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Hey elites: Ordinary people love California wine!



With the bashing that California wine sometimes gets from the old boy’s club (AKA the cool kid’s club), it comes as a refreshing reminder to learn that “beyond the beltway” of snobbery and exclusivity, ordinary people love our wines.

Up in Canada, the Ottawa Citizen yesterday reported on the upcoming “California Wine Fair” to be held this Friday. Ottawa is, of course, still gripped in winter: as I write these words, the temperature there is 32 degrees. That’s why the article’s headline is “Dreaming of California Wines,” and the lead sentence refers to our state’s balmy weather: “Just when we need it most,” it says, “A taste of sunshine and warm breezes—California wine is coming to Ottawa.”

This is the thing we mustn’t ever forget about California wine: People love it. They love it the same way they love California itself. For most people all over the world, California is a magical place, of sunny beaches and swaying palm trees, of jasmine-scented evenings and year-round backyard barbecues, of beautiful people and gracious living. Granted, those of us who actually live here know that it’s not always that way. But it is enough of the time. California really is “the golden dream at the edge of the world.”

Our wines reflect that notion. They’re rich, sumptuous and bold, reflecting a place and a people that are distinctly Californian. I know this, and it’s why I grow impatient with the accusations (which actually seem to be diminishing) that California wine is not delicate enough for some people. That may be so; but ordinary people everywhere love our wines. This may be part and parcel of the eternal struggle between the masses and the elite, a struggle you find reflected in every aspect of life and culture. But even if you consider yourself among the elite, you should remind yourself of certain verities.

Among them: As the Ottawa Citizen says, “California wines…strike a chord with many people. [They] consistently demonstrate a pleasant and appealing flavour profile…California vintners have learned from the traditions and history of others and have innovated and put their own spin on techniques and practices.”

That’s how the non-elite see things: not in terms of alcohol level, but in terms of how much pleasure they get from sipping our wines. To be truthful, if California wine can only appeal to one group—the elite, or the masses of everyday consumers—I’d much rather it be the latter. That’s the California way: open, free, egalitarian, meritocratic. We’re the State that developed the ballot initiative by which the people get to vote directly on important issues, instead of leaving them to the “experts” who, occasionally, may find their judgment clouded. I’m proud to be a Californian (by way of New York City and the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts), and I’m proud of California wine!

  1. It’s far too easy to take for granted what it means to be living in the lap of viticultural excellence. We should all explore our surroundings more closely.

  2. Bill Haydon says:

    Sorry, but this is clearly the case of a Californian projecting his view of California onto how other people see the state. Perhaps it was true in the immediate post-war period up through the Beach Boys/Summer of Love era, but that was a long time ago. Many people view California through a much more nuanced prism that takes into account things like air pollution, drought, overcrowding, cost of living and the insane douchebaggery that has come to represent SF in the current internet bubble (see the classic South Park takedown of SF as part of the axis of smug).

    Lots of good things about the state including great natural resources/scenery, the UC system (though the Great Lakes have the B10 universities & the NE has the private universities and liberal arts colleges), high speed rail and so on, but overall it’s a complex equation not the romanticized view straight out of a tourism commercial. And that’s not to even touch upon the crazy tea-baggers who simplistically view the state as the embodiment of everything they fear and loathe.

  3. redmond barry says:

    89.4 % of the people who diss California don’t live here ( Goodwin, personal communication). Not that I have anything against Utah. As for the wines, and to paraphrase Marc Twain, Cali wines taste better than they are.

  4. Bob Henry says:

    Excerpt from the front page of the Los Angeles Times:

    “Despite Some Nightmares, Poll Finds Voters Still California Dreamin'”


    “It has beckoned for generations. To California came the Spanish missionaries, the Gold Rush buccaneers, the Dust Bowl refugees, émigrés from the East and the South and other lands, entrepreneurs and hippies and assembly line laborers and farmworkers, all seeking refuge in this quirky and lyrically named place.

    “The power of dreams and desperation shielded the eyes from myriad hardships, and insults too: California — the land of fruits and nuts, emphasis on nuts. Take off the blinders and its current difficulties snap into relief: traffic and crowds, a faltering education system and astonishing housing costs, a sputtering job market and high taxes.

    “But is the curtain falling on the California Dream? Not by a longshot, according to the people living it. To most of them, a tradeoff has been made: Suffer if you must for a place in the sun.

    “Those are the findings of a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. When pollsters asked California voters whether they would rather live here or somewhere else, more than seven in 10 picked California. Asked whether the state’s upside outweighed its problems, they said yes, and by a lot.”

  5. Persoanlly, I would never say I “like California wines”. Depending on the wine or producer, my appreciation for California wines covers the whole spectrum. The wines from California that I typically appreciate the most tend not to be particularly “rich, sumptuous and bold”, but they’re still undeniably Californian. Californians are a remarkably diverse people (cowboys, new agers, techies, movie star wannabees, etc.) and California’s terroirs and wine styles are equally diverse. This diversity should be celebrated – there’s something for everyone. I think California should embrace (and more aggressively market) its diversity rather than allow itself to be typecast in a way typified by this statement: “They’re rich, sumptuous and bold, reflecting a place and a people that are distinctly Californian.” Sounds to me a bit like an ad for a cheesy soap opera.

  6. Keasling says:

    It is afterall, what’s kept LL Cool J “Going Back to Cali” since 1987.

  7. Bob Henry says:

    Thanks Bill, for the blast from the past.

    (I had no idea that Buck Henry — no relation — had an acting role on “Falcon’s Crest.”)

    Let me reciprocate:

    (Or maybe you were thinking the 1974 TV movie “Killer Bees” staring Gloria Swanson, with a guest appearance by her buddy Robert Lawrence Balzer? Sorry . . . no B-roll video.)

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