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Friday Fishwrap
True Confessions—What I Did This Week

By Charles Olken

I can admit that I am near the retirement age of my grad school class. Recently the Class Secretary sent out an inquiry to our group asking what our plans were. Retirement? Second career? Trophy wife? Keep on keepin’ on? I responded that I could not imagine retiring from what I do. It is not because it defines me. Rather, it is because I love what I do. I taste wine for a living.

Well, one wag wrote in and commented, “Of course you are not thinking about retiring. You are doing what the rest of us want to do when we retire”. Perhaps that is why so many people, upon being told what I do for a living, respond “I wish I had your job”.

Now, I will admit that I love my job. I love looking for the next great wine. I love visiting wineries here in order to write about them. I love visiting wineries overseas. I doubt I would have ever visited Chile or Argentina or Australia had it not been for my day job. I loved Australia so much I went back on vacation. Of course, we visited a winery here and there. How can one visit Adelaide without spending a day in the Barossa? How can one visit Melbourne without wandering out to the Yarra Valley? How can one visit Sydney—oh, wait, no wineries there. Just museums, vistas and eating and drinking very well.

This week was more of the same, only more so. Weeks like this come along every so often. Four tastings for Connoisseurs Guide, including a review of the top-rated Chardonnays and Viogniers for the May issue. These “final” tastings, when all the good wines get looked at a second time, are simply some of the most fun things we do. Fifteen Chardonnays, and every one a three-star candidate. Most wind up at two stars, of course, because the standards for three stars are so high that we usually only get about 1% of all wines tasted at that exalted level. But, two star wines are very good indeed, and fifteen or so of those all on the table at one time is enough to make us smile with joy.

Okay, so four tastings may be “work”, but they are not really a burden. How about the blog? True confessions time—this blog is not my favorite activity on most days. We have added the blog because the Internet allows us to say a lot more than we ever could in print. And with all of our peers weighing in on the issues of the day, we realize that our readers deserve our views on the goings on in the California wine industry. Hence, the blog. Hope you like it.

Editing—It is the editing that makes this week and the early part of next week so special. This is the time of the month when the next issue gets put together. Steve Eliot and I write the tasting notes. Then they get assembled and go through three editings. I wish I could say that this kind of attention to detail made CGCW letter perfect, but it never seems to work that way. Just yesterday, we got a note from a winery that we had misspelled the name of a vineyard and the wine therefore would not show up when they searched our database for it. Fixing that seemingly minor glitch, of our own making of course, takes time. It is time that goes with the territory, but it surely is not time that sits at the top of my fun list.

But, here’s one. Last night, Steve and I attended a tasting of Loire Valley red wines. These are not mindblowing wines, but with so many other reds in this world now having experienced enormous price inflation, reds like Chinon, Saumur, Touraine still hit the market at prices often under $20. And in the Loire, those reds can be made from Pinot Noir, Gamay (the true Gamay), Cabernet Franc and some other varieties that show up less often like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The wines were interesting enough and only one, a Charles Jouguet Chinon, was over $20. These wines and the better known whites from the Loire are one of the hot new categories in the United States. Price has a lot to do with it, as does the easy, briskly balanced drinkability of these wines.

We may not have learned all that much, but evenings like this, despite the time they take away from family and just plain relaxing, are always worth the effort. For one thing, the wines last night raise the question again, “why cannot California make wines like these”? That is a topic for another time, but it is clear that we only get there by default or mistake and not by intent.

Today will bring more editing. I have to finish up the edits on the Zinfandel section and move on to the Viogniers. Later today, we will be tasting another set of Pinot Noirs for the June issue, and tonight, after the usual Friday night with English mysteries on one of the local PBS stations, I will finish up whatever is left from today’s agenda. The weekend will be busy as well because the Chardonnays need to edited, the Centerfold tasting of older Zins needs to be written and edited, and we need to be ready on Monday to send those pieces off to our graphics firm so they can start the preliminary layout of the May issue even as we are working on the other unfinished business.

By the end of next week, the issue will be ready for the second of three edits, and that will happen over the weekend so that our printer can prepare a press proof on Monday leading to the third and final edit of the issue. If all goes according to Hoyle, the Online edition will go live at midnight on the 30th, the print issue will be coming off the press and be going into the mail shortly thereafter, and we will finally take a day off—unless that next day is one of our regular tasting days. Oh, and did I mention that I am going to slip in a daytime ball game next week on our only non-tasting day?

Yes, it is a tough life, this wine-tasting, but somebody’s got to do it.


On This We Can Agree
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:4/15/2011 10:13:08 AM

Every so often you and I come down on the same side and this my beloved friend is one of those times. I DIG me some Loire reds, matter of fact just sent a little one to Ron for fun. Been a huge focus for me at The Wine Country for a couple years now and they have become like those hot cake deals...selling. So fun for me to see things like Chinon in one of your posts Charlie.


The other thing I could not agree more about is how much more work is really involved in what it is we do, not just sitting around "drinking wine all day" not even close but at the end of the day, with a glass of selected wine in hand, I just love my freaking job.

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