The big lie about low alcohol wines
I will tell you that the easiest, laziest meme making the rounds of wine writing today is that California is in the throes of some massive “anti-high alcohol” revolution.
Lazy, biased or ill-informed journalists often resort to the conventional wisdom of the moment when, under the pressure of deadlines, they receive assignments from their editors, or are just looking for something controversial. Not just in wine, but anything: politics, entertainment, the cultural zeitgeist. Somebody begins by writing an article that causes a modest stir: then somebody else has to write about it. She or he knows little or nothing about the topic, so they turn to the magic of Google. And lo and behold, they come across the first person’s article, the one that purported to report on the “new” craze. And so reporter #2 writes a photocopy of article #1, sometimes even calling the same people as sources, who will, naturally, say the same thing. Now you have 2 articles coming up on Google searches both reporting on the same phenomenon, which of course makes it mandatory for reporters 3, 4 and out to infinity to repeat the “news.” And once you have a hundred or so articles on the phenomenon, it truly becomes–not reality–but the perception of it. Which, as they say, makes it reality.
That is the dark side result of our Internet-based “reporting.” Lemming-like me-too writing always has been an inherent virus in authentic journalism, but the Internet has caused it to go pandemic. So much easier to parrot what someone else said than to do real reporting based on the facts.
The latest periodical to report on the “anti-high alcohol revolution” which is not actually happening is Newsweek, a magazine that’s been faltering for years. Wherever the author got her inspiration, the article uses a standard, shopworn–and phony–device: it develops a thesis, then finds a few people who agree with it, and quotes them to “prove” that the thesis is correct. I’m a reporter; believe me, this tail-wagging-the-dog stuff goes on all the time. It isn’t journalism, it’s telling stories.
Another writer who’s been on the anti-alcohol bandwagon (and sometimes seems to think he’s leading it) is our own local Blake Gray. Here he is again, admitting he must “sound like a broken record on the lowering alcohol trend in California,” which indeed he does. Again, he uses the tail-wagging trick, by finding somebody who says he wants to make lower alcohol wines and then identifying it as part of “a trend.” The funny thing is that Blake can’t even get Gavin Chanin to come out and say anything bad about high alcohol. The furthest Gavin will go, in talking about the Pinots from Durell vineyards, is to say “Even though the [Durell] vineyard has that reputation for super ripeness, it’s interesting to see what it’s like when it’s not that.” Not exactly a stinging assault on high alcohol wines, nor a passionate defense of lower ones. Just “it’s interesting…”. The other weird thing is that Blake implies that Gavin left Au Bon Climat in order to make low alcohol wines (at least, that’s the spin I think he put on it). But ABC’s Pinots routinely are in the 13s.
Look, high alcohol California wine isn’t going anywhere. It’s baked into the souffle. Cabernet is going to stay high, 15ish or so, especially in Napa Valley, where it makes one of the most exciting wines in the world. Pinot will stay in the high-13s to the low 15s but mostly in the mid- to high 14s. There is no trend against high alcohol in California. There are people playing with lower levels, to see what they can do, like Gavin. There are always winemakers tinkering with technique; that’s the nature of winemaking. But please, can we fold up this “trend” nonsense and throw it away with yesterday’s papers? There are better things for wine writers to write about, like: Why our climate mitigates against low alcohol wines. You can’t just pick Pinot Noir at 21 degrees of brix and make a 12% wine because you want to, or because some writer told you to.
P.S. I’ve been experiencing hacking issues with this blog. The blog itself is safe; you can access it through a URL entry or bookmark and navigate safely. But searches for it, through Google and Yahoo and other engines, appear compromised. My web host is working on solving it.