plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Some 20 years ago I set out to write my first wine book, a slim paperback modeled on the Hugh Johnson annual guides. This would be a comprehensive overview of what then were all lumped together as Northwest wines – the title of the book. I wrote it with co-author Jeff Prather, then sommelier and wine buyer for Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle. When it was published, it was in fact a comprehensive guide to virtually all the wineries of Oregon and Washington – roughly 210 in all – which, oddly enough, is close to the same number of wineries profiled in my newest book. Maybe that is where I max out?

Here is what I wrote in the spring of 1993 as an introduction:

“This book is an honest attempt to take the hocus-pocus out of at least one region's wines--the Pacific Northwest. It's not often that a brand new wine region with world class capabilities comes along. What little history we have in the Northwest has largely been obscured from the rest of the world by the long shadow of California. That is changing. These wines are too good, too distinctive to stand in California's shadow. We want to share the excitement gripping the wine producers of the Pacific Northwest. We want to showcase their wines and make them more accessible to consumers.

This book will help you understand what makes the region and its wines unique and memorable. It will help you find your way through some new styles and flavors. It will lead you to some delicious discoveries. What it won't do is bog you down with the details that matter only to the hobbyist. Other books can go into the fine points of pruning, trellising, clonal selection, yeast selection, barrel selection, natural selection and all the rest. This book is aims to deliver the information that matters to you with a minimum of mumbo jumbo.

The point is we need to be able to use plain English when discussing the subject of wine. We can treat the subject with all due respect without making it intimidating and confusing. Let's make it a little simpler to make wine more accessible to everyone. Let's have a lot more fun with wine and a little less stress. After all, it's just grape juice with an attitude.”

Re-reading these lines two decades later is a bit amusing. Has anything changed? Wine writers are still trying to “take the hocus-pocus” out of the subject. Much of the world still knows little or nothing about the wines of Oregon and Washington. And now it’s not only grape juice with an attitude; the attitude seems to be infecting ever-larger numbers of people who make and sell it. Just consider the number of pricey wine courses and diplomas being offered today. A little knowledge may be dangerous, but apparently, a lot of knowledge is really expensive.

For what it’s worth, heading into the new year, I will do my best to keep things level on the level (as John Prine would say) as far as what is written and discussed here in this blog. I appreciate your readership, your thoughtful comments, and I wish you all the very best of New Year celebrations.

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