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Wine Wars and Presidential Politics

By Charles Olken

I have been watching Donald Trump and Jeb Bush sniping at each other this week, and aside from how childish the whole thing is considering that we are talking about who will be the next Prez, I was struck at the sniveling similarity of silliness compared to the various wine wars that erupt from time to time.

The stakes may be different, and the snipers in the wine world far less powerful, but the rhetoric that one side of the wine wars uses to demean the positions of the other side are cut from the same cloth. Take, for instance, the continuing insistence that wine ratings are dead because only old folks use them. We “know they are dead because Millenials do not drink the same old wine that their fathers and their grandfathers before them drank”.

Well, I have news for both sides of this debate. When every generation was young and just starting out it was drinking whatever inexpensive stuff it could afford. Mine was Hearty Burgundy before I graduated to Beaujolais and to Chianti in fiasco. Oh, those old rounded Chianti bottles, which doubled as candle holders when they reach the end of their first incarnation, are fond memories now. And then it was on to Lancer’s and Mateus and some old black cat from Germany. We weren’t drinking Bordeaux or Burgundy. Too pricey and too “nose in the air” for us neophytes.

Wine ratings and tasting notes are not dead just because Millenials have not discovered them. They have also not discovered houses in the suburbs, 2.2 kids, mowing the lawn and IPOs either. But they will.

The great alcohol debates may be about wine preference, but they are also about discovery and trendiness. A friend of mine recently came back from a holiday in New Orleans. At one quite pleasant restaurant with a fairly extensive wine list, he found not one California wine. His inquiry as to why was met with “the sommelier does not like them”. Now, I can understand how Messrs. Trump and Bush might not like each other, but it is hard to fathom how anyone could dislike tens of thousands of California wines without ever even tasting them.

Not so long ago, my good friend and blogger supreme, Tom Wark whose blog Fermentation is required reading when it appears, wrote an essay asking how the San Francisco Chronicle could possibly attract wine advertising when its head boy, Mr. Bonne, had seemingly declared war on California wine. Mr. Bonne’s conclusion, stated to the staff at the Chronicle, was that those who disliked his dismissive approach were declaring “jihad” on him. Mr. Wark’s comments were about content. Mr. Bonne’s response was to declare that the war had already started.

It turns out, of course, that most of the wine wars have no definitive right or wrong. Robert Parker is not the enemy regardless of the power he wields. Ranking systems are not the enemy regardless of wineries that declare them so after getting less than stellar reviews for their wines. Low alcohol may be good at some levels, but to suggest that only low alcohol wines are worthy of following may be true on a personal level but it certainly is not true for consumers of the millions of boxes of wine that continue to fly out of cellar doors at local producers.

Here is what I suggest. Let us celebrate individual preferences rather than demeaning them. Let the market decide what styles of wines are right and desired. Let the market decide whether wine reviews have any value. Let each person decide. Stop worrying about the so-called gatekeepers and their methodologies. People will embrace them or embargo them as their needs are met or not.

We may not be able to avoid sniping politicians, but we can avoid the wine wars if we talk, listen and accept that opinions are opinions, not dictates.


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