Monday, February 28, 2005


Okay, one of my New Year's resolutions was not to bash Riedel anymore. I made it (nearly) two months....

I've posted before on Riedel and before and before and its clearly a pet peeve of mine, but I couldn't resist another jab when I read Jim Laube's recent column. (I'd post a link, but the Spectator charges for everything now, so I'll just use excerpts):

"If you want to make all of your wines smell and taste better, there's an easy solution. Make sure you're using top-flight stemware.

Good glasses help bring out the best in any wine. While it's true that wine, even great wine, can be enjoyed out of any vessel, you owe it to yourself to splurge on at least a couple of upscale glasses to taste what I mean....At home, I use Riedel and Spiegelau glasses (which you can easily order online), and to simplify matters I've narrowed it down to two--the Vinum Bordeaux and Vinum Chardonnay/Pinot Noir glasses. I've yet to find a table wine that didn't perform well in one or the other.

But at my office in Napa, for official Wine Spectator blind tastings, I use an old favorite. It's not very pretty, but it's effective. It's a bowl-shaped, stemless glass with a small punt at the bottom, and an indentation for the thumb on the side. It's called The Wine Taster Glass from a line of stemware known as les impitoyables. I always use this glass, and have for decades. ........with its narrow opening and design, it does highlight wine aromas better than any glass I've used. That's why I've stuck with it for all these years."

Do you mean to tell me that the Wine Pope (or is he a Bishop and Parker is the Pope? I can never remember....) doesn't have a complete set of Riedel glasses for each varietal?!? How can he be missing the subtle nuances that a specially-crafted Zinfandel glass can give him? Think of how much he is missing as the Zin spills willy-nilly from a Vinum Bordeaux glass onto all the wrong parts of the tongue! And this abomination, this "les impitoyables", its not made for any varietal at all! The heresy! And from the Pope/Bishop himself?!?!?

(The preceeding paragraph may have contained sarcasm, read the links above to be certain).

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Sideways and Wall Street

Constellation, the only remaining publicly-traded US wine company (of any signifacance) managed to get on the Pinot/Sideways bandwagon, despite having virtually no Pinot brands that are "Sideways worthy" (they're selling Byron, the only contender). They use Blackstone instead (one of Constellation's largest brands), although oddly, they credit Dennis Hill as a Blackstone winemaker but get no mention of Constellation anywhere in the interview.

Blackstone seems an odd choice given that their Pinot program is relatively new and mostly unsuccessful compared to their MERLOT sales! Blackstone is to Merlot what Kendall-Jackson is to Chardonnay and what Ravenswood is to Zinfandel. Seems an odd choice to interview a winemaker who makes nearly 1,000,000 cases of Merlot about his Pinot Noir program that makes only 16,000 cases.

Bottom line, will Sideways do for Pinot what "60 Minutes" did for premium red wine? While I think the attention is great, I predict it will be short-lived (on a broader scale) as consumers find many of the mediocre Pinots out there and give up on the fickle varietal rather than investing some time to find quality, consistent producers. A shame really.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Hottest brands of 2004

Wine Business Monthly has named its hottest brands for 2004:

1. Red TruckCline Cellars (Sonoma, California)
2. Cartlidge & BrowneGreenfield Wine Company (American Canyon, California)
3. Sevin Deadly Zins Michael David Winery (Lodi, California)
4. Oliver WineryOliver Winery (Bloomington, Indiana)
5. Angeline Wines Martin Ray Winery (Santa Rosa, California)
6. Rock RabbitPurple Wine Company (Graton, California)
7. Three Thieves BanditThree Thieves (Lodi, California)
8. Sofia MiniNiebaum-Coppola (Rutherford, California)
9. Screw Kappa Napa Don Sebastiani & Sons (Sonoma, California)
10. Graceland Cellars Signature Wines (Oakland, California)

Their 2003 list included:

1. HRM Rex-GoliathSmith & Hook and Hahn Estates Winery (Soledad, California)
2. McManis Family Vineyards(River Junction AVA, Ripon, California)
3. Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery(Sonoma, California)
4. Castle Rock Winery(Palos Verdes Estates, California)
5. Black Oak Chateau Diana (Healdsburg, California)
6. Jewel Collection Jewel Wine Company (Lodi, California)
7. Tin RoofMurphy-Goode Winery (Geyserville, California)
8. Three Thieves(Lodi, California)
9. Jest RedHambrecht Vineyards and Winery (Healdsburg, California)
10. J Garcia Wines Allied Domecq (Geyserville, California)

Although the 2004 list is limited to "small" brands, its clear that the trend that started in 2003 is continuing. Brands that have some personality or somehow strike a chord with consumers are continuing to see strong growth. Clever packaging that makes a bottle stand out on the shelf is more important than ever. What will be interesting, however, will be to see which of these brands will still be around after 2005. Many of the wines on both the 2003 and 2004 lists have been supplied from cheap, excess bulk wine that the producers of these brands have been obtained for below-normal prices. As this oversupply continues to "dry up", conventional thinking says that it will be difficult for many of the producers to find wine at prices that continue to make it economical to continue to sell their wines at these cheap prices.

However, non-conventional wisdom says that one thing that we've learned from the Aussies is how to make better wines from lesser grapes. Traditionally, wines made from Central Valley grapes went into boxed wines, White Zin, Woodbridge, etc. However, many of the new brands may be able to use modern winemaking techniques to continue to supply their brands.

Time will tell.....

Thursday, February 24, 2005

News from Bordeaux

Well, the Minister hasn’t gone hog wild & accepted all that was put on the table, but at least he’s stated that the Ministry will evaluate the CIVB proposal for more autonomy.

This is still only one small step toward revamping the French wine industry and making it competitive again. Having doubled the financial incentive for vignerons to remove uneconomic vineyards is great! So far they’ve “encouraged” a mere 200 hectares of their 10,000 hectare target – and hopefully this will help that total along. The fact that Bordeaux will be removing only ~8% of it’s vineyards will have some positive impact on it’s current glut…although I fear that those who won’t take the incentive are those who planted vines of marginal quality in the first place, only looking to make a quick buck trading on Bordeaux’s reputation.

The process of distilling off 500,000 hl ~ 1 million hl may buy some time for the wine industry, but I have a feeling that the flip side of the story from Cognac has been unreported as yet…
Having 13 to 26 million liters of white brandy hit their industry will have some significant impact upon their markets (unless the gov’t is potentially looking to turn it into fuel additives & disinfectants). That's 220,000 to 440,000 additional barrels, or 5.6 to 11.2 million cases just to put it into perspective! Granted it's not from their appellation and will be bulk alcohol base (non oak aged), but still it should have some impact. For all that Bordeaux celebrates in this process of reduction, Cognac and other distillers should be wary.

But the real hope for France lies in being able to alter their marketing (new Vin du Pays Bordeaux), and with greater ability to change the blends they bring to market. The proposal by the CIVB (I think) indicates that some majority of the producers feel that they should be able to make decisions about their blends (and viniculture generally) without interference from the national government. Some changes can be made to their viticulture, but there’s more reluctance on that part (other than ripping out vineyards of lesser quality), as well as some conditions which are imposed by nature, traditions, & their climate.

DECANTER article also features this quote at it’s end:
'The current crisis stems from France's over-centralised, inefficient regulatory system, rather than foreign competition,' says Feredj. 'Bordeaux has a long history of selling wines abroad. We're in difficulty now not because we don't know how to sell wine, but because we're not able to adapt our products to international demand.'
Foreign competition is most definitely part of the crisis. Needing to update their selling & marketing of wine internationally is also part of it.

However, not acknowledging these last two points is a BIG problem.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The biggest wine company you've never heard of

Trivia time - You can probably name the first (Gallo) and second (Constellation) largest wine companies (by volume) in the US, but can you name the third largest?

Bronco Wine Company, maker of Two-Buck Chuck? no
Diageo, the largest alcohol-producing company in the world? no
Sutter Home, kings of White Zin? no
Kendall-Jackson, with dozens of brands and millions of cases of Chardonnay? no
Robert Mondavi? no, and not even before the buyout
Beringer? no
Allied-Domecq with huge brands like Clos du Bois, Buena Vista, etc? no
Korbel, a dark horse with huge sparkling volumes? no

Out of guesses?

The third largest producer in the US is The Wine Group. This is a truly "stealth" company, it doesn't even have a website! Wine Group sells over 24,000,000 cases of California wine each year with brands like:

Corbett Canyon Canyon Canyon Canyon*
Glen Ellen
Foxhorn (Their version of Two-Buck Chuck)
Franzia (Their money machine)
Mogen David Kosher wine
Tribuno Vermouth

They also have a few imports like:
Austin Vale (Australia)
Casarsa (Italy)
Morasutti (Italy)

In 2004 they bought Golden State Vintners, a production company that they acquired mostly to have excess production capacity. They paid over $100 million for a bulk wine supplier that produced over 12 million cases each year (for other people's brands - see note below). This will continue to give them substantial access to continue to supply their products.

Once part of Coca Cola, (yes, Coke was once in the wine business - they even owned Sterling!) The Wine Grop was formed to buy out Franzia Brothers. More interesting trivia - Franzia (as in the bag in the box) is not owned by Fred Franzia of Bronco wine Company, rather his namesake brand was sold to The Wine Group at its formation.

The Wine Group has continued to use its low-end high-volume products to produce lots of cash for additional acquisitions (Concannon, Golden State and Glen Ellen most recently). Now that Gallo is starting to pick up a few brands like Bridlewood and Barefoot, look for The Wine Group to make some purchases this year. My guess is that they will stay in the sub-$10 price category and that they will pick up some of the negociant** brands for themselves.

* (One of the few truly memorable bits of wine marketing. Probably 6-7 years ago, their commercials were running on the radio and everytime they said "Canyon" it would echo.....I still remember it. Simple, effective, and unfortunately, unusual).

** (Negociant brands are brands made without a physical winery home. Golden State Vintners, for example, serviced a number of these. GSV sold the wine to them, bottled the wine, applied the labels and the Negociant company picked it up and handled the sales process. No investing in vineyards, tanks, etc. Nice, but with the oversupply ending, potentially a risky place to be in the coming months. Examples include Barefoot, Smoking Loon, Rex Goliath)

Millenial Marketing: Not a Bad Attempt at All.....

Props to Constellation for a nice looking package aimed at the 21-35 crowd. Well done even if it looks like a blatant rip off of "Red Truck".

Let's see if it works...

Saturday, February 19, 2005

US wine exports at $794 Mil !

2004 exports from the US wine industry (95% of the volume is Californian) have hit a new high - $794 Mil!

2003 figures have been reported as $643 Mil (Wine Institute, 4/04) and $621 Mil (Press Democrat, 2/05)…either way, this is a substantial increase from the ’03 values. 26~28% depending on which figure you want to use. It’s fantastic growth since the posting of $196 Mil for 1996, and even more impressive when compared to the anemic $34 Mil from 1986! Still, it accounts for only ~20% of the total US wine industry’s production.

Certainly, much of the credit must go to the larger California wineries efforts wishing to be in the global market.
With the dollar still weak, and the reputation of US (California) wines continuing to rise, we should see an even rosier 2005 export figure.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bordeaux awakens....

I’m tempted to repeat that line from the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!:
"I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve"…
Bordeaux changes)

Now that the French may return to a system which allows them more freedom, they may become more competitive. This would do wonders for their industry, and as the second meeting between Delpeuch and the French Minister of Argiculture is happening today, we should have more news very soon as to the outcome.

And for the life of me, I’ll never understand why listing the varietals in your blend was illegal in France to start with…

(BTW – the Quote at the top has been attributed to Adm. Yamamoto right after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. In fact, it was created by the writers of Tora! Tora! Tora! and was never uttered by Yamamoto…who incidentally wasn’t even with the attack group when they went to Pearl. History shows that he was quite happy that the attack had succeeded, and wasn’t concerned about the retribution for it until months later when the tide had turned against Japan – if you’ll pardon that pun.)

Huge is SNUBBED!

I can’t believe that they didn’t invite me!

(Seguin-Moreau Napa revamps)

It’s just as well, the last time I’d talked with a rep from their cooperage the guy lit into me because of the company I worked for at the time.
We’d changed our orders a little (I’d had nothing to do with it), and had asked for special service. While the products that had been delivered were excellent & were exactly what was asked for, I guess somewhere along the line this guy got some twist in his knickers and decided that since I was in front of him he’d let it all out…
Another of their reps realized what was happening & ushered the guy out of my sight, but I left without ever hearing any word of apology for his tirade.
But that’s ancient history now.

Seguin-Moreau continues to produce top notch barrels and has continued to research new barrel technology, and while they aren’t the most progressive company in that category have produced some impressive ideas. Most notably in my book is the introduction of the U-stave barrel. I’m still a fan of their Merpins and Chagny barrels, and probably always will be.

I’ll take some exception to their comment that the wood used to make these new barrels from the 200 year-old trees with the “medium-fine” grain allows more oxidation of the wines. Maybe if what they’re comparing it to has very loose grain it’s true…

Overall, the greater oxidation comes from barrels with finer (more closely spaced) grain; wood from slow-growth trees (trees with very narrow growth rings in other words). And last I’d heard most all of the wood sources in France were administered in some way or another by the French Ministére de l’Ecologie et du Développement Durable (Serge Lepeltier is the current Minister of that organization), so I’m not that surprised by their admission the wood is from a National forest in France. No! Really?! Well, duh…
The question is which one? Troncais? Allier? Nevers?

The Roman cask replica could be interesting…
Wooden barrels were first used by the Celts and Gauls, and were later adopted by the Romans as they were much more durable than clay containers. The size of it would be equivalent to a volume of 3 of their “culleus” measures (each being around 120 USgallons) or roughly 60 Roman amphorae.

I might risk a trip there just to see that.

(*note – years ago the coopers at the S-M facility in Napa were primarily Scottish, and had worked in the Scottish Whisky barrel industry before coming to America. Just thought that was an interesting point…as whisky barrels are made and toasted so much differently than wine barrels.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"Low Carb" wines...

And so it begins.
I’d warned that this was coming in my post on wine labeling. Maybe Brown Forman should start reading Huge to stay current.

The story link below is that Brown Forman is marketing some wines as “low carbohydrate”. (By the way, eating Lard straight from the tub is also low carb…but that alone doesn’t make it any better for you!)

C’mon people!…It’s just more marketing…
The total calories are what you want to watch, as well as that portion of your diet which is based on fats.
Otherwise, go get some regular exercise - we could all use more of that anyway (it can’t hurt, can it?) - and eat what you like.

The alcohol content of a dry wine is what drives it’s caloric value – and it’s ~13% of the total volume (BF's "One.4 Chardonnay" lists as 13.5% Alc). Without dramatically dropping the alcohol you’re not going to see any fantastic changes in the total calories per serving. The average serving of wine has fewer calories than a candy bar…and is arguably far healthier. (
UC Berkeley Wellness Letter 8/04)

Again, let’s face it – if you have to become that concerned about the amount of calories you’re consuming from wine…well, then you’ve got a bigger problem to worry about…

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Another Buyout Rumor

For the last week, the wine press has been reporting that Allied-Domecq may be a takeover target by Pernod Ricard. A-D owns brands like Clos du Bois, Callaway, Gary Farrell (which they just bought last year), Mumm, Buena Vista, Jerry Garcia, Etc. Pernod Ricard is a French company that bought the spirits brands of Seagram's when that split up a few years ago (Diageo got the wine brands). Pernod does own a few wine brands (Orlando-Wyndham and Jacob's Creek of Australia primarily) but they make the vast majority of their profits from spirits (Wild Turkey, Jameson's, Chivas Regal, Seagram's Gin/Vodka and their eponymous anise spirits, Pernod and Ricard). What is interesting to note about this potential acquisition is that the expected price for Allied-Domecq is US$17 billion. Compare that to Robert Mondavi, one of the largest, best known wine companies in the world, which sold for US$1.3 billion and you have a sense of the true scale of spirits in the world compared to wine.

Although some have criticized me for lamenting wine's lagging consumption rates, "its not a race" they say, I have to continue to lament the sheer size of the spirits industry compared to wine. For health reasons alone I would rather see people drinking more wine........

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Tides Wharf (Bodega Bay)

The Tides has been a Johnson family favorite for years. Fresh seafood dinners have played a part in our family celebrations since the time that the Johnson Grandparents first brought me out there back in the 60's.

I'm sad that I now have to drop them a few notches in my list of special places. It's not that the food has dropped in freshness or flavor, or selection, or the fact that they still have decent prices and good serving sizes & fact I find it as enjoyable as ever.

It's the wine I ordered the other night. No it wasn't corked, oxidized, reek of barnyards, acetic acid or anything else that was out of place with it. It was the glass it was served in...

I've gone on for some length that the stemware that wines are served in shouldn't make or break the experience with that particular wine. And that different glassware isn't needed for each varietal of wine to fully enjoy it.
Again - that wasn't the problem here either...

The problem was that after going there for 4 decades they've downsized their wine servings. When Mrs. Johnson and I ordered wines by the glass we were expecting our normal full sized pours. What we got instead was what could only be called a small glass with what was ~100ml of wine. Meager by what we had received in the past.

We exchanged some glances at each other, and both shrugged lightly. Everyone else we saw was getting wines ordered by the glass in the same small stemware. Then our meals came & we started to dig in. A couple was seated next to us and we overheard the man order some Sauvignon Blanc, and "we'll take the whole bottle" he told the waitress.
When she returned with the wine - Lo! and Behold! - there were the old full size wine glasses! Apparently, people who get wine by the glass are not worthy of the full size glasses...and surely the meager pours that we got would've looked pretty small in a full size glass as well.

Sadly, the prices for the "on demand short pour" were still full price.
$7.00 for a small pour of Dry Creek Zin?? If it was only 100ml (my estimate), then they are getting 7.5 pours to the bottle - so that Dry Creek Zin would amount to $52.50/btl!!

I like the food, service & ambiance, but next time I'll bring my own bottle, because the corkage has to beat that bottle price...

Friday, February 11, 2005

Greek wine: 2002 Naoussa (Boutari & Son)

Naoussa by Boutari

Got the idea to try some Greek wines from Tiffany B. @
The 2002 Naoussa is a dry light bodied red wine from J.Boutari & Son., made from the Xinomavro grape with ~12% Alc. [
Xinomavro link]
Balance was slightly tannic, with a light astringency in the finish, and medium length. Some light cherry and plum, and very light berries. No Brett aromas. The back label states that the wines were aged for 1 year in oak to produce the “characteristic bouquet”, which was light. Barrels weren’t brand new as there’s not really much oak in the glass (and that’s fine as the wine would be overpowered by more oak). Don’t think I’d let it age too long either (the tannins & fruit clearly aren’t extracted enough to allow this) but drinking the 2002 in early 2005 seemed to be about right.

Good wine for foods like cheeses, appetizers, salads, or light beef/vegetable stews (I paired it with the latter over rice). Doesn’t really have the body or intensity to stand up to lamb or a hearty steak, but could do well with pork, poultry or fish.

Though it’s unlikely to become my new favorite wine (and I won’t be drinking it by itself), it paired well and was reasonably priced @ ~US$10. We finished the bottle that night, and I’d consider occasionally buying this wine again.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

GMO ban in Sonoma County?

An alternate title could’ve been “Fear and Loathing in Sonoma County”…

While the movement presents itself as a defense of small farmers from big agriculture, I think that bigger businesses - certainly those who export their products to Japan or the EU - will be much more hesitant to start farming with the new GMO's when they arrive in the marketplace. I'm not saying that small farmers will be the only ones utilizing these new plants, just that the markets open for these products are already limited by bans in other countries. Any products made using them will have an uphill battle trying to export it's probably more likely that we'll see them being hawked in domestic markets.

When Mendocino was the first County in the US to ban the use of genetically modified organisms comments were made by proponents that it was just the begining. They had characterized it as a grassroots rebellion against corporate farming and the (obviously evil) agri-businesses.
I have to say that a balanced approach to the idea of GMO plants being introduced into the environment is prudent. But a 10 year ban on ALL altered crops? What about pharmaceutical crops producing tamoxifen for anti breast cancer use?

It seems to me that we're poised to throw the baby out with the bathwater yet again...

This ban just seems too broad in it’s scope & too poorly worded. All the benefits of science would be stiffled for the unproven (but possible) fear of "biological cross-contamination". If there are some specifics that the GMO ban proponents would like to bring forward, then I think we could have a serious sit-down discussion of what the pro's and con's of the issue are. Right now the movement seems to be more of a knee-jerk reaction to fears whipped up in the press, and supplemented by anti big agri-business fears.

When I was approached to sign the petition (three occasions) the volunteers collecting the signatures couldn't produce a copy of the ordinance, or give any specifics of GMO's having gotten "out of hand". (One guy brought up "killer bees" as an example, but I quickly reminded him that they weren't GMO's - just normal organisims brought into a new environment, like Dingos in Australia, or Starlings here in the states...)

"Dave Henson, director of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center and the primary author of the ballot measure, acknowledged there is no clear definition of genetic engineering. But essentially, he said, the ordinance seeks to prohibit the removal of genetic material from one organism and inserting it into another so that the new organism is able to reproduce." Clark Mason, Press Democrat (

From the article I see that Valerie Brown (my least favorite Sonoma County Supervisor, BTW...) is showing some common sense & skepticism when asking for clarification of what would be prohibited. That the primary author of the ban doesn’t have that clarification handy is kind of scary…

Brown also mentions that the "normal" everyday practice of hybridization and cross pollination would also seem to be prohibited by the ban. However that's not what the ordinancce states. It specifically states [§6 (b)] ~

"Transgenic manipulation" does not include traditional breeding, conjugation, traditional fermentation (such as in the making of beer, wine, bread and yogurt), hybridization, in-vitro fertilization, or tissue culture.

While I think that 10 years is too long, and the ban too encompassing in it's scope, I think the debate should be interesting and is needed. Perhaps the ban could be 5 years in duration? The term of the ban is ostensibly set at 10 years to allow for "rigorous, public scientific review and extensive public debate" as set forth in §3(c), but it seems somewhat arbitrary...

Other protions of the text are speculative in nature, and are argumentative - not fact. §3(a) states that the Federal Government (via the EPA, FDA, & USDA) "has failed to establish adequate protocols and safeguards" for the use of GMO's. I think that it may be possible (and perhaps advisable) to have more stringent containment protocols, but wonder what harm has been done to date using our current protocols? Some articles claim that as much as 70% of our current conventional food supply in the US has already had some genetic modification...Last I'd read, we weren't seeing a pandemic of three-headed canaries, or roving bands of carnivorous sheep plaguing the nation because of it.

The following is from the proposed ordinance, and I think is its most powerful argument (read the whole document here) [§3(g)]:

(g) We seek to protect the right to farm, so that those farmers who choose to farm without transgenic crop varieties can do so without having their crops and seed stocks genetically contaminated by pollen or seed brought by wind, insects, birds, animals, water, trucks or farm machinery from neighboring farms with transgenic varieties. If we allow transgenic varieties of crops to be introduced into our county, those farmers who choose to not use transgenic varieties will in time, very likely suffer genetic contamination of their crops and seed stocks, and suffer loss of their markets for non-transgenic products. For the many certified organic producers in our county, such contamination may result in a loss of organic certification, and loss of premium sales for organic products.

Again, my feeling is that larger producers who are exporting their products will be much more hesitant to use the GMO's due to the importing markets wanting to prohibit their use. For this reason, I think that most of the farmers who adopt some of these potential new crops will be smaller ones, or at least ones which don't look outside of the local marketplace. Surely Ma and Pa Kettle would be likely to pick them up if they thought they'd get better returns on their property by using them, and the price for purchase was right...and they'd probably not give a hoot about what Japan thinks either...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Book Review: "The Far Side of Eden : New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley""

This book hardly merits a review and I only finished it because I was on a 12-hour flight with nothing else to read.

The book reviews the ongoing battles, lawsuits and ballot initiatives between the wine and vineyard industry and Napa county environmentalists. With much of the valley planted, vineyards have crept into the hillsides and irresponsible land owners have often developed properties in inappropriate ways (by damaging waterways with excessive runoff) or by developing properties that should not have been developed in the first place (excessive slope with a tendency to slide). The battle has basically created a moratorium on hillside planting in Napa as the county has shied away from approving any vineyard project for fear of additional lawsuits.

The book was surprisingly poorly written, with some passages containing oddly high levels of irrelevant details and other important sequences were largely skipped (due to lack of research?). Ideas move in and out of paragraphs with no real logical flow. Few dates are presented to help the reader follow the timetable (which is likely because the scenes are re-sequenced for dramatic effect, based on my memory). I am an avid reader, but found myself constantly rereading passages to try and decipher the idea being presented or the scene being described. I finally decided that the editor either gave up or never tried. Much of the book reads more like a stream of consciousness than a documentation of events witnessed by the author.

Furthermore, this book is an amalgam of ad hominem attacks on everyone who dares to make money in the wine industry or starts with money from family or other business interests. Those with family money are repeatedly dismissed as "lucky spermers". Oddly, Peter Mennen, the biggest "lucky spermer" of them all is not described this way - because he uses his money to stop industrial "alcohol farming" (I kid you not, he really calls it that). Mennen is portrayed as the noble hero but seems to be more a naive idealist who works in the St. Helena post office with his pet bird crapping on his shoulder all day.

Certainly, there are forces of good and bad in any capitalist industry, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Ending vineyard development would lead to one of two things - more houses in place of vineyards or higher and higher prices for vintners as the scarcity increased their profits. Certainly, there is a middle ground, yet Conaway, by following the bull-headed extremists, would have us believe that there can be no compromise and that the alternatives are as simple as returning the valley to its virgin state.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Champagne gets proactive...


Now that’s proactive & progressive.
The French – with their myriad other wine industry woes – can still take the time & money to study how to reduce their CO2 emissions! Granted it’s only Champagne that’s being studied (or so it seems), but it’s still light years ahead of where most American wine associations would be on this topic. And their spokesman appeals to both the environmental issues (great for image – the CEO’s can really appreciate the need to keep up appearances to continue to sell product) and the premise that they’ll be saving money as well (this is always the best reason to get your CEO’s to pony up for your studies!).

And a whopping 30% of the emissions were from packaging? Yikes…probably quite a bit of that was during its own manufacture process. Good thing to be looking all the way back to the beginning of each and every component in the industry.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Virtual Contest

An ad on the radio this morning got me to thinking. . . . please fill in the blanks to complete the slogans. First complete response gets a virtual glass of Benzinger's 2001 Reserve Cabernet:

"_____, its what's for dinner"
"California _____, eat, love, repeat" (fairly new, might not be rolled out nationwide)
"_____, the other white meat"
"_____, since 6,000 B.C."
"_____, a can a week is all we ask"
"The incredible, edible _____"
"_____, what are you saving it for?"
"Got _____?"

For extra credit, which two slogans have been the least successful?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

More Consolidation

Southern Wine & Spirits has announced their acquisition of Lauber Imports, Ltd. of New Jersey. Big deal, right? Another booze wholesaler buys a competitor out......

Not so fast, let's look at this in terms of the big picture. I've warned people that the continued consolidation will lead to fewer choices for consumers, particularly outside California. In this case, you have a small, family-run distributor who carries a very nice portfolio of family-run California wines (Au Bon Climat, Bonny Doon, Chalk Hill, Flora Springs, etc). Now that they have been bought by the largest liquor/wine/beer distributor in the country, much of the portfolio of Lauber will eventually be replaced with the wines that Southern Wine & Spirits carries. Who does Southern carry? Those of Constellation, Mondavi, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Diageo, Allied-Domecq, etc. (the big guys). So, what does this mean for consumer wine selections in New Jersey? Time will tell.....

Direct shipping progress in Florida?

Go Jeb! Good to see that Bobby Koch of the Wine Institute is having a positive influence on his brother-in-law.

Its dismaying, however, that muddled thinking exists in the minds of Attorney Generals everywhere: "Attorney General Charlie Crist said the ease with which the shipments were made and received made it clear that the law should not be tinkered with. He said 55 percent of school-age students have consumed alcoholic beverages and that 40 percent have done so within the past month."Easier access to alcohol by our youth is in fact a recipe for disaster," Crist said. "We should not make it easier to add to the numbers."

And what percent, Mr. Crist, purchased alcohol over the web?

Can't you just see it - "Dude, I'm planning a raging party next month when my parents are out of town, I'm buying some Mouton Cadet over the web, how many cases can I put you down for?" (Replace Mouton Cadet with yellow tail or Coor's light and its still ridiculous).

Book review : Wine, from sky to earth (Joly)

The Heart of the Magic 8-ball Speaks!

I'm sorry anyone's had to suffer through that book as well, and I'm glad people are somewhat skeptical. I don't buy it either, especially after reading that poorly written piece.

I stand by my claim that biodynamics is nothing more than the Santeria of viticulture (actually, agriculture in general). And I agree with Jack in his previous email - I really can’t buy it either.
I'm even more amazed than ever that Joly can produce decent wine. If one were to contrast & compare his ramblings in his book and website with his critical acclaim, the conclusion that might well be drawn is that he's an idiot-savant.

His apologia starts in the first chapters with statements that biodynamics is a theory, and therefore not able to prove things like a regular mainstream science (presumably so he can be excused from having to provide any hard proof of his claims).

Let’s start: "A biodynamic wine is not always good, but it is always authentic." (emphasis in the original)...
What the hell does that mean? "Authentic" opposed to "false", "misleading", "fake", "counterfeit"? I think it's "counterfeit" that he’s implying.
(And wait, I thought making ‘good’ wine was what we were after?! Who would give a damn about a wine which was inferior…regardless of how it was produced, much less drink it. Really! What are we trying to do – celebrate failure & mediocrity?) And does it imply that the forces supposedly harnessed through the adoption of biodynamic agriculture are too inconsistent in their nature? I will happily cede the point that respecting the environment should be an overriding concern with all agriculture...but let's adopt a system that accomplishes better agriculture with better wines!

But I digress, back to the idea of ‘counterfeit’ wines; throughout the text he refers to the "label of origin" (AOC), and one gets the feeling that one of his main intentions is a defense of the appellation system - as used in France. Counterfeit in this sense might mean a pretender – a wine which didn’t show the individuality of the location & culture it was produced in. Perhaps it could be a winery or winemaker who was trying to make a wine similar to those of an adjoining AOC, or perhaps a style from another country altogether! My spin on that interpretation would first be that it smacks of protectionism. The AOC was created to freeze the French wine industry as it was in the 1930’s, but it allowed no room for evolution of peoples tastes. Their wine industry now wallows in it’s own product, due partly because consumers now care less about a prestigious sounding foreign label than they do about quality and taste.
If the wine is labeled correctly as to what blends are in the bottle, as well as it’s origins, then it’s not counterfeit. The idea of counterfeiting is that something is being passed off as something else (usually superior). If it’s labeled correctly there is no ‘counterfeiting’ for a clear lack of furtive action…

If someone is making wines of similar style, then tighten your belt & get ready to rumble, ‘cuz that’s what competition’s all about Baby!

I'll ask those protesting my denigration of biodynamics to please remember that
Coulee de Serrant was an acclaimed vineyard long before Joly's family purchased it. It was first planted in the 12th century, and for several hundred years many personages of note had visited it, reportedly including kings and influential clergy...long before biodynamics was ever even invented. (I think he's got a fantastic vineyard, but I also think it’s probably always been a fantastic vineyard. It would probably produce above average wines regardless of who was the winemaker there -regardless of applying biodynamics! Any attentive winemaker worth their salt using organic viticulture could probably do quite well there also...).

After starting into his book, I had a crazy notion to debunk it paragraph by paragraph...but I just don't have that kind of time (there are far too many flaws in his theory, and a lack of anything resembling the scientific method), and it would probably consume enough space for it's own blog. I gave that thought up by page 20. There's even too many errors to debunk it by chapter...

The work is loaded with anthropomorphism, poorly constructed arguments - sometimes premises are introduced and left hanging, while conclusions are drawn from them anyway. Non-sequitur statements are brought forth as ‘proof’ of the theory, then the author moves blithely onward without ever tying anything together.
The work presumes that a causal relationship between superior wines and biodynamics exists, yet disclaims that several times, and doesn't provide evidence for this in any way other than the anecdotal.

Specifics (or lack thereof):

  • Dynamization
    - a lot of noise is made about special stirring regimens that take an hour, [but not just any hour- a specially designated hour of the day is most effective according to Joly - though that specific time is never revealed], and consist solely of making a vortex – then reversing it. This specially ‘dynamized’ water supposedly has all sorts of magical properties imparted to it. (Being a person with an open mind, I’ll experiment using this technique with my next glass of Ovaltine®. I’ll report back later on any suspected benefits to my health.)

    Hand Stirring!

  • Incineration of pests – it is stated that this procedure “should follow a planetary calendar” and “the choice of firewood also may play a part because it also has a planetary influence”, and also that “the date of incineration is the key to effectiveness”. Wouldn’t you know it? He’s so busy typing this manifesto up that he forgot to include such vital information as the date, times, wood type, or even which planets…so it’s impossible to reproduce his efforts ~ unless you then hire him as a consultant! (pgs. 66-7)

  • Sympathetic magic“Horsetail fabricates two stalks, one after the other.” Then “on the second stalk it makes it’s leaves, which look like little needles, demonstrating well the influence of silica.”…Bullshit. Similar appearance doesn’t mean it’s constructed with the same composition. This is just sympathetic magic. (pg. 63)
  • More sympathy“the silvery back of a poplar leaf also manifests the action of light.” Why? Because it’s shiny & silvery? That is such lame reasoning. (pg. 18)
  • About dilutions - BioD relies on fantastically dilute solutions (e.g. D8, or 1/100,000,000 - that's 10 parts per billion!), and when coupled with materials that are essentially insoluble (like silica) really can't provide any application of the material whatsoever to the plants in question. (If silica were soluble, there probably wouldn't be much sand left on the beaches of the world, would there?) And why is Avogadro's number brought into the discussion? Also the comment that science can't accept the splitting of the atom (atom is the smallest division) is an outright falsehood - hasn't he ever heard of electrons, positrons, or neutrons? Quarks maybe??
  • On hair and silica - "Let us begin by observing the corpse of an animal that has just died. In a few weeks its simple elements will again be part of the earth. Thus the question to ask is: where are the energies which constructed this organism in such a sophisticated manner? Who took the calcium to sculpt the bone? Who took the silica to form the hair?" Hmmm...maybe my biology's rusty, but I don't recall hair containing any silica. Again this is based on sympathetic magic. His logic is "hair resembles the spikey form of silica crystals ergo it must be made of silica"!'s just as poorly thought out as the old wives tale about the Gooseneck Barnacle, which fall off the rocks to one day magically turn into real geese! That's about as likely as Pinnocchio turning into a real boy...[FWIW - hair composition is as follows: 50.65% C, 20.85% O, 17.14% N, 6.36% H, and 5.0% Sulfur...trace minerals do exists, but the claim that hair contains any relatively abundant amounts of silica is false, and demonstrates the lack of a decent science background on Joly's part]
  • There's more, but I've got a life to live, and God didn't put me on Earth just to spend my life following Joly around correcting his mistakes (apparently that would be a full time job, too!)

Joly can rely on people to use selective thinking when they evaluate the results of biodynamics; even though it may fail the results test time after time, it is such an arcane and intricate construction that he can claim it wasn’t done properly, while any positive results will be attributed to the system without thought. (“Well, you finally must’ve gotten it right!” would be the exclaim of true believers.)

If there IS anything of substance to biodynamic theory, it certainly isn’t to be found in Joly’s book.
And don’t even get me started on the “Cellar”, “Homeopathy” or “Planets” chapters, or why the choice of 'levity' as the opposite force to gravity was rather poor.

[True believers should read “
The Magus”, an 1801 manuscript by Francis Barret (available on Barnes & Noble). Most of the work is also of a philosophical nature presented-as-fact (as is Joly’s), and outlines much of what later is incorporated into biodynamics. Then again they should also read the Necronomicon, and, well...anything by H.P. Lovecraft...]


Ultimately, Joly's work is only a poorly written argument from authority, and falls along the line of: "I'm sucessful & acclaimed, therefore everything I do must be right & proper."

Go get yourself a Magic 8-ball. It's even wiser than Joly...

...why look! It's predicted the future of biodynamics at the top of the post!


Something for those who disagree with my viewpoint here (Australian Biodynamics Homepage)

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Byron and Arrowood to Sell Soon

Reportedly, both Byron and Arrowood will sell to an investor group headed by Calivin Sidhu, a part owner of Freemark Abbey. Too bad for Dick Arrowood, I for one would like to have seen him buy back his winery. Let's hope he either stays involved or starts a new venture in the area.