossible – that people come to us with no prior wine drinking experience. They usually have some basis for comparison. You can’t escape the commercial wine, you see ads everywhere: drink “Moët & Chandon“. Drink “Castello Banfi”. To compete with such oodles of money, we have to swing our swords around and yell: drink true wine only!
And people are ready to switch to true wine?
Mikhail: They are, they are. It’s not that: there are close-minded people who aren’t ready to change. Those who don’t need true wine will drop out on their own – but the others will thank us.
Dmitry: We think that true wines speak for themselves, and all we need to give the person a little shake-up. We need to give them a small chance, we just need them to try it. What comes next we have no control over. People ask: how do you learn to listen to classical music? You don’t. You just sit down and listen and you’ll hear. If you want to. Same with true wine – you just try it, and you’ll get it.
Mikhail: Wine should be made “from soil”, you can’t tamper with it. If you’re gonna play with barrels to get vanilla, do constant batonnage, use microoxidation, you’ll get wine which suits the majority. But it will no longer be an original wine with an individual character, it won’t express the terroir, it won’t express the vintage which can be good or can be bad. So when we drink a universal wine, we’re bereft of a great joy which can only be found in contrast of trying wine from a good vintage and wine from a bad vintage.
Doesn’t your fight resemble tilting at windmills?
Dmitry: The question is what we consider a victory. If everyone wakes up tomorrow and starts drinking true wine, it’d be a tragedy for us. There’s not enough true wine for everyone – there’s very little of it, to be honest. Misha asks me, why did we start this then? People will realise what’s up, everyone will want to drink true wine and there won’t be anything left for us. To which I answer that there’s a balance in the world: those who need it will find this information, or it will find them, but we won’t convert the whole humanity into our faith. And that’s okay.
Mikhail: It’s not a commercial project: all the meetings, transportation, shooting, video editing are made with our own money… And we don’t have enough to oppose enormous corporations.
Were there any attempts to bribe you?
Dmitry: People write to us sometimes: how about you try this or that wine? I say, fine, but you should understand – if we don’t like it, we’ll speak our mind about that wine. Usually the conversation ends there.
As a movie which also goes into commercialisation and globalisation of wine, Mondovino probably left a lasting impression on you?
Mikhail: It’s true, Mondovino explains everything over an hour and a half better than I did over the course of two years.
Dmitry: I’ll disagree: for some it will be an eye-opener, but not for all. I’ve read [Robert M.] Parker’s interview and studied people’s reactions: besides the main rebuke – the fact that he changed the wine’s taste, – there’s another thing to blame him for: Parker has greatly influenced the wines’ prices. What about the fans of Bordeaux wines, the prices for which had changed drastically thanks to Parker? He gives high points to wines and causes winemakers to raise prices, and as a result not many people can afford them. He says: “But I’m honest about it. I don’t lie.” There’s some hypocrisy in this: even if nobody’s paying you for that and you’re all honest-like, you have to bear responsibility for the consequences. When Parker became way too significant in the Bordeaux wines’ evaluation, he became “evil“, a malice.
Mikhail: I don’t consider him a malice. He works for his own consumers, others work for theirs. Let everyone enjoy their parties. I’m just happy he doesn’t really get Burgundy.
Dmitry: People ask us, even if you tell us all about the true wine, what of it? Okay, we’ll drink it. But you can’t find it in the stores, it’s not in the restaurants. What is there to do? Sadly, there’s no easy and nice answer to this. If you like something in this life, if you’ve set your heart on it, you’ll either need money to get someone to sort out all of your problems, or you’ll have to spend a portion of your time, a part of your life to find that which you like.
Mikhail: The idea behind TrueWine is that it’s not for everyone, it’s for those who are interested, who are into it. We realise that not everyone will drink brunello from Gianfranco Soldera. We’re making this blog for those who want changes but don’t know where to find them.
Dmitry: We want to give a positive boost to our audience, but frankly, it’s very difficult: people grew up on the global hip wine, their tastes are clogged with tannins, with bleft, fruity, lush nuances. We are suggesting a wine of different sort: it’s watery, tintless, “bricky water“, sour and so on… And yes, with your roughened, ill-prepared taste, you won’t feel anything else at first. And, metaphorically speaking, we have to give some antidote to people so that they don’t splash it out after the first gulp. They can very well say: “Your true wine is just gross.” But they can also think: “These guys are so convincing, maybe we should try once more?” People need two or three chances, and their taste will change, we know it for sure. But all of that needs time.
Do consumers need rating systems and handbooks with wine descriptions?
Mikhail: They do, but there can’t be any radicalism in those.
Dmitry: I don’t know people who can tell the difference between wine with 97 points and 98 points. Of course, it would be nice to ask Parker how he does it, but I think it’s more of a sham. One of the participants of an annual wine tasting conducted an experiment over the course of a few years: during the tasting he brought forth wines that tasters had already tried, and they didn’t even suspect it. Most of them not only did not recognise the wines they had tasted just recently, but gave different marks to the same wines. Even those tasters that showed stable results (i.e. gave same marks to the wines they already tasted) on some year, gave different marks to the same wines during one tasting the next year. When the experiment’s results were published, many people asked a logical question: aren’t all your marks a sham?
Maybe it is a sham, at least in case of the difference between 97 and 98 points. Well, okay, even if Parker can assess wines with such certainty, who else can do that besides him? There’ll be about three people in the world who can. We can’t, so we consider it all a scam, but a very pretty one: signs in the stores, charts in the magazines – a great idea for marketing. Parker changed the wine world with his 100-points system.
But still people need guides and reference points?
Dmitry: Yes. People need me and Misha to say: if you can’t tell the 93-points wine from 98-points wine, just shrug it off. You want to look up to Parker? Drink everything over 80 points. That’s all. Want to be like Parker? Then you need to taste 200 samples a day and your palate may adapt. If not – forget it. All you need to distinguish between is good wine and bad wine.
What was your greatest wine disappointment?
Dmitry: The greatest disappointment was about six years ago – and, incidentally, also had to do with Parker. I got interested in one wine he talked so finely about: a true symphony of nose and palate. Got to be a honey-dew, a divine drink, 100 points. Barely found this wine, opened it, and… no honey-dew. At all. Thought that I must be the reason, since Parker saw a honey-dew, and I didn’t, and that troubled me for a long time. But after a while I realised that I wasn’t the only one disappointed by that.
And a reverse situation: I got to know about Soldera and his great wines, and, being in Italy at the time, I bought a bottle of brunello and opened it immediately. I remember the sensations vividly: it was as if I was drinking some fine, delicate juice. I didn’t even notice how I drank the bottle down, I was shocked – it was something very tasty, but completely unfamiliar, it didn’t resemble the wine I was used to at all. That was the great divide when I realised: there’s stuff we drink in everyday life, and then there’s true wine.
Which wine is most similar to you in character?
Dmitry: The true Sangiovese is most kindred to me: either Chianti from 100% Sangiovese or traditional Brunello because 90% of the modern Brunello makes me sick – you can’t feel any family characteristics in it. And that’s terrible, because true Sangiovese is the wine that can actually bring me to tears. I like the balanced acidity and a completely non-berrylike nose. If somebody puts awesome Burgundy and awesome Sangiovese in front of me, I’ll probably choose Sangiovese.
But I can’t say that I have one true favourite. Friends often ask me: what’s your favourite wine? All of them want to get an easy answer – the ultimate truth. But I don’t have the one and only favourite wine. After all, wine has a situational and social character: it really depends on where you are and who you’re drinking with. Take champagne, for example: during a meal with oysters I would drink Agrapart, in the evening by the fireside – Selosse or Krug.
Mikhail: Our task is to tell about the intuitive winemaking that came from the forefathers; their children and grandchildren now make wine following traditions, first and foremost for themselves, and not for sale. I sympathise with such winemakers the most. It’s like Kung-Fu when you’re repeating the same movements, but each time a little better, you’re doing this your whole life, and then your children do the same… That kind of wine, with such magic inherent in it, can really move me.