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TUESDAY TRIBUTES
09/24/2013
Trials and Tribulations
The Day The Revolution Was Proclaimed

By Charles Olken

One of these days, the winewriting world is going to be buzzing about a new book that purports to explain the Revolution in California Wine. Whether it will be well received or not, it is going to miss the point because it is going to focus on the obscure, the unheard of, and the unusual, all in pursuit of lower alcohols and less expressive varieties. And it will mistake interest in the new for a rejection of the accepted and well-liked.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The more new stuff the better as far as I am concerned. Discovery of the new is a big part of my fascination with wine. Enjoying truly tasty, balanced, well-made wines, of course, is the real focus for us all, and new and different is just that at first blush. In order to be something of a higher order it needs to achieve, not just exist.

We have lived, in my lifetime, through a dozen “next big things”, some of which were truly revolutionary like the growth of Chardonnay from so few acres that it did not register in the Annual Grape Survey of 1960 (listed under “Other Reds” as Pinot Chardonnay) into the most significant white wine we grow here in California. That revolution goes back to folks like Martin Ray, Ambassador Zellerbach and Fred McCrea at Stony Hill. It made its way into the early 1970s in the hands of David Bruce, Joe Heitz and the early offerings from places like Freemark Abbey and Spring Mountain. That was a real revolution.

The so-called Rhône Revolution may not have been a revolution at all. We always thought we had Rhône grapes. We were wrong, but we did not know it at the time. Well, folks like Joseph Phelps and Josh Jensen and so many others in the late ‘70s and eighties changed all that, and we had not just one new variety in Syrah but also the whites, and now, Grenache, that was always here but not much revered, is beginning its own Revolution of sorts.

The thing about all these “revolutions” is that they start slowly and build until the world has taken their measure. In the case of Chardonnay, that measure reached 100,000 acres, which is a very big number here in California. The Rhône Revolution has been much less successful, and, depending on who one asks, has stalled out. What do you call a revolution that did not succeed?

We have had the Merlot Revolution, the Meritage Revolution, the French Oak Revolution, the Unoaked Revolution and many more. And now, we are going to be told that we have a new revolution in taste. And it is true, if a few hundred acres of this and that and a new love of the obscure and the less than expressive can be called a revolution.

The thing is that a movement is not a revolution. It is an offshoot from the common knowledge, and it often advances the questioning of the status quo. But a movement does not necessarily change the common wisdom, and the joke around wine country today is that you need not sell your stash of Napa Cabernet just yet because the “revolution” that this new book will proclaim is built around very limited quantities of wine that only the writer and a few insiders and geeks are chasing. The rest of the world is still drinking Chardonnay and Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. And until the rest of the world becomes convinced that Trousseau and Ribolla Gialla make better wines than Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, we are looking at a “revolution” in that is not.


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Comments

Awwwwwwwww.....
by TomHill
Posted on:9/24/2013 5:00:47 PM

Awwwww, Charlie....you gotta quit pickin' on my RibollaGialla people. :-)

   I seriously doubt that there is going to be a new book out proclaiming  this or that is the "new revolution"....be it wines lower in alcohol, wines that possess balance, wines made from Friulian varieties, or whatever. I don't think even Raj nor Jon believe there's any sort of a "revolution" taking place that's going to throw Chard or NapaVlly Cab of their pedestal; though they'd probably like it if that happened.

   I assume you are referring to Jon's new book that will be coming out in a month or two??  He declares  a "revolution in taste". I don't believe it for one momento, and neither do you.  Clearly a gross overstatement of what I would call an "evolution", but certainly not a "revolution"...or even a "groundswell" for that matter. But you do what you gotta do to shill your book. I seriously doubt that anybody who buys the book (already ordered mine) would buy into Jon's "revolution". I'm buying because I want to read about some of my favorite new producers...and maybe learn about some I've not yet heard about. What's the chance any of those producers he highlights produce Chard or Cabernet?? Zero and none is my guess.

   Looking back in my rear view mirror (pretty much the same rear view mirror you use as well, Charlie); I'd have to say the diversity of wines coming out of Calif, in style and in varietals,  is the greatest it as ever been, in my recollect. To me, that's very exciting....much like back in the early '80's when there was a new Syrah or Viognier to try. I think you probably agree as well...though you don't have the same degree of excitment as I do.

As for "less expressive" varietals; some are, some aren't. I can think of any number of wines, be they a skin-contact LakeCnty SauvBlanc or a Carneros StLaurent, that are much more expressive (of something) than many of the Chards or Cabs I've tried of late.

   Anyway...that's my story & I'm stickin' to it. "Revolution"??? Hardly. "Exciting"?? Definitely.

Tom

 

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