My friend and colleague Steve Heimoff, who, like me, writes for the Wine Enthusiast and serves on its tasting panel, has fired a major shot across the Washington bow with his Friday blog entry. Headlined “Washington State: a hard sell”, the thrust of his remarks seemed to be summed up with these few lines.
“I have to say the Washingtonians always seem to have a kind of resentment toward California,” he writes. “On the one hand they’re always reminding us here in the Golden State that California’s too hot to make balanced grapes, our wines are too alcoholic and obvious, they lack elegance, we’re on the same latitude as the Sahara Desert or something like that. Whereas they, Washington State, are on the same latitude as Bordeaux, they make more balanced wines, et cetera."
“On the other hand," Heimoff continues, "California sells, what? Ten times more wine than Washington State. California wine is famous all over the world, while Washington wine isn’t. California wine has the ‘profile’ that Washington wine doesn’t, and the Washingtonians don’t like that, but don’t know quite what to do about it.”
Once my initial astonishment passed, and I had weighed in with my response, I began to think more seriously about Heimoff’s point. At first I thought he must be responding to some remark or other that I had made in print or blog, because it is true, I frequently take a shot at California. I confess it has been an ongoing habit to do so, but generally in service of a specific argument. And I have backed way off in recent months. In fact, my own Preface to the revised second edition of “Washington Wines & Wineries” includes these lines. “Washington State wines have made their entrance upon the world stage, and no longer need to stand shyly in the corner while some marquee player from California hogs the spotlight... Washington has moved out of the shadow of California.” Not a shot – more of a “I am Washington; hear me roar!” type of a statement.
So it turns out that it wasn’t me who poked a stick into the Heimoff hive. Apparently his ire was raised by what he heard from someone who attended last week’s well-publicized, buyers’ road trip through Washington wine country. Sponsored and organized by the Washington Wine Commission, the four-day marathon brought more than three dozen wine buyers from around the country to the wineries and vineyards of this state. The purpose was to pry some of their collective $750 million annual wine-buying dollars (the Commission’s figure) out of their California-centric wallets.
Members of the press are never invited on such trips, presumably for fear of tampering with the message being so carefully presented. It’s too bad, because the intense and creative schedule included a great many fascinating and instructive seminars, tastings, and opportunities to learn about the state of the art here in Washington. Speaking for myself, I would have welcomed the chance to tag along, as I would have learned as much (or more) in a week as I can possibly organize on my own in a year.
I did get a good overview of the agenda from one member of the buyer corps, who shed some light on the Heimoff tirade. Apparently, more than a few of the winemakers and other speakers on the tour took potshots at California. This happened so frequently that it struck many of the visitors as excessively defensive, and kind of bush league. My source felt that such sniping was not only unnecessary, but also counter-productive. His feeling is that Washington does not need to bash California to make its strengths known. And I totally concur.
So on reflection, Steve Heimoff has done us a favor, and I for one will confine my future California bashing to an occasional jibe, in the spirit of camaraderie. A joke between equals if you will. And hopefully Heimoff will look up the actual definition of “rain shadow”. And in a perfect world, wine writers who specialize in covering Washington state wines and wineries will get invited on trips that will help them to do the best possible job.
Monday, October 04, 2010