Vol. 1 No. 16…terroir revisited…already???

TB is always looking for ideas and sometimes those ideas come from readers. This time, it was questioning my contention that terroir doesn’t pertain to an area, say, like Lodi. Here is my answer, and as always the teacher (question answerer?), if given time, learns more than the questioner. If not learns, then at least solidifies the thinking. Thanks Stepehen, here is the response sent to him:
Thank you for your comments on terroir. I will clarify in the next issue. However, just as there are micro-climes within even a relatively small area  – in the half mile drive up to where I lived in Orinda, the temperature could differ by as much as five degrees. Is Napa Valley the right area for growing cabernet? Yes. Pinot Noir? No. Chard? Yes and no. Thus the terroir differs even within the valley, especially the valley floor and the hillsides. This is not as much of an issue in either Bordeaux or Burgundy for making good wines but, as Karen MacNeil writes in The Wine Bible: “Given the vast and variable climatic and geologic forces that must come together to make a wine what it is, why is it that so many Bordeaux are considered great? When you ask Bordelais winemakers that question, chances are they will answer with a single word: terroir. The most renowned wines…are said to be wines of terroir: that is, they derive their characters from singular plots of land.” 
Lodi, my friend, does not have terroir…only perhaps in the sense that, say, all red wines from Calaveras County finish with a slight bitter aftertaste which I don’t find appealing…perhaps it is gold in the soil? Monterey County red wines often exhibit a ‘bell pepper nose’ which I also find unappealing. Thus the terroir does not suit these grapes.
We live in an age of engineering: financial, chemical, etc. A grower can take a sample of his wine to a lab in Napa and they will analyse it and tell him what he needs to do to turn it into a 90 point wine! Helen Turley produces perhaps the most expensive single vineyard zinfandel’s on the planet. Rave reviews? At first I thought it was my taste-buds, then I read a description by a wine critic that resonated: “chemical soup”.
Is there anything wrong with ‘creating’ a wine of quality? No, a person who invests their money and labor (we’re talking the small family owned vineyards here), in trying to make more from their labor? Most certainly not, but when the price escalates based on those high ratings it penalizes the producer of solid quality wines, and why? Nothing, or very little that the rating chaser did has earned those marks. Likewise, many of those producers, simply are not worth the money but are a kind of parasite on the rating issuer and once it starts, the ‘sold out’ mailing lists perpetuate the myth. This is what Jancis Robinson was referring to when she spoke in her blog of faux collectors.
Now, however, the wine-buying public seems to be learning: according to a California trade publication/blog which is chock-full of information on all aspects of wine (www.wineindustryinsight.com), two trends are present among wine buyers: the price increases from a 90+ rating are dissipating as either people are deluged with these wines or simply are finding their own choices, which TB of course, recommends they do; and the fast growing segment of wine buyers is no longer the $10 and under range, but the $10-20 range, and to a lesser extent, the next layer above that, while the high end is stagnant.
Perhaps consumers are finally coming to realize that they are their own best wine critic…at least you know what you are looking for, no?
TB
©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 1 No. 15 reign of ‘terroir’?

TB must apologize for being so remiss in updating the blog but have been doing a lot of reading and thinking since the last issue. Still, no excuse, but here are some of the things I have observed over that time.

1. Use and misuse of the term ‘terrior’ in blogs. Terroir is kind of like je nes se pas, as in something you detect but are unable to define. A blog recently referred to the ‘terroir’ of Lodi wines. Lodi! This is not to denegrate these wines but there is a difference between a ‘well-made’ wine and a wine of great character, thus terrior. That does not mean they aren’t good value, but it depends on what you expect in a wine. For instance, what if you tried five, or ten wines and found them all good but with no distinctive qualities. Is that what you want to buy? Hold that thought for a minute…

2. The great wines of the world have their own terrior, but through the efforts of wine critic, Robert Parker, and his friend, global wine consultant Michel Rolland, winemakers are adjusting their wines to suit the tastes of these two and other wine writers. Why? Because they can make more money with a 90 or 95 rating than an 88. There are perhaps half a dozen (or more?) wine raters now so the odds of getting a 90 or higher from one of them is improved. After all, they are not all looking for the same thing in a wine…and did it occur to you that what you, the end purchaser, likes that matters most? It is you, dear reader, that should decide what you want in a wine…that makes you go back and buy another bottle…or case. but if you just buy based on ratings you may never find that wine…your find!…that you love enough to make your ‘house wine’. This implies that unless you are blessed to be wealthy you can afford enough of the wine to serve your needs.

3. This leads to still another issue: wine snobbery. When TB first began this project, he considered something like “ending wine snobbery”, but then what is a wine snob?…or a ‘reverse’ wine snob as one fellow blogger has titled his blurb? His thrust is that you needn’t pay more than $20 for a bottle of wine (if you do, are you thus a wine snob?). He then uses a rating system that factors in taste  – and a negative price factor – to come up with an overall rating on an 8 point scale. Be it 8, 10, 20, or 100, I want to know what the rater is looking for so that if her tastes don’t match mind I can go on to another wine critic to get a rating. I actually prefer the UC Davis 20-point scale as I have tried it on wine novices and find it simplifies judging wine. But there is still a problem. It is judging a wine on quality alone not a distinctive wine. In the end, TB chose as his mot: demystifying wine, not for wine snobs. Now there is a topic that can produce hundreds of blogs, right?

4. Let’s go back to that $20 maximum price: you will get for the most part, a well-made wine but not a stand-out. Furthermore, you will eliminate most wines made by real producers. Real producers? I mean the non-corporate, family wineries who don’t produce a 100,000 cases, or whatever, giving them incredible economies of scale. Isn’t that who you would really like to support: someone making a quality product, often organically (by not using pesticides, natural yeasts, etc – note that there are reasons to not use natural yeasts in controlling fermentation, but on a smaller scale it can be done). This overlaps on sustainable and bio-dynamic production which is more expensive but often with the end result of a better product. Moving into this range means wines that are more in the $20-35 price segment. Not, to TB at least, in the realm of priced for the wine snob. No, to TB, a wine snob is someone who buys on ratings alone, and adjusts her likes to what she is told to like. Lettie Teague, who writes a weekly column in the Wall Street Journal, is an honest writer who ‘calls ’em as she sees ’em’. Her last column was on sins of people in the wine industry. Sins? How about the sommelier who pours you a glass and then describes in detail what you are tasting – isn’t that like giving you a book then reciting the story and telling you to enjoy? Another of the sins is wine shops that pepper their inventory with stickers showing the ratings of most of the wines. One of TB’s pet peeves is the server, intent on selling you more wine, pouring behind your back, or dumping the rest of the bottle in someone’s glass. I have experienced and seen friends experience, getting pie-eyed because they lost count of how much wine they drank because they didn’t see their glass refilled…again and again.

5. I know of one blogger who refers you to a wine he has rated (and often following a rating by a seller), that offers you a chance to buy direct by clicking on the link. Without accusing said blogger, how can she be independent if there is an incentive to sell the wine. TB has never, and never will, accepted anything for a favorable plug…period. But then, TB is not out go get rich, but merely provide information to fellow wine-lovers (note he did not say ‘oenophiles’ – enough of enophiles!). Instead, TB hopes you will regard his efforts at truthfulness positively and if…and when…his book is published be inclined to buy a copy, but that is up to you.

Hopefully, this has made up for the self-made ‘drought’ (sorry Californians), and given you pause on what you seek in a wine. In Jancis Robinson’s latest blog, she commented on her version of wine snobs who get on every mailing list of hard to get producers and cause more price escalation and hording. What is a bottle of wine worth? Take the word of Heidi Barrett, consultant to many of the top wineries in Napa Valley after hearing that an Imperial (six-liter bottle equal to eight 750ml bottles) of her Screaming Eagle sold at the Napa Valley Wine Auction for $500,000. As author George M. Taber writes in Judgment of Paris, that works out to $22,944 per four-ounce glass (purchased by a dot-com multimillionaire). Barrett, while obviously pleased by the price, said this, “It’s wild. you drink it, and it’s gone. My brain doesn’t get it.” Neither does TB’s, especially when there are people can’t afford their next meal. Oh, well, let them eat cake, right?

Off to get a glass of wine…

Trader Bill

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.