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The World Atlas didn’t get Paso Robles right



In their splendid new book, The World Atlas of Wine (which I am devouring), Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson devote all of two paragraphs to Paso Robles (which Wine Enthusiast just declared our Wine Region of the Year). That is not near enough–for such an emerging region –and those two paragraphs could have been written ten years ago, for all the reader knows, because the information is so out of date.

The only Paso wine companies the authors name are Constellation, Treasury and J. Lohr, east of Highway 101. As for west of the Freeway, the only winery mentioned is Tablas Creek. This is what I mean by my “ten years ago” remark. Is it surprising that the only winery on the West Side the two Brits would think to mention was started by the Perrin family, of Chateauneuf-du-Pape?

I’m not bashing Jancis and Hugh so much as pointing out the difficulties of writing a coffee table book that purports to report the latest information on the wines and regions of the world, when the authors really have not kept abreast of what’s actually happening on the ground. This is always a challenge for the wine writer who’s a generalist, as opposed to a specialist (like me), who focuses on a single region. No one approach is perfect–but the Atlas’s sadly out-of-date reporting on Paso Robles (a region I happen to know quite well) makes me wonder about the accuracy and timeliness of the book’s reporting on other regions.

Jancis and Hugh did write a sentence that hints at what’s happening in Paso: “Paso Robles has earned a reputation for its array of blended reds and blends of Rhôn-ish whites…”. That is accurate–but I wish they’d gone into a little more detail. As I’ve written frequently the past few years, Paso Robles is creating the most innovative and stylish blends in California, and I wish they had singled out for mention (if not praise) some of the smaller, exciting wineries in Paso Robles. I finally wish they had moved beyond the stereotyped “east of Highway 101 is decidedly hot” producing wines that are “fruity, though hardly demanding” meme. If all you’ve ever tasted are the mass-produced wines of the east (and there are plenty of them) without checking out smaller wineries, like Vina Robles, then you’re not current on developments. While it’s true that the “Templeton Gap” influence, which brings cooler maritime air to western Paso Robles, grows weaker as it approaches the 101 Freeway, the cool air doesn’t just stop there. And in cool vintages, the east can actually excel over the west. And how about some mention of Gary Eberle in the Atlas? He’s east of the Freeway and producing fine wines.

Look, Paso Robles is soon likely to be sub-divided into 11 distinct AVAs. We have got to get over this simplistic east-vs.-west mentality. Things are a lot more complicated than that, and Paso Robles is a lot more exciting than the Atlas makes it sound.

  1. Sounds like fodder for your next book, bro!

  2. With all respect to Ms. Robinson and Mr Johnson, and their formidable experience, I’d sooner expect useful writing on CA wines from French writers than from English ones

  3. Steve – great post. Couldn’t agree more. It seems so many of these (general) books don’t go past the Napa/Sonoma angle. Are we that far away for even a two day visit? You’re right that this could have written 10 years ago, with no mention of the players who’ve help Paso ‘s reputation over the past decade (where’s L’Aventure, Villa Creek, Linne Calodo, Saxum, or even the larger brands like Treana, Turley, Peachy Canyon and Eberle?) It’s a disservice to the region to brush over it like that…

  4. Every once in a while I play a guessing game while looking at the article feed from Wine Industry Insight to try to figure out which is your post. Paso Robles is a place I know you are passionate about so I clicked on it and Bingo! I share your notion that it is producing some exciting wines, I just finished my central coast issue and there are plenty of emerging talents.(Try Field Recordings if not already). However, it shouldn’t be a surprise that just about any coffee table book written on wine offering a ‘global’ perspective (especially when the authors palates are most attuned to old world wines) is going to dedicate the bulk of the coverage to Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne, then Italy, Germany, Austria, and eastern Europe before they get to the US section where only a thin veneer of producers get covered. If either of us tried it from our domestic perspective what would we say about Jura or Nahe? I doubt we could do them justice from afar. 🙂

  5. doug wilder, I wouldn’t write a book about Jura or Nahe because I don’t know enough about them!

  6. doug wilder says:

    Steve, THAT is my point! A comprehensive tome should draw on as many specialty contributors as needed to provide in-depth insights. Even so, new producers are emerging at such a pace that doing a hardcopy book may meean it is dated within a few months of release. I keep some old global wine books around to remind me of how we in the colonies are regarded on the world stage.

  7. Glad to see you rejecting the “East-vs.-West” mentality. The truth is there are a lot of great producers on both sides of the Salinas River who are producing some amazing wines.

  8. Great post. There is some ego required in trying to tackle the entire world without much help. The inevitable result is outdated info and over-generalization. And as you point out, Steve, this makes me wonder how current the rest of the book is.

  9. As the conference on Paso Robles cabernet sauvignon back in April proved, this is a region that needs lots more detailed and knowledgeable coverage.

  10. Steve,

    See Jaime Goode’s wine blog posting “A Tale of Two Wine Guides.”


    “Full disclosure”: I’m not bashing Jancis Robinson or Hugh Johnson, either.

    To her credit, Jancis has been very gracious in responding to my e-mail queries over the years on wine-related subjects.

    This week in fact, regarding this Guardian article:

    “Alcohol without the hangover? It’s closer than you think.”
    Science now allows us to develop a safer way to get drunk. But before we can sober up in minutes, the drinks industry needs to embrace this healthier approach.


    ~~ Bob

  11. Steve,

    Sidebar: The Guardian article’s author professor David Nutt and I exchanged e-mails on the fate of so-called “sober-up pills.”

    His reply:

    From: Nutt, David J
    Date: Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 12:20 AM
    Subject: Re: Reply to “Alcohol without the hangover? It’s closer than you think”
    To: Bob Henry

    Thanks [for the articles cited below — Bob]. I was part of that earlier work but ten years ago realised that it would be much easier and more useful to make a safe alcohol than an alcohol antidote

    Asked if anyone was currently pursuing “sober-up pill” inquiries, his answer:

    From: Nutt, David J
    Date: Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 9:48 AM
    Subject: Re: You are welcome: Reply to “Alcohol without the hangover? It’s closer than you think”
    To: Bob Henry

    Too toxic. Caused seizures.

    ~~ Bob

    A bibliography:


    From New York Times “U.S.” Section
    (November 28, 1986, Page Unknown):

    “Tests Said to Show New Drug Reverses Intoxication”


    By Associated Press

    Government researchers are testing a drug that quickly reverses or prevents the intoxicating effects of alcohol, and they say it could potentially be used to sober up drunken people or to treat those who suffer from alcoholism.

    While the researchers acknowledge that the substance offers a quick way to become immediately sober for those who drink too much, the researchers say ethical and legal considerations may stand in its way.

    Scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health, in a paper to be published in the next issue of the journal Science, say the substance, a synthetic compound, blocks the intoxicating and inhibition-erasing effects of alcohol in rats.

    However, Dr. Peter D. Suzdak, principal author of the paper, said in an interview that the drug neither lowers the levels of alcohol in the body nor affects other aspects of alcohol overdose, such as respiratory depression or coma.

    ”We have a drug that appears to block some of the effects of ethanol,” Dr. Suzdak said, using another term for grain alcohol, ”but by no means do we imply that it will block all the effects.” Tests on Primates Starting

    The most obvious use of the drug, if it is proved effective for humans, would be in treating alcoholics, he said, adding that tests of the compound on nonhuman primates were just beginning.

    ”The drug probably has many clinical implications,” Dr. Suzdak said. ”Using it, we may be able to find out what makes an alcoholic drink, the anti-inhibitory effects, anti-anxiety effects, whatever. If the compound then blocks these reinforcing effects, we might have a drug that could be used to treat alcoholic patients.” He noted that an opiate-blocking agent, Naltrexone, was being used to treat heroin addicts.

    While there is a huge commercial potential for a drug that would quickly sober up people, Dr. Suzdak said such a drug could encourage people to drink to excess, leaving them vulnerable to the alcoholic effects that the compound does not block, or a manufacturer could be legally liable in cases where the drug did not work or if a person who had used it was involved in a fatal accident.

    Because of these potential problems, Dr. Suzdak said, ”Probably the only clinical use the Food and Drug Administration would approve it for would be to treat alcoholism.” Developed by Valium Maker

    The chemical, Ro 15-4513, was developed in Europe by Hoffmann-La Roche, the international pharmaceutical concern, to block the effects of its popular sedative diazapam, marketed as Valium.

    The company stopped working on the compound because it found better drugs to stop the effect of Valium. A year ago it was noticed by institute scientists for its effects on alcohol, and they studied how it affects nerve cells.

    The researchers, including Steven Paul, John Glowa, Jacqueline Crawley and Rochelle Schwartz, working with Phil Skolnick of the National Institutes of Health, found that giving rats a dose of Ro 15-4513 prevented them from intoxication by a subsequent injection of ethanol.

    They also found that rats given a normally intoxicating dose of alcohol first sobered up within three minutes of getting the compound, The Way It Works Natural chemicals in the brain alter electrical discharges and communication among neurons and one such chemical is gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA. This neurotransmitter is the principal one that inhibits electrical discharges among neurons, Dr. Suzdak said.

    GABA binds with a neuron and opens a channel to let in chloride, which shuts off the electrical firing of a nerve cell. Alcohol appears to enhance the effects of GABA, helping it to turn off nerve cells, the researchers reported. Ro 15-4513 blocks the ability of alcohol to enhance GABA, the scientists concluded.

    ”Behaviorally, Ro 15-4513 appears to reverse the ability of ethanol to induce intoxication,” Dr. Suzdak said. ”Our report is the first to pin down how the drug might be working and it also tells us a lot about the effects of ethanol on the brain.”


    Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times
    (January 6, 1987):

    “The Sad Fate of a Swiss Sober-Up Pill”

    [Link: not available]

    By John Brennan
    “Your Prescriptions” Column

    As we celebrated the New Year with parties, many livened up by drinking alcoholic beverages. What would be better to contemplate than to be able to drink one’s fill, then take a tablet and, presto, become sober again. Such a drug is on the horizon and it is now known only by its code name, Ro15-4513.

    About three years ago, pharmaceutical chemists of the giant Swiss company, Hoffman LaRoche, discovered this drug . . .

    . . .

    To confirm these findings, Drs. Peter Suzdak, John Glowa, Jaqueline Crawley, Rochelle Schwartz, Phil Skolnick and Steven Paul of the U.S. National Institutes of Health repeated the experiments. Not only were the original observations of the effects of Ro15-4513 confirmed, the mechanism of the action of the drug was clearly delineated.

    . . .


    From Science Daily
    (May 10, 2006):

    “How Drug Binds To Neurons To Stop Drunken Symptoms Of Alcohol”


    UCLA researchers discovered how an experimental drug, called Ro15-4513, binds to specific receptors on brain neurons, which helps explain how this drug stops the drunken behavioral symptoms of alcohol such as impaired motor coordination, memory loss and drowsiness.

    The team showed in the lab that Ro15-4513 binds to and blocks alcohol action on these highly alcohol-sensitive receptors. The UCLA group previously found that these receptors are specific subtypes of Gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA-A) receptors that play a role in impairing motor coordination caused by alcohol in experimental animals.

    These studies are the first to show how the alcohol antidote drug Ro15-4513 binds to these GABA-A receptors. The research may lead to a better understanding of how alcohol works in the brain as well as help develop drugs that prevent alcohol actions such as a sober-up pill, and alcohol addiction medications and treatments. UCLA researchers also suggest in the future that it may be possible to harness the beneficial effects of alcohol on the body, including inducing sleep, enhancing mood or mirroring the positive effects of moderate alcohol consumption on the heart and brain.

    Authors of the study include Richard W. Olsen, Ph.D., professor and Martin Wallner, Ph.D., researcher, both in the UCLA Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology. The research appears in the May 8 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation, and the State of California for medical research on alcohol and substance abuse.

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