Wednesday Wraparound: United Airlines, Spicer and the nazis, that horny Alabama governor, and Trump’s “agenda”
Where else you gonna get the truth except here?
We’re all talking about it, the United Airlines incident in which the Chinese-American doctor was bloodied by private security guards (not cops, as some allege), and while I loathe United Airlines, I do wonder this: There’s something in our national psyche that loves it when big corporations get egg on their face. Now it’s United’s turn, but not that long ago it was Wells Fargo’s, or Exxon’s, or Enron’s…you get the idea. Each was caught doing something really bad or stupid.
Why do we take such delight when the mighty fall? Is it schadenfreude? I think it’s more than that. It testifies to some deep vein of mistrust towards corporations most Americans have, on both the Republican and Democratic side, which is sad, since corporations (so the Supreme Court says) are us. We’re so used to them trying to rip us off, to bamboozle us, to fool us through B.S. advertising, or by withholding important information, or making it almost impossible to find in “disclosure” statements. Sometimes it seems like the only reason corporations exist, besides making money, is to screw the little guy. I’m sure that most corporate bosses–who are the real elitists, not us coastal liberals, as Republican allege–would disagree, but that is the feeling these CEOs have perpetuated. All the more reason for them to be very, very careful what they do. Because if they do something evil, we will find out. And they will suffer.
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And now we’re on to the latest episode of The Spicey Show, this ridiculously incompetent, crooked propagandist’s idiotic statement that Zyklon B gas (not to mention the auto exhaust fumes with which Germans killed hundreds of thousands of partisans on the Eastern front) was not a chemical. True, within hours, Spicey “corrected” his statement to say that he meant the Germans had not dropped chemicals from bombs in the air on their own people. Well, true dat; but really? That’s his excuse? Much as I love Spicey for being the embarrassing face of the imbecility of this regime, his expiration date is long past. I don’t think there’s a chance in hell Trump can possibly rehabilitate himself in the eyes of most Americans—not after all the crap he’s said and done. But keeping Spicey on as his chief spokesman is just making things worse for him. On the other hand, who the heck would take the job? Ron Ziegler’s dead.
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We come now to the latest Republican sexual freak who was caught lying and had to resign. Of course, I’m talking about Alabama governor Robert Bentley, who joins a long list of Republican worthies, including evangelical preachers, Senators, Governors, Congressmen and other high officials, who ran on “family values” platforms, but who were later found to have the values of a dog in heat. (And curiously, the Wall Street Journal didn’t even report on Bentley! But then, that’s the same company, Rupert Murdoch’s company, that let Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly get away with sexual harassment for years.) This is not to excuse Democrats who have done the same sort of thing. But there’s one big difference: Democrats don’t run on “family values.” Democrats have too much respect for people’s intelligence; most people know that “family values” is a lie that Republicans make, in order to pander to that basket of deplorables—the essence of the Republican Party—so many of whom are adulterers, wife beaters, divorcees, who sire children out of wedlock, who fly the flag and have crêches in their yards at Christmas, who denounce and occasionally beat on gay and trans people, who hated on Obama because he was Black, who hire cheap Mexican labor and then demand their extradition. Quite a tasty little slice of the electorate, no? But that’s the crowd the Georgia governor crawled into bed with. Now he, too, he been busted as just another sleazy Republican “family values” con artist.
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Finally, from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, page A4: “President Donald Trump has told his senior advisors to prioritize his agenda over infighting as the White House focuses on what accomplishments it can tout during the president’s first 100 days in office.”
Senior advisors: “What agenda is that, Mr. President?”
Trump: “I don’t know. You figure it out.”
Senior advisors: “We can’t figure it out without you telling us, Mr. President. That’s why we’re fighting each other.”
Trump: “You know. The Wall. The Muslim ban. Obama’s wiretaps. Healthcare. Taxes. Hillary. Whatever.”
Senior advisors: “We can’t tout any of those, Mr. President, either because they’ve been failures, or lies, or because you haven’t told us what you want.”
Trump: “Ask Jared. I’m going to Mar-a-Lago to play golf.”
The Drinks Business magazine is reporting huge unsold stocks of Bordeaux from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages–the latter two decent, with 2010 exceptional according to most critics. Things are so dire, apparently, that the chairman of Justerini & Brooks, one of London’s top wine merchants, called the dust-gathering stocks “the last chance saloon for the Bordelais.” Distribution chains are “struggling to cope”; supplies “didn’t even get to the market as the merchants and negociants didn’t buy any. In fact, it didn’t get out of the chateau door.”
This chart shows how bad things are. It’s hard to read, but basically, all those lines on the right represent unsold inventory.
This raises interesting questions, beginning with the obvious: Has the Bordeaux car run out of gas? One hesitates profoundly to reach that conclusion concerning the most famous wine region in the world. Bordeaux has survived every catastrophe you can name, from wars and invasions to phylloxera, human plagues and financial Depressions. It would be imprudent to the highest degree to even hint that such a long run at the top is over.
Prices of the most famous wines are, of course, ridiculous, but there are plenty of good red Bordeaux in the $40-$60 range, not just Medocs and Haut-Medocs but from prestigious communes like St.-Julien and St. Estephe. So it’s puzzling to me why more people aren’t buying them. I like a good, dry Bordeaux as an alternative to the big California Cabs and Merlots I also enjoy. I’ll peer into my crystal ball and make this prediction: Don’t count Bordeaux out. Ever.
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Have you ever been to the Asti winery? Probably not, unless you had business there, because it’s not open to the public (at least, it hasn’t been whenever I’ve gone). But it really should be, for it’s an interesting blast from the past in the history of California wine.
As I wrote in my first book, A Wine Journey along the Russian River, the settlement of “Asti” was founded by a man as colorful as Count Haraszthy, Andrea Sbarbaro, who established the original Italian Swiss Colony winery there in 1880, on the banks of the Russian River just south of Cloverdale. In the 1960s, ISC went into a period of decline; the Asti facility deteriorated into a producer of jug wines. Treasury Wine Estates acquired the 536-acre property some time ago, but has now put it on the market, as part of its cost-cutting practices. I hope that whoever buys Asti will love it and restore it as a tourist destination, in addition to whatever winemaking they do there. It’s a lovely place to wander about, with old stone structures, and is frankly perhaps the greatest vantage point from which to learn about and appreciate the history of Alexander Valley, especially its Zinfandels.
Poor Santa Ynez Valley. First they took its western half away when they made the Santa, err, Sta. Rita Hills appellation. Then they took the eastern side away with Happy Canyon. Then they tore out a hunk of its heart with Ballard Canyon. Now the cannibals are attacking other vital organs with this proposal to establish a Los Olivos AVA.
Santa Ynez Valley is disappearing before our eyes.
I jest, of course. It’s actually a good thing. I always liked the Santa Ynez Valley appellation. I recognized its importance a long time ago, and gave it props by reviewing wines that my competitor reviewers wouldn’t. Gave them high scores, too, for the most part.
In hindsight, I can see that Santa Ynez Valley needed to be sub-appellated, although I didn’t particularly think about it at the time. So welcome to the club, Los Olivos. Now let’s see if we can tell the difference between your Syrah and, let’s say, those of Ballard Canyon. That’s the point of an AVA, isn’t it?
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What ever happened to that idea of requiring wine bottle labels to include all ingredients? Once Ridge started doing it, there were rumors it was going to be mandated—or that the public would demand it. But nothing happened. I, myself, am not in favor. I think wineries can put that stuff up on their websites, but not on the front or back label, please!
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It was bound to happen. Now we have water tastings—for $50!
I guess it will be poured by hydrologists, the H20 equivalent of mixologists. Pretty soon we’ll be seeing fashionable water bars springing up in the neighborhood.
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Gus and I hit the road today for a brief trip. We’re headed up to Jess Jackson’s beloved Alexander Mountain Estate. The weather will be fine: sunny, dry and mild—unfortunately, given the drought. People are still keeping their fingers crossed, hoping for a wet March and April, but right now, it doesn’t look good.
Lots of news to comment on in the last 24 hours. First, and saddest, is the news that the legendary David Hirsch, of Hirsch Vineyards, was badly injured last Saturday in a tractor accident that occurred in his vineyard, out on the far Sonoma Coast.
I first met David when I was doing research for my 2005 book, A Wine Journey along the Russian River, in which he figures prominently. The structure of that book was to profile Sonoma’s wine country by taking a year-long “journey’ along the Russian River, from its source in the Mendocino highlands all the way out to the Pacific, where the river meets the ocean at Jenner-by-the-Sea. That necessitated an exploration of the Fort Ross-Seaview winegrowing region, and David was kind enough to give me his time (and his wine). He was a gentle and patient teacher. I wish him a speedy and full recovery.
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News also about an old friend, Sam Sebastiani, whom I haven’t seen in many years. I had thought him retired, living in Nebraska, but then came this announcement that he’s started up a new winery, La Chertosa, his third brand since Sebastiani Vineyards and Viansa.
Sam, like David Hirsch, was very kind to me, back when I was a cub reporter for Wine Spectator. The magazine sent me to cover the opening of Viansa, out on the Sonoma-Carneros flats, where Sam and his then wife, Vicki, had built a marvelous Tuscan-style villa for their winery and tasting center. The opening day was plagued by a horrible, driving rainstorm that turned the dirt paths into swampy slogs of mud; but all was saved by a certain poignant drama, as Sam’s mother, Sylvia, from whom he had been estranged in one of those famous intra-family feuds that seems to pop up every once in a while in the wine business, showed up to help him celebrate. It was very sweet to see that reunion, especially since I liked Sam (and Vicki) a great deal. Both were first-class humans, and it’s nice to see Sam back in the business.
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Another commentator weighs in on the topic of whether or not wine writers “need qualifications.” This time, it’s from a Brit, who writes for an amusing online pub, The Dabbler. Henry Jeffreys doesn’t specifically come down on any particular side of the question, so I will: wine writers need no formal qualifications, and as proof I will offer the facts that neither Bob Parker nor Jim Laube possesses any sort of certification, nor did I when I was a wine critic. And I don’t think the absence of a diploma hurt any of us.
However, we got started during an era when no one wanted to be a wine writer, so there wasn’t any competition. Today, of course, lots of people want to be wine writers—make that paid wine writers—and, as a result, there’s a huge amount of competition for very few available slots. Hence the proliferation of certifying organizations, almost too many for me to keep track of. Were I just starting out, I might well try my hand at some sort of diploma. It can’t hurt, and can only help, but this certification mania is one indicator of what a Big Business wine writing (and wine service in general) has become. In California alone, wine is a $52 billion [with a “b”] industry, in terms of its impact on the state’s economy.
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Finally, my friend Paul Gregutt has posted [on Facebook] that David Schildknecht has quit The Wine Advocate. Don’t know what that means, if anything—just worth noting.
Every day I get dozens of invitations to wine tastings in my email in-box, most of them for charities. (This is mainly because I have a Google alert for the word “wine.”) It’s quite amazing how the wine tasting format lends itself to fundraising. Is it because people who love wine are naturally more charitable? Or because, once they get a little boozy, they become more generous? Anyhow, the wine industry doesn’t get enough recognition in this regard.
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I’ve been looking into the intricacies of sustainable wine growing and winemaking lately, and am frankly developing an appreciation I didn’t have before. For years, I suffered from MEGO syndrome whenever discussions arose of sustainability, organic, biodynamic, etc. It’s not that I thought those practice and beliefs were bad, because I didn’t. It’s just that I didn’t see what they had to do with wine quality. I still feel that quality is not particularly connected to your vineyard and/or winery practices, but as the challenges of climate change and energy provision become more acute, it makes more and more sense for wineries to do whatever they can to be good citizens of the world.
This seems especially true here in California, where the drought is really the biggest story in quite a while. As the Desert Sun, down in Palm Springs, reported today, “Californians should brace for hotter temperatures, reduced water supplies, longer droughts and more wildfires in the future,” a prediction based on the the administration’s release of a major new report on climate change.
I personally watch the to-and-fro over this debate with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I can understand the skepticism held by some people who feel that elements in the scientific and political communities are exaggerating the threat of global warming, or at any rate over-stressing man’s contributions to it. This skepticism is heightened by the sort of freezing cold, snowy winter that much of the country east of the Rockies just endured.
On the other hand, the fact that the majority of climate scientists—up to 97 percent, according to some reports—not only believe in climate change, but “agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities,” resonates with me. I happen not to be particularly suspicious of expertise, so the fact that so many knowledgeable people, who have studied the field of climate change for years, are united in telling us something is meaningful to me. All you have to do is take a look at the snowpack in the High Sierra this year to realize that (a) it’s minimal and (b) the chickens are going to come home to roost one of these days in water-hungry California. I talk to a lot of winemakers and grapegrowers and can tell you that in many instances they are completely freaked out by the lack of water. Not everyone is in the same boat: some wineries have good reservoirs that will get them through another dry summer. But many don’t. Fortunately, we’ve gotten through this Spring (so far) without a major freeze, and with the passage of every day, it seems less likely that there will be one before summer comes in all its fullness. But then, of course, we’ll have heat waves—and wildfires—and all the other strange fruits of California summer. If there’s not enough water to deal with those things, there’ll be trouble.