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Monday Manifestos
Wine World Definitions

By Charles Olken

Boys and girls, your government is hard at work creating jobs, and that’s a good thing. The economy has been in a rut for far too long. Not only is the unemployment rate high, but we keep hearing reports that hundreds of wineries are in financial trouble. Just this week, the San Francisco Financial times warned us that just because such warnings have so far led to nothing, the day of reckoning could be just around the corner. However, today’s Manifesto does not concern itself with winery bankruptcies,. No one is going bankrupt for the holidays. It just isn’t done in polite society, and the wine world is not anything if not polite.

Today, we are worried about definitions in the wine world. We are worried because the Government is worried, and our government has set about to create lots of new jobs with its proposal to define all kinds of words that are currently all too “free form”. You, the consumer, are being duped by the use of these undefined terms, and our government is going to save you and is going to create lots of jobs in the process. The problem is that these will not be jobs for the average working “Joe”. What our government is doing is creating more jobs for lawyers. On the whole, that is not such a bad thing. Shakespeare knew what to do with the surplus supply of lawyers, and if you think about it, it is probably better to employ the lawyers than to line up with Bill and his rather too draconian solution to the lawyer surfeit.

But before getting to my proposed wording of the definitions that are the subject of the government’s and the lawyers’ concerns, I want to thank the government for something it never saw coming. The “Law of Unintended Consequences” is part and parcel of every move our government makes. And in this case, despite offering us another version of the “Full Employment for Lawyers Act”, our government has inadvertently and unexpectedly and much to everyone’s chagrin in and out of the wine world, also created a de facto “Full Employment for Wine Bloggers Act” because every blogger from here to Bar Harbor has just been handed free grist for the mill. We bloggers thank our government for this latest installment of the Stimulus Program. We bloggers are going to earn our jobs the old-fashioned way. We are going to write.

Tomorrow’s blog entry will point you to the definitions offered by a man who is a lot smarter than we are and whose words were the first to appear in print. But, that will be tomorrow. This is today and this is our blog so we get to go first around here. Take that, Tom Wark. Yes, the hardworking elves here in the Connoisseurs’ Guide vineyard, now fully rested from our jobs of pushing up the vines in biodynamic vineyards, have labored all weekend on providing the answers that our government is waiting to hear. And just remember, folks, that this blog could have been a lot more tedious today. We could have blogged about Pierce Disease vectors or waste water treatment at wineries—or the need for wineries to use Twitter effectively to sell wine lest a whole bunch of twenty-somethings, who go by the unfortunate name of Millennials, turn to Red Bull or Four Loko for their tipple of choice.

Well, folks, that brings us to the end of our allotted time for today. You are not going to hear us tell you what “Old Vines” means, or even that more difficult to comprehend term, “Old Vine”. Making wine from one vine per bottle is certainly possible, and we were going to lobby for each bottle of Old Vine Zinfandel to be identified by the vine from which it came. Of course, I am actually quite pleased to put off this intellectual exercise until another day because I have not yet decided whether “Old Vine” wines should tell us the row and vine number (my idea) or whether, like our government that eventually settles for the winery definitions in these matters, I should simply accept a GPS locator number or a close-up from a Google Earth map.

But, folks, don’t change that dial. I will be back tomorrow with Tom Wark’s definitions.

by John Kelly
Posted on:11/15/2010 12:12:29 PM

Charlie - let me recount the "Parable of the Permit." Back in the day, I personally worked with Sonoma County Permit & Resources Management Department to get a conditional use permit to develop our vineyard and perhaps build a winery on the property. At first it was incredibly frustrating - the paperwork! the consultants we had to hire! all those intrusive and pesky bureaucratic boxes to be checked off!

I had many meetings with the planners. In an early meeting I was ready to explode over the latest regulation they were insisting we comply with, when I took a deep breath and asked a simple question: "Can you tell me why that regulation is a good idea?"

You should have seen the looks of shock and surprise on their faces. See, they were ready for me to blow up at them. Apparently, nobody had asked for explanations before. The explanations came pouring out, because I kept asking.

It turned out that every single regulation was in place because at some prior time, some a$$ had caused physical or economic injury to his (or her) neighbors or fellow citizens, either directly or through a selfish attempt to game the system. Every one. It was eye-opening for me.

These days I view new regulations through a jaundiced eye. My first assumption when I see a new proposal is that someone somewhere has f**ked it up for the rest of us.

It's when I go looking for that precipitating event and don't find it that I get agitated. The "full employment for lawyers" actually seems to be in positing situations, and then in inventing regulations to deal with a hypothetical injury. That, I find unacceptable. We don't need to be inventing solutions in search of problems.

So when rules are proposed to define a label term like "old vines" I first assume that a douchebag like John Kelly has been putting the term on his bottles produced from the vineyard he planted in 2001. Hey, after all those vines are almost 2/3 through their allotted lifespan (according to the accountants at Sutter Home) - right? That's, like, 47 years out of a man's allotted threescore and ten. That's old, man.

The government is not imposing these rules on us in a vacuum - there will be public comment and private lobbying. The cynic in me expects that wineries with lots of money and political clout - and lots of young vineyards - will dominate the process, and we will end up with a ridiculously low age in the definition.

rules rule
by ThomasPellechia
Posted on:11/15/2010 6:22:34 PM

Just today, I'm tasting a heretofore unknown wine to me for evaluation.


The winery talks on the label about its vineyards and how special care is taken in them; the winery mentions the AVA more than once in the blurb, not to mention the special care it gives to its vineyards. The winery also lists the fermentation and elevage processes.

Then, a glance at the label shows me that the wine was "Vinted and Bottled By...

Now, whose vineyards was that again? And who, I might ask, produced this wine?

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