Are California wine’s glory days a thing of the past?
Reading Men’s magazine’s list of the “Top 10 up-and-coming wine regions” and not seeing California on the list made me think, “Holy cow! California is no longer a new wine region but an old one!”
It startled me. I’m so used to thinking of everything in California as new: new cities, new citizens, new suburbs, new malls, new parks, new restaurants, new roads, new martini recipes, new ethnic cuisines, new ways of organizing society–the state itself is a State of Mind of Newness in all its exciting configurations, and has been for 150 years.
But California, evidently, is no longer considered a new wine region. Old, old, old! It’s the expletive word of American demographics. Nobody wants to be old in a youth-oriented culture, least of all a wine region whose appeal always has been that it is the refreshing alternative to stale Old Europe.
Can it be true? Is California really (what’s the opposite of up-and-coming?) a down-and-going wine region?
Let’s consider the facts. California’s wine industry dates from roughly the middle of the nineteenth century. (I know purists will argue it’s older than that, but the point is moot.) From that perspective, it’s one of the newer wine regions, compared certainly to Europe. But really, California as an important and emerging wine region dates only to the 1960s and 1970s, when the boutique winery movement began. So California’s wine region really is as new as a freshly minted coin–certainly far younger than Austria, South and South West France, Portugal, Galicia, Jerez and Italy, all of which appear on the Men’s magazine list.
Even Israel, Argentina, South Africa and Chile are certainly no newer than California, in terms of a wine industry. So we have to ask the question from a different perspective: When Men’s refers to “up-and-coming” wine regions, they must be doing so reputationally, not historically. In other words, Men’s is suggesting that California has become a little boring, while these other regions are exciting.
Why would Men’s come to this conclusion? Let’s dig. The editor of the piece, Paul Casciato, is an editor for Reuters, the British news agency. He is a Brit. The English long have had “airs” against the California wine industry. Paul’s specific title is Lifestyle Editor. He covered, for instance, last Spring’s Royal Wedding of Wills and Kate, and has written about the decreasing weight of ladies’ handbags and how middle-aged people “are the most likely to look for love online,” so we can conclude that he is not a serious wine journalist.
This is not to imply that the ten regions on Paul’s list do not produce excellent wine. But readers should understand a possible back story here, which is that publishers and editors love asking their writers to come up with Top Ten lists. They do it all the time. (Just look at a women’s magazine, like Oprah.) Readers love Top Ten lists (or, at least, the publishers and editors think they do). Crafting a Top Ten list isn’t hard. You can make a game out of it, like the old Mad Libs word game:
First, write a sentence that begins: “Here are the Ten…
Then choose an adjective: sexiest, ugliest, most expensive, weirdest, worst, best, likeliest, stupidest, oldest, rarest, most fun, most unusual, cheapest, funniest, most shocking…etc.
followed by a noun [singular or collective]: wines, travel destinations, places to live, fashion accessories, colleges, sports, cities, politicians, breakfast foods, tropical resorts, talk show hosts, wine writers…etc.
Then make an arbitrary headline: HERE ARE THE TEN UGLIEST TALK SHOW HOSTS or HERE ARE THE TEN STUPIDEST WINE WRITERS, and bingo! You’ve got a cover story in Men’s magazine!