Monday, March 30, 2009

Go David!

I've mentioned David Coffaro's winery in Dry Creek before ([what it takes to produce a $100 bottle of wine], [vintner in it for more than money]) becuase I like his candor when it comes to the already-too-pretentious wine industry. I'm posting his letter to the editors of the Press Democrat (Santa Rosa) regarding the "Madcap Millenials" article by Peg Melnick last weekend [link to his letter here]:

"Wine should be fun

EDITOR: As a local winery owner, I was distressed by the negativity of the March 21 article by Peg Melnik concerning young people partying during the Russian River Barrel Tasting event. I thought the article unfairly criticized the younger generation of tasters.

At our winery, we experienced nothing like what was reported. We saw at least 1,000 people ages 21 to 31 during the event, and all were well-behaved, excited potential customers. I personally saw no one drinking beer in our parking lot, and I did not see anyone with residual beer remnants in their glasses.

These 20 and 30 somethings are the future customers for all wineries in the industry. When I became passionate about wine in 1970, I saw very few young people who appreciated wine like I did. Since then, I have seen way too much snobbery associated with wine, and I am excited to now see young people interested in the industry. To enjoy wine, I don’t think they have to copy some of us by sniffing, swirling and spitting. Wine should be fun.

I feel it would be better to devote a front-page article to promoting our wine industry than to discouraging winery tourism.

DAVID COFFARO (Geyserville)"

Personally, I've never experienced what Peg reported either. And as I stated in my previous article on the subject, I'm not sure what constitutes "behaving badly" in Ohio, where the quoted tourists were from...

AMEN, Brother David! I'll raise a glass to you this evening.

Friday, March 27, 2009

California still on top where it counts

This in today from the Napa Valley Register's Jack Heeger:

"The famed 1976 Paris Tasting wasn't a fluke.
California wines came out ahead in the 2009 Westchester Wine School tasting in Rye Brook, N.Y., too. The 2009 tasting wasn't quite as decisive nor will it be as famous as the one in Paris, and the 25 judges weren't all wine professionals, although they were described as wine afcionados. But when the results were tallied, California wines proved they can stand proud among the wines of the world."

What I love about revisiting this topic is that it continues to hold true when done in a blind tasting format - meaning people aren't subconsciously biased by what they think they should like....
That this round was done with "lay people" is all the more meaningful in my eyes. After all is said and done, these are the people whose opinion matters more than any professional wine reviewer or blogger (myself included), because they're the one who will be purchasing the wines and spreading their observations, likes and dislikes to the world.

The "fly in the ointment" moment for the French is the line about the...

"...difference in prices led to one woman saying that her husband bought expensive French wines because he thought they were superior, but now she figured he wouldn’t spend as much on wine."

Meaning he isn't going to be buying French wines blindly anymore, and it sounds as though if she gets her way, he'll be looking at a lot more California wines. That says it all right there, Baby!

Heeger continues by stating:

"California wines not only fared better in the scoring, but they were easier on the budget, too. Towle said the average cost of California whites was $32, while the French wines weighed in at $170 average. California reds averaged $75, compared to the French at $170."'re telling me I can get better tasting whites, and buy 5 times as many bottles for the same amount of scratch than if I buy French whites, and get better tasting reds on average while spending less than half what I would on the same number of bottles of French reds! Quite nice news with the economy as shaky as it is.

So why is it the French keep touting their "terroir"?
Sounds like they're continuing to lose this battle......

Go Cal!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Right choice to approve Jackson's new winery

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors just approved Jess Jackson's newest winery, Pelton House on Hwy 128 in Knight's Valley. Now Knights Valley is a beautiful place, but there's been a bad case of NIMBY-ism there for the past several years. (For those unacquainted with the term, NIMBY = Not In My BackYard...)

I think they made the right decision for several reasons, some of which I'll get to shortly.

A rather vocal anti-winery / anti-tasting room group organized mainly from residents of the small valley has tried to get the project shot down since the first whispered plans were making their way around the community. They quickly rallied together, and over the years have made their case known to pretty much anyone who would listen. A few years ago I'd talked with a couple who lived in the area about the issue, and they had nothing to say that was good about Jackson's plans. In fact, they were most concerned about how the winery would become a Mecca for drunken tourists who would then cause all sorts of accidents, and the possibility that there would be huge parties held there throughout the year. Also, that the area was an agricultural area, not a commercial one. (To buy into that argument you have to ignore the fact that vineyards ARE commercial agricultural enterprises...harvest already sees large trucks on that road hauling MANY TONS of grapes to various wineries from the local residents' properties, so it's not really the quiet little lane that opponents made it out to be.)

The proposed site is right on the road, amid many other vineyards in the valley (a large one belonging to Beringer Vineyards is about 1.5 miles west of the project). The key point the residents group were trying to use to get the approval derailed was the fact that there are no other tasting rooms open to the public (without appointment) in the immediate area. Peter Michael Winery is just west of the site, but it is open by appointment only.

The opponents are right to point out that the road is only two lane and has some winding and sharp turns on it - but how many roads in Sonoma County don't fit that description? Not many...
Beyond that point, how do they justify their narrow view that it's ok for residents to have a drink or two and navigate that road, and that same scenario isn't ok for tourists? And what about the residents right to have large private parties at their own properties without the restrictions like those placed on Jackson's project? (The approval of the project limits the number of parties they can have to 4 events per year, with a 200 person max attendance each.)

The residents really risked nothing in their opposition to this, as any of them could go to the Board for a permit in the future looking for approval to open up their own property as a winery/tasting room...if they went that route I think they'd be arguing that their (resident's) project was "a small mom & pop operation", and try to exclude Jackson merely based on the size of his holdings overall. There hasn't been a conversation I was party to where the resident/opponent DIDN'T mention the fact that K-J was a 6+ Million case operation, and how they (K-J) DIDN'T NEED another winery, and certainly not in that area....
And I don't recall ever hearing about anyone approaching Jess Jackson with the deal that residents would give up their right to develop tasting rooms or wineries in exchange for Jackson withdrawing his application...and that strikes me as somewhat hypocritical on their part (please correct me in the comments if this was in fact offered but rejected by prepared to give specifics in support of that claim). I also heard from about a dozen concerned opponents over the years that the original K-J plan was for a much larger production facility and "round the year" events - but this has never been confirmed to me by people who work within the company that I know...which isn't to say that wasn't the case, I just have no information to support that point.

The vineyards for the project are seen here from the west on a road leading up the side of Mt. St. Helena. They look pretty quiet and tame, if you ask me, and I seriously doubt the impact from an operation which is producing only ~5,000 cases of wine a year is really going to be felt by the residents to the extent they've complained about it. I think the winery itself will be positioned back in the trees on the lower left of the photo, and wouldn't impact the visual beauty of either the valley or the fact, if I understand correctly, the site I have pictured is the same one that the Friends of Mark West Watershed have pictured from 2005 stating it was already graded for the new winery (looks like they were actually clearing it for a vineyard)...
Their article states that "Knights Valley Loses to Jackson Winery" after the Board listened to a whole room of opposing residents and concerned citizens, making the whole scene sound like the issue was bought off by big business. I wonder if any of the local residents' properties were opposed by such a vocal group when they were looking to get permitted for their vineyard plantings....?

Of course not. They're the "David(s)" and K-J is the "Goliath", which is evil, has no repentance, conscience or doubt, and must therefore be "destroyed" by the locals due solely to its size. Bah!

BTW, the wines that have been released to date seem to be performing pretty well: I've seen at least one review of 2004 Cab which garnered a 93 pt score for Wine & Spirits, and a 91 pt score from Stephen it doesn't look like just another run-of-the-mill winery.

The Knights Valley is a beautiful place, as I said above, but it shouldn't be looked at like it was soooo pristine it couldn't hold together after being violated by a winery with a public tasting room you don't need an appointment for.
It's NOT like we're talking about oil drilling in the freakin' ANWR for chrissakes!

Kudos to the Board for approving the project with some restrictions which should adequately address the residents concerns while not impeding progress....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Take your bagette and shove it!

Why do this to yourselves when your market is already hurting? The French (and the EU) are poised to try again to restrict use of even more place names, processes and other sheer nonsense in the name of Intellectual and Geographic Property. (The EU proposal describes these as "PGI" [Protected Geographic Indication] and "PDO" [Protected Designation of Origin]...see this link for more though the details aren't on that site...see here instead for detail.)

This is but a sampling of the original April 2008 text, and is in itself a good sentiment preparing to go horribly wrong:

I see it as foolishness on a grand scale. And I blogged about it back in 2005 when it was first being put to the vote, and later over the years (see here [French Angry], and here [EU subsidies reform]).

If the Italians want to limit the use of "Prosecco", fine. If the French want to restrict the use of "Burgundy" or "Bordeaux", again, I'm fine with that too. But now we cross the line of logic and find ourselves faced with a country(-ies, in the case of the multi-headed Hydra that the EU has now become...) which would have us stop using ALMOST ANY of the words we've borrowed from their language - EVER!

Yes, I refer mainly to France, which if all goes well in their eyes, we heathen Nouveau Monde upstarts would be prohibited from using words like "clos", "vintage", "chateau", etc. But a question remains...where does this all end?
Will we be prohibited from naming restaurants "Chez"? (think "Chez Panisse" for example...)
Will brands of French bread such as "Parisien" be outlawed?
Will "French bread" itself be renamed "EU-style yeasted wheat foam" to avoid confusion with the continental product??

The real problem is that the French - once proud that their industry led the world in both product sales and ubiquitous verbiage to describe not only the wine itself, but the process by which it is made, as well as practices in the vineyard, are now wanting to rescind their lease of words we seem to have borrowed...
And please note: the word "vineyard" is yet another potential casualty in this war. "Martha's Vineyard" will soon become "Martha's Orchard For Grapes" (BTW "orchard" is safe to use due to its humble beginnings in Latin...).

And what other words may be in danger...?
Brace yourselves! How about Chardonnay, Cabernet, Sauvignon, Pinot, Noir, Gamay (not that anyone uses that anymore), Blanc, Sirah, Petitte, etc...
Yup, you guessed it, all first coined by the French and then adopted by the unwashed hordes and used throughout the world to describe wines. Why should they stop just with place names or winemaking styles? This is a very slippery slope they want to place us on.
And what of words like "bleu"? Words which we culturally associate with French, but originating from Germanic and Norse language words before the French picked it up.
Will France be required to drop those words in a nod to the cultures it stole them from? Really, where will this process finally peter out...there seem to be so many layers it depends on where people finally become fatigued and stop the bureaucratic nonsense.

In the meantime, how will we deal with this - do we all have to learn Latin and use that? Certainly there aren't any members of the Roman culture still around to protest the use of a language which has been considered "dead" by top scholars for many centuries....

We need to stand up for "generic" and "semi-generic" terms now, or face the future consequences of a few determined, but closed minded imperialist Frenchmen...
Perhaps s
oon the French will be the only ones allowed to speak French at all, and will see their world shrink as well as their wine sales...

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Monday, March 23, 2009

"Madcap" millenials...? Long Live Queen Victoria!

On Saturday last (3/21/09), Peg Melnick of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat wrote an article which was featured high on the front page, just below the name of the paper (dear God - it must be important!) which seemed to imply that many of the recent tourists & wine aficionados were put-off by the large number of miscreant youths who partied through the wineries with apparent abandon. To the credit of the editors of the paper (or perhaps Peg herself), the term "madcap millenials" didn't appear in the print edition of her story - only in the blogged version.

Now, with all due respect to Peg , I don't think anyone in the past 50 years has used the term "madcap"...unless you count the British comedy troupe Monty Python back in the mid 70's when they described themselves as "zany, madcap humor..." (Historically, I believe that was also the last recorded usage of the term "zany" as well...)
Drunken antics of a few aside, this is all -simply put- Victorian Prudishness, and the old guard needs to get over themselves. We read of the "average Midwest Joes", who were offended by this travesty:

Dear GOD! ...have they NO SENSE OF DIGNITY!?
The sheer hubris of dressing up for St.Patrick's Day, and going to a winery instead of a brewery!
OH! The irritation! Why I'm chaffing at the mere thought of having to share a tasting room with these...these......young fashion-challenged-miscreants....?!
Wait a minute....just what is the Ohio definition of "misbehaving"?

BTW, it IS and always HAS BEEN the responsibility of the participating wineries NOT TO SERVE PEOPLE WHO ARE ALREADY DRUNK - regardless of whether their inebriation occurs from beer, wine or liquor, and regardless of whether they become inebriated on their property or show up in that condition. This responsibility also encompasses the right to refuse service to individuals who are acting inappropriately on their property...
Again from the article:

I believe the correct term is "(they) Tweet" not "twitter" when speaking in the plural. And again, it sounds like this is just the crowd the industry needs to appeal to - think how far your marketing dollars go when the crowd gathers at your winery and HAS A GOOD TIME and then spreads the word via their own circle of friends electronically!

In a recap of her reporting, Peg has an online blog which posed a few questions to people who had experience at the recent Wine Road Barrel Tasting, asking if they, too, had some unfortunate or unpleasant experiences with the "younger generation of wine drinkers" (my quotes on that last phrase, Peg didn't use it). And this is where the generational warfare tone continues from the main article, to wit:

"Who are these brash drinkers? A suspect element within the Millennials, the offspring of the Baby Boomers who range in age from 22 to 31. And these so-called "madcap Millennials" are roaming through Wine Country with some regularity..."

Come on now! With phrases like that it sounds like we're talking about packs of feral dogs attacking pastoral herds of sheep, or the hoards of mindless zombies from Night of the Living Dead showing up on your front porch!!

There is an element of concern when people show up at your establishment and proceed to get "hammered" or "plastered"...or if they show up at your place already in that state...
But lets all address THAT issue, not one where we separate people out because they dress differently, or age, or if they - God Forbid! - are actually having FUN...
Afterall, FUN, respectfully enjoyed, IS what everyone should be seeking...

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