conspiracy theories

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Winemaking has a seasonal rhythm, especially pleasing at this time of year. It’s a fascinating subject of immense depth, that reaches far, far beyond the simple “I like it – I don’t like it – what’s the score?” discourse that dominates much of the writing about wine, both online and in print. My current Seattle Times column generated an intense mini-debate among a few commenters, with predictable rants. Since that comment thread is now closed, I’ll post a couple of quotes and some replies here.

Leopold Stotch (“why isn’t there a beer adviser?”) has been on a tear recently, trying to turn the Wine Adviser into the Beer Adviser. Leo: I know my limits. I like beer as much as the next guy, really. But I am not a beer writer, nor do I ever intend to be. So this column, as long as it’s in my hands, will cover wine, not beer, not spirits.

h2olydog posts a long rant that opens this way: “Anybody paying more than $10 for a bottle of wine is buying into all the p.r. by all the poor suckers that got into the 'wine biz'-especially given the real demographic of the majority of buyers. What's the real message here? To the people making wine: Do your research, idiots! Ask anyone going into Trader Joe's or Costco what they'd love to spend for a bottle: less than $10-and more often than not, they do!! Wish the folks with all these resources to jump into fermenting grapes would instead focus the same energy on other things in agriculture or even donating their money to cancer research. It would be better spent than in an ever-burgeoning industry of a 'luxury' product.”

This is a recurring theme, especially if I write about “good value” wines that don’t meet the three-buck-chuck price point. Yes, you can buy wines for under $6 that are occasionally very good. You can buy wines for $3 that won’t kill you. Understood. But the idea that “good value” stops at $6 fails to recognize that “value” is a relative term. It’s scalable. Along with that, the confusion of “folks with all these resources” comprising the majority of the winemakers is simply false. Read yesterday’s blog – a retired high school chemistry teacher and a newly-married, new father – these are not people with a lot of resoures other than their own talent, energy and hard work.

Then there is the idea, proposed by dmrnz, that anyone who writes about wine is somehow engaged in a conspiracy to foist over-priced wines on an unsuspecting public. Quote: “The surprising truth, desperately suppressed by most in the wine industry, is that there's only a very weak correlation between the selling price of a bottle of wine and either/both its underlying cost price and its quality.”

In fact, rather than “desperately suppressing” such a revelation, I’ve written repeatedly, for the past 25 years, exactly that. There are innumerable columns in which I say do not expect a high price to equal an exceptional wine. Upcoming (in the November 1st wine issue of Pacific) is my annual Case Studies, which will focus on value wines that are exceptional.

As long as there are wine writers (and wine columns) there will be folks who insist that we are all snobs and that any wine priced over $6 is part of a great conspiracy to rip off the unsuspecting public. Oh well; why let reality get in the way of your deeply cherished prejudices.

On to another topic, sure to bring additional wrath.

The Den Hoed family, who have pioneered and greatly expanded the viticultural side of the Washington wine industry – and yes, have profited from their talent and creative vision and decades of hard work – are releasing a pair of unique and special wines, that honor parents Andreas and Marie Den Hoed. The wines, made at Long Shadows and Boudreaux Cellars, use grapes from the Den Hoed/Allen Shoup Wallula vineyard project.

The 2006 Andreas (made by Gilles Nicault) is 100% cabernet sauvignon; the 2005 Marie’s View (made by Rob Newsom) is an interesting blend of syrah, cabernet, merlot, cab franc and sangiovese. These very limited wines are being sold online, beginning tomorrow, for $80 each.


Wawineman said...

Why, oh why, did you give these miserable maggots your valued air time? Everyone knows there are 'wine haters' out there, who think we "throw away" money at outlandishly-priced bottles of loaded grape juice while noshing on fu-fu cheeses and listening to Nordstrom lobby muzik and lifting a nose to all the unfortunate commoners of the primitive world. We will never change their warped perceptions so just let them cry in their own WWE towel.
I have agreed all along that "value" can be found in all categories of wine. While a ratings number is a common denominator (think back to school days) for understanding the quality of a wine, I place a value ($) on the wines I drink (and review) to let others know this is what I would PAY if I didn't know what the price was. And, by also revealing what I actually paid for that bottle, I think that's a much more accurate "bridge" for consumers to understand "value" when they go to a wine section and see that bottle's price. Unfortunately, I don't know of any other reviewer who does that at this time, so maybe I'm just a 'weird duck' for now.

Wawineman said...

Btw, that's a nice picture of us!

PaulG said...

Which one's you?

Wawineman said...

You forgot? I'm the one with the unibrow.
Hey, that was Taste New Mexico! last year, eh?
Loved that agave wine...
silly wabbit, tricks are for kids!

Thibodeaux said...

I can't believe you quoted the "miserable maggots" but not my flaming rebuttal of them. What am I, chopped liver?

Btw, speaking of which, what goes good with chopped liver? (I know what goes good with chopped maggots -- anything under $3 from the Franzia boyz.)

PaulG said...

So, am I to conclude that Thibodeaux is Dipstick Duck? If so, I deeply appreciated the flaming rebuttals, as I must be more considerate if I am to keep my job. As for chopped liver, I never touch the stuff, but I'd go with gewurztraminer.

getagrip said...

The issue of wine value is misunderstood in this country because almost no one drank fine wine until Chard took off in the mid eighties. 90% of the 40% that even now drink wine, consume less than a glass a week. Until we are consuming wine like other countries which use it has a important part of every lunch or dinner we will continue to be novices. When we do become a wine drinking country 90% of the wine we drink will still be under $10.00 as it is now just as it is in those countries, but we will all know why and appreciate those wine that cost more. A great vineyard in Bordeaux or Burgundy might cost $500,000 per acre. In Napa they have cost as much as $400,000 and even in undiscovered Washington it cost $30,000 to buy and plant an average acre of grapes: $60,000 to $70,000 for a great one. The great vineyards control yields to 2 or 3 tons per acre (vs. 6 to 8 tons) and sell those grapes for as much as $4000/ ton (vs. $600-$900 for wines under $10.00) . The winemakers who grow or buy these grapes then use new french Oak ($13,00/ barrel), hold the wines for 2 or 3 years before release and use expensive and labor intensives small tanks and presses... and in the end go broke much more often than the bigger mass produced, lower- price producers. Thus they're price reflects the high risk and high cost, plus scarcity( only a handful make more than 10,000 cases) plus demand (which is established by quality) . Do these people who call this a rip off or a pr scam not see the world around them? How is this different than any other , high quality, rare supply luxury product. Have they not seen a pair of shoes, suit or belt; a watch or bike; shotgun, or wood cabinet ,etc ad infinitum hand made by dedicated artisans that sell for a huge premium over the mass produced items? . What is wrong with these people... don't buy them or read about wines( what's to be written about value wines other than that they exist) but let those who love great wines and can afford it be at peace....they will happily drink your share.

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