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Here’s Why Farmer-Focused Wine Is Different — and Better! — Than What You’ve Been Drinking

This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and Constellation Brands. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.

Close your eyes and imagine a Californian chardonnay. You'd describe it as "oaky" and "buttery," right? But Tom Gore's Chardonnay isn't like that. Naturally light and surprisingly crisp and fruit-forward, the farmer says that his chardonnay is a good representation of his vineyard in Sonoma. "It tastes the way that chardonnay grapes taste," he says. "If we made a really buttery, oaky chardonnay, it wouldn't really be true to the vineyard and our place."

"Every step in the farming process is a micro decision on how that wine is going to taste."—Tom Gore

Same goes with his cabernet sauvignon. While most people assume a California cab will be an intense bombshell of flavor and depth, Gore's is different. It's fruit-forward, soft in tannins, and brighter — just as the grapes taste on the vine. "Of all the grapes I've worked with in my life, what cabernet tastes like in the field is what it'll taste like in the bottle," he says. "My favorite thing is to taste the cabernet grapes and then taste the juice before it's even gone into the barrels. The elements of what you taste in the field definitely translate into that final product. When you start to have that vision of the final product from grape to bottle of wine — that's why I do what I do."

It's also why Gore launched his own wine label, Tom Gore Vineyards, billed as the work of a farmer. It's no big leap: He's been working in vineyards since he was 7 years old, alongside his father, Tom Sr., who was also a grape grower. "My aunt used to tell me that when I was 3 years old, I would take her out to the vineyards and explain how to graft the vines," he says. For the past 12 years, he has served as director of Sonoma and Mendocino Vineyards, working with many properties including Franciscan Estate, Mount Veeder Winery, Simi Winery and Clos du Bois. In all of those projects, Gore was responsible for achieving the kind of style that the winemaker wanted — the vineyard was only part of the equation. With his own wine label, he says, he wanted to put the focus back on the farmer growing the grapes. "We wanted to be the ones making those style decisions about the wine from the start," he says.

Now as a farmer first and winemaker second, Gore is able to create the style and choose the direction of the wine before the grapes are even picked. To do that, Gore has to tend to blocks of grapes with different flavors to create that sunny, California-bright style of wine. Long before the winemaker he works with begins to ferment and blend the juice from the grapes, Gore knows how he wants his wine to taste — and how his farming and viticultural techniques will help him get there.

"Every step in the farming process is a micro decision on how that wine is going to taste," he says. "Every decision has an impact, down to the smallest leaf you pull off." Those decisions range from the small (when and how to tie down vines, choosing which vines to prune) to the large (deciding when to turn the irrigation on and off, plotting new sites for planting). But they can totally change a wine style.

Take a sauvignon blanc. To get a fruitier style, a farmer would leaf the vines earlier in the season, pull off more leaves, get more sunlight on the grapes. But to make a greener, more acidic style, he would take off very few leaves, or do so very late in the season. Two totally different styles of wine from one vineyard — all thanks to the grape grower.

And that's not even including the reactive decisions a farmer has to make. There are considerations about site and the soil that inform choices from the start — but there's also Mother Nature, who can make or break a vintage depending on the rain, sunshine, and temperatures. For a farmer, it's a constant juggle between what he can and can't control. "You can set a plan, but you've got to be able to react and change those plans too," Gore says.

Those day-to-day decisions in the fields inevitably lead to the most important decision the farmer has to make: the harvest date. "You want to harvest at the peak quality of the grapes," Gore says. "It's a slow, steady climb, with each and every click of the wheels going up that hill are the decisions you make every day. And then the harvest comes, and you hit that very peak of the hill and, whoosh, It's a mad rush to the bottom to pick the grapes and get them ready for fermentation." One little error can throw you off the rails. "You have to be able to react and steer back on course," he says.

That's why Tom Gore is so proud to share the farmer's story on the side of his bottles. "Each bottle of wine is a time capsule of the hard work that's gone into it," he says. "It's an acknowledgement of the work of a farmer that goes into growing grapes. It brings all the people who worked on it into the fold."


This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and Constellation Brands. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.