Dr. Loosen, the famous Mosel vintner, is right to be concerned “that someone will get a flawed bottle of our wine without already knowing how the wine should taste.”
If the customer doesn’t know what TCA is, or can’t tell that a wine is oxidized, it spells commercial disaster. That customer might conclude that the winery sucks, or that particular variety or region, and never buy it again. The solution in most cases to these threats is the screwtop, but I think we may have reached a tipping point in their use. That closure has gotten as far as it’s likely to for quite a number of years.
* * *
I’ve been tasting a lot of red wines, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and blends of the two, from the newish Coombsville appellation, in southeastern Napa Valley. This would be one of Napa’s coolest appellations anyway, due to its proximity to San Pablo Bay; but the fact that the current vintages are mostly 2010s and 2011–two chilly years–makes the wines even more cool-climate than usual. And they are noteworthy, wines for people who don’t like the bigger, fatter, more opulent style found from Oakville to Calistoga.
* * *
More and more evidence continues to mount that that Morgan Stanley report of a “global wine shortage” was bogus. Here’s the latest: We’ll never know what really prompted Morgan Stanley to put out that panicky prediction. But speaking personally, I no longer believe anything that any investment bank says. I think they have only their own pecuniary interests in mind, and don’t care about their impact on the greater society. It’s funny, this is one area where the Tea Party and Liberals can agree. By the way, two days ago we learned that U.S. wine sales have hit an all-time high. But keep in mind that California, which provides about 90% of all the wines consumed in the U.S., is coming off two gigantic harvests (2012-2013). I think our state’s wineries will be able to keep the public’s appetite satisfied.
* * *
Speaking of Coombsville, I reviewed an amazing Cabernet yesterday, Marita’s Vineyard 2007 Select Private Reserve. I’d previously given exceptionally high scores to their wines, so there’s something going on there. I didn’t know anything about the winery, so I looked them up: What a great story. It’s a project of the Montes family, run by two brothers, Bulmaro and Manuel, Jr., along with winemaker Kurt Niznik. This is a winery to watch.
Have a great weekend!
I was pleased to see the California State Legislature approve yesterday a resolution to honor California’s Mexican American Vintners. The Legislature, which is based in the State capital of Sacramento, will hold a reception on Sept. 4 “to honor, advance and recognize the contributions and history of California’s Mexican-American winemakers.”
The event was announced by State Senator Noreen Evans, a Democrat who represents much of the North Coast’s wine regions. Sen. Evans also chairs the Senate Select Committee on California’s Wine Industry. Most if not all of the 14 family winemakers who will be honored are members of, or helped form, the Napa Sonoma Mexican-American Vintners Association.
It’s all too rare that California officially gets to give a shoutout to our Mexican-American vintners. Although there aren’t many of them at this time–in the sense of owning their own wineries–anyone with the remotest familiarity with the California wine industry understands that it would completely collapse without the efforts of thousands of Mexican and Latino employees, from assistant winemakers to field workers. So, in a sense, these workers also are being honored, which is only right.
And it seems Hispanic Americans are learning to love wine! Yahoo Finance reported this morning that “annual wine consumption among Hispanics would increase by nearly 50 million cases over the next 20 years. That would put annual wine consumption by U.S. Hispanics at nearly 95 million cases…”.
* * *
Is it any surprise that “drinking two to seven glasses of wine a week lowers the risk of becoming depressed by 32% on average…”? “Their hearts shall be glad as with wine” says the prophet Zechariah. Isaiah advises men to “drink [wine] in the courts of my sanctuary” while praising the Lord. Haven’t we always known that wine chases away the blues?
* * *
The 2013 vintage so far looks like a great one. For all the talk about how hot it’s been, it really hasn’t been that toasty. The harvest looks to be early, but that’s because of the warm, dry winter. Spring and summer by contrast have been mild, but not hot. We don’t even seem to be gearing up for the usual Labor Day heat wave: The forecast is more of the same: dry, cool nights, warm days after the fog lifts. If this weather continues for the next 45 days it will be an incredible vintage. But anything can happen.
* * *
I’ve been following the Gary Vaynerchuk vs. New York State Liquor Authority brouhaha the last week or so. The SLA apparently has banned Gary’s wine store, Wine Library–the biggest wine retailer in New Jersey–from sending wine to New York customers. This is regrettable, as it’s state interference in the free exchange of goods between willing adults, which is wrong. By the way, whatever happened to Gary? Once he gave up his Wine Library T.V. show, he seems to have disappeared.
Have a great weekend!
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
Do you care which wines Obama served British Prime Minister Cameron at the White House? I don’t. But some muckraking journalists do. They’re making a big fuss over the secrecy because the President’s staff is all mum’s the word. Even BloombergBusinessWeek has waded into the pseudo-controversy, as if this were another “Gate” scandal akin to Watergate. People, get a grip. We have more important things to worry about than which wine was poured and how much it cost.
* * *
In a related absurdity, the inevitable has finally occurred in China, as concerns over fake Bordeaux mount following the bubble-like price explosion of Lafite, etc. Why nobody saw this coming is beyond me. China bootlegs everything else of value; why not fine wine? When I was at Screaming Eagle on Wednesday we had a long talk about counterfeit wine. The management of Screaming Eagle, understandably concerned (the wine sells for $750 a bottle on the mailing list), described to me in some detail the steps they go through to avoid it. I’ll skip some of the details, but let’s just say that every bottle is “tagged” in the same way my dog, Gus, has a microchip in him that’s exclusive to him.
* * *
I’m seeing a lot of mold on the 2010 Pinot Noirs, which are now rushing in for me to review. In my Vintage Diary that year, I quoted, on Oct. 28, an article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that said “Last weekend’s rain added to an already miserable season. It spawned mold…Damaged fruit was left hanging on the vine.” I’ve encountered it particularly in Sonoma Coast and Carneros Pinots.
* * *
Yes, the price on California wine is going up. We all know that. It’s due to several factors: light crops due to the weather, a lack of new plantings due, in part, to the recession, and increased demand. This article describes how it’s playing out in the Central Coast, but the same is true of the North Coast. That doesn’t mean consumers won’t be able to find inexpensive California wine. They will, but it will increasingly come from Central Valley grapes. Central Valley grapegrowers are aware of this, and are reacting accordingly. They’re planting new vineyards, improving quality and are no longer content with being known as a source of inferior jug wine. As a result, “the wine grape industry in the Central Valley has strengthened,” according to the Porterville Recorder.
Don’t forget, the Feds require only 75% of a varietal wine to be made from the named variety. That means 24.9% can come from someplace else. Next time you drink a nice coastal California wine, remember that factoid.
Finding the right balance between tourism in wine country, while protecting the privacy of residents, is never easy, especially in California, where these things always tend to get politicized and people get passionate on both sides.
I remember the brouhaha over the Napa Valley Wine Train, the tasting room ordinances, the protesters in Knights Valley upset with the late Jess Jackson’s plans there, even the worries of the remote Anderson Valleyites that their rural back country is being developed too fast.
Now, down in the gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley, there’s another ruckus, this time concerning the plans of the Larner family to “develop a winery, convert a structure into a tasting room, and host a series of special events,” according to this article in the local paper. [Note: Monica Larner, a member of that family, is the Italian editor for Wine Enthusiast, and a good friend.]
I don’t see these issues as either/or propositions. Surely it’s possible to allow wineries to do a little expansion, while taking the fears of neighbors into consideration. Each side has to give a little to get a little. It’s the American way.
* * *
I’ve been arguing for years that Napa Valley is not getting warmer, nor is coastal California as a whole [“coastal” defined as about 40-50 miles from the shoreline and inland]. Actually, it’s getting colder. We just went through another bizarrely chilly, wet Spring and Summer in 2011, the seventh year in a row that threw vintners a curveball. So it’s puzzling to me to see yet another story on how Napa must learn to adapt to global warming, this one from NPR’s website on Nov. 3.
It quotes Andy Walker, probably the most respected viticultural scientist in California; he’s at U.C Davis. Prof. Walker doesn’t actually make the statement that Napa is warming up. That’s implied by the writer. He does mention varieties like Barbera and Nero d’Avola that could do well in a warmer climate, but I would suggest that Napa Valley is not the place to plant them, even if they were marketable, which they’re not. Napa Valley rolled the dice on Cabernet and Bordeaux reds, and it’s worked quite well, wouldn’t you agree? Don’t mess with success, as the old saying goes. Where I would look to plant these warmer climate varieties, as well as other southern Mediterranean varieties including the Port grapes, is in hot areas like Temecula, which have tried to compete, unsuccessfully, in the continental climate sweepstakes of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. They might as well try something different. Napa Valley will continue to produce some of the greatest Cabernets in the world for the rest of the 21st century (barring some unpredictable catastrophe). If I were growing grapes in Napa, I wouldn’t lose any sleep worrying about whether I should rebud the Tokalon Vineyard to Barbera.
* * *
Smirnoff’s Nightlife Exchange Project is a fascinating instance of how to run a wildly successful social media campaign to promote an alcoholic beverage. So successful, in fact, that you could use it as the poster child for what 99.9% of wineries will never be able to do, and hence of little informational use to them.
Yes, if you can hire Madonna as a collaborator, it’s easy to generate 1.8 billion online impressions across six continents. (Memo to Madonna: Will you help to promote steveheimoff.com? If not, I’ll ask Lady Gaga. Beyonce already turned me down.) But I can’t agree with Michelle Klein, Smirnoff’s digital expert, that there’s a take home lesson in Smirnoff’s campaign for anyone besides big corporate companies like Smirnoff. She talks about “linking digital and physical engagement” as the “sweet spot for marketers.” Well, of course ordinary people are going to vie for the chance to dance with Madonna on her next tour! That’s their reward for being one of those “impressions.” But how is an ordinary winery supposed to link the digital experience with a physical engagement, in quite the same way? Says Klein of the campaign: “It’s about people…It’s the spirit of a team that loves to take risks that makes it happen…the magic comes from the content that the consumer generates.” What does that mean for the average winery, which barely has the time much less the budget to lure consumers to their websites, Facebook page or Twitter feed? If I’m running a family winery and want to jump more deeply into social media, I read Klein’s statement and go, “Duh! What the heck does that mean to me?” Take risks? Spirit? Magic? Forget the gobbletygook, just tell me what to do!
Beringer to Latinos: Buenas dias!
It’s always been a matter of concern to me that wine consumption in America is overwhelmingly by white people. Ethics aside, if wine is only being enjoyed by Caucasians it’s bad business practice. In California, whites are already less than half the population. Why don’t more Blacks, Asians and Latinos drink? Cultural reasons, is why. Black people like to drink, but their alcoholic beverages of choice tend to be cognac and mixed drinks. Asians seem to prefer beer and rice wine, if they drink alcohol at all. Latinos, too, like beer and liquor.
The wine industry has been very bad at reaching out to these communities. Partly it’s because the industry has no coordinated marketing effort. It’s also relatively poor, compared to the beer and spirits industries. And maybe the wine industry didn’t want to seem like it was pandering to specific ethnicities, the way certain brandies do in Black communities with billboards that are frankly sexual in tone.
It’s nice to see that wineries like Beringer at least are finally starting to take Latinos seriously.
Another blast at critics
This time it’s from blogger Craig Camp, who reminds us again that wine “is indeed a social event, it’s what should be for dinner not ‘fodder for criticism.’” Wine and food should be about sharing and socializing, not scoring. “Critics rank wines and taste wines against each other, which is a cruel thing to do to wine of subtlety and grace.”
Well, of course there’s truth in that statement. Reviewing wine does reduce it somewhat to the status of a Miss America beauty pageant. But I don’t see why enjoying wine with friends, on the one hand, and critiquing it are mutually exclusive. A person can fit both comfortably into his life. Besides, millions of people enjoy reading wine reviews. They’re a helpful way to choose which wine to buy. And remember too that it’s not entirely true that “Critics rank wines and taste wines against each other” exclusively. I do do that, but I also write articles and books about wine, so I’m an educator, not just a critic. I think we critics are often easy targets for a kind of anti-elitist bashing that is a form of elitism in itself. Still, I commend Craig for reminding us that “Wine appreciation is about appreciating wine, more accurately about appreciating life.” True dat!
Does anyone care about Bordeaux anymore?
Mike Veseth had an interesting post the other day called “Is Bordeaux still relevent?” He wrote, “Relevant to those of us in the United States, I mean. It used to define fine wine, but now we don’t seem to buy much of it – the momentum’s shifted to Asia. It’s just another ‘brand’ to many Americans, and not one that is especially successful.”
I completely agree. Nobody I know is particularly interested in Bordeaux. Oh, the Napa winemakers are (to the extent they can afford it), and some über collectors are. But few others. Most of the cool restaurants I go to don’t even have Bordeaux on their wine lists anymore, or, if they do, it’s just for a token. Just as well. We Americans were mesmerized by Bordeaux for a few centuries. But time marches on.