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My reply to “The Manifesto”


Give credit to Facebook for today’s blog. I went to my status page and found a post from Darek Trowbridge. He wrote:

“I like this manifesto! Terroir and complexity are not part of the 100 point rating system so why continue with it? But the Score Revolution doesn’t address the next way of rating wines without it. I like the way Dan Berger does it with only printing wines that make two categories: Exceptional and Highly Recommended.”

And then he provided a link to the manifesto:

Now, Darek is the young owner/winemaker of Old World Winery, whom I recently met in the Russian River Valley, where he helped me with an upcoming Wine Enthusiast article. He calls his winery “Old World” because he’s pretty anti-interventionist and what you would call a terroir guy, which is, I guess, why he’s so high on the manifesto.

Before I deal with the manifesto, I want first to complain about anonymity in social media. I cannot find the creator’s name on the manifesto’s website. Maybe it’s there someplace, buried deep in the links, but I tried my best, and no luck. Nor can I find a creator’s name on the manifesto’s Facebook page, which is called ScoREVOLTution, with the emphasis on the word “revolt.” The company overview describes it as “A movement against quantifying the subjective experience of drinking wine” and the mission is “To bring down the 100 point system.” But, once again, there’s no way to identify who’s behind this thing. Hello, creator of ScoREVOLTution and The Manifesto, are you out there? Call me at 1-800-PERFECT100.

(Darek, are you the manifesto man? Because your signature is the first on it, like John Hancock’s on the Declaration of Independence.)

Okay, got that out of my system. Now it’s onto the manifesto itself. Read it; it’s not very long. It’s a plea for terroir and then an attack on the 100 point system, which the author calls “a clumsy and useless tool…a static symbol [and] completely ineffective when applied to a dynamic, evolving and multifaceted produce.”

Readers, if you’re expecting a jeremiad, complete with thundering insults and the hurling of lightning bolts from on high, you’ll be disappointed. I’ve always allowed for the fact that the 100 point system is not without faults. I blogged about this 1-1/2 years ago, here and here and numerous times since. Here’s the email I sent Darek in reply to his Facebook post:

Hey Darek my man,

If the 100 point system is such an abomination, then howcum you send me wine!!!???

I would just say that in our complicated world, there are many ways to write about wine. This is because the millions of people who read about wine prefer different approaches. Some of them like a very brief, capsule description, with a score or some other visual icon (puffs, stars, etc.) Some of them prefer a longer, more educated discourse. Some people actually write entire books on single wines. There’s no right or wrong, just individual approaches.

I don’t think any approach is evil or “useless.” Whenever we wine writers write about wine, in whatever fashion we do it, it increases people’s awareness of, and respect for, wine. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

I said that respectfully, because I like Darek a lot, and I “get” where the knockers of the 100 point system are coming from. In another incarnation, I might be one of them. (And by the way, I gave Darek’s wines pretty good scores!)

But I really believe what I told Darek: the millions of people who read about wine prefer different approaches. I don’t see what’s so hard to understand about that. It seems to me the same crowd that lambastes the 100 point system and praises terroir also hates wines from big wine companies like Gallo or Bronco. They’re entitled to drink or not drink whatever they want, but big wine companies introduce wine drinkers to affordable wines, they keep growers going through tough times, and they conduct or fund research that’s applicable even to high-end producers. So we should quit the class-based antagonism toward them.

I like the fact that the manifesto people, whoever they are, feel so passionate about the topic. It forces a good debate and makes those of us who support the 100 point system explain ourselves. As an old karate fighter, I have no problem defending myself, or to signing my name to what I write. I just wish the manifesto author would do the same.

  1. Johnny Appleseed says:

    Steve states….”But seriously, when I look at my highest scores, they are almost entirely wines of “terroir” as you put it (single vineyard, or very accomplished blends).

    Am I the only one out there that thinks that the vast majority of “Single Vineyard” wines are very, very disappointing. At least the ones I’ve found from the US.

    To me, when I see “Single Vineyard” I think…ok these guys love this spot of land (great for them) but this isn’t going to be a complete wine. And I can only fathom that it is out of some romantic emotion that so many wine critics swoon over these wines. Would you swoon over certain recipes that limit their ingredients? No, because the chef would be limiting himself, his creativity and in most cases shortchanging the customer. Complexity, layers and nuance are what make great recipes and great wines.

    No doubt there are certainly a few great SV wines out there…but they are in the minority.

    As for the overall theme of this article, the 100 point system isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. The 100 point system is a great tool to sell wines..but it is a ridiculous system when you put it to the microscope, we all know it and eventually the public will become more educated on wines and they’ll know it too. That day is coming soon.

    Until then…Enjoy those 100 point single vineyards!

  2. Johnny A., maybe when you see “single vineyard” you subconsciously assume the wine will be incomplete, and so that is your experience of it.

  3. Steve, the relentless bashing of the 100 point system comes mainly from the very people who exploit it – the wineries and the wine trade! It would be quite easy to abolish it, simply by ignoring it. Who trumpets these scores? The trade! The statement that reviewers ignore terroir and complexity is patently absurd. Terroir and complexity are exactly what I score highest! This “manifesto” is simply an attack on “the press” and god knows we are The Man when it comes to the press. Not worth responding to in my view. When the 100 point system bites the dust, there will still be wine reviews, wine reviewers, and the trade will still fall all over themselves to promote any free, positive publicity that we can provide, all the while condemning us. So be it.

  4. Paul G speaks the truth as usual. Whoever it is that suggests the press does not have standards is nothing more than a pot-stirrer. Let the small-minded Mr. Anonymous try reviewing a couple of hundred wines and then let him tell us whether he used criteria or simply made it up on the fly.

    And if I could add to Paul’s comments, it would be this. Not only will there be wine reviews but there will some form of categorical notation–whether it is stars, puffs, word categories, chopsticks, snow flakes, cookies, bomb bursts, smiley faces. The 100-point system did not invent the notion of shorthand symbols/points and one need only look around the world to see that calls for critical analysis to be devoid of such symbols are totally out of sync with the way people get and use information.

    Calling this thing a Manifesto is a giant exaggeration of what it really is. It is nothing more than fishing exhibition by an anonymous troll.

  5. Excerpt from the Manifesto:

    “To discuss a wine’s tannins, acid, balance, structure, fruit, etc, is essential. To share our thoughts and experiences with other humans is arguably one of the most important parts of drinking wine. To introduce a score to this process is condescending, overly simplistic, and often largely inaccurate.”

    Reviews are essential- In fact, wine writers are the prophets of the wine world. The score, gentlemen, can be misleading. Simply, the score.

  6. Dear Author, we now know (courtesy of my Internet savvy friends who are better sleuths than I) that you are Hedges! And your scores at Wine Enthusiast have been pretty good over the years.

  7. Gregg Burke says:

    The 100 point system has become a ten point system. That is why we need to get rid of it. This is not the fault of critics this is the fault of our society. The manifesto is just a comment on the fact that a limited number of voices have far too much influence on the wine business. It is revolt against the opinions of people based on tastings that are not blind, that many times are influenced by a relationships or a preconcieved notions. Before anybody gets too offended I am not charging corruption, I am simply pointing out that critics are human and subject to the same folly as the rest of us, the problem is that they just have influence over a large number of people. Stick with tasting notes, Steve your notes are great and very useful make people read them by getting rid of the numerics.

  8. Sarah Goedhart says:

    It seems like we can all agree that reviews are good and most helpful to consumers. I read reviews whenever I can for wine, movies, cars, etc… The average consumer does not have the means to taste the the vast majority of wines that are out there and so there must be people who guide us in the right direction. Cheers to reviewers, it’s not an easy job and someday when we can get rid of quantifying with numbers, people will read the reviews and those will have much more meaning than just a simple number. Cheers, good sleuthing and good conversation all. As we like to say in the lab here at Hedges, we don’t drink the numbers, taste is ultimately what matters.

  9. Sarah G., I hear you. But when a winery gets a high score, suddenly they love numbers! Curious, no?

  10. sarah goedhart says:

    You are right on. People bash the system until it works in their favor. I agree that if my wine received a high score I wouldn’t have to work so hard to sell it, but I just can’t bring myself to submit it. I guess it’s young idealism, I want people to buy it because they like it, not because it received a high score.

  11. Greg Brumley says:

    Thus spake the dinosaurs

    Greg Brumley

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