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Tuesday Tributes
Who Is Relevant In 2012?

By Charles Olken

Steve Heimoff blogged today about relevance. He borrowed the topic from something he read on Blake Gray’s blog who wrote about a new blog/online publication entitled Loam Baby. You can look it up. I am borrowing the topic from all of them because I like it.

First of all, I need to explain that the comments below started as a response to friend Heimoff who offered his own unique view of relevance in which Diamond Creek was relevant but Trefethen may not be, and in which Napa was relevant but Sonoma was less so. I start out by explaining to friend Heimoff that neither he nor I live in a complete world and thus our views of relevance may be different from those of others. More on that later—based on comments to Heimoff and me over on the Heimoff blog.

“The question of which wineries are relevant and which are not is harder to judge than you think. You and I are not out there in the real world of relevance much. We taste everything and we issue our opinions, but we don’t do much market research.

If we did, we might conclude that Rombauer is relevant because it sells so much wine and Diamond Creek, despite making good wine for four decades, is not especially relevant by any modern standard.

I was surprised by your inclusion of Trefethen and Chappellet in the “possibly less relevant” category. To my way of thinking, Trefethen is a quite vibrant winery with a style that has become more relevant as the world looks for sleeker, more lithely balanced wines. And, I also think that Trefethen wines have gotten better over time. It is hard for me to think of them as not relevant.

Chappellet is a different case. They sit up there in the fancy hills to the east of the Napa Valley and are surrounded by fancy, fancier and fanciest names and their Cabs and Chards remain attractive in my tastings. Maybe I am missing the point, but if relevance is at least partially driven by a continuity of good wine that has adjusted to changes in winemaking technique over time, then Chappellet is also relevant in my scheme of things.

All of which brings me to wineries that have fallen out of favor because their wines have not kept up. To me, those are the ones that are not relevant if we define relevant by constancy and quality. Heitz and Freemark Abbey would be poster children for the loss of relevance by those measures. Jordan and Sonoma-Cutrer over in that other county (which is also relevant in my view) hit my list of reduced relevance.

I have no idea how much wine any of those brands are selling. All I know is that they do not measure up in the way I would measure relevance.

All of this is meant to say that the term is a tricky one, and it depends on how it is defined. I would guess that some folks would only measure relevance by the new, hot styles and wineries and would find Scholium Project, Harvest Moon, Donkey and Goat, Pey and Peay to be much more relevant in today’s world than anything from the “established” groups and places. No knock on any of their wines—many of which have rightly highly in the pages of CGCW, but their relevance to the new paradigm can only measured by using the new paradigm as a measure of relevance.

The comments section over at the Heimoff blog quickly informed me that Jordan and Sonoma-Cutrer continue to sell lots of wine. In fact, they are the top restaurant brands in their varietal categories and numbers two and three overall. So much for my definition.

But, so much for any limited definition. There are lots of ways to be relevant. Quality in at the tops of my list. Consistency is right up there with it. Value comes in right behind them if only because I am a quality buyer for my own cellar and a quality reviewer in CGCW; thus value is an adjunct to quality but not its equal. Sales never enters into my personal equation when it comes my view of wine relevance, but, of course, it does have a certain standing in wine publication relevance. For example, the Wine Spectator is one hundred times larger than CGCW in readership. CGCW may be more relevant to a handful of folks but not to the larger readership audience.

Still, I will take my definition any day. Give me quality and consistency. For me it trumps sales or drama or the latest “here today/gone tomorrow” big thing.


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by John
Posted on:3/13/2012 12:13:40 PM

Charlie I am largely with you on this. Relevance to today's discussion of fashionable trends is quite different from relevance to my palate, and cellar. Both are also different from historical relevance.

Producer relevance in the media is largely driven by the needs of "here today" wineries who are trying - some desperately - to not be "gone tomorrow." Also by the needs of those same media not to be gone tomorrow.

So when are you opening up your editorial calendar to evaluate all the sweet red wines that are supposed to be coming? ;-)

Sweet Red Wines
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/13/2012 1:53:25 PM

John, I am planning to wait a bit for that. I am guessing that they will be irrelevant very soon.

I admit to taking White Zin seriously for the first two reviews, then throwing my hands up and running as fast as possible in the other direction.

By the way, the notion of sweet red wines in not exactly unheard of. Just ask Sam about Rombauer Zinfandel or me about Lava Cap Zin.

And when we finally get around to Amarone and Recioto and Ripasso, my cellar doors will swing open.

by Robert LeRoy Parker
Posted on:3/13/2012 2:23:07 PM

To me, those are the ones that are not relevant if we define relevant by constancy and quality. Heitz and Freemark Abbey would be poster children for the loss of relevance by those measures.

Are you saying Heitz and Freemark Abbey are not relevant because their wine is of inconsistent quality?

A Troll By Any Other Name
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/13/2012 3:06:54 PM

Are you the father?

by Jay Franz Miller
Posted on:3/13/2012 3:29:35 PM

Who says that I am no longer relevant? I got three mentions on Hosemaster's well-established, irrelevant blog.

Not trolling at all
by Robert LeRoy Parker
Posted on:3/13/2012 4:46:41 PM

Who is the father?

Your sentence is worded confusingly so I am trying to figure out what you mean.

Looking for Mr. Goodparker
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/13/2012 5:12:28 PM

You are not the father,and you are not the son.

This is beginning to take on ecclesiastical overtones.

Word has it that you have been dead for four years now. Not back to haunt us, are you?

by Robert LeRoy Parker
Posted on:3/13/2012 5:19:56 PM

I'll elaborate about why I'm confused. First you mention constancy and quality but then mention consistency and quality as your prerequisites for relevance.

When I think constancy I think of a winery that has been around for a very long time like Heitz or Freemark Abbey.

But consistency could be a winery with only three vintages or so that were all very high quality, no? So I guess I'm wondering is it actually constancy, consistency, and quality?

What time period defines constancy to you?

As for my question about Freemark Abbey and Heitz, I'm completely new to the wine blogosphere and have never read your publication. So if you have in the past made it plainly obvious that you think those wineries are generally of inconsistent quality, I would have no idea. I don't really care one way or the other.

As for my name being a bit trollish, that is merely coincidence because it is a pseudonym that I've used for some time in a different "blogospheric universe," where it is rather apropos.

HTML time
by Blake Gray
Posted on:3/13/2012 5:28:36 PM

Hey Charlie, I think the subject is pretty interesting and I liked reading your take on it.

Here's a brotherly note from your fellow blogger, though: You have to master linking. When you mention somebody like Steve "Ink'd" Heimoff or yours truly, you should have a hot link to the post or article in question. I'm sorry that my note comes at a time when it plays into my own self-interest, but that doesn't change the fact that it's both polite, standard current style and expected by your readers.

Here's a reasonably good intro to hyperlink coding:

In a nutshell, if I want to send you to, say, Vinography, I could write a sentence that would look like this:

Read <a href="">Alder Yarrow's words of wisdom on Vinography.</a>

It gets easier because you just cut and paste. 21st century my man!

21st What
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/13/2012 6:11:08 PM

Blake, you are hired.

From now on, you are my link man.

And for what it is worth, here is the address of Blake's blog. Sorry, no hot links. That is a massive new trick. But, folks, do go and check it out.

Buzz Kill
by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:3/13/2012 6:11:46 PM

It's not so much relevance we're talking about. Isn't it more about buzz? Who is being talked about and who is no longer being talked about. People still talk about Screaming Eagle, but you don't hear much about Bryant Family any more. They talk about Kosta Browne and Scholium Project (I had scholium as a kid, which explains why I'm so twisted) and Saxum and Matthiasson, but no one ever talks about Heitz or Freemark Abbey (especially after Huckleberry Jackson bought it) or Far Niente any more. A winery can be relevant, yet have lost its buzz. Come to think of it, I need a drink, I've lost my buzz.

And I'm damned proud to be irrelevant. It's the very definition of blogger!

Buzz, buzz, buzz went the bumble bee
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:3/13/2012 7:44:50 PM

Ah yes, I remember fondly my Falernum...alas, it has become irrelevant.

Tell me, is this subject the new points conversation?


No Subject
by randy
Posted on:3/19/2012 12:20:26 AM

"New hot styles" does NOT represent Harvest Moon or (iMO) Donkey and Goat, rather traditional, sound, proven winemaking that honors historical wine Country.  Less oak, less alc via early (ontime) harvesting and proper time in barrel are winemaking values that have always been around a very long time It's the high alc, overly oaked style, syrupystyle  that is the new flashpoint in the frying pan.  


Sir, for you to say in your last statement of this blog that you'll stick to your "definition anyday" shows your lack of winemaking history or short memory.  Maybe we are realtively new (10 years for us), but we are practiciing traditional methods that should be honored not scouffed at by established pro's in the gig.   

Perhaps we should look at the relavance of industry talking heads in today's wine world rather than critisize through professional word smithing the unique, outspoken wineries who are cutting their own path without the praise of the industry gatekeepers.

You are right Charlie, nothing to see here.  For you to backhandly presume that we lack quality or consistency is pure silliness.   I know you do not like me so please refrain from writing about my small, family business.  

Harvest Moon Winery et al
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/19/2012 12:59:13 AM

Hello Randy--

Interestingly, I was not putting down your efforts, or even those of Scholium Project, whose efforts, are anthithetical to yours in my opinion.

The quesiton of relevanc was the topic, and I was making the point, which I must not have made well enough since you missed it, that new ideas are not a good measure of relevance even though there are those who think so.

And, Randy, it is not you that I dislike but some of your ideas that basically say "my way is the only way".

In any event, the real issue in relevance to me is wine quality, and since you do not submit your wines for review, I have no comment on them. I do have comments, however, on folks like Trefethen whose stylishness and constancy have, in my mine made them relevant for decades. I coudl care less whether they are relevant to some subset of tasters. They are relevant to me. So, is,. by the way, Donkey and Goat, and a host of other new, young winemakers who are offering brilliant wines. In fact, it their brilliance, no their adherence to a narrowly definded style, that makes them relevant.

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