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Wine Blogging

Spoofulated: Wine Blogging Wednesday

wbwlogo It’s Wine Blogging Wednesday and hosts Erin and Michelle of The Grape Juice Blog have chosen the letter “S”, with a tip of the hat to Sesame Street, as the topic of the day. Immediately I thought of one of today’s hottest wine topics: Spoofulation.

Alice Feiring rages against the machine. Natural wines are the only wines. The problem is, of course, is that no one agrees on what natural wines are. There are natural, organic, biodynamic and sustainable growers and winemakers, but not one definition of what is natural wine exits. Except, of course, for Alice’s and she is sure she is right. The term that has arisen to describe over-manipulated wines is spoofulation, but is spoofulation the opposite of Alice’s version of natural wines? I don’t think so. There are many wines that would not meet Alice’s requirements that are clearly not spoofulated.

spoof in spoof out What is spoofulation? That now ingrained term, to me, more than anything else, refers to wines of excess: excessive concentration, excessive oak, excessive alcohol and minimal terroir and varietal character. Spoofulated wines are wines that could come from anywhere and any variety. By my definition that does not mean that un-spoofulated wines have to be “natural” or “organic” or “biodynamic”, but without a doubt it appears to help. The reason I say they don’t have to be any of those things is because I have tasted many wines over the decades that not only did not employ these disciplines. but never heard of them. There are many wines from the 60’s that are pretty damn good and I assure you they never thought of such things. They worked with what they had and what they knew and used things in their vineyards that would cause outrage today.

Spoofulation, much like the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography, is something I know when I taste it. Spoofulated wines throw balance over the side in a headlong pursuit of points. It is an approach I can understand as wine producers have to make a living like any other farmer. Points from the Pontiffs sell wines to hoards of consumers who drink wine more often without food than with it. The point of spoofulated wines is to grab enough attention in a ten second taste to get a good review and to prevent the consumer from having any more thoughts about the wine, so they can return to their conversation. Spoofulation cannot be defined as “big wines” or “high alcohol wines” or anything other than wines that erase any individual character in pursuit of the lowest common denominator. Spoofulation is to wine what religion was to Karl Marx.

Spoofulation is so much a part of today’s wine vocabulary that a debate has begun on the etymology of the term. Joe Dressner, the importer, whose portfolio is spoofulated wine-free, recently reported on the birth of the term spoofulation on his blog, The Wine Importer, where he recounts the debate over how the word was coined by Harmon Skurnik of the extraordinary importer and distributor Michael Skurnik Wines in New York and Michael Wheeler, formerly of Michael Skurnik Wines and now of that extraordinary importer and distributor in New York, Polaner Selections. Please be prepared to keep your tongue firmly in your cheek as you read this post.

In the last few years we have welcomed a new word beginning with the letter “S” into our wine vocabulary. Now we have to work on defining it.

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Image above from Appellation America

Italy Guarantees Brunello

Italy ‘guarantees’ Brunello - decanter.com

The recent “scandal” in Brunello di Montalcino has forced the Italian government to guarantee that all Brunello wines hitting the American shore are made from sangiovese and sangiovese alone. Funny, I thought that’s what the DOCG did.

The hypocrisy of the TTB in such matters is truly sad. Under the guise of consumer protection, the TTB continues to make the American market a mess with reams of confusing and contradictory regulations. Their wasting time on a matter the Italians were clearing handling on their own only shows how out of touch with the world of wine they are. Anyway, anyone who has gotten a look at the true majesty of Italian bureaucracy, which may be the most complex and convoluted in the world, would realize that the piling on of an American bureaucracy was redundant at best.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of this scandal is a new blog in English that comes from the heart of Montalcino itself. Alessandro Bindocci, who makes wine alongside his father Fabrizio at the outstanding Tenuta Il Poggione in Montalcino, has launched a blog that truly tells the story of making wine in Montalcino. The Montalcino Report gives you an insiders look at the news and vintage from people who really know what is happening. Anyone interested in the wines of Montalcino should subscribe to this blog.

Another important blog for those who, like me, are seriously smitten by Italian wines is Franco Ziliani’s VinoWire. Also in English, Ziliani, along with American writer Jeremy Parzen, author of one of my favorite American blogs Do Bianchi, offers up to the minute information on the entire Italian wine industry. Those that can read Italian will find Ziliani’s Vino al Vino blog another excellent resource.

Blogs like these really show how the Internet is changing the way you get information. If you follow these blogs and others like them the wine news you get from traditional print media will be old news by the time it arrives in your mailbox.

A Little Sad

mondavi It was a little sad. Our host pulled out a bottle of 1992 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon and poured it around the table and we all immediately raised our glasses to the memory of Robert Mondavi, who recently passed away. The wine was lovely, everything a mature cabernet should be with a firm elegant character, a wonderful cigar box nose and that long, linear, intellectual finish that defines the variety at its best.

The sad part was not the passing of Mr. Mondavi, who lived a full and meaningful life into his nineties. It's hard to think of someone who lived a fuller life and no one left a bigger imprint on the American wine industry. The sad part was a wine blog post I read earlier in the day that grumped away about all the coverage of his death, wondered what the big deal was all about and why he should care. Writing a wine blog and not knowing about Robert Mondavi is like writing a blog about American history without knowing who George Washington was. How can a wine writer that doesn't understand the immense impact of Robert Mondavi provide meaningful commentary on the American wine industry? They can't and that's a little sad.

Understanding the sublime art that great wine can become is more than pulling the cork and giving it points. In every bottle of California wine that achieves greatness there will always be a bit of Robert Mondavi. To not understand that is to not fully know or appreciate that wine. It is the human spirit that raises wine from a beverage to an emotion.

We can be assured that there have been thousands of corks pulled from treasured old bottles of Robert Mondavi's wines in the last week and tens of thousands of glasses raised in his honor and memory. I can't think of a better tribute.

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Gracious Gary

While Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV may seem a bit frenetic on stage/screen, his personal responses to recent criticisms have not been and are to be commended. His responses to criticism here and on PinotBlogger have been polite, thoughtful and even humble. His reaction to criticism has been just the opposite of Robert Parker’s tirades. This type of real communication can only make wine criticism and the information available to consumers more diverse and inclusive.

I have criticized Gary for giving wine points (no big deal as I criticize  all critics for that) and a generalization, but I repeat a point that I have made many times that Gary is to be complimented for his passion and ability to bring wine to new consumers in a way that entertains rather than intimidates.  Let’s all hope that this conversation not only continues, but grows.

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Pinot Grigio Sucks? That's Vayrrogant

While watching a video feed from a Twitter buddy and fellow blogger, I was once again exposed to the snap judgements of Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV. The jarring and uniformed nature of his words shocked me as he ranted to the group in front of him, “pinot grigio sucks”. Can such flippant comments reflect someone who really cares about wines and the people that make them? I can assure you that winemakers like Jermann, Felluga, Borgo San Daniele and so many others, including many producers in Alsace and Oregon, don’t think gris/grigio sucks and, in fact, make lovely wines from this variety.

There are several reasons I take issue with Gary’s attitude. First is probably my age, as a 50+ year old person I could be missing something in his style that is appreciated by younger wine drinkers. On this level I’ll give the benefit of the doubt back to Gary. On the second point I’m not so prepared to give ground. This kind of off-the-cuff statement only insults and degrades the work of winemakers, people he professes to admire and reveals a lack of knowledge and experience.

It is interesting that Vaynerchuk made his “pinot grigio sucks” statement in a disingenuous attempt to pump up his take on greco di tufo, a variety that like pinot grigio, produces mostly forgettable wines. The difference of course is that while pinot grigio has a huge market that draws oceans of industrial grigio to the United States, greco di tufo is unknown to Americans so only the better wines reach our shores. Something tells me that Vaynerchuk has spent little, if any, time in Northeastern Italy, where many producers are crafting wonderful wines from pinot grigio. The same goes for Campania, where a lot of ordinary greco di tufo goes down the throats of uncritical tourists. Perhaps if he had actually visited the vineyards and cellars he would have an deeper understanding of these varieties and the people that make wine from them.

If you are going to make a living on the work of others you should at least respect what they do.

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Mother Nature's Son

wswa We think of wine as such a natural and beautiful thing. It’s an artisanal product that brings a connection to nature to all those that ponder and enjoy it. Wine is Mother Nature’s Son.

Unfortunately, only a few measly percentage points of total wine production has such idyllic origins. The vast majority of wines produced are soulless industrial products, which are appropriately sold and marketed by an equally heartless industrial system of distributors. This is the middle tier of the so called “three tier system. The executives of companies that mass produce these industrial wines and those that mass distribute them move from beverage industry to beverage industry seamlessly. It doesn’t matter if they’re producing or selling Coke, Rock Star, Budweiser, Gatorade or Rutherford Hill (all companies that they slip in and out of as they move up the ladder): boxes are boxes and their job is to move them. They accomplish their mission with ruthless efficiency.

It is these cool predators that control the means by which wines go from winemaker to consumer no matter the size of the production or quality of the wine. The billions of dollars they generate selling vodka, rum, tequila and mass wine brands fund one of the dirtier lobby groups out there, the W.S.W.A. They take their millions and buy politicians who deliver them legislation that gives them market franchises not unlike your local cable company enjoys and you know how well that goes.

As you might imagine, the needs of small wine producers and fine wine consumers are buried under this mountain of sleaze and political corruption as their small voices are not likely to be heard by politicians being wined/boozed and dined in sky boxes at big time sporting events.

The 2005 Supreme Court ruling that would supposedly finally allow small producers to ship directly to consumers throughout the nation was met with a great celebration by wineries. However, what seemed a blessing soon turned into a nightmare as state after state enacted restrictive legislation that finally made the situation even worse than the bad system it replaced. Funded primarily by liquor profits, large distributors and mass liquor/wine companies have used their muscle to make it more difficult than ever for some tiny winery up in the hills of California, Washington, Oregon or other state to ship a few cases a year to a consumer that loves their wine, but would find it impossible to buy in their own market. Mind you they could care less about such wines and wouldn’t bother to ever sell them, but their paranoia drives them to seek total control. As hard as it seems to believe, producers making millions of cases of wine and marketing them through ultra-sophisticated marketing systems perceive some guy with 5 acres of pinot noir, an old tractor and some used tanks in a rutom warkn down barn picking his grapes in the rain and cold as some kind of threat that must be crushed.

Through all of this mess there has been only one clear voice out here trying to protect the interests of consumers and small producers. That voice belongs to Tom Wark, who exposes these issues through his blog Fermentation and as director of The Speciality Wine Retailers Association. Anyone craving access to the wines of small, passionate winemakers should visit these sites and sign up for the SWRA newsletter. Like the muckraking journalists of the past, Wark is exposing the political corruption and under the table money that is preventing you from buying the wines you want without having to wait for some distributor decide for you what you should be drinking.

Fine wine and food may be Mother Nature’s sons and daughters, but there is nothing about the system that gets wines from producer to the consumer that’s natural.

Top Ten List

ls_top_ten_logo With the writer’s strike Letterman fans have been without a new top ten list for weeks. For them here is a Wine Camp top ten list.

Ten ways to tell if someone is not a wine terroir-ist (in no particular order):

  1. They purchase Veuve Cliquot
  2. They shop with The Wine Spectator top 100 list in hand at Chambers Street Wine Merchants
  3. They make a newbie post of their wine tasting notes complete with points on The Wine Therapy Forum
  4. They see Mark Squire’s point
  5. They subscribe to The Wine Enthusiast
  6. They think Eric Asimov is a wine-science fiction writer
  7. They have Yellow Tail Shiraz Reserve in their cellar
  8. They’re paranoid about the Wine Gestapo
  9. They confuse Mondovino with Mondo Cane
  10. They invite Alice Feiring to be the moderator at a horizontal tasting of Loring Pinot Noirs.

Some Required Reading

There is so much good wine writing and reporting going on these days that there are few excuses for anyone not to think for themselves when it comes to learning about wines. The best wine writers challenge you to think rather than tell you what to think. Best of all, it's all free. Here are some insightful examples from Lyle Fass and Thor Iverson, two writers always ready to challenge conventional wisdom:

Thank God for Neal Martin by Lyle Fass at Rockss and Fruit

Where Critics fear to tread by Thor Iverson at oenoLogic

Sabbatical

Please excuse the short sabbatical. Writers sometimes need to take breaks to deal with real life. Starting next week, I’ll be back on a normal schedule. Thanks for your patience.

American Wine Blog Awards Finalist

finalistlogo.jpgI’m pleased and flattered to announce that I have been selected as a finalist in The American Wine Blog Awards, which were created and are hosted by Tom Wark of Fermentation. If you would like to vote for the award winners (hint, hint), please click on this link, which will take you to Fermentation to mark your ballots.

It is particularly rewarding to me to have been singled out for the “Best Wine Blog Writing” award as it is the pleasure that writing brings me that led me to create Wine Camp in the first place. So vote now and vote often and my sincere thanks to those who nominated me and to the finalist selection committee for finding my work worthy of this honor.

The American Wine Blog Awards

wineblogawards.jpgTom Wark not only produces a fine wine blog, which is clearly the definitive source for reporting on anti-wine legislation throughout the country, he has become the dean of wine bloggers as our best promoter and spokesman. Tom has now launched The American Wine Blog Awards to recognize how powerful this new medium has become and to celebrate these new voices spread throughout the country. I invite you to visit Tom’s Fermentation Wine  Blog to nominate and then vote on your favorites in the following categories:

Best Wine Blog
Best Winery Blog
Best Wine Podcast or Video Blog
Best Graphics on a Wine Blog
Best Review Wine Blog
Best Single Subject Wine Blog
Best Wine Blog Writing

The Burgundy Report

“1999 Michel Gay, Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Serpentièrs - Medium-plus ruby-red. The nose is forward and deep but to my taste unfortunately pruney - though there is a core of red fruit. The wine is concentrated and well textured - there’s plenty of wine here, ripe and sweet but again there’s that rather blocky, pruney element here in the mid-palate, some raisin too. As said, there’s a lot of wine here, unfortunately I don’t like it very much… Rebuy - No”

Burgundy-Report

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From this pithy, straightforward prose you can tell here is someone both knowledgeable and passionate about Burgundy. If you’re into Burgundy and not subscribing to Bill Nanson’s Burgundy Report Blog you are out of the loop. Between the Burgundy Report and Allen Meadow’s Burghound there are no better resources for American consumers of Burgundy. What is amazing is that The Burgundy Report Blog is still free and connected to the another resource that is absolutely necessary for any Burgundy collector, The Burgundy Report Website.

It's Crush Time

sunrisesthelens.jpg

The harvest is upon us, so forgive me if my posts are fewer over the next several weeks. Nature has blessed us with warm sunshine at harvest and a bumper crop of of beautiful grapes. That means we are harvesting as fast as we can, which makes our work days long, often starting at dawn and ending at midnight. What that means to my blog is that most of the time my hands are too sticky for the keyboard! Please follow my harvest updates on my Anne Amie Vineyards Cellar Blog. and, of course, I’ll be writing here as often as I can.

In addition to my duties in the cellar, I am the official harvest cook here at the winery. Each day I prepare lunch and dinner for our harvest cru of twelve. I relish this chance to play chef and feel that the meals we give the crew should reflect our goal of making great wine. My theory is that a well fed crew does better work and giving them real meals instead of sandwiches is just one more example of our dedication to quality in everything we do. 

One of the benefits of my harvest season pre-dawn “commute” to work are the spectacular Oregon vistas as I pass over the top of Chehalem Mountain. Pictured above is Mt. St. Helens (right) and the Cascade Mountain Range as the sun just breaks. 

There are few things more exciting or tiring than harvest at a winery. All of our hopes and worries during the year are concentrated into a few weeks and now we will see what Mother Nature gave us.