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TUESDAY TRIBUTES
04/03/2012
Tuesday Tributes
Predictions For A Tumultuous Year Ahead

By Charles Olken

It is always better to make one’s prediction with 25% of the year gone. Predictions now take on an air of reality because there are already trends in the making. Here are a half dozen concerns that are likely to be top of mind this year.

1. A Normal Growing Year

After four years of less than ideal conditions leading to a fair bit of inconsistency in the wines produced here in California, we are likely to see a more normal growing year. Not only is the law of averages on our side but the predicted turn to sunshine later this week will start the vines off happily. We have enough water to be able to apply that life-giving potion when needed, and we had enough cold days in mid-winter to harden the vines.

2. Increased Plantings

This is where predicting gets easy if one waits. We have already seen reports that vine nurseries are being pressed hard for new plants and that shortages are appearing. Not only are wineries going to plant the so-called legacy varieties that some of the young writing and sommelier set disdain, but they will also plant a wide variety of less well-known varieties because some folks have predicted that the California future will depend on greater diversity. It is all reflective of the upturn in the economy. The wine business is just that—it is a business and it is affected by the economic cycles just like everything else. The return of good times is not just making the party in power happy; it is also making the wineries happy.

3. Wineries Struggle With Style

The pressures on the wineries to seek a more balanced (meaning less ripe) style was accelerated by a series of vintages that were less than fully heated up. Cool vintages mean longer hang times and can also mean physiological maturity in the grapes at lower sugars—and thus lower alcohols. In a more normal year, the heat accumulations in the vineyard will bring grapes to ripeness at somewhat higher sugar levels. Yet many wineries are seemingly committed to reducing the alcohol levels of their wines without resorting to harsh treatments of the finished wines in order to get there. For those wineries whose vineyards do not easily accommodate themselves to picking at lower sugars, a normal growing year is going to put them on the horns of a dilemma. Do they pick underripe grapes or not? We have seen this movie before, and the results were not pretty . Stay tuned this story will be front and center across the next six or seven months.

4. A Few Wineries Rebel Publicly

The pressures on the wineries to conform to some kind of new paradigm of lower alcohol wines and to look past the major varieties if they are going to get on the “hippest” wine lists and get attention from the new young writers and sommeliers who too often equate new and different with good and desirable has already made many in the wine biz uncomfortable. Not only did we get an unusually heavy public response to our blogs last week that addressed this “different is the new black dress” phenomenon, but we also got several dozen private responses. Many of them came from folk who have normally commented on the blog and others came from folks we only hear from occasionally. What those private communications have in common is a decided and measurable level of anger towards the “everything has to change” movement. It is clear that some folks are ready to speak out publicly and that there is building swell of unhappiness over being told by a bunch of newbies that everything they are doing is wrong. It is only a matter of time before they start fighting back against the new geekiness.

5. Maturing Wineries Sell Out To Corporate Interests

The wine boom of the 1970s created lots and lots of new, privately owned, small to medium-sized wineries. We have seen sales of places like Kenwood, Ridge, Chateau St. Jean, Conn Creek, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and even Robert Mondavi to corporate interests, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. For every Joseph Phelps or Chappellet or Shafer where the next generation has taken over and intends to stay in charge, there is another place where the lines of succession are blurred at best. At one point last year, it was reported that 300 of these family-owned wineries were for sale. But clearly, 300 did not turn over. With a newly growing economy will come increased sales and increased corporate ownership.

6. The Wine Blogosphere Becomes Professional

The change has been underway for some time. The early blogosphere was the home of the new and the amateurs, and it spawned, along the way, some damn fine writers like Alder Yarrow, Samantha Dugan, Joe Roberts, all of whom have dedicated followings and unique voices. But what the blogosphere also spawned was a new outlet for professional writers like Steve Heimoff, Paul Gregutt, Dr. Vino, Tim Fish and yours truly. Now we have a way to talk about topics and stories that extend beyond our paid beats and allow us to share our knowledge, insights, thoughts and pet peeves on a regular basis. And it turns out that we all have a lot to stay. Some of it is even interesting, and much of it is far more opinionated/controversial than that which we would commit to the limited and precious print space to which are words had previously been dedicated. What has happened, and the trend will continue, is that the amateur voices are being crowded out by the pros, including the new pros. Blogging will not disappear, but it is increasingly going to be the province of the quality voice.


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Comments

Dunn
by LEONARD MARAN
Posted on:4/2/2012 5:27:44 PM

Hi There,

No reviews of Dunn wines in some time; any particular reason?

Thanks,

Leonard Maran

Shucks
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:4/2/2012 6:40:10 PM

Thank you for the kind mention Charlie. Means a lot....and might force me to keep at it.

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