I tasted yesterday through a bunch of single clone and clonal blends of Pinot Noir from a Russian River Valley winery. There were six in all. I don’t want to single the winery out, which is a practice of mine in this blog. But I do want to use this occasion to express my views on clonal bottlings, which are almost invariably disappointing.
There can be only one legitimate reason for special designating Pinot Noir by clone (or by vineyard block, for that matter): specialness. All the rest of the reasons can be attributed to marketing. It’s sad to think that a marketing person could trump the taste of a winemaker, but that’s preferable to thinking that a winemaker doesn’t have the taste to begin with to recognize the limitations of a single-clone Pinot Noir.
This all started with the various block bottlings from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Although they’re all part of the same vineyard, the various blocks were so different from each other, they deserved separate bottlings. Hence La Tache, Echezeaux and all the rest. I’m not here to argue that Romanée-Conti shouldn’t be block designated. I’m suggesting that, in all too many cases, California wineries that do clonal bottlings are making a mistake. Each clone by itself has a theoretical divot that other clones or selections can fill in to make a better wine. If you see a clonal bottling as part of the winery’s Pinot lineup, be skeptical.
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Pacific Rim, which makes Riesling from Columbia Valley grapes, seems to have struck gold, via the artful use of Twitter, Facebook, their own website, and a series of giveaway campaigns designed to lure customers in and, once they’re there, give them reasons to stay (not the least of which is quality: my colleague, Paul Gregutt, has given them consistently good reviews over the years).
This is one of the few instances I’ve seen where social media apparently has had a positive impact on the winery. I wish the New York Times, which reported the story, had done a little more research proving that it was social media, and not other factors, that was responsible for Pacific Rim’s success. It’s conceivable that the winery would be selling 200,000 cases a year without social media. Still, it’s pretty impressive. The company’s leaders seem to have a coherent vision how to use a coordinated social media approach, instead of just throwing a bunch of spaghetti against the wall and hoping a few strands will stick.
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Tom Wark called me yesterday to ask if I think that a wine sent out for review when it’s very young is not as good as one that’s been held back by the winery for a few years.
My answer was, of course not.
Apparently, some other writers make the assumption that if “x” winery sends out its $80 2010 Cabernet now, it’s because the wine isn’t very good, whereas if “y” winery sends its 2009 out, the wine must be good because it’s older.
If that isn’t the silliest thing I ever heard, I don’t know what is. I don’t make any assumption about the quality of a wine based on how long the winery did or didn’t sit on it. (If you’re tasting blind, you wouldn’t necessarily know the vintage or release date anyway.) The one assumption I do make, when I see an expensive Cabernet that seems like it was rushed to market, is that the winery may be having liquidity problems. But that has nothing to do with the quality of the wine. When producers ask me when to send their wine, I always tell them: When the winemaker says it’s ready to be tasted. This is not a decision that should be left to marketing, sales or P.R. Unfortunately, all too often, it is.
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Wine of the Week
Summers 2009 Checkmate Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain
Summers has produced solid, if relatively uninspiring, Cabernets for years. With the release of this small production (200 cases), expensive ($100) wine, they’ve outdone themselves. It was my highest scoring wine of the week.