Here are my top 10 Northwest wines of the past month. Full reviews and scores will appear in an upcoming issue of Wine Enthusiast. However, since some of these wines are very limited, I want to give readers of the blog a heads up. They are ranked in order, and the ranking reflects both the overall quality and value relative to others in its scoring category.
My friend and colleague Steve Heimoff has been attending the Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowwood, and in his blog today he complains that the conference has become mired in repetition, asking the same questions and providing no answers. Well, I attended three years ago and found it to be quite interesting, though I wasn't looking for ways to become a professional (that is, paid) wine writer – I already was that, and had been for many years.
In any event, I think a link to Steve's post is the best use of this blog for today.
In response, I posted this:
I occasionally do some speaking, either formally or informally, to groups of winemakers. Apart from the usual topics – scores, ratings, reviews, the media, Parker, etc. – I offer some insights into the marketing of wines.
My background in marketing is both deep and wide, and encompasses far more than wine. My early training was in broadcast media, specifically radio and television, both as on-air talent and program producer. For a number of years following that, I worked in corporate media. The company that employed me did a variety of things, for a client base that included high tech, trucking, cruise lines, non-profits, museums and much more.
It was a fascinating time, and it provided the opportunity to meet behind closed doors with the C-level people in many different, highly competitive industries. Whether I was writing a speech, developing a video, or brainstorming a product roll-out, the challenge was to get inside that particular industry, to understand the client and their competition, and to find a meaningful point of difference for their product or service.
Good training for analyzing wine marketing.
“The Next Big Thing” is an evergreen topic for speculation among growers, winemakers, bloggers and wine industry analysts. It’s fun to peer into the future, to keep on top of emerging trends, and to believe – however briefly – that you know where consumer tastes and trends are heading.
For the past three or four decades, the next big thing from anywhere has been a varietal wine. Pinot noir from Oregon. Cabernet sauvignon from Napa. Malbec from Argentina. Shiraz from Australia. You get the drift.
Washington vintners have had brief rides on such roller coasters. I’m thinking particularly of the bump in merlot sales and interest following the 60 Minutes “French Paradox” story some 20 years ago. And more recently, some momentum seems to be gathering around riesling (again!) But my own crystal ball shows a different trend emerging.
From Wine Business online comes the news that Supremecorq, the company that pioneered the synthetic cork in the early 1990s, is suspending operations.
No surprise there. From my vantage point, their product was the absolute worst of the many alternative closures now on the market. Ugly for starters. Difficult to remove. Impossible to push back in.
Somewhere, some cork pushers are doing a mild celebration I suppose. One minor competitor down, many to go. The cork pushers have been the subject of this blog before, for their egregious (love that word!) over-the-top attempts to guilt-trip consumers into believing that drinking wine sealed with anything but natural cork was going to pollute the earth, wipe out the economy of Portugal, contribute to greenhouse gases, and generally wreak havoc on mankind.
But just this week came the most insane e-mail from a cork pusher yet. This one, sent to a winemaker who kindly passed it along to me, adds an entirely new dimension to the guilt tripping. Now, we are told, screwcaps are causing an epidemic of autism! Here you go:
Monday’s breaking news about the Precept purchase delayed my promised post about Houdini (see last Friday’s blog entry for the background details on why Houdini has suddenly popped up on a wine blog).
The bet I made with StoneTree’s Tedd Wildman requires that I prove my assertion that Houdini had promised to communicate from “the other side” (the afterlife) if at all possible. This statement popped out of my mouth much as Houdini himself would pop out of a chamber underwater in which he had been hogtied, handcuffed and locked. Only he was prepared; I was just being my usual spontaneous self.
Nonetheless, with the help of my Facebook friends, I have assembled a certain body of information relevant to the debate.
This has been a tough winter for Washington wineries. In recent weeks a half-dozen Washington wineries have closed, albeit for widely varying reasons.
Yellow Hawk had a small fan base in Walla Walla but couldn’t compete elsewhere. Nicholas Cole had been struggling to find a new business model and was finally tanked by family-related issues. Sagelands and Canoe Ridge were mismanaged by overseas ownership – but more on that in a moment. Olsen Estates simply fell victim to horrendous timing. And most recently, Whitman Cellars ran afoul of their lenders – the real story there has yet to come out.
While none of this is good news, in the grand context it is neither unexpected nor dire. Six wineries out of 700? My training was that 90% of all new businesses fail in the first five years. Against that standard, the wine industry has a stupendous track record for success.
It’s all too easy to be a doom-and-gloomer in the current economic environment. And given the time lags in the growing, making, and selling of wine, there is little doubt that a few more sitting ducks will fall before the Washington wine industry re-aligns itself. But here’s some good news.
On Wednesday and Thursday I zipped over to the Tri-Cities to participate in two lively panel discussions at WAWGG (wag). Both provided fodder for many blogs – it never fails to impress me how much there is to learn about wine. But I’ll focus today and next week on a couple of highlights.
The Wednesday morning seminar on Mythbusting was divided into three parts. Part one was on cold soaking, part two on deficit irrigation. Real technical, a lot of charts and numbers and (as Arlo Guthrie might say “circles and arrows...”). Part three was where I was called upon to speak. The panel, organized by grower Jim Holmes (Ciel du Cheval), was asked to debate the pros and cons of sustainable, organic, and Biodynamic viticulture.
Specifically, Jim asked me to address the following:
“Talk about your impressions of viticulture practices as they relate to wine quality (points?). I expect that you don't get much viticulture information when wines are submitted for tasting. But I know that you have given give great scores to Champoux, Klipsun, Ciel which are not organic or Biodynamic, and also score Cayuse highly which is, of course, Biodynamic. Just your general feelings about viticulture practice and wine quality are needed to make this session work.”
Here’s the catch.
I am in Kennewick on Wednesday and Thursday for the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers (WAWGG – pronounced “wag”). I am participating as a panelist in two featured seminars, and will blog about them on Friday. But first, a preview.
I spent virtually all of Sunday from about 11am on in front of the television, watching the grand and occasionally ludicrous spectacle known as the Super Bowl. The TV is often ignored in our home, sometimes a week or more will go by and we haven’t turned it on. So it was like a visit to a foreign country for the day, and especially because the tube was exclusively dialed into Fox Sports. In no particular order, and taking a break from the topic of wine, here are my observations.
The day’s flow began with a lineup of Fox Sports guys – mostly ex-jocks – in front of a pizza-filled set, indulging in the sort of banter that sports-obsessed guys are prone to. Mixed in were some interesting profiles of the coaches and players, some prognostications, and an occasional pre-game flash of entertainment. Maroon 5 did a nice number I thought.
The trend toward Euro-style wines, both red and white, is clearly gaining momentum here in the Pacific Northwest. As vintners explore less obvious ground, and as vines in more marginal locations get their roots well-established, the opportunity to make wines that display breed, elegance and finesse – without suffering from the veggies – is compelling.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in some of the more obscure AVAs such as the Columbia Gorge and the Rogue Valley of Oregon. In recent tastings, wine after wine from these areas has surprised and delighted with flavors that are subtle and deep.
Rarely does a day go by that I don’t get an e-mail or two from a winery quoting a review that I’ve written, for either the Seattle Times or Wine Enthusiast magazine. Since I score wines as well as review them for the Enthusiast, it’s not surprising that those scores and reviews are used by the wineries for marketing purposes. That’s fine by me; I am never happier than when I can write a really positive review of a well-made wine.
But what rubs me the wrong way is when the publication is credited but not the writer.