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Wednesday Warblings
Can California Wine Survive Good Times?

By Charles Olken

I am beginning to doubt that California should be in the wine business. I see the proof everyday in headlines that scream thoughts like, “Russian River Pinot is coarse and too ripe”, “Sonoma Coast Pinot is too inconsistent to be trusted”, “Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is making a mockery of itself”, “the prevailing style of Chardonnay is silly”.

Anyone who reads those headlines, and, folks, they have appeared in important journals of late, would have to conclude that California’s only hope is to pull all the grapes and plant a bunch of unheard of varieties whose main characteristic is high acidity.

The wineries hear that kind of talk as well. And they are fighting mad. And they don’t mind telling us that they are. We have heard criticism of the “woe is me” crowd in all parts of the wine country. But what we don’t hear or see is the wineries fighting back publicly. Now, maybe they don’t have to fight back because they are selling a lot of wine and their sales numbers are rebounding wonderfully.

Maybe they don’t have to fight back because the best way to treat the little children trampling on their lawns is to ignore them because the wineries are going to last a lot longer than the naysayers. Maybe they do not have to fight back because they know that Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are going to keep selling like hot cakes because those are not only the leading varieties here in the U. S. but are also the gold standard around the world.

I prefer to think that the industry does not feel the need to fight back against poorly conceived journalism because they know in their bones that the major grapes make great wine and that the varieties that have not made great wine historically have been pushed to the sidelines for a reason.

Experimentation will not stop, and arguments in favor of new favorites will continue to be heard. That is all well and good and as it should be. But arguments that foresee some of those lesser grapes as the future of the industry just do not ring true. At best, some other grape or grapes will join in the party. There is nothing on the horizon, however, that is going to become the party.

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