As 2009 turns to twenty-oh-ten it’s time to remember old friends once again
So pull up a chair and read for a while, and we’ll try to reward with a big Christmas smile
Congrats on the baby (though the Guv race was gruesome) to Jennifer S. and her hubby Gav Newsom
And load up the fireplace with Yuletide logs as we lift up a toast to our friends, the wine blogs
The Rockaway spat brought some bad attitude, but without it we wouldn’t have known 1 Wine Dude
No need at this time to get all snarky and cranky, so here’s to Jess J. and the lovely Ms. Banke
To the Diazes, Jose and his ex-Mainer Jo, who sing Petite Sirah’s praises wherever they go
And to Allison Langhoff — she knows what it’s for — and the charmingly wonderful Ms. Caroline Shaw
To various Mondavis, 3 cheers long and loud, and here’s wishing the same to the Rubicon crowd
LaFollette and Bjornstad, the two mighty Gregs, whose Pinots we relish from first sip to dregs
The North Coast’s Mike Thompson and Bobby the Koch fight our political foes with a fearsome left hook.
In Santa Barbara there’s good Rick Longoria and my pal Kathy Josephs — their wine can’t go wrongia!
To Greg Brewer and Melville and Foley Estate and the gracious Sao Anash for services great
A bit up the coast let us now dally and pay our respects to the young Brian Talley
Come now we to Highlands of the Santa Lucias, where smiling Pisonis are so glad to see ya!
For J.C. Boisset and his newlywed Gina, a long happy marriage, may nothing come betweena!
And a toast to the wine books, each one of them diamonds, at Sonoma’s Wine Library, and to Mr. Bo Simons
In the great Napa Valley, where Cabernet’s darlin’, lift a glass of the good stuff to the reigning Bill Harlan
To my intern, Chuck Flanders, for all of your chores, and all my good buds at the UPS Store
In no special order, the names come to me, Terrien, Goldschmidt, Cabral, Dan Lee
Peterson (Heidi) and Edwards (so Merry), may your New Year be happy, and so very very
To my fellow wine scribes, a bit battered, not broken: Goldfarb – Berger – Pitcher and Olken
To the publishers from whom I derive income and fun, the wonderful Adam and Sybil Strum
To the crowd at the zine — Tim, Joe and Sue K., a perfect 100 points is coming your way!
To van Staaveren (Margo) and Beckstoffer (Andy) and Adam, of Ojai, and Ullom (Sir Randy)
For Tchelistcheff, gone but not nearly forgotten, for all of the love he to us has begotten
For AVAs existing and those yet to come, for wines that are dry and those sweet as they come
For Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinots Noir and Gris, and to wine’s central essence, still a great mystery
To all these, and more, let us now end this session with a hope that we’ve seen the tail end of recession
And the last but not least, cuz I really do need ya, a huge shoutout to each wonderful Steve reader!
The new Cadre 2007 Pinot Noir accomplishes two things that are uncommon for a wine, and so it deserve a special shoutout.
1. It’s a project of the Niven family (Baileyana and Tangent brands), who have done so much to elevate the visibility and quality of Edna Valley (San Luis Obispo County) wines. The name “Cadre” is an hommage to the four vineyards, owned by four families, whose grapes went into the blend (which is why the wine has a Central Coast AVA, not normally the most prestigious of appellations). The four vineyards/families are Laetitia (the Arroyo Grande Valley property owned by the Zilkhas), La Encantada (the Santa Rita Hills vineyard owned by Richard and Thekla Sanford), Bien Nacido (the vineyard in Santa Maria Valley owned by the Millers) and the Nivens’ own Edna Valley property, Firepeak.
These are all very highly respected vineyards and any bottle you get bearing any one of their names is almost certain to please. Moreover it’s not often that their owners get the proper credit for running them, so it’s good to see the press materials accompanying Cadre recognize them by name. All too often a bottle of wine seeks to bring attention only to itself and glory only to its own brand. The 2007 Cadre is a welcome difference in that it shines the light on others who deserve it.
2. The wine raises the interesting and controversial topic of whether a great Pinot Noir must necessarily come from a single vineyard or, failing that, at least from nearly contiguous ones in the same growing region. I dealt with this topic extensively in my first book, A Wine Journey along the Russian River (which I’m happy to report U.C. Press is re-releasing in paperback form for the upcoming summer season, along with New Classic Winemakers of California). There are many who would argue that a Pinot Noir has to be grown all in one place in order to display the terroir that is such a vital component of its nature. These people of course take their direction from Burgundy where grand crus and even premier crus always are individual sites (which is the definition of “cru”). But I always wondered if it’s so, especially in California where we have no ancient tradition of cru. In my book I quote Gary Farrell as asking, rather rhetorically, “Who’s to say that a combination of, say, Rochioli West Block and Three Corner wouldn’t create a more complex wine?” (He was referring to two Pinot Noir blocks or sections of the Rochioli Vineyard.) I wrote: “For that matter, who’s to say that a blend of Russian River Valley and, say, Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir could not make a great wine?” For better or worse we never get to try such ambitious blends because the marketplace mitigates heavily against taking such risks, no matter how promising they seem. Well, now the combination of these four vineyards from four appellations in two counties proves conclusively that you can make great Pinot Noir sourced from areas far from each other. And mind you, the 2007 Cadre is a very lovely and sophisticated wine. The bottle price is $55 and production was 1,231 cases.
Once again the charges are flying concerning if advertising influences scores at Wine Spectator. I have no reason whatsoever to think it does. If I’m in a position to claim that Wine Enthusiast doesn’t let advertising influence scores — and I am in that position — then it would be churlish of me to think the opposite when Tom Matthews asserts, as he does, that there’s a firewall between the advertising and editorial departments at his magazine. It’s true at Wine Enthusiast, just as Tom asserts it is at Wine Spectator, that “our advertisers frequently complain about their ratings,” although I don’t think in our case it’s “frequently” so much as occasionally. (I may be shielded from some of their complaining.) I do know Wine Enthusiast’s advertising team is sometimes disappointed with my scores. But they’ll be the first ones to tell you, “Hey, we can’t tell Steve what to do” and thankfully they don’t try. They know that once a magazine loses credibility it’s done for.
After I Ieft Wine Spectator, around 1993, I got a job as an editor at the first Wine Business Monthly. Then-editor Lewis Perdue gave me an assignment to interview a guy in Sonoma County who claimed he’d done a computerized statistical analysis of Wine Spectator box ads and scores and found a positive correlation between the size of the ad and the rating. Lewis asked if I would also get a response from Marvin Shanken.
Marvin took my call. I explained the background, then asked if I could ask him a few questions. He exploded and hung up. A day or so later I got a letter from Wine Spectator’s lawyer threatening legal action against me if I reported the study. So did Lewis. Needless to say, being in no position to defend ourselves against Marvin’s attorneys, we decided in favor of discretion and killed the story.
In Tom’s reply to the Wine Economist story, he wrote: “…every review of a newly-released wine is the result of a blind tasting, where neither producer nor price is known by the taster.” That’s a pretty unequivocal statement, and it made me wonder about it for 4 reasons.
1. I’ve been with Jim Laube when he tasted wines openly and took notes.
2. I’ve been reliably told that at some regional tastings Jim tastes openly.
3. Certain winemakers have told me that when Jim visits with them he tastes openly.
4. On the rare occasions when Wine Spectator let me sit in (and weigh in) on formal tastings, the panel knew the general tier of the wines, e.g. new premier cru white Burgundy. So they may not have known the specific bottle prices but they had a pretty good idea.
So I emailed Tom Matthews to ask about these anomalies and he replied, in part: “…any editor can taste any wine in any setting, blind or non blind, for informational purposes…But such ‘reviews’…are not published in our Buying Guide.” To which I replied: “If Jim did in fact taste and take notes with these producers at their wineries, does that mean he did so strictly for informational purposes, and then later reviewed the wines formally under blind conditions?” To which Tom replied: “…yes, if he was tasting wines at wineries, or in other public settings, he was taking notes for informational purposes only, and the wines were subsequently officially reviewed in our normal blind tastings.”
Tom said he’d have Jim get in touch with me, but so far he hasn’t. If and when he does, I’d ask Jim who sets up his tastings (if anyone) and what he knows about the wines (vintage, variety, region, general price bracket, etc.). It’s hard — no, make that impossible to think he (and the other Spectator critics) know nothing about the wines they review except their color. Still, the issue (of blind or not) is irrelevant to that of advertising affecting scores. I am absolutely convinced it doesn’t at Wine Spectator. That potboiler ought to be permanently put to rest.
Readers can make up their minds how they think Wine Spectator critics taste. I can tell you how I taste. Sometimes blind. Sometimes not. Sometimes semi-blind, in that (having no staff) I’ll set up my own tasting so I know in advance what wines are included, but at the time of tasting I don’t know which is which. But I’ll tell you something that may surprise you (and irritate some people). I don’t think it matters how a good taster tastes. We have fetishisized blind tasting into a religious cult, just as we’ve demonized open tasting into a sin. There are no simple answers, just simple questions.
Whether or not you like the Napa Valley Wine Train, the fact is that if downtown Napa is to be protected against another winter flood, like the one it last experienced on New Year’s Eve, 2005, some major infrastructure work is going to have to be done, including relocating the train tracks. Planning for that is in the works, financed by a $54 million grant from Pres. Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package.
Flooded Wine Train Station at Soscol Ave.
Predictably, Republicans are criticizing this (and many other) projects as “wasteful” and “silly.” The Weekly Calistogan reports that the charge is being led by Arizona’s Sen. John McCain and Oklahoma’s Sen. Tom Coburn. From the article, this: “McCain and Coburn scoffed at the hefty price tag associated with the track relocation, noting mockingly in the section of the report titled ‘All Aboard The Wine Train!’ that one of the most popular meals served on the Wine Train is the $124 Vista Dome four-course lunch with a glass of sparkling wine.”
Sparkling wine! Fancy food! There must be some brie lurking around somewhere. Just the kind of effete symbols Republicans love to bash!
The Maverick: more of a hot dog kinda guy
But what’s that old saying about people who live in glass houses? Oh, right; they shouldn’t throw stones. Here are a few tasty little appetizers from Arizona and Oklahoma that are also enjoying funding from the dreaded stimulus bill:
There’s a project to renovate the “streetscape” in downtown Flagstaff by building a “multi-use trail.” For $500,000 in taxpayer money the new trail will include “landscaping and irrigation components [that] will enhance the grounds of the Visitors Center [and] improve the appearance of the downtown area…”.
Gee, I guess it’s more important to Republicans to “improve appearances” in a red state than to actually save lives and property from floods in a blue state. But wait, there’s more. Here’s another grant for $322,000 for the Arizona Commission on the Arts “to award between 19 and 21 Arizona Arts Job…to arts organizations in rural, urban and suburban areas…”. [Click on #16, "The Arizona Commission for the Arts."]
What kinds of jobs? Here are some of the listings that went up on the Arizona Commission for the Arts’ website after the federal stimulus money grant was announced.
I’m in favor of the arts, but isn’t it Republicans who are always against government funding of them? Well, I guess it’s more important for the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts to hire a program services manager than for an American city to be protected against a flood. Or so John McCain would suggest.
And then there’s $110,548 awarded to the Desert Botanical Garden to add “94,000 [plant] specimens at two herbaria” and $168,091 to Arizona State University to study “peers and peer networks.”
Can you imagine if instead of ASU it was San Francisco State University? The horror! We’d be hearing all about “the homosexual agenda.”
And what’s happening in the great state of Oklahoma?
Glad you asked. They got $2.6 billion in stimulus funding. Don’t forget that Sen. Coburn’s complaint about the “wasteful, silly” spending was accompanied by this zinger: “[T]he money we spend ought to be a high priority for the American people as a whole.”
The state’s Transportation Secretary just announced that millions of Oklahoma’s stimulus money will be spent on “bridge projects, including “rehabilitation of more than three dozen bridges in the Tulsa area” in addition to dozens of others elsewhere in the state.
I guess when money is spent on bridges that need rehab in California it’s “silly and wasteful” but when money is spent on bridges in Oklahoma it’s a good thing.
And the state’s Indian tribes, a very powerful constituency, are to get $135 million even before they know what they’ll do with it, according to Oklahoma public radio KOSU, which reported that tribal leaders “are hastily coming up with suitable ways to use the money.” [If they offer me $135 million, I'll figure out something pretty cool to do with it, you betcha!]
Didn’t she take federal money for the “Bridge to Nowhere”?
Anyhow, you get the idea. It’s easy to make somebody else’s project look ridiculous. McCain and Coburn are just making trouble, criticizing something connected to California wine (a reliably odious concept to conservatives) in a reliably Democratic (Rep. Mike Thompson’s) district. Sad.
Why anyone would take seriously anything the Marin Institute says about wine is beyond me, especially when they pretend to be friends of the small wineries they’ve tried for years to destroy.
We are talking major chutzpah here when this neoprophibitionist group, which has tried to stifle if not strangle the wine industry, comes out crying crocodile tears for family winemakers whom they say they’re trying to protect from the “global alcohol giants” they accuse of driving “the Family Winery” out of business. They issued a press release the other day just before picketing the Wine Institute, which they said should be renamed “the ‘Big Alcohol Institute’.” (Incidentally, no one came to their little demonstration except for a clutch of cold MI members who shivered for about 15 minutes, then called it a day. Evidently, Marin Institute’s call for a big protest, issued on their PR Newswire press release, was a complete failure.)
Cold, lonely Marin Institute members picketing on Market Street
Far from being concerned about little wineries, this is the organization whose web site says its “vision” is “communities free of the alcohol industry’s negative influence and an alcohol industry that does not harm the public’s health.” It has tried (unsuccessfully) to ban wine and other alcoholic beverage advertising, even on the Super Bowl telecast, to raise excise taxes on alcohol (also unsuccessfully), and — most spectacularly unsuccessfully — to cause laws to be passed prohibiting families from serving their children wine within their own homes for religious, cultural or simple celebratory reasons, as if millennia of giving kids a teaspoon of wine in a glass of water has harmed Italians, French, Portuguese, Jews, Greeks, Germans and others whose roots in wine go back to Biblical times.
And this is the group that now has the gall to claim “Big Alcohol…exploits California wine imagery” by fostering “the industry-spun myth of family-grown wine from Napa and Sonoma” while in reality being dominated by “Diageo, Constellation Brands, and Brown-Forman” who “call the shots” while the little wineries, ostensibly their pawns, roll over to be plundered and ravaged.
Let’s get the facts straight. Most California wineries are small and family-owned. At the Wine Institute, each winery gets precisely one vote, regardless of size or affiliation. According to Wine Institute, of 3,000 wineries in California, half produce 5,000 cases or less. This hardly suggests an inordinate dominance by corporate entities, much less a malicious plot by them to rule the little guys. In response to Marin Institute’s charges, Wine Institute issued a statement that said, in part: “Marin Institute’s attempt to portray Wine Institute and its 900+ winery members, the overwhelming majority of which are small, family-owned businesses, as serving interests other than those of California wine is incorrect…Wine Institute and its members support the responsible consumption of wine in moderation in keeping with the advice of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The vast majority of wine consumers enjoy wine responsibly with meals and should not be penalized for the societal problem of alcohol abuse.”
Are there problems of little wineries competing against big ones? Certainly, especially on the distribution side. But no one should believe for a second that Marin Institute gives a damn about little wineries or the families who run them. Marin Institute’s agenda is the same as it always was: to cripple the industry the way Prohibition did.