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Purple Teeth

12.15.11

There are a lot of perks to being a winemaker, but there are hazards, too. Here, Far Niente Winemaker Nicole Marchesi discusses a phenomenon known to all winemakers: purple teeth.

People often tell me that it must be awesome to be a winemaker and taste wine every day. This is undeniably true. It is awesome. However, tasting is hard work! It’s not for the faint of heart, or more accurately, for the faint of teeth. Each day of harvest is an assault on one’s choppers, and the humble grape provides the ammunition.

The attack starts in the vineyard and continues on in the winery. Between munching on the sugar-packed grapes to assess ripeness and then sipping on the sweet and acidic juice to prepare for fermentation, a winemaker’s teeth take a serious beating. Cavities and eroded enamel can be the casualties of this barrage. (I’ve yet to meet a winemaker who comes to battle, er, I mean work, without a toothbrush and prescription strength fluoride toothpaste in hand.)

And all this before tannins and color have even been extracted! Young red wines are loaded with intense color. The carnage they leave with every sip, swish and spit are the tell-tale stained, purple teeth and gums. At first I find myself putting my hand up in front of my mouth or straining to stretch my lips over my battle-worn teeth at every encounter with my co-workers. But, as harvest progresses, I get over my embarrassment and wear those not-so-pearly-whites like a badge of honor.

When the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared, who then emerges as the winner of this oral war? I would argue that it is the dentists of Napa Valley who are the victors. Come November, they are probably gleefully rubbing their hands together in anticipation of all the damage to be repaired. We winemakers return from their offices with a few more fillings and a new prescription of toothpaste, ready to rest and regain our strength for next harvest’s battle.

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