The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Wine & Golf
Reading a story today about golf in the Sonoma wine country reminded me of something I’ve been thinking a lot about since my recent vacation in Kauai: The wine lover organizes their understanding of wine in very similar ways by which the golf fanatic organizes their understanding of the game of golf.
I started thinking about this while playing a round of golf on the Makai Course in Princeville, Kauai with a young doctor from India with whom I was paired. He was a golf fanatic and had the good fortune to travel the world in pursuit of the next great golf experience. But he had also, he explained to me, just started drinking wine and was fairly confused by its complexity. It was difficult to try to help him better understand the world of wine while at the same time concentrating on my own game. So, we didn’t go deeply into the subject, but enjoyed a very nice day on the course with him. But the idea of the similarity between golf and wine stayed with me after the round and I’ve been mulling it and now I wish I had my golf partner with me because I know how to explain wine to him in a language he would understand.
Course Style = Wine Appellation/Varietal
Golf appreciation is organized around the concept and reality of the course, where wine appreciation is organized around the concept of the wine. Golfers who have had the opportunity to play on a wide variety of courses realize that the golf courses of the world are easily categorized in to types or styles: The Links Style of the British Isles and copied elsewhere. Tropical Golf where lush landscapes define the trouble. Parkland Golf with wide fairways and water hazards. Dessert Golf where fairways are bordered by shrub, cactus and sand meaning accuracy is a premium. The Resort Course often defined by stunning views and playable, open but also gimmicky layouts.
Wine too is defined by its common styles or types that breakdown as varietals or appellation-defined styles. Merlot, Pinot Noir, Burgundy, Chateauneuf du Pape, Chardonnay.Experienced golfers and experienced wine drinkers, knowing the style of course or wine they are approaching have a pretty good idea of what they are getting into.
Individual Golf Course = Individual Winery
The next level of understanding with Golf and Wine that correspond is the individual course or the individual winery. Each almost always adheres to a general character deriving from the general style of the course or the place and varietals that define it , but there is a uniqueness that one observes with each individual course and each individual winery.
While Bodega Bay Golf Links in California and St. Andrews in Scotland are both “Links” style courses, no one will doubt they possess a uniqueness and they will not be confused for each other. And yet, they both possess similar styling. Consider then Saintsbury winery from the Carneros in California and Domaine de la Romanee Conti in Burgundy. Both deal primarily in Pinot Noir, yet again, they will provide distinctive styles of that varietal.
Interestingly, two wineries in Burgundy, both making Pinot Noir based wines, will provide a difference between their wines not only because, perhaps, they work with different vineyard sites, but also because a different winemaker is at the helm. The different winemakers will bring a different philosophy to the making of these similarly styled wines. The same is true of golf courses. Individual golf course designers bring a signature to the courses they design. Both Robert Trend Jones, Jr. and Tom Fazio could design golf courses right next to each other, each dealing perhaps with a desert environment, yet they will produce courses that possess a signature unique to them.
Specific Holes = Specific Wine
When you finally get down to the nitty-gritty, both golfers and wine drinkers will recognize that the ultimate level of individuality and uniqueness within their chosen obsessions occur at the level of the individual golf hole and the individual wine. I recently played The Prince Course in Kauai. It is a Tropical Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. The 13th Hole on The Prince Course is very unique and memorable, defined as it is by having to hit an incredibly precise 200-230 yard tee shot over jungle to a very small landing area surrounded by jungle or hit a bigger and longer tee shot flighted first over a jungle ravine then soaring across a small strip of fairway then over a second ravine and on to a very narrow landing area that cannot be seen from the tee. It is an incredibly unique hole.
Well, anyone who has tasted the wines from a number of different wineries will tell you that even the individual winery producing numerous Pinot Noirs, for example will deliver significant uniqueness among those Pinot Noirs. My wife works for Failla Wines where Ehren Jordan, the owner and winemaker, produces a number of different Pinots from the Sonoma Coast region. I use Failla as an example because I’ve tasted these wines quite often. Anyone tasting the Failla Estate Pinot Noir and the Failla Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir will see that like the 13th Hole at The Prince Course, these wines are very unique, yet within a style defined by the varietal and region and designed too by the winemaker’s hand.
Standing on the tee of the 13th Hole at the Prince Course and sitting in front of a glass of Failla Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir can produce the very same effect: Exhilaration.