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Monday Manifestos
Change in Wine Country: Evolution or War?

By Stephen Eliot

Those of us in the business and enthusiasts who spend a great deal of time drinking and talking about wine us are keenly aware of the mudslinging that seems to define the hot-button topics of the day from scoring to alcohol levels, from winemaking technique to grape-growing practice, and lately, to what constitutes a good wine list.

Earlier this week, Blake Gray posted the first part of a worth-reading interview1 with New York Time’s wine editor, Eric Asimov, in which Mr. Asimov commented on his distaste for what he referred as the “culture wars” that seem to be the catalyst for a large share of the discussion on wine these days. While we all may have different ideas about what the term “culture wars” might mean, there has been a real choosing of sides with the unbudging mentality of trench warfare where the lines are static and the barricades just keep getting higher, and there is more than enough vitriol to go around.

It is hard to escape even for those who, like Asimov, recognize the problem, and there are too many that seem to revel in the limelight of leading the way to a new truth.

Asimov sees the clash as being between the old and the new, a generational gulf between out-moded twentieth-century connoisseurship and a new way of looking at wines. Some have gone so far as labeling it a conflict between “wine liberals” and “wine conservatives”, that latter of which have been likened to old men yelling at the kids to get off of their lawns. For the life of me, I cannot grasp the need for or the value for this kind of absolute, bi-polar thinking. I can no more imagine staying mired in the past than I can abandoning everything that we have learned to this point, and the true believers who preach that we have gone so horribly wrong strike me being as ignorant as they are arrogant.

The need for new is a must if we expect the culture of wine to grow and remain ever involving. By the same token, “new” should not be seen as having value in and of itself and most certainly cannot be praised as being inherently better simply because it is new. I believe that great wines did, do and will exist outside the whims of fashion. I find great comfort in opening a familiar bottle that has over the years been a favorite, but I find real excitement in the hunt for and discovery of a new wine of real quality that has something all of its own to say.

For me, it’s all about evolution, not revolution. The craft and culture of fine wine is a continuum, one that has been millennia in the making. There have always been choices and there are more today than ever. I worry that we are losing sight of the big picture, of the marvelous diversity and extraordinary range of wine from which to choose. Some I will like and some I will not, but I will let each wine say what it will be it esoteric and obscure or made in style meant to appeal to the very broad public market, and I do not give a damn about anything other than it being interesting, delicious and well-made.

I find this “wars” to be pretty silly, and the puffed-up sense of importance on the part of those leading this or that charge as to be downright comical at times. I would laugh except I too often get the feeling that I am being insulted.

“Balance” has become a word that all sides revere even if defining it can be a bit thorny at times. It is time for much ballyhooed balance to return to the discussion, and we will all be better off when it does.


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Worth Reading
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/17/2012 10:48:08 AM
The following was posted this morning as a comment on an older blog item relating to the changes coming as the result of the newfound energy in the wine country in the post-recession era. I am adding here because it relates, and because it is so worth reading.

--Charlie Olken

Random thoughts and The Young Palate
by Ken Musso
Posted on: 8/17/2012 8:26:06 AM
As a small vineyard manager and grower in the Sierra Foothills, and having had my hand in such pushing 40 years, there are indeed changes taking place.On the growing side, this is the second year now that inquires are coming in about planting grapes. And no one is mentioning cab, merlot, chard, or the other standards. No, rather they are planting Muscato Giallo, Marsanne, Grenache Noir and Grenache Blanc. Spanish varietals and Port varietals are also discussed as is there interest in the Italians such as Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano and Aliagnico. The muscat interest is intense as sales of such have taken off. Will they all work out? likely not, but eventually some will be figured out.The second change I notice, specifically since moving our tasting room from Napa to Clarksburg, is the way more common event of young folks visiting the Due Vigne tasting room and seeing that they are way less preconceived as to what they might enjoy. These young guys love the rare stuff, and they have actually heard of Dolcetto and can't wait to try it. No longer do we have to cater to the tourist from Florida making sure they only leave the Napa tasting room with ONE bottle of NV Cabernet, probably because they have dropped a grand or more already on a two night minimum hotel and five meals in restaurants.These young tasters are truly a breath of fresh air, and I for one applaud their enthusiasm for the new and not so famous.Ken MussoWinemaker, Due Vigne
by Steve Heimoff
Posted on:8/17/2012 11:23:48 AM

I agree, this talk of generational wars is silly and reductionist.

by Chris Miller
Posted on:8/21/2012 6:27:56 AM

I don't see any issue with all this back and forth in discussions of the direction of the wine industry by anyone. Opinions are great and very important in wine overall. I remember the days in the late '90's and early part of this century (looks funny in print) when there was a bunch of hype about young, hip sommeliers being all the rage. As a not so young Sommelier working with another Sommelier in my same age bracket, I thought it was kind of silly. Plenty can be learned in books and through visiting wine country, but the day to day grind of working a floor, taking inventory, seeing the reactions of patrons to your suggestions and reading the table take time and experience.

I am always curious reading about these "wars" about wine lists, organic/bio wines, listing ingredients and all the others that balance is not part of the discussion. It is when wine critics, sommeliers et al discuss the character of wine, yet it is missing in the discussions of the industry "hot buttons". Just as it is often missing on wine programs (whether a store or restaurant). How many wine programs have a list of wines that nothing is recognizable or the opposite, a list full of the obvious and no options for the adventurous. Both are unbalanced, one too ambitious and "pushy", the other lazy.

Those of us who have been playing with wine for a few decades remember the days when our wine media outlets where only The Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. How can anyone complain that now we have so many options in the wine media.

No Subject
by Aaron Smusz
Posted on:8/22/2012 11:04:41 PM

Stephen and Charlie,


Please see my yelp review of Yume in Alameda if either of you are at all sushi fans.


Thanks again for a fabulous time at Shannon's birthday party.  The food, the wine ,the spirits, and the education were absolutely amazing ..... again!!.




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