Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cheers for Marie!!

This found at a Marie Callendars in Santa Rosa:

This is what I'm talking about!
Way to promote the cause and get people to experiment without having to spend all their hard scratch on a couple of bottles they might not like...
I'd recommend getting your servers to promote the idea of offering to get two bottles of wine for tables that are interested so they may compare and contrast - though that idea would go over better if the program was a by-the-glass offering.
Great way to move your inventory too, though I think expanding it to Thursdays would help that also.

Kudos to the people at Marie Callendars! Excellent work....


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Second half of Clark Smith interview

And there it is, the long awaited conclusion to Appellation America's Clark Smith interview...

Firstly, I find it interesting that the whole article was set at Vinovation HQ in Sebastopol.

If I recall, back in December of last year, the head of Vinovation sales and marketing (Bob Kreisher) was trying to distance the company from Smith, saying he's not involved anymore in day-to-day operations...
In fact I remember the following comments on my post about

On 12/21/06, Bob wrote...

"Clark does not run the company nor is he it's spokesperson. Clark Smith, for better and for worse, speaks for Clark Smith. Not Vinovation. Thank you sincerely for your attention and Happy Holidays."

...then he clarified this on 1/10/07...

"Clark is indeed the founder and co-owner. Clark is also a dear friend who I often disagree with, or take exception to his tone or method. I think you and are on the same page here.
Clark turned over day to day operations to his brother, Brian, six years ago. Last year he turned over Sales & Marketing to me. He remains an executive and the director of R&D...
...Clark makes people mad sometimes. Vinovation however, is 35 people who have built an exciting and vibrant company together, with blood, sweat, and tears sometimes, and Clark is just one of them...
...People often equate Vinovation & Clark. I don't think you did this in any direct or overt manner. But I do think readers might draw that conclusion..."

Hmmmm, I wonder why that is...
I've been watching to see if there are any letters to the editors type of traffic by Bob to clarify that Clark is only speaking for himself, but either Alan Goldfarb omitted that information, or Bob hasn't raised any objection to the appearances that Clark is indeed the force behind Vinovation.
Which is exactly what it looks like when the article is staged at Vinovation headquarters with a few pics of the operations inside.

I've been in that same compound when Conetech was there years ago. Not a very attractive area to house one's business...

I'm kinda sorry for Clark, in a way, because he doesn't seem to have a buffer for his ideas before he spouts them out to the whole world, a
stream of consciousness without any application of consistent thought..
Perhaps that's Bob Kreisher's best function for him.
Take the "There's not a winemaker on earth that ll tell you that s (pumping over) a good idea, but we do it so we can have bigger tanks and less labor. That's an example of how electricity completely screwed up the wine industry. "
Well, I don't know about pumpovers being bad, seems like many wineries have the option of both and elect to pumpover. Worth noting that you can punchdown using electricity as well....

There's been debate over the years re breaking the cap apart or leaving it whole: breaking it up leading to more astringency and bitterness in some peoples minds...while leaving it whole has the possibility of "channeling" through a limited portion of the cap, robbing the winemaker of potential extraction.
Some efforts have been made to engineer punchdown equipment that "submerges" the cap in large portions rather than tears all the cap apart...kind of a best of both worlds solution attempt.
I feel bad about electricity being the fall guy for everything bad that's happened in the wine industry...has anyone alive right now ever tried to pump wine into a tank with 10' (vertical feet above the valve) of wine already in it with a hand pump?
Pretty freaking impossible with those pressures...but the inference is it MUST be bad if it uses electricity...

Not to mention that ALL of what Clark does requires electricity (unless the MIT dropout has some cold-fusion/cosmic energizer hidden in his basement...maybe a cellar located on Gravity Hill would have some luck there)...but somehow, in Clark's hands, electricity has become a good thing.

Then he rails against ~
The other one (enemy) is the Proctor & Gamble-educated wine marketers that have had their taste buds surgically removed and are trying to reverse-engineer consumers preferences and tell winemakers that they have to make wines that we all hate .
But apparently, not all of us hate those wines. These are wines which sell like crazy because young Americans in their 30s and 40s who have just come to wine and are being weaned off of Coca Cola and iced tea, seem to love those fruit bombs because they re sweet and they go down easily."

I don't recall P&G having any school of Enology or Viticulture...
Then the phrase "wines that we all hate" shows up...
My, my, my...those are pretty strong words for the wines which drive the industry forward. Plus, I 'm brought back to my perennial question when I hear that remark: SO, just who are we making wine for?
If you're not making wines that appeal to consumers then you aren't selling...if you're not selling, you're dying as a commercial effort...why are you even putting money into that venture to start with?
It's like saying "I want to put lots of effort into a business which doesn't have any hope of success whatsoever".
There's nothing wrong with wines which are easy to drink...and those commercially viable products aren't all sugar-laden fruit bombs, as he implies either.

Lastly, I find it strange that Clark wants more transparency on his labels to indicate when micro-ox has been applied to his wines by using the code words "Stage 1" (color-stabilized), "Stage 2", "Stage 3", etc.
That verbage means nothing to the consumer.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Odd hits...

Now I don't want to spook all you nice visitors out there, but occasionally I check the listing of various hits to this site to see who's showing up...and sometimes why they show up...

There are always odd hits - people who end up at your site without intending to do so - but some are really odd...take the following hit from Disney Worldwide services in Orlando:

Wine jelly beans? Are we getting a sneak peak at the creative processes of the Diz-Biz Imagineers at work during an all-nighter...or just a bored employee at 3:57 AM?
Perhaps it was a concierge looking to fulfill a late night VIP request for munchies, but they found my post from 2005 regarding the jelly beans put together by the nice people at Jelly Belly, DeLoach and what was WineX...

Then there's the hit from Zurich, Switzerland, looking for information about the level of "Argentinian wine consumption"...but I'd count that one as pretty mundane and benign...especially when contrasted with the hit from the PENTAGON right after it:

Did Dick or D
ubya receive a leaded glass decanter as a "present", and the pentagon is checking to see how dangerous it might be? Was it from Hugo Chavez?
Or, maybe they're thinking of sending one as a present to an unsuspecting foreign dignitary? Perhaps they know where binLaden is hiding, and want to send him something special? Oh, that's right...he probably doesn't drink wine...wonder how long it'll take for the peep's at the Pentagon to figure that one out...
My, how insidious (and painfully slow) a plot that might be...though that hit should probably have been routed through the CIA in Langley, VA.
(That raises a good question: if the CIA, NSA, or DIA visited your site, would you know about it if they didn't want you to know about it? With the amount of recent malfeasance in the current administration it's possible they might not remember to "wipe their feet" before entering your site - so to speak - so maybe you would.)

All things aside, I'd like to thank them for showing up for a full minute to read my Riedel posts- but somehow I don't feel as though my tax dollars are very hard at work...but maybe, just maybe, they're here to check out the NRW conspiracy...

Pardon me, I think I need to take a closer look at the logs and see if I can find any of those missing RNC emails for Karl Rove...and maybe run all my anti-viral and anti-spyware programs again....

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mail Call...

This from an anonymous comment on my review of Msr. Joly's book Wine from Earth to Sky...

"if you could care less about food or wine that tastes,looks,and smells as it should naturally, because it's a little funky from time to time... (as one should expect, because well,...fermented or aged fruit, milk, meat,ect. is by the very process of ageing a funky.) and only care about how lip smacking tasty something is, then try pounding down some twinkies and chaseing[sic] them with big gulps of pepsi.
it's damn good stuff! i don't care how it's made."

My reply: Bullshit...
"Anon -

The inference from your statement is that winemakers don't need to try to make good wine, they get carte blanc because it's a "natural product" despite the fact that all foods (other than those consumed directly-off-the-vine, so to speak) have some human manipulation (although I contend that the manipulation goes back to the planning stage as we have to determine where & what to plant, etc).

As such, we should therefore try to make the best of what we do, not have some half-assed cosmic theory to exculpate our half-assed attempts. If someone wants to try to make wine with unproved & untenable theories then go for it. But don't bother me about how "that's the way Nature intended it"...because Nature provided us with the capacity for rational thought, and intended for us to apply ourselves to the problems we encounter, not make excuses...

Wine should taste good...otherwise why bother with it at all? If you're looking for something with some acidity then we could substitute cranberry juice, or something else. But we don't - we search for that elusive complexity in wine instead."

Frankly, the debates about BioD remind me of that 2002 South Park episode where Stan Marsh confronts John Edward, the self-proclaimed psychic who uses "cold reading" to manipulate his audiences:

Stan: I am saying this to you, John Edward. You are a liar, you are a fake, and you are the biggest douche ever.

John Edward: Everything I tell people is positive and gives them hope. How does that make me a douche?

Stan: Because the big questions in life are tough - Why are we here, where are we from, where are we going. But if people believe in asshole douchey liars like you, we're never going to find the real answers to those questions. You aren't just lying, you are slowing down the progress of all mankind. You douche.

"Slowing down the progress of all mankind"...that phrase really brings it all home.

About having these "cosmic forces" that only Steiner or Joly seem to be able to channel, and that practitioners of BioD are benign (though perhaps mistaken) individuals there is the following exchange which perfectly sums that claim up:

John Edward: Look, what I do doesn't hurt anybody. I give people closure and help them cope with life.

Stan: No, you give them false hope and a belief in something that isn't real.

John Edward: But I'm a psychic.

Stan: No dude, you're a douche.

John Edward: I'm not a douche! What if I really believe that dead people talk to me?

Stan: Then you're a stupid douche.

Anon, go ahead and pour yourself that Pepsi - or if you prefer - some stinky substandard wine.
It's your choice after all, but I'll stick with wines made by people who aren't looking to hide behind something.


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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Clark Smith interview tomorrow

Last Friday (Friday April 13th, 2007), Appellation America posted the first part of a two part article/interview with Clark Smith of Vinovation by Alan Goldfarb. Tomorrow (4/20/07) is the day that the second installment is slated to appear.

As always, Clark has provided material quotes both Pro & Con for his cause celebre: using technology to adjust and manipulate wine.

It's a polarizing issue, and one which is greatly misunderstood by the public at large, as wine writers tend to rail against technology (usually all technology) without having a firm understanding of what that technology actually brings to the finished wine firsthand. If many of the pundits who cry out for the abolition of oak chips or dealcoholization could have the opportunity to try a single wine which has been portioned off & various additives or techniques applied to it...well, wouldn't that be a great thing? Then this debate might actually be approaching some rational destination instead of being blown all over creation by the hot winds of reactionary writers. (Dear Lord, it'd be fun to see which writers who were positioned against additives or manipulations might actually prefer them in a blind tasting - please excuse my mean streak! Such guilty pleasures...)

Now, I've tasted wines made using of some of the services Vinovation offers in the past, and I have tasted them against their respective parent lots when Clark's processes are finished, and I have seen these services successfully applied to wines at the $15/btl level and $65/btl I don't have a "problem" with the thought of his technology being applied to wines if done so judiciously. (Now you know one of the reasons why I post anonymously...)
But there is the problem of Clark's support of
BioD (biodynamics) in his previous entries on his own WineSmith blog, and several rails against UCD and Ann Noble amongst others for not supporting his views on minerality which I took some exception to last December. Also there have been instances where articles have portrayed Vinovation as a "bring 'em back from the dead" service which would allow any winemaker, no matter how feeble, to produce great wines without regard to how badly they may have screwed them up...which is incorrect.
Vinovation is not a panacea to correct all deficiencies...

But I have a problem with the last article in that Clark contradicts himself:
"The white cherry that you get here is terroir that you’re getting because of the micro-biology,” he insists. “I think of the Roman process as being a lot like un-pasteurized cheese. You get an extra dimension. Who knew? I think lots of micro-oxygenation is how we pull this off. This thing has a ton of brett but you can’t smell brett in that wine. The tannin has been structured properly and integrates those flavors just like a Béarnaise sauce. …” it terroir or is it microbial flora? Does the wine need to be contaminated to show fruit aromas specific to the area it was grown in...? No...
Plus, I'm unsure of how micro-ox would help there unless it drives off the Brett aromas.
Tannins are structural and textural components, not aromatic ones...

Also, the concluding sentence of the next paragraph regarding another wine which has had SO2 added to it is quite telling about what his philosophy is: "There’s no microbial activity to draw out the extra dimension.”
Hmmmmm. So we're to put our wines to bottle without filtering, and leave the microbes unchecked with SO2...trusting that the micro-ox will have calmed the rascals down to a point where they won't cause problems...even a few years - maybe decades - later? That's a bit scary from a production viewpoint: do you really have any right to say you alone crafted a wine, if it's so potentially unstable it probably would change in the bottle? Uncontrollably?

So, in a way I guess we're back to where Australia's Barossa Valley Syrah was a while back, where the producers and press were happy to suggest that the sweaty saddle aromas were "terroir" notes in the wine - up until the time that Brett was found to be the culprit.
To state it a bit archaically "microbes do not terroir make".

It should be interesting to read where the second installment leads this conversation of theirs...and we only have check out
Appellation America tomorrow to find out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A sign of global warming?

Here we have an Easter wine which is of interest for several reasons: Biltmore Estate "Century" red wine...
Why is it worth posting about?
First, it is pretty tasty quaff...and for something that's being produced in Asheville, North Carolina, that in itself is pretty impressive.

But the even more interesting part is the % alcohol - a whopping 14.2% !
How did this miracle occur? After all, it's not all that usual for East Coast wines to get that high, and the wine is nicely balanced - without heat - so it doesn't seem to be from fruit which was left on the vine for an unnaturally long time to concentrate. Is it a sign of global warming?

There are two clues on the bottle, which along with a tidbit from someone who's been on a tour of the Biltmore Estate provide the answer: it's not (all) grown in North Carolina (though they do have some vines growing there which they vint and blend in)...

The wine is labeled as a "red wine", which means that the producer doesn't have to specify appellation(s) or varietal(s) the wine is made from. The second clue is that the bottle states the wine was "Vinted and bottled by Biltmore Estate Wine Company...", which doesn't claim that they grew the grapes themselves...not that there's anything wrong with that!

The tidbit passed on from the tourists was that one of the guides was cornered on their tour by people who wanted to know where all the grapes were sourced, as it didn't appear they had enough vines to support the production on site. After some squirming, he 'fessed up that they were importing juice cold from California to make some of their wine (again, not that there's anything wrong with that!).

I'm totally OK with this, and I think it represents the good aspects of wine blending: it's smooth and well balanced, flavorful without being too concentrated, and very drinkable. More wines should be produced in this vein - "Red Table Wine" - blended for easy consumption although it has enough tannin to go a few years in the bottle with improvement.
And, even though part of what the Biltmore Estate is "selling" is image and prestige, the wine itself is very good without pretension - it's hard to get too snooty when there's no appellation or varietal in the label.

A hearty "well done" to the winemaking crew back in Asheville.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Different Way to Sell Your Winery

Its been one of the hottest rumors and worst kept secrets of 2007 so far. Duckhorn has been exploring a sale and unlike most winery sales which are kept quiet to keep distributors and retailers from stopping sales focus on the wines, this one has been made public, although its been "somewhat" denied. “Currently, we don’t have a buyer and our company is not for sale.” says Alex Ryan. Someone needs to tell Mr. Ryan how to lie better, or how to lie at all.

Sales of big wine brands are usually kept as quiet as possible, but for some reason, management elected to tell the employees in advance that Credit Suisse had been hired to value Duckhorn and to explore sale options. The outcome of this has been (as I'm told by an employee friend) that employee morale has never been lower. I imagine that other employees will follow former winemaker Mark Beringer out the door and many are probably updating their resumes as I type. The whole thing is odd and perhaps the saddest thing of all is that this highly-successful company may end up in the hands of a private equity firm looking for quick arbitrage.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dillettantes need not apply

You just have to love it when a winemaker realizes what they need in an employee!

The following is from an ad posted for a winemaking position for Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, Va (the text in bold is my doing):

Required: degree in fermentation science, or related, 2 years cellar experience, 1 year lab experience, familiarity with all common winemaking equipment, procedures, and practices. Dedicated, serious, career-oriented individuals committed to quality only. Hands-on, physical position. Dilettantes and romance of wine types need not apply. Full time, benefits, salary DOE. Reply with résumé, and a brief letter describing your qualifications, motivation, expectations, and salary requirement.

Word to the wise: there's an awful lot of hard work that goes into making a bottle of wine...if you think it's all "wine and roses", think again!
I don't know of anyone in the industry who doesn't complain about harvest and the hours required - regardless of appellation they work in.....