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A new wine book, and some 23-year old predictions

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Every wine writer eventually has to make the Big Decision: How deep into the tall weeds of technicalities do you want to go?

I’m talking about everything from solar radiation and new vineyard roping systems to row spacing, different types of trellising, spraying, leaf pulling, clones, rootstocks, the chemical properties of grapes and wines, the details of carbonic maceration, cold soaking, skin contact, yeasts—and I’m just getting started! After all, this is why students spend years at V&E school.

Some writers are naturally attuned to these things and actually get a pretty good handle on them, but most don’t. I’m in the latter camp. I know a lot about wine tasting, history and California, but I’ve largely avoided tackling that university-level stuff any more than I had to—as I suspect most writers have. You can get by quite well with a minimum of knowledge in this business, although it does help to have some technical books on your shelves to look stuff up if you really need to know.

I do have a couple books, but recently a publishing company sent me a book I wished I’d always had: The Business of Winemaking, by Jeffrey L. Lamy (Board and Bench Publishing, San Francisco). Lamy, who just died, was an Oregonian with deep roots in the wine business; his hard-cover book is really an indispensable guide to wine writers. Want more information on the distribution system, phylloxera, different kinds of tanks? Look it up in the index. This may not be a book to read yourself to sleep at night, but it is the best source of technical information I’ve seen.

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And, on a different topic, I was doing some Spring cleaning and there in my bookshelf I found the June, 1993 issue of Decanter with the cover story, “What Will You Be Drinking in the Year 2000?” Being a Baby Boomer who was told (by the experts) that by the year 2000 we’d all be using our personal jet-packs to travel, I have an irresistible urge to see how wrong prognostications can be. So what did Decanter say?

Well, they had a bunch of different people make predictions. Here are some of the ones that weren’t quite accurate. I won’t name names, but they are (or were, in 1993) some of the biggest names in the business). One pundit said that Eastern Europe would offer the best value for the money. Didn’t happen, at least not here in the States (although, who knows, maybe it will someday). The same pundit predicted that Bordeaux and Burgundy would be “finished” and would be “buried.” That didn’t happen either. Two very famous personalities said that Cabernet Sauvignon’s position would be challenged by Syrah and Merlot. Wow. Talk about wrong.

A number of the pundits predicted that China would “develop dramatically” by 2000. I don’t claim to have much knowledge of Chinese wine, but I don’t think that in 2000 there was much going on there, quality-wise. Maybe there is today.

One interesting question was whether Champagne would continue to be the world’s best sparkling wine. Some (Hugh Johnson) said yes. But some people predicted that other regions (Australia, California, South Africa, Chile, Moldova) would rival Champagne. I, personally, think Champagne still beats California, but the best of California (hello Schramsberg) is pretty darned good.

Anyhow, it just shows to go that even the smartest people don’t have crystal balls.

  1. Bob Henry says:

    Excerpt from Fortune Magazine
    (February 6, 2006, Page 44)

    “Ditch the ‘Experts’;
    Grading pundits and prognosticators: More famous = less accurate.”

    http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/02/06/8367977/index.htm

    By Geoffrey Colvin
    “Value Driven” Columnist

    You have been a world-class sap for years. Why? For listening to the economic and political forecasts of experts. We in the media have been irresponsible fools for reporting those forecasts. And the experts themselves? Delusional egomaniacs — and maybe even con artists.

    I didn’t always think this way. But I’ve been reading a book that marshals powerful evidence to make this case. For all of us in the world of business, economics, and capital markets — a world that often turns on the judgments of experts — the question is whether we’re brave enough to face these uncomfortable facts.

    The book is “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” by Philip E. Tetlock, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. …

    . . . Experts don’t actually exist. Specifically, experts were no better than nonexperts at predicting the future.

  2. Bill Haydon says:

    The region that will (some might argue already is) challenge Champagne is England–cool climate and chalk. The former is hard to come by in Cali while the latter is impossible to find. And it should be pointed out that Southern England doesn’t have soil “like” Champagne. It has the very same soil as Champagne. The regions split off 60M years ago, and there is still a vein of white chalk that runs underneath the channel and the rest of France connecting the two regions.

  3. Bob Henry says:

    From Wine Industry Network’s “Advisor” email blast (March 28, 2016) . . .

    “First English Sparkling Wines Exported to the USA Sweep the 2016 TEXSOM International Wine Awards”

    http://wineindustryadvisor.com/2016/03/28/english-sparkling-wines-export-sweep-texsom

  4. Bob Henry says:

    For an exemplary explication of soil, see this wine blog [*]:

    “Wine Geology 101: A Book That Needs to Be Written”

    http://gargantuanwine.com/2015/06/wine-geology-101-a-book-that-needs-to-be-written/

    [*Culled from GeologyCafe.com, an online geology course. Creator Phil Stoffer is an ex-librarian and geology professor in MiraCosta College in California.]

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