Monday, August 22, 2005

Raison d'etre: a little over done?

I got an email the other day which asked if I had any comments on Christian's page at his "le Chai" website where he discusses his raison d'etre...

Let me start by saying that I enjoy his blog, and also respect his opinion - especially when you take into consideration that this page of his lays down the philosophy for his business. He states that he has tasted and approved each wine that he sells, and that's commendable. Also he states that his storage of these wines are in a temperature and humidity controlled cellar conditions - again, very commendable. He also states that he doesn't use ratings from critics to decide what wines to stock & sell, which could be good or bad...depending on what an idividual is looking for, though I think it supports his other statements fully here.
But while I think it serves to help him define what he's trying to do, it unfortunately reinforces some rather antiquated wine stereotypes.

The raison d'etre problem arises with the phrase that "these very questions run through my head (and often out of my mouth) whenever I drink a wine from the "New World.""...Yikes! can that be any more myopic? And does he never question Old World wines?
Couple that with the line "[France, Germany, Italy and Spain] have set the world standards for all things wine and, as it is my opinion that they also produce the finest wines in the world...", and I start to sense that the implication of the "raison d'etre" is to question why anyone outside Europe makes wine at all.

Further down he states "[a]s far as the New World goes, to be sure there are some very good being wines produced. Unfortunately, they also tend to have big price tags and very small production levels."
Has he never seen the price tags on some of those Bordeaux? Burgundy? Barolo, even? And let's talk about some microscopic production levels...wait a minute!...isn't that usually the call to arms for the Old World guard? That anything produced on a scale where the average consumer can find it must be average wine (read average here as plonk)??
It seems a bit schizophrenic there...the Old World can mass produce, yet if the New World wants to do that they must have sold their soul to the Devil...
Given his earlier position that Europe seems to set the bar in all things wine (with the attendant implication that they produce nothing but good wine - which is just outright wrong), and that the New World has yet to even justify it's existence, it's not hard to imagine that he hasn't really searched out the New World wines before making this statement. Regular readers will be aware of my posts contrary to that position.

And I'd postulate that if what he says were true, then the New World producers would be starving right now - which they aren't by a long shot.
The New World is doing exactly the opposite right now, taking more and more of the Old World producers' market share. In fact, I'll go out on a limb to predict that even if the EU changes the labeling laws to allow for branding by varietal instead of just commune, that the New World will still pull forward. This I think, will be due to the increased intensity of most new world wines when compared to Old World counterparts. Those label changes will help them to compete, but won't equalize the playing field when it comes to ripe flavor development and concentration, areas which the New World pretty much owns outright at the moment.

At the bottom of his statement he finishes with several gems...
That he wishes to "educate my clients and acquire the wines that my clients are and should be interested in." Wines that your clients should be interested in? While it's nice that I can walk into a store & hear someone else's opinion of what's worth drinking, I take offense at the idea that the world needs someone to coddle it through their wine selections. And then "[w]hy does Le Chai exist? Because there has to be an alternative to the sea of mis-information that gets thrown about concerning wine." What misinformation is he referring to - the outdated idea that only Europe can make a decent wine (much less a great one)? That everything needs to be justified - or have a pedigree to be worth anything?

While "raison d'etre" does mean "reason for existence" or "purpose of being", the use of it implies that anything without a known lineage or lofty purpose is to be shunned. What about using a human example - are orphans any less deserving of repsect than England's Prince Charles? I think not, they are both to be evaluated upon their own individual merits...not those images we push upon them.
The idea that wine exists simply for the pleasure of the consumer is lost with his viewpoint. Please note that I think it's ok for people to make up their own minds regarding which wines they like or dislike, but it's a disservice to all to imply that there's nothing worth selling from the New World and the idea that people need to be "educated" to fit that model.


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