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What Those Vinous Headlines Really Mean

By Charles Olken

Like so many of us whose daily lives revolve around wine, I get up every morning and peruse the wine headlines looking for the latest goings on. It is only occasionally that a headline and the accompanying article have revolutionary information. Yet, every day is filled with items that catch my eye and engage my mind—especially when they involve what I call “high BS content”.

Here are a few of my favorites from recent days and comments on what they really mean—or to be more accurate, what I think they mean when I run them through my BS detector.

Why Your Organic Wine Is Actually Really Bad For The Environment

This long title covers a long article. I like its thoughtful, articulate approach to the subject, but I also found it raising BS questions on both sides of the equation. Here is why.

There is no doubt in my mind that the less we do to harm the planet, the better off we all are. When it comes to wine, however, two conflicting desires collide and then, as I think about it, so do some of the nonsense that gets waved around by folks on both sides of the “natural wine” divide.

In the first place, wine is generally not a pathway for bad things. There is precious little evidence that even industrial wines are actually bad for people despite claims to the contrary. There are all kinds of additives used to make wine, not the least of which are sulfur and copper, and both of those will kill you if used incorrectly. Does that mean that I prefer wine without sulfur? Not on your nelly. Those who use no sulfur dioxide to protect their wines in bottle too often wind up with oxidized bottles.

Yes, it is true that some organic practices, if taken to extremes, are problematic even when they involve organic substances. It is at the point where natural and bad for you intersect, and they do intersect, that my BS detector says not everything in organic or natural wine practices are simply better for the wine and for the people.

Read this article to find out more:

Cameron Hughes Wine Forced Into Receivership

Mr. Hughes and his minions visited Connoisseurs’ Guide a couple of years ago. His vision, to create a better tasting negotiant wine, was being played out in a bottle after bottle of small batches of individually labeled wine covering lots of varieties and sources. Some were exceptional wines for the money; some were not. That is how it goes in wine country. There are not large pools of wonderful wine sitting around waiting to be snatched up for pennies on the dollar.

What seemed most worrisome about Mr. Hughes plans for rapid expansion were two-fold: could he continue to find enough quality wine for his project and how was he going to finance his growth including building his own winery at some point.

It is obvious now that he did not succeed, but the “why” was the question. On the face of it all, the business simply ran out of money. Between the costs of buying wine and other assets and the time it takes to get paid for one’s efforts, all wine businesses are losers in their early years. It is a silly joke, but the quip, “How do you make a small fortune in the wine business” and the answer, “Start with a large fortune” are too often too true.

I got a whiff of Mr. Hughes reality the other day when it was suggested that not only had the winery overextended itself on the bank borrowing front, but that it also owed a lot of money to wineries who had sold it their leftover wines in bulk. The simple answer to Mr. Hughes’ financial woes are that he had cash flow problems, but the underlying answer is that he had “too much vision”. His eyes were bigger than his wallet.

For more on this topic, read:

Pinot Noir Increases in Popularity

Well, duh. Even my sainted mother knows that. But two things in this article struck me. The first was that direct to consumer (DTC) sales of Pinot Noir increased by 33% last year.

OK, I get that. But 33% is a giant jump for a grape that is not exactly a newcomer on the block. And the second, not really dealt with in the article, was the causal factor in all this is that old QPR factor—Quality to Price Ratio.

So here is my take on this phenomenon. Pinot Noir, despite not being inexpensive, is both less costly than Cabernet Sauvignon of the same quality and much easier to drink young. Cabernet still does lead the DTC sweepstakes, and maybe it always will because it does make long-aging wines whose changes in the bottle are the stuff of legendary wine. It has been said of Pinot Noir that it is never better than when it is bottled—to which one wag responded, “It is never better than when it is crushed”.

The point is made. Pinot Noir is delicious when it is young, and California Pinot Noir is particular tasty because our wines are generally a little more lush when young than their European counterparts across the board. Fortunately, for those of us who like to cellar their wines, all that precocity does not rob our wines of their ageworthiness.

Not unlike many collectors, my cellar started off and remains filled with more Cabernet than Pinot Noir, but my consumption pattern long ago shifted to increasing amounts of Pinot for the very same reasons that its popularity has continued to rise. It tastes great.

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