My Dinner with the Wine Doctor
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At the start of the crush, there is a sort of lull in most tasting rooms. The absence of winemakers popping in while you are swirling and sipping your way across Northern California Wine Country makes it a quieter time in the public part of many wineries. I find winemakers as varied a bunch as any, to be particularly gregarious and witty in general. Just as mysterious as the development of flavors going on in the cask, I find a striking similarity of character between wine makers and their wines. If I like the wine, often the personality is mirrored when I meet the maker.
Maybe this is the wishful thinking of a storyteller, but maybe not. After one of the definitive highlights of my summer – a leisurely dinner with international wine maker and consultant Kerry Damskey and Daisy Damskey, his wife, confidant, enabler, and business partner, I think it might be more than mythology.
“Wine is a lifestyle,” Kerry told me, confirming the overlap in winemaking between observing both nature and society. His job includes doing articulate surveys of geography and making critical conclusions about the market. It’s a uniquely character-driven process, where big egos tend to leave residue in the glass. Kerry’s job is to help direct the personality of the winemakers who hire him, so that he can help them craft a fluid narrative no matter what the crop is doing in a given year. He links winemakers more closely to their land and the fruit it produces.
In an ideal harvest, the winemaker will need to do very little to transfer the grapes and a sense of place into the finished wine. He can disappear, so to speak, as a conveyor of the terroir. In mixed harvests, which are more prevalent now that so much Northern California soil has been mono-cropped with grapes for generations, the winemaker has to reveal his or her clever side. Kerry’s vast experience has led him to be a sort of handyman-detective-philosopher of wine, and I’ve heard him referred to as the “wine doctor” more than once. His forward-thinking ideas, grounded common sense, and keen fascination with the subtleties in each step of the process have helped dozens of wineries in the area, and also internationally. He’s working on bringing good winemaking techniques to India, currently.
It’s not all talk, either. The 2006 Alexander Valley Syrah he had poured for dinner was deeply complex without being showy. There was a balance struck on the pepper-berry scale for which Syrah is known, and a bold purple lushness without a huge amount of alcohol. His attentive mountain farming methods resulted in a buoyancy of flavor that was at once rich and bright. Not unlike the experience of meeting him in person…
Listen in on our chat to get a sense of his strong partnership and his inspiring story. And remember, when you’re heading to the tasting rooms over this lingering summer, that the magic of the harvest is in full swing behind the scenes.
You can also sample Palmeri by the pool at Coppola’s, or at their restaurant overlooking a corduroy of grapes and in view of the Van Ness mountain estate where the Palmeri grapes are grown.
Kerry works closely with Dutcher Crossing, so stop into their tasting room, open daily, for a sample.