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Surprise! Oregon Wins Oregon Wine Survey

By Charles Olken

I might have majored in statistics in college. I say “might have” because I did not. I wound up in economics. That was bad enough. There is a reason why economics is called the “dismal science”. There is no such name for statistics, but take it from me, the study of that subject is dry, lifeless and even more dismal than dismal itself. Clearly, I made the right decision when I chose economics as a course of study.

And even more clearly, I made a far better decision to leave my chosen profession and become a wine writer.

But, enough about me. Let’s talk about statistics. You may be aware of the sobriquet tossed at that field: “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”, and its corollary, “How To Lie With Statistics”.

Now, believe me, I don’t look down my nose at all statistics. I am baseball statistics junkie and have been since I could count and hold a bat. I can tell you all kinds of important things like how many home runs did Babe Ruth hit (714) and how many Presidents of the United States were left-handed (8). Those numbers are statistics, and they are also facts.

What happened up in Oregon lately, with a survey run by an Oregonian college falls under the category of “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”. And I will admit that they did not lie nor did they offer damn lies. Instead they offered statistics. And that is the problem.

You see, someone wanted to know what people thought of Oregon wine versus California wine so they devised a survey. And in order to create this survey, they went to a bunch of Oregon wine people like winery owners and winemakers and asked them what they saw as important factors in Oregon wine’s standing in the world. And then, with those informed opinions in hand, they asked a bunch of consumers to compare their view of the wines from these two states based on the those factors.

Not surprisingly, Oregon won. In fact, the headline “Seven Ways Oregon Trumps California” is the way an outfit called Oregon Wine Marketing has called its so-called statistics. Never mind that the survey was loaded in the first place. The results are “statistics”. And the headline is not even a lie, except when you realize that it is an empty shell, and thus falls under the rubric of “How To Lie With Statistics”.

I am offended, offended I tell you, to learn that there is lying with statistics going on here. And I am going to do something about it. I am going to create my own survey using facts in evidence to show that California trumps Oregon in “fact”, not in “statistics”.

Consider the following:

• Which state has more wineries
• Which state makes the most expensive wine
• Which state makes the least expensive wine
• Which state has more wine bloggers
• Which state has more major league baseball teams (sorry, I just had to toss that in here)
• Which state has more artisanal wineries (that one has to hurt those Oregonians because they think they are more artisanal—we have more artisanal wineries than they have wineries)
• Which state grows more varieties successfully
• Which state grows more varieties unsuccessfully (Okay, Oregon, you’ve got me there—that is lying with statistics on my part. Now you know how it feels.)
• Which state has the restaurant with the $150 corkage fee
• And final question: Which state has more folks who like its wines

No lies there. All facts. But, Oregon, in your great rush to put California wine in its place, you forgot to mention Pinot Gris. Now there is a statistical category in which you really do lead. And, those Pinot Gris are also, and this is not a statistic but an opinion, better on the whole than what we produce here in California. You see, Oregon, you do have something to be proud of besides beavers and ducks.


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