Opinionated Wino

My take on wine, booze, food and the good life

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The Impotence of Being Earnest

…part of the reason I have mixed feelings about winery use of social media is that the products (especially the videos) are so damned earnest. There’s no sense of humor, no trace of mocumentary or snicker.

That’s Steve Heimoff, who was soon joined by Robert Joseph in the denouncement of wine earnestness. We’ve all seen this sort of thing, but for the sake of clarity, here’s an example of what I think he means:

Now, I’m not attacking Sculpterra Wiinery here specifically. This problem is much, much bigger than them. I’ve never tried their wines, but I am a great fan of Paso Robles in general, and their winery looks like a lovely place to visit. I’m sure they are very nice people who make delicious wines and who, deep down, find that video as dull as I do. This is just an example of the cloying earnestness that plagues the wine industry. For all of the talk of making wine accessible to the masses, this kind of thing is still far too closely associated with what is at base simply the fermented juice. Which is kind of amazing when you think about the fact that wine is a vehicle for enjoyment. Isn’t “enjoyment” why most of us came to love wine in the first place? (I challenge anyone to keep a straight face while claiming they enjoyed that video. If you find that enjoyable, and you’re not the mother of someone who works at that winery, I truly do not want to know you.)

So why are winery promotions almost invariably so dull? I suspect it has a lot to do with the aspirational aspect of wine connoisseurship. In the popular imagination, wine is still something the upper crust enjoys and discusses at cotillions and the golf clubhouse. This is reinforced by fluffy nouveau-riche publications (One of my all-time favorite headlines from The Onion: New Pompous Asshole Magazine To Compete With Cigar Aficionado) and the prices commanded by the wines they feature. (Drop for drop, it’s hard to find a more expensive way to get tanked than high end wine, which is for some people the point of it.) Self-referential humor and mockery of the snobbery, the prices, the showiness of the estates and the exclusionary language of connoisseurship (“I detect a hint of faded rose petals, under-ripe plum leaf and dew-drenched loam on a spring morning”) cuts into the pretense of it all, and pretense is a major driver of profitability. I suspect there is a generalized fear that people won’t consider their products “high end” if their promotional materials actually bring pleasure.

Thankfully, there are plenty of wineries and wine-related businesses who are willing to risk bringing unself-conscious joy to their customers. A good example is Gundlach Bundschu’s Brief History of Merlot:

Wine is supposed to be pleasurable. It is supposed to be fun. It’s time the industry stopped trying to suck every ounce of enjoyment from it and relaxed a bit. I propose making the HoseMaster required reading for all wine bloggers and p.r. professionals, just to take us all down a notch and remind us that this is supposed to be fun.


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Apothic-lypse Not

2010 Apothic Red California Winemaker's Blend-1_thumb

I tried Gallo’s Apothic Red once last summer, at a large family gathering. Sitting at a table with a young nephew who is new to wine, I reached to pour myself a glass and he warned me, “be careful, it’s VERY dry.” Of course I didn’t have the heart to tell him how cloyingly sweet I found it, and I finished my glass mostly out of a sense of duty and conviviality before moving on to cocktails.

I mention this because there has been a fierce twit-war on the other side of the pond over what the popularity of brands like Apothic, Cupcake and the like means for wine. Broadly speaking, Tim Atkin is of the opinion that they are kitsch, a vinous version of Big Brother or The Spice Girls, their lack of any sense of place is bad for the consumer and bad for wine. Robert Joseph has taken the O’Jays position: Give the People What They Want. If they like sweet pablum, who is anyone to say those who enjoy it are wrong to do so? Read the back-and-forth in the comments to Atkins’ post for a more complete account of the argument.

I don’t think this is, in Joseph’s words, a “seismic change in the wine world,” it’s simply the latest in a long line of Blue Nuns, Franzia White Zinfandels, Yellow Tail Shirazes, and so on. Maybe their marketing and distribution are better (Apothic certainly seems to be pitching itself as a step above the lowest common denominator), but they are doing essentially the same thing. Every industry has tiers, and the lowest tier is always going to be the largest and most banal. These are entry-level wines at entry-level prices, and no amount of kvetching by the wine illuminati will cause them to disappear. Some will “graduate” to more nuanced wines, learning to appreciate variety, some will spend the rest of their lives happily chugging what tastes (to me, at least) like swill.

My memorable taste of Apothic Red reminded me of how far I’ve come in my wine appreciation. 15 years ago, I was a great fan of cheap, sweet Australian Shirazes–Alice White bears as much responsibility for my interest in exploring wine deeply as anyone else. 20 years ago I remember enjoying the hell out of a jug of Carlo Rossi Chianti, passed among friends (none of us old enough to have purchased it ourselves) one Summer night on a California beach. As I gained experience, I grew to appreciate nuances that I would have missed–or rejected outright–in my youth. So what if my young relative found Apothic too earthy and complex for his tastes? Either his palate will develop as he explores other wines, as mine did, or he will forever be content to knock back a few fruit bombs on weekends (and save a bundle of money over the course of his life, I might add). Either way, the wine industry is diverse enough to accommodate both the small group of  enthusiasts and the much larger population of those who enjoy wine, but whose interest stops there.

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Duck, Duck… Sue?


The Duckhorn Wine Company is suing Trinchero Family Estates over the Duck Commander line of wines. The claim is, essentially, that having two wines with the word “duck” in their name causes “confusion, dilution and reputational and other harm.” Because no one could possibly tell the difference between a $50 bottle at a specialty wine retailer and a $10 bottle featuring a camouflage label at Wal-Mart.

I suspect this has little to do with any genuine fear of brand dilution, and a lot to do with a winery trying to gain publicity by inserting itself into stories about a very popular reality tv show, which also happens to have been in the news lately for other reasons.

In the extremely unlikely event that a judge rules in favor of Duckhorn, someone needs to re-open the Stag’s/Stags’ Leap War of the Apostrophe case. Whenever someone refers to “Stags Leap,” I always have to ask, “apostrophe before, or after?”