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Monday Meanderings: Rubicon and Rajat


What’s up at Rubicon? First, longtime winemaker Scott McLeod quit about a month and a half ago. Now, on Friday came word that Larry Stone, M.S., the winery’s general manager and close collaborator with Francis Ford Coppola for many years (since the Rubicon restaurant days in San Francisco), also has jumped ship. Larry now is President of Evening Land Vineyards.

Without further information, it’s impossible to know if these are isolated events, or if together they portend a problem at Rubicon. I tasted the most recent Rubicon (the wine) last month and there was no problem, but then again, it was the 2007, which was made three years ago, so maybe things have turned south since then. I gave it 93 points, not as high as 2005 or 2006, but respectable enough. Larry himself, in explanation of why he left Rubicon, told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jon Bonné only that “They’re going in a slightly different direction right now,” a non-explanation explanation that means Larry has no intention of answering the question at this point. That’s all right. There are many things we don’t know, such as why James Suckling left Wine Spectator or what Rand Paul really did with that bong.

We can, however, speculate! Coppola late last month launched his much anticipated new Sonoma County restaurant, RUSTIC, part of his expanding Francis Ford Coppola Winery presence in Sonoma, which he told Inside Scoop SF is “a very ambitious project.” Could it be that, in this severe downturn, with cult wines like Rubicon having a hard time moving, that FFC has decided something more consumer friendly might also be more profitable? Maybe Coppola’s energy is moving out of Napa “over the hill” into Sonoma, and McLeod and Stone, knowing that, felt the time was right to get out. Then again, maybe FFC’s famously ill temperament finally got to both of them.

and on the sommelier front…

Was sent the galley of a new book, “Secrets of the Sommeliers,” by Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay, and can definitely recommend it. I learned much more about sommeliers than I ever thought there was to know. It’s from Ten Speed Press, and definitely worth a read. The best quote is from sommelier Parr. It concerns his thinking process when sampling distributor wines: “As I [blind] taste them, I come up with a price I think each wine is worth. Then I look at the price list. If my number is close to the wholesale cost of the wine, it’s a buyable wine for me.”

Lots of meat on that bone to chew on! For starters, how “blind” is “blind”? If the distributor shows Parr a range of (let’s say) Domaine Leroy Burgundies in paper bags, is it really blind if Parr knows the winery? Maybe instead of knowing the wines are from a single domaine, all Parr knows is that they’re Premier Crus from a specific vintage. That would still help him “calibrate” his palate. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’d just like to know the details.

What’s really interesting is that, in comparing his imaginary price against the real price, Parr has, in effect, a rating system, as all tasters do and must. His system is, basically, 95-100 points = perfect parity between his imagined price and the actual price, 90-94 points for a slight (e.g. $10) discrepancy between imagined price and actual price, etc. etc. down the line. I like that! And I like that Parr shares with us his actual pragmatic thinking, instead of resorting to some airy-fairy M.W. “Hmm, I don’t have to know anything about this wine in order to tell you precisely how good it is or what it’s worth.” In order to come to a judgment about a wine, you need some parameter…you can’t be a tabula rasa, a blank slate “without built-in mental concept,” as Wikipedia puts it.

Finally, the wine life in South Korea

Loved this comment from a reader in South Korea concerning prices there. “Entry level NZ Sav Blanc is $30 USD a bottle and good everyday drinking Sangiovese mid range is $45 USD a bottle. The really good wines, (and I like Burgundy and Barolo), are $120-150 USD a bottle. These are retail prices! It’s madness.” So next time you feel like complaining about prices here, think about those miserable ex-pats in Seoul.

  1. I don’t think Raj Parr is alone in his “guess the price point and compare to the actual cost” approach to selecting wines. I suspect any successful buyer is doing the same. I certainly do the same in my personal approach to purchasing, at least in retrospect – “was that wine worth what I paid for it?” If the answer is yes then I will probably buy again. If not…

  2. Thank you for the recommendation on the book. I’m going to get it when available.

    South Korea has a 70% import tax on wine. I don’t know much about the free trade agreement being developed with South Korea, but I’m hoping that the import tax will be much, much lower. Something may happen after the elections. The G20 meetings are in South Korea in November.

  3. Alan Kropf says:

    I think you should dig deeper into conspiracy theories. That’s what I usually do and it always turns out awesome. I think.

  4. Alan, I am investigating many things I cannot speak of yet.

  5. Perhaps Mr Mcleod left becuase he got tired of covering for the fact that the Coppola wines are contaminated with mold from the old building. Which is why they soak plastic bags in the vats.

  6. John, I never heard that, I don’t believe it, and I doubt if you have any evidence of it.

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