On producers who carp about my low scores, plus an observation about superrich people
It’s really annoying when I give a so-so score to a wine, and later on I hear howls of protest from the proprietor. “How could you?–” blah blah blah. Usually this is accompanied by a litany of high scores from other critics (take your pick; there’s enough of them out there), with the inference that I must be out of my mind, or at the very least hopelessly inadequate, not to recognize the greatness of the wine in question.
Okay, I just said it’s really annoying, but that’s just on one level. On another, it’s troubling. I tend to come down hard on myself with doubts and recriminations. Without going into the psychological wellsprings of that, what it means is that I’m susceptible to worry and anxiety when a proprietor points out that everyone from Jancis to Alder to R.P. loved the wine I didn’t. Part of me thinks, “Wow. Maybe the proprietor is right. Maybe I made a big mistake with that wine.”
That’s phase two. Phase three usually goes like this. “Okay, look. It’s over and done with. I can’t change what’s already done. All I can do is acknowledge the reality that so and so is really pissed off and move on.” But it’s hard to move on. One wants to be liked in this business…liked and respected. We all do. Nobody wants people to think he’s a jerk.
The funny thing is that when I give a high score, proprietors are beside themselves with joy. Nobody says, “Hey, you gave me a 94. Jancis and Parker said I’m only an 85. What the hell is wrong with you?” You wouldn’t believe the number of cards I get in the mail, thanking me for my “support” of the winery, for almost anything over 92. I appreciate the gesture, but it’s not “support.” I don’t support any wineries in California and I don’t not support them. I have a job to do, reviewing wines. It has nothing to do with support.
I suppose the real lesson of today’s post is to emphasize once again, as I have over and over, that wine reviewing is a fallible art. The critic is not a mass spectrometer. He is a human being, with all a human’s flaws and liabilities. Despite the insistence of some groups, such as MWs, that wine reviewing can be made mechanically consistent, the sad truth is that it cannot. This canard has been perpetuated by people whose economic self interest and egotistic self esteem are furthered by spreading the falsehood that wine reviewing is replicable under any and all circumstances. That is an absurdity.
What consumers should recognize is that a review is simply the impression that critic had of that particular bottle at that particular moment in time. At another time, with another bottle, the impression may be the same, and it may not. There are a variety of logical and irrefutable reasons for this, all having to do with variation of both reviewer and bottle. Therefore, I’m the first to say that too much is made of scores. Before you accuse me of rank hypocrisy, let me just reply that I make my living reviewing wines. I get paid for it. I hope people take my reviews seriously, based on a gentleman’s agreement that I’m being as honest and transparent as I can. But I also hope they realize the limitations of wine reviewing.
A personal take on rich people
I went yesterday to an event at Iron Horse Vineyards to benefit Earth Day, and kudos to Joy Sterling not only for her commitment, but for her ability to pull a big thing like this off with flawless professionalism. There were at least three very wealthy people there: Ted Turner, Gordon Getty and Jean-Charles Boisset. I was struck by the ways these individuals interacted with the crowd. Mr. Turner, who was guest of honor, was reserved and private. He gave an extraordinarily energetic, charming speech, but otherwise, preferred to remain on the sidelines with his companion, aloof and apart. Mr. Getty, who is getting on in age, doddered around, usually by himself. He seemed comfortable in his skin, just someone who’d been invited to an event in which he believed, and he didn’t feel the need to shine. M. Boisset, whom I confess I have a great deal of affection for, was his usual self, charming everyone in his path, laughing, getting people to relax, beguiling and dazzling. It made me think: just because you’re rich doesn’t mean you don’t have to figure out how to work a crowd. You’re still human. You feel. If you are a Getty, Turner or Boisset, you have to decipher how to perform in the public eye while still maintaining dignity and expressing your personal values and feeling good about yourself. All three of these gentlemen get my 100 point score for their solution to this existential challenge.