coverup?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

“Hey Mister G,

I just want to say thank you for all your replies and terrific columns and blogs. I think the number one reason I follow you is that while you are very knowledgeable about the world's wines, you know so well that this region's wines, while still considered "emerging" in many circles, are not just a stud value but also stud quality. Stud-ilicious.

Actually, which brings to this question...we have, what I think, a world-class core of "polished" winemakers like the Golitzins, Figgins, Smalls, Januiks, Barons, Camardas and Betzs, along with so many recent additions of reputable newcomers and established boutiques, so why is Washington still considered "emerging" by the national publications and international community? Is the industry not doing enough to promote itself? We're talking 2009, right now. It's been at least six full vintages since that first Wine Advocate "100 point" score by a Washington winery. I mean, I buy the magazines, I read the websites... it's Rutherford cabs, Penfolds Grange shirazs, even Marlboro sauvignon blancs that grace the money articles. Why isn't more attention being paid to Red Mountain cabs, Columbia Gorge semillons, Walla Walla syrahs, etc.? Why would I want to buy the current Wine Enthusiast issue with its glossy photo on Napa cabs when we know (or think) Red Mountain is at least its equal? I hope that it's mostly due to majority familiarity throughout the nation that California cabs, specifically Napa, is the only cab the U.S. produces that is "sexy" enough to sell magazines. But that just continues the stereotype, or cover-up, that Washington (and Oregon) is like the Cinderella-you-keep-in-the-attic. Oregon may have pinot noir as its claim-to-fame (maybe also pinot gris), but they still don't get the "star treatment" or quality (and quantity) "air-time" afforded to Cal, France, and Australia.”

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Ed is quite right, and this is confirmed by virtually every winemaker I speak with, that Washington wines are both unknown and a hand-sell in almost every market outside the Northwest. Remember this – the total vineyard acreage in this state is officially just around 35,000 – less than a single individual, Fred Franzia (Mr. Two Buck Chuck himself) – owns in California. Out of the total Washington vineyard I would guess that probably two thirds is less than a decade old – it’s either new or has been replanted. The regions that have made a name for themselves here – Red Mountain and Walla Walla in particular – have maybe 3000 acres of vines between them. That is a drop in the bucket. It means that although we who live here see a lot of wines from those places, the rest of the world does not. They see a handful of bigger brands – Hogue, Columbia Crest, Ste. Michelle – that have the quantities to reach into wine shops and grocery stores across the land. Their wines are perfectly fine, but most carry a Columbia valley designation, and are blends from a wide variety of vineyards. They do not have the typicity of the single vineyard or small production regional wines.

As far as why the major publications focus on other parts of the world, I can only speculate. But other than the Wine Enthusiast, for whom I write, I can point out that they do not have writers who actually live in Washington. Their writers visit here occasionally, and file mostly tasting reports, based on blitzkrieg tastings of hundreds of wines in a week. I live here, in western Washington about half of each month, and in southeast Washington the other half. My report on new developments on Red Mountain will in fact run in the next issue of Wine Enthusiast. But print can only handle so much information, which is why this blog is designed to fill in the gaps. My book will also be completely revised and expanded, with a new edition coming out next year. Believe me, no one wants to keep Washington wines a secret; it is just a very competitive market, and it takes a long time and a lot of effort to penetrate new places. Tomorrow I will post some thoughts (and notes) on why Washington syrahs, which are so impressive to me and to many others in the trade, just are not selling all that well. Meanwhile, please post your thoughts on why Washington doesn’t get the star treatment it deserves.

PaulG

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