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Wednesday Wraparound

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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.!

* * *

This morning’s S.F. Chronicle finally has the story (on page 1) I’ve been waiting to read for 5 years:

CA climate: inland warmer; coast cooler and wetter

“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.

  1. Pisces, actually. The Like button topic – well, with that one, there’s been bad news in the wine world lately and I wanted to offer up something lighthearted, and fun… and maybe provoke thought and start some (hopefully also fun) conversation there (maybe it worked! :-).

    A for being being wishy-washy (or is that “taking nuanced and multifaceted views of a topic?” :-), if you think I’m allergic to taking sides then I’d recommend reading my post this week on the PLCB…

    Cheers!

  2. The “like” idea scares me and would be of no value to me personally.

    There are whole groups of people on places like Facebook who enter sweepstakes by simply “liking” an item of a companies fan page, and they do win some nice items. The company gives away a few hundred dollars in swag and in return they get a few hundred or a few thousand “likes.”

    All it would take is the soulless wineries to throw some beach party with a decent band and require you “like” their wine to get tickets, now 2,000 new people “like” your product. A real reflection of quality? No.

    It also isn’t a fair compression for small producers. I have many a friend who produce as little as a few hundred bottles of a certain wine, so how many likes could they even get compared to thousands of bottles from a big producer?

    People like to get down on Critics as if the days of trusting others is over and all that matters is our own opinion, but I think that is over done. While many of us do look to our friends for suggestions, we still want a knowledgeable source, not some American Idol system. Steve, you are correct in the importance of word of mouth.

    I still maintain the nature of wine critique will and must change, but I see that change being in line with what happens on this very blog where the Critic interacts with the enthusiast. It’s like a party up in this Ivory Tower! Pass the dip!

    Anyhow, I am probably reading too far into this and I doubt this is what Joe had in mind, but corporate America has a knack for taking great grass roots ideas and turning them into mindless filth.

  3. Wayne, do you prefer the crab dip or the spicy cheese dip?

  4. Dude, everybody hates the PLCB! As for your being a Pisces…sounds fishy. I’d like to see your long form birth certificate!

  5. Steve, it’s your job to tell me what I like or don’t like! :)

  6. OMG! We’ve outed Steve as a Birther!!!! :-)

  7. george kaplan says:

    Steve, outstanding use of paralepsis. Is there also foreshadowing in the mix? Surely we are not about to learn that a noted grower is also making ethylene glycol on his Napa property?

  8. Paralepsis is “The rhetorical strategy (and logical fallacy) of emphasizing a point by seeming to pass over it.” I’m not sure I understand what George Kaplan’s comment means, but I thank him for teaching me a new word.

  9. Dude, easy for you to throw around crazy accusations, since you were born in Kenya!

  10. Last year I attempted to insert a clause into our grape purchase agreements that required that I as the grower sample the wine prior to labeling and have first right of refusal for the use of our vineyard designate. Over lunch and a $100 bottle of Far Niente Chardonnay a winemaker said, “I’d want the same thing, but NO. I’ve already purchased and vinified the grapes, at that point it’s my product.”

    It is yet to be determined whether I’ll do business with that winemaker again or not.

    In the interim I try to place our fruit first with those who have viticulture and winemaking experience, cross my fingers for those who aren’t “experts” but have a decent amount of knowledge and take a chance on the occasional little guy.

    Go on with your like buttons. I’m quitting Facebook like all the rest of the Millennials;)

  11. With due respect to persons…..I think the Like/Dislike buttons are a bad idea. Where are the wines descriptors? What is wrong with asking people who review/critique a wine to have some expertise in describing it?

    Change is inevitable but change just for the sake of it does not make sense. If someone does not like what a reviewer/critic states then DO NOT READ that reviewer/critics work! Don’t like WS don’t buy it or read it. Same for other mags/blogs/posts/media. Fer Petes Sake (who is pete anway?) The whole idea of enjoying the wine experience is LEARNING about it and discerning the traits that you/consumer like, for the time being.

  12. Peter T. says:

    There must be a significant amount of trust between a grape grower and a winemaker. The well-known grape grower must trust that the winemaker will make a superior wine out of their grapes, while the winemaker must trust the grower to produce exquisite grapes. If the grower has a good reputation, the winemaker can relax a bit; and so if the winemaker has a good reputation the grower can relax a bit. You see? But as you say, there are no guarantees in wine.

    A good reputation will undoubtedly increase the price, whether for a ton of grapes for a grower or a bottle of wine for a winemaker. To put stipulations on the purchase of grapes (vineyard-designation dependent upon grower tasting), I think, should decrease the price of those grapes due to the risk involved (not being able to use the designation if the grower is unsatisfied). When you buy the grapes, you should also be buying the name, or not, depending on the agreement.

    That being said, I think a vineyard’s reputation can gain substantially from an exquisite bottle of wine but will not be destroyed from a bad bottle. Of course the winemaker can always be blamed!

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