As part of this blog’s continuing battle against neoprohibitionism — which I define as the use of fearmongering tactics to discourage even the moderate consumption of alcohol — I bring to your attention this misleading commentary from something called the Athlete Resource Center, written by a guy named Dominic. You can read it yourself, but basically, it warns athletes to completely shun any alcohol at all, if they want to avoid the following problems:
- inability to synthesize proteins
- loss of memory
- mood swings
- sleeping disorders
“Your coach wouldn’t be too happy if you can’t remember plays, or even participate due to poor grades, because of your alcohol use,” the column warns jocks.
What’s so objectionable about this “advice” is that it utterly fails to distinguish between the moderate use of alcohol, and an excessive consumption that can, in fact, lead to the above problems. Nor does the article refer, even obliquely, to the well-established health benefits of moderate wine consumption. This is not a message that’s credible to athletes or anyone else. Reasonable people will realize that a little wine or beer at dinner is not going to cause anyone to forget a play the next day, or “hinder you from absorbing and utilizing nutrients you need,” or cause “dire consequences on your individual performance, as well as on other team members.” This hyperbole is reminiscent of the old Harry Anslinger scare tactics about marijuana, when he was the nation’s drug czar back in the 1930s. Here is a gory description he wrote about a young “marijuana addict”:
“With an axe he had killed his father, mother, two brothers, and a sister. He seemed to be in a daze…he was pitifully crazed. The boy said that he had been in the habit of smoking something which youthful friends called ‘muggles,’ a childish name for marijuana.”
I have always considered myself an athlete. I was a longtime competitive runner, earned my black belt in traditional Japanese karate (Wadokai), and continue to enjoy weightlifting and heavy aerobics. Being in peak physical and mental shape has always been a centerpiece of my life, and so has been the enjoyment of wine. Far from wine interfering with my athletic pursuits, it has balanced them. I completely reject the notion that the moderate use of alcohol is in any way a conflict with the athletic life.
The writer, Dominic, seems to be a smart, caring and thoughtful guy. If you go to his Reading List, you’ll find some great books there. I did email Dominic to ask why he doesn’t allow even the moderate use of alcohol, and his answer was, in part: You are correct, I do not make any distinction between moderate and excessive alcohol use. However, moderate use has been shown to negatively impact athletic performance. Then he resorts to the slippery slope argument: Also realize that for many athletes, and non-athletes, there is no such thing as moderate use. One drink becomes two, two becomes three, three becomes ten. To me, this is like the Mormons saying that same-sex marriage will inevitably lead to marriage between men and dogs. I mean, come on. Here’s a partial list of famous ex-athletes who own vineyards and/or make wine: Tom Seaver, Joe Montana, Mario Andretti, Peggy Fleming, Greg Norman, Mike Ditka and Larry Bird. I don’t know if they drank during their performance days, but I don’t believe any of them would be selling dope to active members of their former teams.
More Obama fallout: Happy days are NOT here again
[From the Danbury, CT New Times] The New Milford Republican Town Committee has announced that their wine and beer tasting, scheduled for today (Friday), is POSTPONED until January. Any ticket holder may request a refund by calling Katy Francis at (860) 354-7137.
Dept. of Oops!
Hacks? Flacks? Floozies? The negative descriptors were flying in comments made by readers after my Oct. 27 post, So what did I learn at the Wine Bloggers Conference?, on my Wine Enthusiast blog. I didn’t even mention public relations, but midway through the extensive comments (26 and counting) the drift turned toward PR, and some controversial attitudes were revealed.
It started with Lenndeavors’ remark that the WBC was “a bit too PR heavy.” I, too, had noticed the presence of a large number of PR people at the conference, both self-employed and those working for big wine corporations, but my reaction wasn’t a negative one. Instead, it didn’t surprise me at all. Any PR professional who could have gone to the WBC, but didn’t, isn’t performing her job very well.
“Joel” rose to PR’s defense by pointing out the same thing: PR people need to understand what the blogosphere is, and so they come to events like the WBC to see it up close and personal. Jo Diaz, who runs her own PR firm in Sonoma County (and who also blogs), agreed. Jo self-deprecatingly used the term “hack.” [From the German; related to our word “hook.” Colloquially, a person hired to do routine, dull writing, which you'll never find here!] After that, things headed south. Mia Malm (who, last I knew, did PR for Robert Mondavi) felt it necessary to defend her profession. So did Tia Butts, who I believe also works for Mondavi. (Mia and Tia, forgive me if I’m wrong.)
I did get the impression, both at the WBC and in its aftermath, that there was unease among some bloggers at how many PR people came to the event. If this was true, it must have been largely restricted to younger bloggers, who may not understand the role that PR professionals play. In fact, PR people are a vital part of the gigantic machine that rolls the wine industry forward every day. Don’t get me wrong: as I said in my Credibility seminar (and have said many times elsewhere), PR people will use us writers if they can, and if we let them. But then, we writers use wineries and winemakers for our needs, don’t we? I’ve never blamed PR people for what they do, and I rather admire them. It’s their job to get publicity for their clients, and if they’re good, they’ll devise ways of doing it that are aboveboard and intellectually defensible.
Yes, there are times I’ve been frustrated with the way some of them just spin and spin, like the Republican attack machine against Obama. And yet, PR people can be a writer/critic’s best friend. They’ve been enormously helpful to me in all sorts of ways, without ever expecting any favoritism when it comes to scores or reviews for their clients. (In fact, one of the most important things PR people do is explain to their clients how the industry works, which in turn makes writers’ jobs easier.) I couldn’t imagine the wine industry without PR people, and I’m happy to let them do what they’re paid to do: Pitch stories to me. So let’s be kind to PR people. Far from being flacks, hacks or floozies, they’re true professionals with a big job, often working under trying circumstances.
Here’s a list of some top winery PR companies. I’ve worked with most of them.
Decanter reported today that Britain’s Wine & Spirit Education Trust and its sister organization, The Wine & Spirit Trade Association, have launched 2 new programs to plug a “skills gap in the industry.”
Here in California (and I suspect in the rest of the states, all 50 of which now have bonded wineries) there are plenty of “skills gaps” and we might benefit from studying how the Brits plug them.
There are 2 kinds of skills gaps in the wine industry: Winemakers (or winery owners) all too often are lousy businessmen, and people on the business side (wholesalers, distributors, sales) are sometimes quite deficient in their actual knowledge of wine.
I’ve seen these twin, related phenomena ever since I started writing about wine. I used to be amazed at how somebody would start up a winery with no business plan, no understanding of how to sell, and not even an appreciation of what kinds of wine the public wanted. You’d think that would be less so these days, but it’s not. I could name some tremendously wealthy individuals who lost fortunes because they just didn’t have a clue.
Then there are those folks on the business side. When I first started meeting distributor and sales types, I was stunned to realize they could just as easily have been peddling widgits as wine. Wine was just another commodity to them; they were concerned with SKUs and margins and such, which, of course, they had to be, but to someone like me — who had a passion for wine — many of them seemed almost crude.
The new British initiative is designed to address these very skills gaps. The business people will learn more about wine appreciation from the likes of Jancis Robinson, while the wine people will learn more about business from the likes of Constellation’s European chief, Troy Christensen.
Here’s the money quote, made last Friday by WSET’s chairman, Ian Harris: “Some people have a strong FMCG [Fast Moving Consumer Goods] background, but little understanding of the peculiarities of the wine business, and others have strong wine knowledge but relatively undeveloped business skills.”
America needs something along these lines or, if our huge country is too big for a single organization, then California needs something like it. The Wine Institute is more of an advocacy and public policy organization, lobbying at state and Federal levels. Although their work (which covers everything from sustainability, export issues and Pierce’s disease to direct shipping and advertising standards) is important, it doesn’t really address the issues that WSET/WSTA does.
My old friend, Sid Goldstein, died last month, too young at the age of 61. I knew him during the many years he was Fetzer’s PR top gun. Sid was a great gourmet, and his book, The Wine Lover’s Cookbook, is one of the best food-and-wine pairing books ever. Sid will be missed.
I went to a tasting today at Epic Roadhouse, the newish Kuleto restaurant with the stunning view of San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge. The tasting was of some current releases and barrel samples of various wines from a very well known Napa Valley Cabernet house, which I’m not going to identify no matter how much you hope I will.
I’ve given very high scores to this winery’s Cabs and have a great deal of respect for them. I’ve walked their vineyard in the hills above Napa Valley and witnessed how perfectly tended it is. The wines are extraordinarily fine and, by Napa standards, not very expensive. So it’s not like I have an axe to grind here. Just a point to make.
At one point the head of the winery explained how they used to vineyard-designate their top Cab made from their estate vineyard, but no more, because (and I paraphrase) “We want to make the best wine we can every year, and sometimes that requires blending out the estate vineyard with grapes from other vineyards.” Fine; I get that; I agree. Then we moved on to another wine, a barrel sample of a new proprietary blend. That wine, he said, will be exclusively from the estate vineyard, and will be the top wine it can produce, capturing the essence of the vineyard’s terroir. They all were very excited about it, he added.
Well, whenever I hear about a block or barrel selection from a vineyard that’s exciting and will capture essence, etc., my reporter’s skepticism is aroused. Sounds like language to justify a super-high price. So I asked, “How much will this new wine cost?” The guy hesitated, then said, “We haven’t set the price yet.” But if it doesn’t cost more than the regular Cab, I’ll buy you a bottle at full retail.
Think about the contradiction the guy made. First, he said they reserve the right to blend out the estate vineyard to make the best wine. Then, in the next breath, he said a wine that’s likely to be their most expensive is going to be exclusively from the estate vineyard, in order to capture its terroir.
Hello? Is it just me, or are these two statements mutually exclusive?
Well, actually, yes, if you’re talking about sheer quality. But no, if you’re coming from a marketing and sales point of view. Because the truth is that a gullible public is happily willing to pay more for a block or barrel selection, or something else that suggests exclusivity, than they are for a wine that was blended for balance, which may have a more general appellation. Which gets us back to the title of this post.
In medieval times a Danse macabre was a morality play to demonstrate the allegorical idea that we all must die, even the most virtuous among us. I use the term here to suggest that you might have the greatest vineyard, the best-tended grapes, the most talented winemaker, the best state-of-the-art winery; but Death, now in the figure of a marketing manager, is going to lead you to the same place as everyone else: the afterlife known as The Market, where everything — truth, contradictions, lies, terroir — is the same.
My San Francisco tasting group met again on Monday. It was a warm day in the city, with blue skies and a temperate breeze from the north, and outside the window the Bay Bridge and the waters of the Bay sparkled under the sun.
All we knew of the wines was that they were Cabernet Sauvignon, or Bordeaux blends, from around the world, and from multiple vintages. Our host, Gary, had set up eight glasses, but one of the members, Chris, brought a ninth wine, so this was added at the last minute.
We always rank the wines in order of preference, then get a group ranking, but this time, we agreed beforehand that rank would be of lesser importance than the discussion of terroir that would follow. We were each asked to guess the country or region of origin of the wine as well as its approximate age. Of course, if anybody wanted to go out on a limb and guess the producer, that was okay, too.
In blind tasting, I proceed this way: Visual, aroma, taste. You start with broad-brush conclusions that are no more than guesses, really, but quite often that first impression can be your best guidance. Too much thought can be crippling. Right off the bat, I could see that the wine Chris brought was far and away the palest in color. It was orange at the rim, or meniscus, and I judged it was at least 15 years old on that basis alone.
It would take too much space to go through each of the wines, but here are some highlights. Chris’s old wine was in fact the 1990 Capezzana Ghiaie Della Furba, a Super-Tuscan blend of Cab, Merlot and Syrah. It was an instructive lesson in the appreciation of an older wine, starting out delicately perfumed and spicy, but after 30 minutes it began to dry out, and the alcohol showed through. My top wine of the flight — in fact, the group’s top wine by far — was another Italian: the 2001 Rampolla Vigna d’Alceo ($200), a Tuscan blend of Cabernet and Petit Verdot. It showed impeccable balance even in the company of the other wines: Penfolds 1994 Bin 707 ($110), 2002 Rudd, 2000 Lynch-Bages ($240), 1995 Montelena ($150), 1997 Togni ($225), 2001 Spottswoode ($150) and 2002 DuBrul “Cote Bonneville,” a Yakima Valley Bordeaux blend ($125). All the wines were quite good, although the Lynch-Bages was a little heavy and so was the Togni. But that Rampolla made me understand, or re-understand (for it’s a lesson you can never absorb enough), the importance of things like balance, harmony, elegance and class in the evaluation of wine.
There were 2 other take-home lessons from the tasting.
1. How much a complex wine can change in the glass. For example, the Montelena grew dramatically better after an hour of airing and warming up. This confirmed to me what a pity it is that I — and most other critics — can offer only a shapshot of a wine, an appraisal of how it is at a particular moment in time. Someday, I’d like to write about how a wine changes in the glass, which is really the way we drink our wines.
2. How terroir is harder to determine than it used to be. Once upon a time, there were huge differences between Tuscany, Pauillac, Napa Valley and Barossa Valley. That’s less so now, as the International Style (or Parkerization, or call it what you will) marches on. I thought the Rudd was a Left Bank Bordeaux, although I nailed Spottswoode and Togni as Napa Valley. And I was gratified when Chris explained that his Italian wine, which I identified as an old Classified Growth Bordeaux, had been planted by Lafite’s vineyard manager, from Lafite cuttings.
The Atlanta Constitution has an interesting article called Is beer becoming the new wine? that caught my eye, because it comes on the heels of that Gallup Poll that said how beer has opened up a double-digit lead over wine as the favorite beverage of American alcohol drinkers.
Now, wine lovers are justifiably proud of the gains their favorite beverage has made over the decades, but attached to this pride is always a little apprehension that what we all worked for so hard could be snatched away as quickly as, well, Lehman Brothers’ profits. America is at heart not a wine-drinking culture like Italy or Spain or France, but a beer and hard spirits one (or a tee-totaling one, but that’s a different story). Ale and moonshine are what our country was built on (Thomas Jefferson’s penchant for Yquem notwithstanding), and for all wine’s popularity, you just have to look at the way (mainly) Republicans refer to its effeteness to realize that a lot of people look at wine as something drunk in elite, affected San Francisco, not the heartland. Hell, when Hillary tried to prove during the Primaries she had cojones, it wasn’t an amusing little Pinot Grigio she sipped, but a frosty mug of brewsky.
You chug, girl!
Beer and wine have always been on opposite sides of the great divide in America’s social wars, with beer laying claim to the working class — and that Gallup Poll suggests that, in tough economic times, the working class’s collar is a little bluer and more frayed than usual.
So for the Atlanta Constitution to suggest that beer is the new wine is a little scary. Slate had a similar story last year, and NBC’s Today morning show even had a segment on “beer is the new wine” in which an editor at Food & Wine made food-pairing suggestions. In that Constitution article, they said how the chef at a popular restaurant was pairing rainbow trout stuffed with smoked oysters and bacon over sweet potato hash and crispy fried leeks with a German-style malt called Twain’s Autumnfest.
Now wait a minute! Beer can’t have it both ways. It can’t be blue collar, C&W and chewin’ tobacco one minute, then turn around and be the twinkle-toed partner for some fancy pants chef’s expensive, precious entree the next. Sarah Palin won’t stand for it, and you don’t want to get on gun-totin’ Sarah’s bad side, especially with that heartbeat-away thing we may have to deal with pretty soon. I have it on reliable authority that the only food Todd Palin would ever eat with beer is pickled eggs and moose jerky.
Sorry for the Sarah segue! Sometimes I just can’t help myself. All I wanted to say is that beer isn’t a threat to wine. Ask any winemaker, especially during harvest, when they bring the suds in by the tanker. Beer, wine, it’s all good. I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.