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Bay Vieux Briefs: On AVAs, Australia and inconsistent reviewers

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Paso expansion goes through

Last Nov. I blogged on a petition to expand the Paso Robles AVA by 2,635 acres — about 4% of the current total — in a cooler region that’s a little closer to the Pacific Ocean. This was during a period of confusion at the Tax and Trade Bureau, the arm of the Treasury Department that approves AVAs. Well, effective Feb. 20, the TTB approved the expansion, according to their press release, based on the usual parameters of climate, geology and soils. I don’t really care one way or another. Its just one more AVA expansion; there have been many before, there will be many to come. The key sentence in the TTB’s statement is “After careful review of the petition and comments [7] received, TTB finds that the evidence submitted supports the expansion…”.

Now, anyone who’s ever worked in a government office (and I used to) knows how they work. This is from the same Federal govenment that “reviewed” Bernie Madoff’s outfit and found nothing out of order! I can imagine how the discussion went in the TTB’s AVA branch:

Boss: Jim, I want you to carefully review this Paso petition.
Jim: But boss, I’m swamped! I’ve got Leona, Calistoga, Snipes Mountain and Tulocay on my plate — and you just fired my assistant.
Boss: Well, times are tough. Have your decision to me by the end of January.
[Later that night]
Jim [to wife]: Honey, he wants me to do another expansion. This *&%$# is killing me. How am I supposed to get my work done when I don’t have any help?
Wife: Did any of the commenters object?
Jim: Out of 7 comments, only one.
Wife: Was it an important person?
Jim: No, just somebody little.
Wife: Well, screw it then. Approve it, and say you were really careful to examine all the evidence.
Jim: Gee, I guess you’re right. Hey, what’s for supper?

Australia worries

At Wine Enthusiast’s recent Wine Star Awards, which I reported on yesterday, one item making the conversational rounds was the dismal state of affairs in Australia’s wine industry. “Too many grapes” seemed to be the conventional wisdom. It’s the old story of supply and demand. Poor Australia.

Wine judges “inconsistent”? Say it isn’t so!

The recent issue of Wines & Vines reports on a new survey suggesting that wine judges are inconsistent when it comes to judging big competitions like the California State Fair. For example, the judges on one panel were given the same wine three times, without knowing it. They rejected it the first two times, then loved it the third time. It went on to receive a double-gold medal. How embarrassing!

Yet how true. It’s not only judging panels that can be inconsistent. So, too, can individual judges, a truth I’ve pointed out here many times. There’s no loss of face if you rate a wine different ways at different times. Anybody who tells you a judge should give the same rating to a wine over multiple exposures is lying, or seriously misled. That’s why wine judging should be taken for what it is: A considered opinion at a particular time and place. It’s just like a movie review, in which the reviewer can change his mind at a second showing. Does that mean wine reviews are irrelevant? No. They’re have some value — and an individual wine review is better than a panel, which is why I’ve never participated in any of these big fairs, and never will.

  1. It would be interesting to see the Hodgson article results of the State Fair competition compared to other wine competitions.

    The second page of his article says his method uses “the approach taken by Cicchetti (2004a, 2006) on evaluating the famous 1976 Paris tasting.”

    Were Hodgson’s results similar to or different than the 1976 Paris tasting results that Cicchetti found?

  2. Doctor, I can’t answer your questions, but I have much more to say on this topic tomorrow morning.

  3. Steve, I am assuming that Paso expansion is just a tad west of us, which is more of the foothill area of the Santa Lucia Range, of which we are a part. That was pretty much a slam dunk. A much bigger, sometimes contentious, and divisive AVA issue has been the ongoing attempt to have a Paso Eastside and Westside sub appellation. The wonderful steep limestone hills and the cool ocean breezes that come thru the hiway 46 West gap(Templeton Gap), cause day/nite temperature splits of 55-60 degrees, and in many ways is very similar to the western Napa vineyards.

    East of Hiway 101, is typical Paso Robles: 105 degree plus summer/fall days, and warm nites, much less subject to the Templeton Gap breezes on the Westside. Additionally, the topography is flat to gentle rolling hills and is more Salinas River Valley bottomland than calcareous soils on the Westside. Vineyards/wineries on the eastside can produce lovely wines, but if they produce a reserve, or signature wine, grapes are frequently sourced from the westside. There are many more times the acreage to the east of 101 than there are on the west. Because of the wide open areas and relative flatness, huge vineyards have evolved on the eastside, and crop loads can range in places from 5-6 T/acre to 8-10 T/ac.

    Consequently, when a discussion of splitting the highly desirable terroir of the westside from the good but rather plain Jane eastside, a major league argument ensued. In a nutshell, nobody on the eastside wanted to be separated from the westside, and with a substantially larger voting block, the issue died. Several years ago the issue reprised, but in a different and more palatable form: subappellations were suggested, with 11 or so individual designated areas. A few are Adelaide, Templeton Gap, Willow Creek(that’s ours in that we are in the southern most part of Paso AVA, but also are on the northern border of the Templeton Gap), el Pomar(to the east), etc. There was much less opposition to this as each of the different topographical and microclimate areas were relatively coherent and well represented, the terms “eastside” and “westside” were eliminated, but the major difference in eastside(high yield) vs westside(low yield) quality issue remained an impediment.

    Altho I was not involved directly, 2yrs and $250K later, the issue has been on the sideline but we on the westside still hold out some hope of having this passed. Napa is full of subappellations, and we should be, too. It would give the buyer a more informed idea of where his wine came from, which is a positive, and subAVAs could market their strong points. When I first read your article’s title, my heart leapt. After the first two lines I realized no real substantive change has occurred. Hopefully one day I will read your article about passage of Paso’s subAVAs. That would be truly newsworthy.

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