What would you do if you owned a popular vineyard, one whose name the public likes and trusts, and you were selling fruit to so many buyers that some of them were bound to make–indeed, have track records for making–mediocre wine?
Do you drop them from your list, hoping to preserve your vineyard’s good name? Do you let them continue to buy your grapes, because after all, cash is king these days? Or do you tell them they can continue to buy your grapes, but if you, the owner, don’t like the resulting wines, they can’t use the vineyard designation?
Big, complicated, important questions. I’ve asked it of many vineyard owners. Sometimes, they tell me they run taste tests on the wines, a la the third option I outlined above. But I don’t necessarily believe it. I taste too many mediocre wines from well-known vineyards.
The take home lesson for consumers is, just because a label sports a famous vineyard name doesn’t mean diddly. I suppose it increases the odds that the wine will be distinguished, but it doesn’t guarantee it. In wine, there are no guarantees.
How, then, is the befuddled consumer to know what to buy? Well, of course, she could always turn to a famous critic for his trusted advice. That’s how it’s been done traditionally.
But wait! “Tradition’s a thing of the past,” you say. “Nowadays we have the Internet, which is changing everything. Because of social media, wine critiquing can be democratized. Everybody has a vote, not just some critic in an ivory tower.”
Today, 1WineDude is recommending a radical change in how wine is critiqued on an institutional basis. (At least, I think he’s recommending it. His posting is full of all kinds of qualifiers. I think 1WineDude must be one of those “on the one hand, on the other hand” guys–a Libra or Gemini, maybe? Something schizy–because he often seems to wrestle with which side of an issue to come down on. Which isn’t a bad thing, actually. I wish more of our politicians would be so thoughtful. But I digress.)
The Dude is calling for Internet people to use a simple “Like button to indicate whether or not they care for a wine. That way, wine reviewing more closely resembles an election that the thoughtful, considered expertise of a professionally trained wine critic who has the knowledge, wisdom and background to properly evaluate a wine, as opposed to the animal urges of the great unwashed boobocracy, whose tragic misunderstanding of complicated issues gives us, through the magic of elections, the very nincompoops who are presently paralyzing our government…
Wait a minute, that was a rant! Let me try again.
1WineDude is offering this social media option as a viable and more democratic alternative to the current system. He says it’s inevitable anyway, and he’s probably right about that. But then, sickness, war and the Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum are inevitable too. Would you ever go out and buy a wine because you read someplace that 747,000 people “liked” it? You don’t know who these people are. They could be inmates in insane asylums. They could be in China. They could be zombies. I personally wouldn’t do anything on the recommendation of complete strangers. If my friend tells me to go see a movie, I might, and if someone whose palate I really trust tells me I simply must try a certain wine, I probably would. That’s how word of mouth works, and that’s how I think it’s going to work in the future.
Oh boy, here I am all worked up, and it’s not even 7:30 a.m.!
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This morning’s S.F. Chronicle finally has the story (on page 1) I’ve been waiting to read for 5 years:
“California’s coastal regions appear to be getting more rain and cold weather while inland areas such as Fresno are getting hotter,” the reporter writes. This has been obvious to all of us who live on the coast, where summers have been getting shorter and winters colder. A weatherman once explained to me that the interior mountain west is getting hotter, creating a gigantic suction cup that brings in cool air from the Pacific–and we all know where that maritime air hits first: the coast. This is climate change, and it is resulting in uneven distributions of temperature.
So I’m not buying into predictions that Napa’s going to turn into some kind of Sahara, with grapegrowing moving northward into the Yukon Territory. Check out this article from a couple days ago, where the writer allows that “higher regional temperatures could make the Napa Valley cooler, as heat farther east creates a ‘vacuum effect’ that draws ocean fog inland”–just as today’s Chronicle says. What’s unknown is whether the fog belt might migrate closer to the coast than it is today, “leaving Napa Valley vulnerable to higher temperatures.”
If you know the Bay Area’s microclimates, you know how weird they are. But really, I can’t see Napa being out of the fog influence. The fog rushes into San Francisco Bay, heads up to San Pablo Bay, then spills over into the Carneros, from where it rides up the Napa Valley floor. You could argue that the northwestern Napa Valley–say, St. Helena and Calistoga–might get warmer, but everybody up there always talks about “the Chalk Hill” (or “Calistoga”) wind gap through which Napa Valley gets maritime influence from Sonoma. That doesn’t seem likely to change. Sacramento might find itself more out of the cool zone, but not Napa Valley. That’s just my opinion, but don’t forget, I have a Master’s Degree.