the write stuff

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Conspicuously missing from the recent Wine Advocate Washington reviews were the wines of Hedges Family Estate. But those who know the Hedges family will understand it is not a comment on the quality of the wines, but rather the strongly felt belief on the part of all the Hedges that their wines should not be scored. Over the years, in the course of many discussions, I have been able to sit down with Tom, Anne-Marie, and (occasionally) Christophe to taste and discuss, and they have contributed a great deal to my understanding of their wines, their terroir, and their philosophy.

I recently tasted through new releases from Hedges. Among a number of surprises, they introduced a new back label to their Red Mountain Red. This is the popular Three Vineyards bottling, re-named and dressed up in this new release (from the 2007 vintage). It’s a delicious blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cab franc and syrah. Smooth and silky, with a full mid-palate and just a hint of toast and chocolate, this is a fine bottle, all estate-grown fruit from the same three vineyards as before.

Shown above is the new back label. It neatly encapsulates a wealth of statistical information about the wine. Now, I understand that not everyone is addicted to perusing labels as much as I am. But I can tell you that I have often waded through reams of useless paper, PR packages, silly made-up stories about fictional wine “characters” and pandering bios about rich absentee owners and their “passion for wine” without coming across one tenth as much useful information as the Hedges have packed into this back label. It is all too common for wines to arrive (presumably for review) without even basic pricing information included, let alone notes on the vineyard sources, the blend, the winemaking, etc. They include the alcohol level because it is the law, but in many instances the print is so micro-tiny that it takes a magnifying lens to make it out.

What is not on this new Hedges label is also significant. A Bonny Doon-style listing of “ingredients” is not (yet) part of the program. Example: one of the new-era Bonny Doon back labels reads “Ingredients: Biodynamic grapes and sulfur dioxide. In the winemaking process, the following were utilized: indigenous yeast, yeast nutrient and bentonite. At the time of bottling, this product contained 65 ppm total SO2 and 20 ppm free SO2.”

Now, I am aware that some folks have allergies, and the inclusion of SO2 information may well be warranted. But the Bonny Doon label reads like a stern warning from your chemistry teacher, while the Hedges label captures much more of a sense of the story behind the wine. It also includes far more useful information than almost any wine label I have ever seen. Let’s hope that this becomes the model for the future, rather than some scary “nutrient warning” dictated by the TTB.


Sean P. Sullivan said...

Hedges should truly be commended for providing consumers with this information. While many may not care, some will. Additionally it serves an education purpose and gets people thinking about what is in the bottle.

The vast majority (vast majority) of wineries do not even include a fraction of this information on their websites. Personally, I think this is a mistake. If you (the winery/winemaker) cared enough to think about these things, don't you think some consumers might be interested as well? I am continually amazed at how difficult it is to get basic information about a wine (blend, case production, fruit source, oak). I won't even mention the number of times I visit websites and see the information one to two vintages back, even for large wineries.

Regarding % alcohol, I recall looking on the side of a label one time (I'm sure technology will allow wineries to make these numbers even smaller in the near future) and seeing...nothing! Searching the bottle the information was mistakenly left off. Whoops!

Greg said...

That is by far the best back label ever. The heavy toast explains the toasty smokiness in the '06 I had, probably, assuming a similar oak regime. Love the TA & pH stats as well. I wasn't crazy about the '06 because of the oak imprint, but the '07 info makes it clear what you're getting. I could find the right pairing or time for the style.

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