Analog Wine in a Digital Age

Above: a vintage Neve “mic pre,” one of the microphone pre-amps developed in the 1960s that shaped the sounds of the recordings made then. I guarantee you that some of your favorite recordings were made using this technology (click on the image to read more about Neve consoles and mic-pres).

I really liked this post by Dave Buchanan, author of Wine Opener, where he writes about European winemakers who are pushing the envelope “in terms of getting their grapes ripe enough and using questionable winemaking techniques to produce wines that will mimic and sell as well as the full-throttle big reds first made popular in California”:

    That’s bad news to those of us who still seek those analog wines somehow surviving in a continually more digital world. We want wines that speak of their vineyards and their traditions, not of technological innovations designed to make them not simply drinkable but (more importantly to the winemaker) commercially successful.

The digital/analog analogy resonates with me: it reminds me of my experience in the recording studio with my high-school friend, über-producer and vintage-gear nut Mike Andrews, who taught me how to “record digitally” using “analog ears” when he produced a record I co-wrote and played on a few years ago (with a band I am a “former member of”). In the mid-1990s, producers and recording engineers began using digital technology in new ways to capture analog sounds. Mike was one of the trailblazers and he and the new generation of “analog ear” recording artists rallied around TapeOp magazine, published by my friend and gourmet John Bacigaluppi.

The post also made me think of something Jean-Georges’ wine director Bernard Sun said to me the other day when he had me taste a wine that he is making in California, III Somms, a Cabernet Franc-based blend that surprised with great balance, low alcohol, nice acidity, and even-handed fruit (Bernie, who is one of the nicest people you’ll meet in the wine trade, created the wine with two other sommeliers, hence the name, and he pours this food-friendly wine by the glass in the Jean-Georges group restaurants). “With all the wine trickery out there today,” Bernie said, “there’s no excuse to make an imbalanced wine.” He’s right: while so many are using “questionable wineamaking techniques,” as Dave points out, to make “full-throttle big reds,” they could be harnessing technology to make more balanced wine.

The records made during the golden age of recording — 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s — continue to shape the way music is recorded today. Recording and mixing music is a lot like making wine: it’s all about taste, texture, and balance. A glass of 1961 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino as we listen to that last take, anyone?

9 thoughts on “Analog Wine in a Digital Age

  1. Loved the analogy as well. There is nothing like the warm, raw, textured & organic analog sound.

    I will raise a glass of Sesti Brunello tonight in the memory of Bob Moog, someone who pushed music technology in a creative sense but still managed to keep it real…

  2. Dr J,
    Nice analog analogy. It’s all in the mix. It’s interesting that the mixing of loud over saturated distorted music coincides with the over extracted volatile wines. Maybe it’s part of the cultural weave. “Animals” and “Off The Wall” fetch around $150 NM. But if Terry owned it, it’s discounted to $100. The one to have is the Mobile Fidelity boxed pressing of “Dark Side of the Moon” 1982. NM $350.

  3. As one of the world’s premier microphone preamplifier designers working today, I can say with confidence that design simplicity and restraint coupled with an unswaying adherence to one’s own ear (or nose) is what sets the masters apart. Rupert Neve and Giacomo Conterno could very well be long lost brothers….

  4. It is a nice analogy. I find it almost amusing that I left being a recording engineer for the wine business because music was losing its craftsmanship. I was swayed to the food and wine business by Slow Food. Maybe I should have stayed put and started Slow Ears.

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