I don’t hate cult Cabs, I just hate cult Cab writers
As I blogged on Nov. 3, I’m of two minds when it comes to so-called luxury wine. Part of that whole elitism thing turns me off, but I also understand that for millennia, wine has been viewed as a luxury product. The reason for my ambivalence is my background. I was raised a middle class kid in The Bronx, and my family were liberal Democrats. We had a mild mistrust of rich people that was in no way negative, it’s just that we didn’t think they understood our lives and sorrows (and maybe we didn’t understand theirs). I never got to know wealthy people, though, until my wine critic job brought me into their world (and them into mine, I guess). Then, I discovered that rich people are no different from me. We’ll all the same under the skin.
But I still get uncomfortable with the wine-as-luxury thing, and I never quite understood why until this weekend, when I had an Aha! moment. I was down in Monterey and picked up a copy of California Style. It’s one of those glossy lifestyle magazines you find in upscale places, like Carmel and St. Helena. In this case, they were giving it away in the hotel I was staying at. [Disclosure: The room was paid for by the Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association.) The magazine had ads for Diane von Furstenberg, Gucci, Chanel, that kind of thing. Flipping through it, I found an article I just had to read. It was on “The making of CA’s newest cult Cab.” (The magazine’s website is listed as www.magazinec.com, but when I tried it with both Safari and Firefox, I got “site not found” messages.)
It was after reading this article that I finally understood the source of my discomfort with “luxury wines.” It’s not with the wines themselves, or the rich people who can afford to buy them, much less launch them — no, it’s with the worshipful writers who pen these pandering apotheoses to wines they, themselves, in all likelihood will never be able to buy, and that in any case they cannot possibly understand. Nor are they even good journalists, content as they are to quote from a press release. The wine is Dana Estates 2005 ($275), a Napa Cab made by Phillipe Melka, which the author describes as “Napa’s next big thing” that “will be released to the open arms — and cellars — of collectors around the world.“ In breathlessly giddy tones, the writer gushes about the “approachable elegance” of the winery’s design, with its “appropriately lofty but intimate setting” and “soaring indoor/outdoor dining room with a Brobdignian reclaimed walnut table.”
This isn’t an article, it’s an advertisement. Would that magazine ever write an honest article on some struggling little winery in Lodi? A mom and pop winery in Calaveras County where they took out a third mortgage to buy equipment? I don’t think so. Too downscale, not culty enough to appeal to people who pick up lifestyle magazines in hotel rooms to see what kind of aspirational baubles they should lust for.
Whew, sorry for the rant. Had to get it out of my system. Proposition 8’s passage has me in an evil mood, and California Style magazine just happened to be there. If I ever get to review Dana Estates, and I hope I do, it’ll be in a brown paper bag, so no one will be able to accuse me of harboring grudges against it.