Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wine Country Tour de Farce

When you travel to wine country, any wine country, it can be daunting. So many wineries to choose from, so many tasting rooms to visit, so many activities, what is a first-time tourist to do? If you're in the business--and I don't mean you, wine bloggers, you're not in the business, you're like waiters who think they're actors, you're not any more in the wine business than your server in Hollywood is close to a career in movies from acting in an Equity Waiver production of "Equus" where he wears the horse's head over his face and takes it from Harry Potter up the backstretch--you know which wineries to visit, you get treated like royalty, you know how to turn your third-rate, non-paying, non-air conditioned wine shop into a vacation bonanza. But for those of you new to wine country your HoseMaster of Wine can recommend these interesting and specialty tours for your visit to California's wine country.


A few people actually come to Napa Valley to taste the wines. Not that many. Oh, sure, once upon a time folks lined up to taste the wines, purchase cases, and enjoy them for many years to come. But, frankly, who can afford the wines now? Doesn't it feel a little painful to spend $100 for a bottle of Cabernet when the kid who made your shoes in Indonesia doesn't earn enough to afford the online Appellation America? Now most people just shop when they come to Napa Valley. Even if you can afford them, you can't take the wines you purchase on a plane any more because, well, the terrorists actually won
. But shirt, hats, coasters, all that carnival crap, is easy to put in your carry-on, and it's more affordable. The Cheesy Tasting Room Tour hits all the high points in Napa Valley kitsch. Your knowledgeable and taste-free guide, think of her as your own personal Leslie Sbrocco, will escort you to all the finest purveyors of schlock in the famed Napa Valley. You'll visit Darioush, where quality and taste go to die. Visit the gift shop at Niebaum-Coppola--all the taste of Vegas, all the glitter of Spencer's Gifts! And to wrap up your glorious day, a trip to Castello di Amorosa and a visit to their famous torture chamber--OK, it's the tasting room, but Gitmo's got nothing on these wines! Napa Valley's tasting room gift shops rival the best that Six Flags has to offer!


The Wine Country of California is crawling with smug bicyclists. Though "smug bicyclists" is redundant. Folks who work in wine country deal with them on a daily basis as they wind their way down the beautiful, vineyard-lined country roads slowing traffic, causing head-on collisions and clogging roadside drainage ditches. They ride miles and miles on hot summer days and then graciously lend their presence to tasting rooms, using the bathrooms, begging for water, and never spending a dollar. They are much beloved. But for the truly arrogant, there is now the Russian River Unicycle Tour. Imagine the moral superiority of someone who has unicycled to the nearest winery! Picture yourself dismounting your unicycle in front of Rochioli knowing that you have left no carbon footprint that day! That the people driving cars and purchasing wine are your intellectual and moral inferiors! Even the bicyclists in their pathetic helmets and Lance Armstrong testicle-free bracelets will have to stand in awe of you on your unicycle! Can't ride a unicycle? Don't worry. Our vans will drop you off secretly fifty feet from the tasting rooms and you can walk. We won't tell. We hate bicyclists too.


Anyone who has toured the wineries of Santa Barbara County can tell you, these are serious people spending serious money to make strikingly average wines! But they'll never let on. They
are going to ride that "Sideways" horse until there's not enough meat on it to feed their migrant workers. They're going to swear the Santa Rita Hills produce the best Pinot Noirs in California despite twenty years of evidence to the contrary--but, well, folks believe OJ is still looking for his wife's murderer, so why is this any different? Hell, some folks think Dick Cheney isn't a traitor--facts don't really persuade people. And, frankly, in the case of Santa Barbara County and how they hopelessly promote their wines, it's just about insecurity. The Santa Barbara County Inferiority Complex Tour takes you and your guests to four different wineries where you'll hear winemakers and owners swear that their wines stand up to any in the world. Knowledgeable guides will ask them which Burgundies their Pinot Noirs are better than--the ones that have Hearty in front of them? Sure, Tuscany has Florence, Burgundy has Beaune, but Santa Ynez Valley has Solvang! I don't know about you, but when I think quality wine, I think Holland! Oh, it's a hoot! But be careful what you say around Fess Parker. He may just skin your retriever and make a Labcoat out of him.
Fess in his starring role as Dick Cheney


Arthur said...

It's "Sta. Rita Hills" to you, Hoseboy!


Ron Washam, HMW said...

I don't believe in Sta.

Anonymous said...

Solvang is actually Danish rather than Dutch, but then, all them Scandahoovians tend to look alike, much as many of the Sta. Rita Hills Pinots taste about the same.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Anon 1,

So why did I see some guy putting his finger in a dyke?

But, as ever, you're right. Solvang is definitely Cheese Danish.

Arthur said...


You must not have tasted enough. There is a definite commonality of character - between sites and between vintages for each site.

Samantha Dugan said...

Hoseboy...oh, I like it! Now what are we tasting? Danish, Pinot...I'm confused.

Anonymous said...

Given that so many Sta. Rita Hills Pinots cost a mountain of cash, perhaps you are correct...I must not have tasted enough of them.

When they cost $15-$25 a bottle, as they should, I'll taste many more.

But I think my point was confirmed by your mentioning a "commonality of character," no?


Arthur said...

No. You missed a critical part of my statement.
There is a commonality of character in wines from sites like Carasgacchi, Fiddlestix or Clos Pepe to name a few. When you taste a lineup (horizontal or vertical) of wines from those sites you will see this common character. That is what I meant by "a definite commonality of character - between vintages and each site".
There are also good wines with varietal typicity but whose site-specific character is a distant second to wine making and manipulation. There are also a few which are overrated and over the top.
All that said it is not even remotely close to the truth to say that all SRH wines are indistinct or lack character or identity.

Charlie Olken said...

Arthur, nobody knows what a sta is, but I figured it out, and my feeling is this, if you are a sta, you ought to be making wine in Malibu. Sure, I know Fess Parker is up Sta Barbara way, but anybody younger than me has no idea who he is anyhow. So, even though Ron has put a picture of Fess up there for us to see, we just don't know if that is ol' Dan'l he is pretending to be or Davy, Dont Forget The Alamo, Crockett. And, we all know that some of those stas are making very good wine like Tom Cru's Beaujolais. So, when we are talking wine tours, it is time to start up one for the stas.

Anonymous said...

That does it. Not that you would care, Mr. Hosemaster of Whine, but this blog has honestly become more pathetically sarcastic than it is funny anymore. I used to enjoy your taking the piss out of the wine biz, but lately your posts have become downright misanthropic in their indignation and bile. Have a nice life if you can, but it seems Santa Barbara's inferiority complex has nothing on yours.

Maybe you were right to pull the plug on this thing a few months back.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

OK, things got a little out of hand here at the ol' Hosemaster and I pulled the plug on a bit of name-calling. Not than anyone cares. But that's why the last Anonymous post above sort of makes no sense out of context. He has the right to be steamed.

Believe me, Anonymous, no one agrees with you more wholeheartedly than I do. Though I've always been misanthropic. But never a misogynist.

Come on, Charlie, you know that's Fess as Davy Crockett with his trusty gun Betsy!
The man who built Silverado Vineyards.

Anyone else want to see the HoseMaster retire?

Arthur said...


It's "Sta." as a matter of legality/formality. There is extensive history of how the "Santa Rita Hills" became the "Sta. Rita Hills".
I'm sure you recall all this...

Ron, don't go!

Charlie Olken said...

How do I say this without getting bleeped?

Bleep him. We spend hours read wine journalism written by serious people for serious people. If some of those serious people can't laugh at themselves or at the industry, then that is their loss. Screw 'em.

What is this crap about retiring? If you promise to keep writing, I will send you a cap to use in your next video.

So, hurry up, get out there and pick on another helpless AVA, winery, blogger, journalist or King Freddy of Franzia.

Samantha Dugan said...

Gotta agree with Puff Daddy here...would hate it if you went away.

Anonymous said...

What's "pathetic" is that Anonymous bloke (an un-numbered fellow) taking a swipe at our fearless leader and others who opine on these web pages...

Please...either have a sense of humor or have the sense to not frequent this space...

By the way, what part of Sta. Barbara do you think that Anonymous fellow is from?


Charlie Olken said...


Frankly, the whole Sta. Rita Hills thing made no sense to begin with. There had to be a better solution.

As for the wines, well, I am not a great fan because too many are high alcohol yet not fully fruity so you get a kind of half-breed. But, in truth, I don't review AVAs, I review wines, and there are plenty of Sta. Rita Hills wines that show very well. See Foley for examples.

And, Ron, once again, I apologize for making serious comments on your blog. There are a thousand other blogs for that.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Sir Charles,

Never apologize, that's against the blogger credo.

I welcome serious wine talk around here, and especially from the rare birds that know what they're talking about. And you're an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I'll bet you've never been called that. Dodo, sure, but not Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

I mostly find the Sta. Rita Hills wines, especially the Pinot Noirs, very unfulfilling. There are always exceptions, naturally. But when one tastes them against the best of the Russian River, Santa Cruz Mountains, Anderson Valley, well, they come up shorter than Bernie Madoff's creditors.

Arthur needs to defend his turf. But as far as pricing goes, he's defending mostly on the basis of Hey, it Ain't That Bad.

OK, jokes in the blog part, a bit of wine talk in the comments--Wow, I'm the friggin' Daily Show!

Arthur, winesooth.com said...

Foley? Seriously?
Save the money and leave a can of coke open on the kitchen counter overnight and pour in some generic vodka.

Arthur said...


I just had a Clos Pepe 06 Pinot Noir with lamb tonight. It was more than "not that bad".

But, seriously, Charlie here is bitching about fruit deficiency. After all these years of tasting wines, I would have thought he understood there is more to wine than fruit character.
Fruit is good in Kool Aid. Exceptional wine needs more. Ironic that the north coast wines people are having spontaneous emissions over are dominated by more earthy characteristics and bolder phenolic structure.
But the point here is that regional variation in varietal expression should be the guiding principle - not what Charlie, or you or I or Bob, or Steve and the other Steve or Alder *like* or *think* should be ideal expression of a particular cultivar or blend.

I own no turf to defend. I own no commercial vineyards in California. However, I think it's snobbish to refuse to see the merits of the wines from regions other than the ones we *prefer* (with the obvious exception of Temecula, of course).

Charlie Olken said...


I suspect you are not reading CGCW or you would understand that your comments are out of line. So, first of all, let me make you and anybody else who doubts the standards at play in my writing a no-risk offer. Let me show you what I write and then you can tell me whether or not Connoisseurs' Guide is wed to complexity and balance or to out of balance alcohol bombs. Arther, take me up on this. We need to be talking about reality. Email me at chasolken@aol.com.

Fruit is part of the wine equation. It has always been thus. A few years after making the transtion from amateur enthusiast to professional winewriter, I spent five weeks in Europe visiting leading winemakers. I will never forget Jacquess Seysses telling me that his wines were going to taste of fruit--not fruit bombs, but fruit instead of Burgundian funk. The character of that fruit will vary from place to place, but my comments about SRH have to do with wines that I taste blind and find more filled with alcohol and acid than fruit.

I personally don't give a rusty rat's ass whether you like Foley wines or not. Personal preference is not to be dismissed lightly. I could go on and on about this, but the standards here are clear. I taste SRH wines generally having a particular character, and what I often find missing relatively to good PN from other places is the heart of the wine--and, Arther, that heart is made up of fruit. Not fruit juice, but fruit.

Jacques Seysses Bonnes Mares has fruit. DRC La Tache has fruit. Willisms Selyem Westside Road Neighbors PN has fruit. Fruit is not the enemy of PN. And regional expression of PN, which is important, does not mean that wines should be fruit deficient whether they are from SLH or your favorite whipping boy, Temecula.

So, do take me up on my offer and then let's talk again.

Arthur said...

Charlie ist's not about liking anybody's wines. That was my point. When others in the AVA are making better wines with far greater varietal and regional fidelity it discredits anyone who endorses the lesser wine.
I make no bones about fruit being essential to wines, but there are other things - earthy, vegetal and spice characters which are intirinsic to a varietal profile.
Finally, I don't think I have established anywhere an antipathy for Temecula.

Samantha Dugan said...

Man, this post got everyone all fired up...Great post Ron!