Thursday, July 9, 2015

Killing the Geezers that lay the Golden Eggs

Hello, friends, Dr. Harry W. Oldman here! It has been a while since I've come here to put pen to paper - or do these young whippersnappers call it fingering the computer - partly because I wanted to see what the reaction would be when I said to myself I might cease writing. About a year ago, I took a position with a big-name wine producer, but recently left. My non-disclosure agreement only allows me to say good things about them, but I can't identify them by name. Anyway, I'm back because the wine world needs more old white guys to keep it from destroying itself. Without us, I'd be surprised if the wine industry would survive more than a few weeks. Millennials and bloggers - scum of the earth - are intent on destroying what we worked so hard to achieve: delicious wine.

There used to be hedonism in the wine business. I know, because I know some wonderful women winemakers who... well, let's just leave it at me knowing them. I don't want to get in trouble because the FCC won't let me be, or let me be me. So, let me see... well, we don't have hedonism anymore. No, now, because of all those slack-line-walking bloggers, we have another form of prejudice that’s just as pernicious: asceticism.

Read, for example, this piece, from The New York Times Magazine, that refers to "a band of upstart winemakers ... trying to redefine what California wine should taste like." This group of self-proclaimed arbiters of taste wants wine to be minerally and flavorless. They think wine should have no perceivable alcohol! We are basically living a second-coming of the temperance movement.

Okay, let's break this down.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Quest for Certainty Blocks the Search for Meaning...

"The quest for certainty blocks the quest for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers." - Erich Fromm, 1947

That quote from Fromm's Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics is a peak into his into his views on human nature, but as I read it the other day the first thing that popped into my mind was the 100-pt wine rating system. I know, I know, this horse has long been dead. Perhaps this was my first thought because I actually found myself defending the system over the weekend. My friend, Jeff Siegel, made the statement that the 100-pt system is useless. I countered that it is quite useful as a means to convey information about one person's perception of a wine to another. However, I acknowledged that the system is quite flawed. Jeff, in all his wisdom, correctly pointed out that 'flawed' implies it can be corrected.

There is no way that this system of using numbers to portray an authoritative characterization of a wine's quality can be fixed to correct the false sense of certainty it has created. The true meaning of a wine cannot be replaced by a number, yet the wine world in which we live has been corrupted by the quest for perfection. Yes, information is conveyed but at what price?

There are those consumers and critics alike who understand that a wine's true worth is not found in the pedigree of the cultivar, or the reputation of the region, or the celebrity of the winemaker, but in the collection of traits that leads to an experience. A number draws a sand in the line; Whoever is not with me is against me (Matthew 12:30). Wow, I never thought I'd quote the Bible on this blog! Only by erasing the number from the equation can we erase this false dichotomy of good and evil, or right and wrong. Wine is neither good nor evil. Wine is communal. You have the right to love a bottle I can't stand.

Wine is meant to be enjoyed, shared, and celebrated. Arguments are part of the fun, but the quest for certainty and the quest for high scores has replaced the true meaning of wine for too many consumers, critics, and winemakers. Only naked from certainty that numbers imply, can we then drive forward to experience wine in its true beauty.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Day After Tomorrow (or, The Next Big Thing)

Coloradan Syrah is the next big thing. Spanish Txakolina is the next big thing. Arizonan Malvasia is the next big thing. Greek Assyrtiko is the next big thing. Californian Chardonnay is the next big thing. French Sauvignon blanc is the next big thing. Mexican Nebbiolo is the next big thing. Oregonian Pinot noir is the next big thing. There is no next big variety when it comes to wine. People who claim grape X is the next big thing are wrong. People who claim that the traditional big grape varieties are the only important grapes and "there's really no good reason for consumers to seek out esoteric wines" are also wrong. The closest thing to the next big thing in wine is variety itself: diversity.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

101 Punctuations

In an exclusive interview, Jeff Siegel, aka The Wine Curmudgeon, confided in me a stunning reversal to his wine reviewing policy. "As of today, I will be review wine on the 101-point scale," Siegel giddily revealed. "I know I've bellyached about the quantitative rating of wine for many years now, but I've finally realized the beauty of the system." Siegel has obtained both a patent and a trademark on the revolutionary system. Siegel made clear that any attempt to co-opt the use of the additional point will be met with swift action by Siegel's legal team, the famous Dewey, Cheatem, & Howe.

The 100-pt system for rating wine has been widely ridiculed, but yet remains popular. "I've seen how Cruella de Monkton has kidnapped the wine world with his 100 points. I have no plans to skinning wines for financial gain," explained Siegel. "I've rolled myself in the soot of bloggerdom long enough and will finally give Bogle and Cristalino the points they deserve. I will start a Dynasty of Dearly Deserving Wines," Siegel said with a sardonic grin. "I'm even thinking of taking the idea further than wine with a magazine called 101 Points by Jeff Siegel," admitted Siegel. "My crackpot legal team is working out the details as we speak!"

After finishing a bottle of cheap Gascon wine, Siegel let another secret slip. Not only will he attempt to change the world of wine critiquing, Siegel claims to have plans to take cheap wine mainstream via broadcast television. "Not enough wine consumers pay attention to cheap wine. If I can put it on TV maybe consumers will start buying the stuff! I've got a green-light to start filming a remake of a famous sitcom," whispered a clearly intoxicated Siegel. "I can't give you any details right now, but will say that Jon Bonné, W. Blake Gray, and I will start filming next month. Just as the original series was all about hedonism, jingle writing, and drinking, I couldn't think of a better way to put cheap wine on center stage than on CBS' Monday night programming."

Siegel went on to mention that the project kicked off when Bonné approached him about starting show about two ex-newspaper wine writers living together and working in a local wine shop while attempting to raise funds to start a winery. The show was going to be called 2 Broke Guys. Getting word of the project, Gray wrote a draft of a scandalous blog post uncovering the plans and demanded to be included or else he would expose the project to the world, taking away the thunder of Bonné's first story for Punch.

Siegel sighed and explained that to make the best of a bad situation he called his friend Chuck Lorre. "I've already said too much, but damn isn't this colombard tasty. I think it might be the first 101-pt wine," Siegel slurred. I figured out the details of the project when Siegel doffed his trademark fedora, winked repeatedly, and not-so-subtly mouthed the name of the show. Apparently, Chuck Lorre thought it would be great to remake Two and a Half Men. Sadly, Siegel refused to tell me which character each writer would play.

Look for the revamped Two and a Half Men on your local CBS affiliate this coming September.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ben's Blush: Rochioli Rosé

Three-year olds can be full of energy. Directing that energy towards a single purpose can sometimes be difficult. They bounce around from place to place or activity to activity. So last year, we enrolled Ben in gymnastics and soccer. While he enjoyed both, he really took to gymnastics. There, he could run and play without the specific structure and rules that soccer entailed. When we asked him if he wanted to sign up for gymnastics again, he literally jumped at the opportunity. Last week was the beginning of round two for gymnastics. With a year of maturity under his belt, he is able to sit still during circle time and listen to the instructor explain the skill of the day. He still likes the free-play time and bounces between the trampoline, beam, and bars with no method to his madness. Despite the chaotic nature of his activity, it is fun to watch him enjoy himself.

2012 Rochioli Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley AVA

This is another 3-yr old that seems to be bouncing around without a clear purpose. Rochioli has quite a good reputation for producing pinot noir, but unfortunately this bottle was just disappointing. It seemed to be all over the place. It had good acidity and decent light, red-fruit flavors, but taken all together the wine was just sort of bland and disjointed. Maybe it was just this bottle or maybe it was me? I have one other bottle that I'll try at a later date. 14% abv. Purchased $24. Average

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ben's Blush: Boulder Creek Dry Rosé

Four years ago, I decided to start a weekly series on sparkling wine in honor of the impending birth of our first child: Benjamin. It was a fun way to celebrate our new bundle of joy and reflect on his milestones, all while exploring a specific style of wine each week. This year, I decided to resuscitate the concept, but with rosé. I didn't time it with Ben's birthday in mind, but his fourth birthday is rapidly approaching.

It also happens to be the 125th birthday of the City of Littleton, where we have lived for the past six years. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Littleton, it is a quiet suburb of Denver located about 10 miles to the south. The historic downtown area is home to a few shops and restaurants, but an influx of more youth and energy would be highly welcome (though many residents want to keep things as they've always been), as downtown is often too quiet. The addition of Breckenridge Brewery this summer should push things along in that direction.

We happen to live between two parks just a few blocks to the east of the downtown district. Littleton uses one of these parks for its fireworks shows several times a year and we get a front row seat. For the birthday celebration this year, the City decided to use the other park for a fireworks show because the Littleton Museum, next door, was hosting a reception featuring Breckenridge beer and food from the Breckenridge's Farm House Restaurant. A few of our neighbors and our trio of kids all trekked the two blocks to the park to watch the show. I admit, it was odd seeing fireworks going off with snow on the ground, but the show was entertaining nonetheless. Ben ooh'd and aah'd on his own without any prompting. On the way back home, the little ones had a spontaneous dance party, complete with bubbles, on the sidewalk in front of our neighbors' house.

The next morning, Ben and I walked down to the rec center for the birthday carnival and pancake breakfast. I was quite surprised how long the line for pancakes was, but I guess free food will do that. After filling up on pancakes and orange juice, Ben spent a good hour running back and forth between the two inflatable entertainment centers (bounce castles). It was fun seeing all the kids having so much fun (and burning all that excess energy at the same time!). I guess you don't have a 125th birthday every year, but it sure would be a great way to kick off Spring and the coming warm weather every year if the City were to throw a party each March!

2013 Boulder Creek Winery, Dry Rosé, Grand Valley AVA

Sadly, Boulder Creek will not be making any more rosé - any wine for that matter. The owners decided to wind down operations because they couldn't find a new location at a reasonable price. This merlot-based rosé is their swan song for the category of wine they thought could be a signature style for Colorado, even though they had trouble selling it because of the lack of sweetness. The color is almost a neon pink. This was an odd, but interesting, wine. Not because of the wild strawberry, or basil, or thyme aromas and flavors, but because of the smoked pepper - almost cayenne - undertones. The finish was notably spicy and with a bit of heat. It went down easily and was surely unique. 13.2% abv Purchased $16. Good

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Brand ownership of social media

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. - First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Constitution of the United States (© Tetra Images / Corbis)
The doctrine outlined in 1st Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the U.S. Congress and state legislatures from enacting laws that diminish the freedom of speech. Most Americans take that to mean that they can say almost anything they wish. Sadly, that is far from the truth. There are many restrictions placed on speech based on factuality, employment, and legal contracts. We may not make a false statement that harms the reputation of another person or brand. Such speech is known as defamation. Non-disclosure agreements (plentiful in the wine industry) also limit what one can say.

Luckily, freedom of expression and opinion are protected under the 1st Amendment. I can say that I don't like a wine or that a restaurant offered poor service during my dining experience. I firmly believe that a bad product review via social media is a brand's opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. When a brand chooses to attack or complain about a criticism, it is just creating more damage to themselves.

One apartment complex in Florida took its stance on speech restrictions and social media criticism to an entirely new level. According to an article on Consumerist.com, the Windermere Cay apartments placed a "social media addendum" in its tenant lease agreements. This non-disparagement clause also assigned copyright to "any and all written or photographic works regarding" the apartment to the owner. In short, tenants were forbidden from publishing negative reviews online, and any comments or photos posted could be altered or removed because the apartment management owned them. On top of all this, a $10,000 fine was written into the contract for the first breach of the agreement and an additional $5,000 per subsequent breaches. Oh, and the apartment owner was the arbiter of what constitutes acceptable use. Windermere Cay basically said its tenants may use social media, but only in certain ways, and if they didn't like how a tenant talked about them they'd be fined.

That is akin to a winery saying that it owns all photos and reviews of its wine online by consumers, and if they didn't like a review you'd owe them money. Can you imagine a winery fining consumers (or critics) for posting negative comments about its wine? All those Delectable and Instagram images could be controlled by the wineries. Any sub-90-point score could be removed from the Interwebs!

Luckily, wine reviews are generally determined to be a safe form of expression. Non-defamatory opinions are fair game. Critics, journalists, and plebeian bloggers can write freely about wines they buy or are provided with free of charge by a winery. So all is good in the wine writing world, right?

Well, some wine critics demand similar constraints on their content. The Wine Advocate declares its reviews/scores as intellectual property that it owns. Not really that outrageous of a concept. However, if you are a commercial user that is involved in the sale or distribution of wine, Wine Advocate requires a commercial subscription agreement for you to use their content. If you use their content beyond what is specifically permitted in the agreement they may terminate your subscription and sue you.

I understand that no one likes to be criticized, but in this age of every single person on the planet being able to express their thoughts (however stupid they may be) and opinions to the rest of the world, is it really in a brand's best interest to bully and threaten others to make themselves appear better via social media? I guess we really are just living on a global playground...