Friday, March 21, 2008

75th Anniversary of Prohibition's REPEAL !

Saturday 3/22/08 is the Septuagesiquintennial (75th) anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition!

And I'll bump my post from 2005's anniversary for the occasion:
"Don't let this happen to you!"

Every year I take a few moments to reflect on where we are now, thanks to all the hard work and sacrifice of those Americans who had to weather the crappy social experiment that was prohibition...
After all the corruption which took hold of the country, and drove people to all sorts of bad behavior to get what they wanted, we must remember that the "noble experiment" was foisted upon the nation by various Social Conservatives who had worked hard to bend public perception to their own end. They created and reinforced existing stereotypes to work their evil on our society. Luckily, not too many other societies have been so naive to follow our 20th Century experiment.

Yes, the "teetotalers" of the various Temperance Unions and movements were the architects of almost 14 years of HELL for this country...despite the fact that many of them no doubt believed they were doing "God's work" in getting alcohol outlawed.
Little did they think how strong the desire for drink by people who were moderate consumers when they decided that it was the only way to save families and individuals from "drink". Thank God we've learned from the past, and won't be going back in that direction again.

At least we won't if ALL of US pay attention, and continue to call the Neo-prohibitionists on their false claims as them make them.

Now all we have to do to truly be free of the legacy of prohibition is to put the
final nails in the coffin of the three-tier system, and free up interstate shipping. But before we do that, sit back tomorrow evening with a good glass of your favorite wine or beer, and enjoy the freedom to consume!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Savor Sonoma, cheers & jeers

This past weekend was the Savor Sonoma wine tasting event, and after inviting several friends to this barrel tasting event for the umpteenth time, I thought it'd be a good post if I had everybody gather all their impressions at each winery and put it all together. Here's a run-down of what the group found to be the best (& worst) of the weekend.....tasting staff and volunteers were all very helpful, except where noted otherwise...


Mayo Family and Collier (at Family Winemakers in Kenwood) tied for the best overall performances, and the 2-for-1 special at Collier was fantastic (bought a case of the '04, got a case of the '03 FREE! THAT's marketing!), and the winemaker at Collier was a hoot!
Mayo was very good overall, with very drinkable sangiovese, chard, and viognier. The petite sirah was a tad aggressive, but would do well with a bit of age on it, and the
cab franc was classically (read as "old world") less-ripe than most of the other cab francs produced these days in California, so a nice change on that varietal. The Meritage and Cab were both put together very well, and could use a few years to pick up some bottle bouquet. The port was excellent, and was "futures" worthy.

Eric Ross Winery had a very nice "light style" pinot, which was also worthy of buying futures, but the rest of their wines were not all that exciting. I'm still surprised Gallo hasn't tried to sue them for having a black rooster on their label...perhaps they're waiting to see if the Chianti Classico organization in Italy will take care of that for them...

Valley of the Moon had the best food pairing, with a tomato-bread soup that paired perfectly with the wine. The recipes were available on postcards for everyone to pick up if they wanted...another nice touch. The syrah they were sampling wasn't all that great, otherwise they were good.

Muscardini had some nice wines, the Unti Syrah was good, as was the sangiovese and the "Tesoro" blend, which we grabbed a few bottles of for dinner that night. a tent outside the tasting room right on HWY 12 in Kenwood, we felt a little like we were going to be hit by a car careening off the road at any time, but the wines were good: both their primitivo and the Dante blend were very good to excellent.

Ledson......has been much better in the past, not very impressive this time around. Also, the "kid" who was pouring behind the bar was, well... the best phrase is "somewhat lit". And as he poured us all a Brett ridden petite sirah, proclaiming how "...most wines need quite a bit of time before they're ready, but this wine's ready to drink right now. Really just an excellent barrel of wine..."
Right. It was poured out directly into the spittoon, and I even opted for a fresh glass, but was disappointed by receiving another Brett wine, this time a Cab.
(So, if you're going to have a wine event, make sure your employees aren't drinking more than your guests, and make sure they know the difference between Brett and complexity from

Benziger. How could I NOT stop by the Sonoma bastion of all things biodynamic?
Ok, to be fair, they had a very nice Sauv Blanc barrel
being sampled, which was paired extremely well - most of us felt perfectly- with a slightly spicy asian noodle salad. I also hold their stated desire to farm as responsibly as possible in high regard. But the rest of the wines were average to disappointing, with both the BD wines being Brett tainted. Not a great advertisement for the potential for BD which they preach so loudly...

As we made for the exit, I recognized one of the gals behind the bar as the one who'd helped some guests
and myself a few years back...and for a moment I panicked that she recognized me also, as my friends stopped to taste what she had to offer behind the bar.

This I should explain: on that particular occasion years ago we had gone to their tasting room for my guests' introduction to what BD was, and how the resulting wines turned out. We had tasted thru the wines available at the bar, and had opted for the "premium" reserve tasting. We paid our money and shuffled into an adjacent room where this gal got into the whole BD is the best-thing-since-sliced-bread was invented, and how the wines we were about to imbibe were fantastic, low-yield vineyards, and how no better example of what quality wines BD could produce. Long story short, we tasted thru the first wines with not much comment, happy to let her go on-and-on with the winery's spiel...until she poured what she assured us was the finest of their offerings: a BD cab sauv from McDowell (?) vineyard. I was the lucky schmuck who got the first pour, and before she had gotten the glass poured for the person next to me, I was pouring mine into the spittoon. It never made it closer than arm's length from my face - it never was tasted.
At this point she stops pouring,
aghast & with a unique mixed expression of disbelief and utter shock, said "That's our best wine...".
My reply was "No. Thanks, but I can smell band-aids and barnyards as soon as you started pouring. That wine's contaminated with Brettanomyces yeast."
She haughtily countered with "It's a style...." (as if I was an idiot she could pull that crap on.).
Flatly I replied, "No it's's a contaminant yeast which is producing those aromas. There's no fruit to be found in here...what's next to pour today?"
The pissed off look on her face spoke volumes.
Needless to say, our tasting ended soon afterwards...and we broke for the parking lot...

How this all ties in: This same lady just this past weekend, while pouring a BD wine for one of my guests which was Brett ridden, started waxing about how great a wine it was, and about the exquisite fruit it came from. My pal, quick to get the strong band-aid odor wafting from his glass baited her by asking "what is it that you smell in this?"
Her reply - "All that makes this vineyard special, the terroir of the site."
My pal persisted "It smells quite strong..." to which the gal replied "That's the soil you're smelling..."
He poured it out & took her to task by saying "No. That's Brett making that band-aid smell, NOT the soil!".
(I felt quite happy with myself, as though I'd just completed some magna opus, hearing my pal stand up for himself to this snotty lady...)

Here it was several years later, and I found my party walking out of the tasting room - again - and this particular pour staff gal still hasn't improved either her demeanor or her knowledge base.
If indeed she DOES know what Brett is, then she needs to improve her delivery to people so she's not continually talking down to them. It was just insulting.

I think she's had enough of the company Kool-aid, boys...
PS - it's time to change your staff out when they can't offer anything but a scowl to your patrons...I don't recall her smiling once the entire time we were there. Frankly she looked like she'd just swallowed a live scorpion.

Better luck next year...I hope....

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

the Myth of Price: Sex and Wine

Eliot Spitzer, the soon-to-be-EX Governor of New York, provides an excellent reminder of the fallacy of "high price equals quality"...

A recent article on MSN provides the story, one which even Freud knew to be true and which still bombards us everyday via marketers who wish to present their product as superior: Charge more for it! (click on the photo for the link)

Where he spent $1,500 and upwards for the "company" of a woman, one has to wonder how much better the experience was than with FIVE $300 Vegas hookers - not that I would know...and I don't intend to get too graphic here, as this blog is about wine...although the similarities in how both products are positioned price-wise is tempting....
No. Must...resist...temptation...!

But really, what was he paying for - exclusivity? I mean a bottle of Chateaux Petrus will run you something in the $1,500 to $2,000 range, and that would be pretty exclusive as they're only 5 glasses worth in each bottle (so around $300 to $400 per glass). That's pretty exclusive. But the only thing exclusive about a hooker is...well...nothing really, by definition anyway...

The placebo effect mentioned in the article clearly demonstrates that price matters to us - subconsciously - and that it then colors the experience as we perceive it.
Could it really make a $20 bottle taste like a $200 bottle, if that's what we paid for it? Probably not, but we might THINK it does when we taste it, and therein lies the power of the price tag.

personally know of a past obscure winery which had several different labels of what was essentially the same wine, but placed in different price tiers. And you know what? The label with the highest price and most upscale presentation almost always sold out faster than the others. It's not a perfect example, because the wines in question were sold in restaurants where people are easily led down the path of price equals quality, and in the higher $$ per plate establishments is where this was reportedly happening. But what was weird was the fact that the wait staff seemed to prefer the higher priced wine when they were tasted through the wines by the distributor. Part of that can be ascribed to the spiel the marketer sold them at that time, but that the impression persisted even after the staff had time to taste the wines on their own later was most impressive. So not surprisingly they would then recommend that wine more often when asked by customers.

This is why I always counsel people starting into the wine tasting world to ignore price and focus on quality as YOU perceive it. This way the "overpriced" average wines that someone is trying to foist on you as quality product are lost in the shuffle if there's a better tasting wine to someone at a lower price.

For my take on Mr Spritzer, my thought is a quote I heard years ago..."there is no virtue so great as to be beyond all temptation."
Sadly that also applies to wine producers, aspirin manufacturers, car companies, etc...


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

March...a time for vigilance

Well, I guess now there's no arguing that Spring is here.

With daytime temps hitting the mid 70's, and lows in the high 30's, the trees and flowers have started blooming across the countryside. The air is thick with the smell of all the flowers, and even those dormant old vines are starting to look as if they may bust forth from their winter sleep very soon. Insects have reawakened, and have begun to buzz about the various nectar rich flowers.

Now I may seem a bit alarmist, but....this IS the time of year that we've seen the first attempted incursions of some nasty pests into our area, and the glassy-winged sharpshooter (GWSS) is the primary concern. The "normal" route of attack is for the pesky buggers to try to hitch a ride on ornamental shrub shipments which are coming up from southern California to various nursery's here in the north bay. These days we also have to be vigilant for the light brown apple moth, as well as the transporting of the grapevine mealybug from place to place.

As happy as I may be to be out of Ol' Man Winters' grasp, I would've preferred to have a few days of hard frost to make my life easier as far as pest management is concerned. And although we did have some cold weather -as well as a little more snow on the ridges than usual- it never really seemed to get that cold, or cold-enough to put an icy foot on the pests' little necks....
Even though an occasional late March frost (or Alaskan cold front) isn't out of the question, it's hard to envision one happening when the daytime temps are as high as they are now. If we'd had more of a penetrating frost during the winter, then maybe there would be a few more damaged vines, but less pressure for farmers to spray very heavily.
The slight increase in the number of damaged vines from winter frost is something I'd be willing to sacrifice every once in a while to help control the little SOB's, but that's due to the fact that I advocate pruning late and can compensate for some damaged buds here and there.
Mind you, I'm not wishing there was an ice storm like we sometimes see damaging Florida's citrus crops, or the current winter storms we see across most of the rest of the country right now...just a little deeper cold snap back in late December or early January.

There's been more rainfall this year but we're still about 10" short of where we should be
(I'm showing 28.5" so far since July of last year). That usually isn't a problem since March will dump ~7" of rain on average, and April and May both contribute ~2" each to the season's total....but the cold weather is pretty much a memory for this season.

See these posts for more information on the pest threats we collectively face!

2007/06/Vine mealybug threat

And here are the IPM websites for each of the pests:
GWSS - sharpshooters
Light Brown Apple Moth
Grapevine Mealybug

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Amazon joins wine shipping debate is joining the interstate wine shipping debate...and in a huge way!
By looking to ship wine via internet sales, they are joining the ranks of other relatively smaller retailers (e.g., which are already doing this. But while the folks at Amazon aren't divulging their long-term motives, it's easy to extrapolate their move as one to become the largest online wine retailer - and they have the mechanism in place to do just that, once they can nail down the model to move it into the buyers' hands....

Their strategy is starting with adding wine onto their existing fresh food (groceries) delivery in Seattle (called "Amazon Fresh"). But while this seems pretty innocuous form the onset, it would look to be only a test shot being fired over the bow of neo-prohibitionists and distributors whom wish to keep this area of commerce for them selves.

One of the benefits of the way that Amazon is doing this right now, is that with a fresh produce delivery, have to have a delivery person, and therefore direct consumer contact as the goods are delivered. This allows for confirmation of the buyers' ages by any said delivery person, and completes the "handshake" to ease fears of those who are worried that teens will be using the service to illegally get wine & booze.

Leave it to a large, well oiled internet shipping machine like Amazon to bring the argument back to a national level - a position this topic hasn't enjoyed since Granholm vs Heald !
Sure, Costco continues to take states on one-by-one, but if Amazon expands it's delivery service to a national level, and can continue to provide this "handshake verification of buyers' ages....well, what're the neo-prohibitionists and distributors going to have left to complain about???

Frankly, I can't really imagine any other Internet Giant doing the sales of all their other items will buoy any shortcomings in cash flow until the project takes off. The only thing I can envision on the same scale would be if eBAY suddenly decided to implement an age verification system and allow online bidding for those hard to find '45 Margaux.....

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Grab a fork, pop a cork!

You've got to give credit where & when it's due - and today the winner is....[drumroll...]

This wine series is created by someone else for Costplus, obviously, since they don't have their own winery operation, and custom labeled for the shelves. These shown are all California origin, but who knows, maybe they'll expand it to include foreign wines as well. I'm not sure yet who it is who makes it for them, but that is really beside the point...

Making wines marketed to the foodies who already run into the likes of Costplus, Whole Foods, etc., strikes me as really well done by linking the "suggestion" of pairing food & wine with the graphic of meat cuts on the label. And the tag-line they use - "Grab a fork and pop a cork..." - is an instant classic!
And with an ad price of just $7.99/btl, certainly not something that would break anyone's bank by trying it (this raises a few questions in my mind, as most serious "established" foodies tend to fall into the "wine snob" camp and might dismiss this wine based solely on it's bargain basement price...though it likely would draw the attention of "budding foodies", and those foodies with a more adventurous spirit and less pretension...
Although drawing in Ma & Pa Kettle, or whomever, into trying wine with meals is the actual objective, and on that point the marketing is very effective).

In fact, I can see a whole line around this, with a lamb graphic for Syrah, Pork for Gewurztraminer and some Pinots, etc., tailored to the tastes of the wine manager for the brand. Perhaps even to the point where the label offers suggestions for specific cuts of meats...
Classically, the wine suggestion would entail taking the method of preparation and any sauces into play as well as the meat source category, but the idea is intriguing!
In my mock-up below, perhaps the Cab in question has some oak and smoke along with a nice tannin level, and would pair well with some steak, or other thinner cuts of beef.
Of course, I'm still in the "drink whatever you want" camp, and routinely ignore classic food & wine advice (last night I had BLT's with a cheap Pinot Grigio...), but even so, I can see where this sort of marketing would be really effective, and perhaps dramatically reduce the public trepidation over committing to a particular wine for fear it doesn't pair with what they are planning to prepare.
What really needs to change is the perception that wine needs to be paired properly to be enjoyed at all... which belief is sadly prevalent in western popular culture.

Cheers to Costplus for attempting to make wine "fun" and "foodie-friendly"!
Even if that ends up only being "budding foodies"...