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Monday meanderings



MGM, the Hollywood movie studio that brought us stars such as Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Errol Flynn, Katharine Hepburn and Judy Garland, as well as legendary films that included The Wizard of Oz, Ben-Hur and Singin’ in the Rain, just celebrated its 90th anniversary. No major film studio in history has shaped the American film as much as MGM.

Ninety years ago–1924–there wasn’t much going on in the wine business. The country was stuck in the middle of one of the most disastrously stupid political and social blunders in our history, Prohibition, wrought upon us by some of the same reactionary forces that still rear their heads today. While a few wineries, such as Beauiieu, managed to remain in business by producing altar wine, most California wineries closed up shop forever.

(Isn’t it interesting that the only reason wineries were permitted by those reactionary forces to stay open was for making wine for religious institutions? But then, for a nation whose First Amendment to the Constitution includes the famous “establishment clause,” which prohibits the formal “establishment of religion” by the Congress, the U.S. has always been leaky when it comes to religious intrusion into our laws.)

Once Prohibition ended, the California wine industry restored to health or newly developed its own legendary superstars. Compared to, say, Fred Astaire and Jimmy Stewart, I suppose Louis M. Martini, Inglenook, Beaulieu and Charles Krug weren’t exactly known and loved by tens of millions of loyal fans. But still, they, and others, kept the flame burning, until the 1960s and 11970s ignited a wildfire of boutique wineries that really did capture the nation’s attention. And here we are today.

* * *

Yesterday’s rain was pretty healthy. SFO had nearly an inch, but most of the Bay Area clocked in with less than a half-inch, and the further south you go, the less rain fell. Up in the Sierra, they had a couple feet, depending on which mountain you measure; but still, the morning paper describes the rain as “a drop in the bucket” with one meteorologist saying California will need rains “of Biblical proportions” to get us out of this drought, the worst ever. So efforts at water restriction are still coming on, and grapegrowers are still wondering what it all means for them. Yesterday’s storm was pretty much unpredicted, as was the cold that accompanied it. It seems to have blown in from nowhere, proving once again that long-range weather forecasts have their limits.

* * *

Big changes at the San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine & Food Section are afoot. The paper is shutting down the satellite office that housed Jon Bonné, Michael Bauer & Co. and bringing them back to the Mother Ship, at Fifth and Mish (as we say, short for Mission Street). That’s a bummer; with the demise of the Chron’s test kitchen, the paper will no longer run recipes (!!!). But management promises that food and wine coverage will not only continue, but be expanded, which is great news. Now, if we can only get Jon to give as much love to California wine as he does to, say, mead and orange wine, the paper will be truly representative of the region it serves.

* * *

A quick shoutout to the Feb. 8 River Road Passport, the big tasting of Monterey County wines produced along the base of the Santa Lucia Highlands. It’s a good event to get off the beaten path and discover some of the charming wines from this region. Not all of the Highlands’ best wineries are represented, but that’s always the case with these public events. Some of the more in-demand wineries want to stay that way–in-demand–and not showcasing your stuff to the public is one way to maintain the illusion of exclusivity.

  1. pawineguy says:

    I love how liberals can quote the Establishment Clause but not the Free Exercise Clause. Bit of a blind spot or intellectual dishonesty? A little of both I suppose.

  2. Jon did write a book on CA wine. He might be quite critical of certain styles of CA wine, but he does give CA a lot of love. Considering that other prominent critics hate on Jon’s preferred styles, don’t you think his love is even all the more important? Oh, and he did help teach you what orange wine is…

  3. @pawineguy — precisely

  4. Kyle–I rarely find you off-base in your criticisms, but, please, Jon did not discover nor introduce us to orange wine.

    And Jon’s love of his narrow and preferred sytle is just fine. No one has ever said that he had to like everything. But his incessant trashing of so much of what people like is certainly open to criticism. He could just as easily have explained why he did not like those styles without calling them silly and wines for novices. His dismissal not only of the wines but of the people who like them is what gets him so much stick.

    It is not his palate that is criticized. It is his arrogant, back of the hand, a priori dismissal of a broad swath of very well loved, serious wine and the fans thereof that is at issue.

  5. Charlie, I never stated Jon discovered orange wines. By Steve’s own admission Jon introduced Steve to the style.

    I will preemptively accept your apology… 😉

    Oh, you can also replace almost any critic’s name (one in particular) of your last two paragraphs and your thesis holds…

  6. Kyle–

    There are critics that dismiss the ideas and approaches of others without any attempt at understanding or evaluation, but even Mr. Parker has tried the wines he dismisses. Jon simply does not taste thousands of wines put in front of him because they are seemingly not his style.

    Now, while I and my publication take a different approach, as does Steve quite pointedly, I do respect Jon’s right to do whatever he wants to do. If the SF Chron is willing to support that approach, then that is also their right. What I object to, and you ignore as the way “almost any critic” is the arrogant dismissal of the world outside of his palate and the people who like those wines.

    Most critics do not take that approach.

  7. Charlie, I’ll let Jon defend himself and explain the wines he does or does not taste, but I don’t think he dismisses wines broadly without any attempt at understanding them. Perhaps he ignores certain wines/styles, but I don’t get the same sense of dismissal as I do with others. Show me a critic that tastes every single wine/region/style of wine and I’ll concede your point that most critics don’t ignore wines outside their preference. I’m substituting ignore for dismissal in that theater differ only in tone. In fact, a critic that does not promote a specific style/type of wine might very well promote every single wine made as equally “good” because there is undoubtedly a palate suited for any single wine, Brett, VA, high/low alcohol notwithstanding. I’m not saying that Steve dismisses wines not from CA, but he obviously ignores them because his job is focused on CA. I’d argue that Jon, and Eric Asimov, are proponents of a broader spectrum of wines than many critics. Maybe I’m missing it, but I haven’t seen Jon completely dismisses certain wines, producers or fans of those styles a la Mr. Parker as you and Steve are suggesting.

  8. Kyle – It’s interesting how people see an issue, probably based upon who they agree with. From my viewpoint, Jon and Eric have (by far) the narrowest range of any reviewers. Having had our wines held up as “examples of something bad” by both Jon and Eric, I seriously don’t feel the love 😉

    – Brian Loring
    – Loring Wine Company

  9. Brian, fair enough. I’d argue that naming a few examples of wines one doesn’t enjoy is different than broadly panning groups of people. But having a preference of a style was not my point in my original comment. Steve said that Jon does not promote CA wine. I think he does. Not every wine or style, but neither does Steve. Steve then mocked Jon for writing about orange wines, when in fact Jon’s article actually taught Steve what they were! Those were the only two points I was making.

  10. “Yesterday’s storm was pretty much unpredicted, as was the cold that accompanied it. It seems to have blown in from nowhere, proving once again that long-range weather forecasts have their limits.” Huh? The NOAA web site started tracking this one several days ago, and it played out pretty much as in their narrative.

  11. My local TV Weatherman said it was not predicted.

  12. Here is a great resource:
    Put in your zip code to get specific and local info.
    Click on Forecast Discussion to get the insider, weather geek details. I am pretty sure the blow dried weathermen on TV earning megabucks use this as their source. Ditto the expensive weather services so many farmers/vineyardists subscribe to. This is the real deal, and is paid for by We The People. Sometimes it is uncanny how accurate they are, e.g. they will say rain will spread across the North Bay hills at 1 pm, and it arrives right on schedule. Other times their models are not in agreement, and they will say so in the Discussion, giving insight into the complexities of the situation.

  13. A question for the Charlie, the “dean” of California wine reviewers:

    As you reflect upon your decades of tasting, do you find a greater “pleasure quotient” for the Cabernets from the “best” vintages (you choose) of the 1970s and 1980s or even 1990s, or today’s wines?

    Are you awarding as many stars (“puffs”) to today’s wines as you did in the past — particularly at the highest ranking level?

    (Alternately looking back, should you have been more generous with your stars . . . seeing how California wines have evolved/devolved?)

    ~~ Bob

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