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The Chardonnay Symposium. The Wine Blogging Awards.


I’m back from my panel at The Chardonnay Symposium down at gorgeous Bien Nacido Vineyards and man oh man, what a fun time it was. Only in its second year, TCS is growing by leaps and bounds, and is destined to be the premier Chardonnay event in the U.S.A. (Actually, it already is, but you ain’t seen nothing yet!)

After my panel, on oaked and unoaked Chardonnay, people asked me, what was your favorite wine in the flight? And I said, I can’t actually say. There are different ways I taste wine. Tasting at home for review is a very specialized form of wine tasting. It’s how I taste at work, but it’s not how I, or any normal person, would taste wine anyplace else. It would be dreadfully boring to always be formally tasting wine.

For example, at my seminar, the way I tasted was to look for what was best and most exemplary in each wine. So although we had 12 wines, and they were all quite different from each other–grown in different regions, made by different winemakers, some entirely unoaked, some with 200% new oak, some at 13%, some at 16%, some from barrel, some 8 years old–I looked for the best qualities of each. And I found them, because you generally find what you’re looking for, whether it’s in wine, people or life.

On the other hand, when I taste critically, in blind flights, what I’m looking for are faults. I’m seeking to eliminate wines from the lineup, one by one, due to certain flaws. They may be excessive in acidity, or flabby, or too hot in the finish, or too oaky, or not fruity enough, or have raisin tastes, or be too sweet; it could be anything. Last one standing wins. So, just as I said you always find what you’re looking for, if you’re looking for faults, you’ll find them.

This leads to the question, is it better to look for faults or for virtues? The answer is, you can’t say one approach is better than the other. Different approaches are suitable for different purposes. When I’m reviewing and scoring, it’s appropriate to look for flaws. When I’m leading a panel of invited winemakers, each of whom I’m honored to sit beside, I’m looking to find those qualities in the wines that are the topic of the symposium. And let’s face it, the winemakers on my panel are not accustomed to making ordinary wines! Each of the twelve samples was extraordinary in its own unique way.

(Thanks by the way to Ellen for being a wonderful traveling companion!)

The Wine Blogging Awards

Of course I wanted to win Best Wine Blog at the Wine Bloggers Convention. And I didn’t. But I can honestly say that there’s nobody whom I would more have preferred to beat me than Tom Wark and his Fermentation blog.

Tom deserved this award by every measure. He’s easily the most important person in wine blogging history. He not only had one of the first wine blogs, he began the Wine Bloggers Conference and he started the Wine Blog Awards. Those achievements alone put Tom in the pantheon. Tom is to wine blogging as Walt Disney is to animation, as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were to the personal computer. In other words, the creator.

More personally, Tom has been my mentor in wine blogging. Not in the most direct way, but still importantly. It wasn’t Tom alone who persuaded me to be a wine blogger. But he was incredibly supportive of my efforts from the start. When I began wine blogging, Tom wrote one of the first reviews, which he headlined “Steve Heimoff and the Active Mind.” I was so proud of that, because Tom really “got” what it was I was trying to do (as I already had “got” what he was trying to do).

Since then, Tom has been a friend and ally. I like to think he’s had my back, and I know I’ve had his. It was Tom who advised me to blog 5 days a week. I’ve had offline conversations with Tom over the years. I’ve asked him questions and for advice; he’s always kindly answered. He’s asked me questions; I’ve given him my opinions, I hope helpfully. I respect the hell out of Tom Wark (and by the way, Tom is absolutely leading the fight against monopolistic distributors). Like I said, if I couldn’t win this award, there’s nobody on Earth I would rather have seen win. So my heartiest congratulations, Tom. You singularly deserve this honor.

  1. I was sorry to miss this event again and hope to be there next year, to quote Bjork: possibly maybe.

    Well done Mr. Wark! While I cast my all important vote for this here talented site, it is good to see serious people win. It comes as a shock to me that it is a shock to other “bloggers” that they should go about their work in a serious way. Even if your work is humorous or silly, as it has been on this site and others, it should still be approached as a serious endeavor, that is of course if it is your intention to be taken seriously.

    It takes a lot of work to find “a voice” in writing and it should be commended when one does. So to Tom, and Steve, and you other serious writers, well done…seriously.

  2. Wayne, thank you very much. Even when I’m being silly, it’s seriously silly!

  3. Faults or Virtues.

    In this regard Steve, I know you have enough experience to be able to taste a wine, patiently, and let it tell you about itself, without purposely limiting what it will tell you.

    Whether you enumerate and categorize your results by adding wines of virtue or eliminating faulted wines is a personal choice.

    The trick is how do you know that what you have is not a bad bottle.

  4. Carlos Toledo says:

    Steve, how many wines per year do you taste at home when working and out of those 000’s wines you taste how many of them would you be able to stand out, to hand pick if you drank them again later in the year?

  5. Carlos I taste about 4000 wines a year at home, maybe a bit more. And I would never presume to say I could pick any of them out if I drank them again, blind. This is for reasons I’ve explained many times in this blog.

  6. I heard great things about the symposium, Steve. Nice job explaining to folks the bipolar nature we sometimes have to have when tasting a wine. “To like or not to like?” That is often the question we in the biz that also judge/critique wines must ask when we raise a glass.

  7. gdfo, that is a good question. Sometimes if a bottle is obviously bad (corked is the prime culprit) I’ll try a second bottle. Other than that, how am I supposed to know if a bottle is bad or the wine itself is flawed? I can’t retaste every wine twice or three times. So I go by what the bottle tastes like.

  8. Steve, it was an honor to have you join us for The Chardonnay Symposium. Your sell-out panel session was fantastic and gave our guests a wonderful education of the virtues and many approaches to Chardonnay production. I must also say you are one of the most gracious and lovely people I have ever met. Thank you for inspiring all of us to find the virtues in every glass and to understand the complexity and pleasures of Chardonnay. We look forward to sharing ideas for continuing to make The Chardonnay Symposium America’s premiere Chardonnay event!

  9. I was sad that didn’t win any awards, but do agree how much Tom deserved to win not only one, but two Wine Blog Awards this year. He’s an amazing writer and communications strategist. He’s done so much for our industry on so many different levels. And he’s fun to hang out with.

  10. So bummed I didn’t know about the Chardonnay Symposium, I’m very interested in what’s happening with the presentation of the grape from a global perspective. I’m ready for next year though. Hopefully, you’ll be involved again.

  11. Steve,

    Thank you…very much!


  12. Chuck Hayward says:

    “This leads to the question, is it better to look for faults or for virtues? The answer is, you can’t say one approach is better than the other.”

    This may be true but I think that the trade and consumers are greatly separated in this regard. The wine industry in all its guises frequently adopts the “looking for faults” persona, a reason NOT to select a wine for a list or shelf. Consumers are looking for pleasure, they WANT a reason to purchase a wine. It is important to be able to do both, bu essential to know when to leave the overly critical hat on the shelf in the back room, especially if you have direct contact with consumers. The best retailers do this and try to find the virtues in each wine that will get the consumer excited enough to purchase it. Pretty simple when you think about it but hard to put into practice. After all, everyone is a critic.

  13. I’m sorry you didn’t win best wine blog… to me, you should have! I learn so much from your blogging. It’s very appreciated!

  14. Fred Reed says:

    200% new oak on a Chardonnay (or any other wine)? How do they do that?

  15. geez Fred, didn’t you hear about parallel universes?

  16. I share your view of graceful WBA defeat (it helps, as you say, that we’re losing to Tom this time around, though :). Cheers!

  17. Fred: it’s just a way of saying “really oaky!”

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