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Monday Manifestos
In Praise of Tom Wark

By Charles Olken

By now, if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a generally low view of blogging. No need to go into the reasons here, but suffice it to say that I read many blogs but get educated or amused by very few. Those are the facts.

One blog that I read and read and read because it is, in my opinion, the smartest commentary of the wine biz out there is Tom Wark’s Fermentation. Mr. Wark is ostensibly a public relations guru up there in wine country. For years, he hung out in the lovely little town of Sonoma, but, recently the love bug bit and Tom married a Napa Valley regular and now lives there.

His blog is really a commentary, not a wine review or instant muckraker, although he does do a better job of raking the muck than most of those who have an axe to grind. Lately, he has published a couple of blog articles that have stayed on my mind and deserve, in my view, wider distribution.

That is one of the troubles with wine blogs—even the good ones get readership in the thousands per day, not in the higher numbers that apply to print publications. And so, it gives me great satisfaction to point you towards Fermentation because you should be reading it. Especially if the two articles that have stayed with me for days are of interest.

The first is Mr. Wark’s advice about touring in the Napa Valley. Mr. Wark is not one of those Millennials who has been a wine aficionado for a few years and now knows everything. He has been around the barn a few times, and he knows whereof he speaks. He may not remember when the Napa Valley was a bucolic place where the winemaker owner was often the person pouring for at the tasting room bar, usually at no cost. And so he cannot and does not lament those lost days when there was no traffic, few restaurants and only one semi-decent hotel. No, his analysis is not what was, but what is. And what is may not be for everyone.

Here, in a nutshell, are his facts. For the complete analysis, click on the following link

It is expensive, it gets cold at night, the night life is not as good as in New Orleans, the food is pretty good and you might overeat, don’t bring the kids, the people here really do like wine and don’t mind telling you so, drinking wine can make you drunk, the wineries charge you to taste their wines, there is traffic here, you need a car.

You might say that many of his warnings are the price of success, and they are. The reason that the Napa Valley is no longer a low-cost playground is because the wines are good, people like them and their desire to go to the source has changed the Napa Valley.

I suspect that most of the readers of this blog already know those “truths”, but there is another side to the story, and it is found in the many cogent comments that poured in as responses to the article. For example, lots of people love during their touring on bicycle. They may get there by car, but bicycle works just fine for some energetic folk.

Mr. Wark has recently found himself at in the middle of a second controversy. In this case, it is one for wine geeks and not for the casual visitor to Napa or even to your local retailer. It has to do with the definition of wild yeast fermentation and the resulting claims that some wines are “natural” because they have not been inoculated with commercial yeasts at the start of fermentation. It turns out that a new study has found that all fermentations are controlled by the yeast strains that are the most popular commercial yeast and that those strains are the very same strains found in nature.

Mr. Wark has received a rather astonishing forty or so responses, most of them long and argumentative about this bit of reporting. The “natural wine community” is up in arms. Those who claim that Muscadet can be turned into Chardonnay simply by using a commercial yeast normally used for Chardonnay have been debunked, and along with them, so has a large swath of the natural wine movement and its claims that natural yeast makes better wine. It turns out that commercial yeasts are nothing more than wild yeast tamed.

If this story fascinates you as it did me, especially the ensuing response/argument that it generated, then click on the link to

These two articles give wine blogging a good name. Would that more of the genre were this good.


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