Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lower Alcohol and Ann Hedonia Wines

In the not-so-distant past California made its greatest wines. Wines with alcohol levels around 12%. But then science intervened and the great traditions of winemaking were cast aside like so many tired, old, relentlessly dull wine writers ought to be. The great traditions of picking when the grapes looked kinda tasty, of managing the canopy with a weed whacker, of using marijuana as a cover crop, of ballyhooing massive tannins as the secret to a wine’s longevity at the expense of your dental work, of actually trying to figure out how to get some damned ripeness so the wine would actually taste good—science came along and destroyed all of that, and, along with it, the authentic flavor of California wine. But now, happily, there is a new wave of winemakers who want to return to that era, who foresee a demand for lower alcohol wines, wines that deliver less pleasure in the name of more terroir--and nothing tops terroir. Except hype.

“As I see it,” says Richard Splooge of the prestigious natural wine producer Splooge Estate Vineyards, “wine made from ripe, luscious grapes, the kind that yield 15% alcohol, isn’t appropriate for our times. We’re a Puritan culture going through tough economic times and we need wine to reflect that. Sure, times were good in the ‘90’s, and we wanted wines that were 'hedonistic' and heady. Now our lives suck.  Every day is a struggle to put food on the table. And what sort of wine goes with very little food? Lean, austere, ungenerous, underripe, low alcohol wine! If your budget doesn’t allow you to purchase very much wine, you’re going to want a wine that doesn’t deliver too much pleasure, a wine that lasts longer in the glass, and a bottle that you don’t want to finish. Those are the kinds of wine we make here at Splooge Estate, and there are a lot of other wineries following our lead.” Indeed, my first taste of Splooge wasn’t very pleasurable, and that seemed to beautifully reflect my miserable, lonely life.

Another of these saviors of wine is Frank Lee Baloney of Shit a Brix Winery. Frank is a former crash test dummy who is now living his dream of owning his own vineyard. He purchased a ten-acre property in the Sierra Foothills that was once a thriving drive-in movie theater. All by himself Frank planted five acres of Abouriou, Rondinella and Gruner Veltliner in the harsh landscape of pavement, hypodermic needles and petrified condoms. His wines sell for less than $20 bottle, and include a free Slurpee. “The Slurpee is my idea of a joke,” says Frank. “So many wines from California taste like Slurpees these days. Not mine. Mine are raw and tight and hard to get rid of. More like Herpes than Slurpees.

“I pick my grapes as soon as they turn that funny color. And I don’t use any trellising either, nothing to expose them to the sun. They’re Veraison Wireless. I make my wines in what used to be the concession stand, and not with any temperature-controlled crap. That’s the work of the Devil. Fermentation is done in about six hours, as it should be. My natural yeast are redneck natural yeast and don’t screw around. My Shit a Brix wines usually end up being about 8% alcohol, but they are as perfect an expression of where they’re grown as is possible. I don’t want people tasting my wine and saying it tastes like ripe berries or jam or anything else delicious like that. I want them to taste it and say, ‘Hey, that tastes like Shit!’” And, indeed, they do.

Ann Hedonia made ripe, chewy, rich, high alcohol wines under her Ann Hedonia label, and received very high scores from the most prestigious critics. “But I got tired of that,” Ann told me, “and now I want to garner praise from the wine critics who have a lot to say but don’t really matter, like Ms. Feiring and that W. Blinky Gray hanger-on and Jamie Goodietwoshoes. And they’re all talking about lower alcohols, so that’s where I’m going.” Her Ann Hedonia Cabernet Sauvignon once received a perfect 100 point score from both Robert Parker and James Laube. She’s done making wines like that. “Too easy to sell, and for too much money.”

And now the Ann Hedonia wines reflect the name itself. “The thing about ripeness is it tends to eliminate terroir, and I drink wine for terroir, not pleasure or insobriety or joy. Those don’t belong in wine. And I want wine drinkers to understand that it’s not about being delicious, it’s about being authentic and natural, and appealing to the current obsession with our permanently disabled climate. I’m with the climate change deniers, and lower alcohol wines soothe my guilty conscience, make me feel like we’ve returned to the good old days when we burned fossil fuels guilt-free, as if it was Tibetan monks, and the seasons were predictable every year, and wines were lean and bracing, without the shame of ripeness and warmth. Low alcohol wines are my nostalgia for those days when we didn’t have to give a crap about the planet. It’s my way of pretending that now I do.”

Even renowned and admired wine expert Rudy Kurniawan, often known as Dr. Conti, told me, “When I faked those great old Burgundies with younger and simpler wines, I always tried to keep the alcohol levels low. I care about the people who buy my wines, and I think a wine with lower alcohol is more expressive and subtle, more revealing of its terroir even if it isn’t actually from that terroir. I drank a lot of Screaming Eagle also, for example, and when I refilled the bottles, I’d make sure and blend in some fake Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet, just a few ounces, to add some structure and lower the alcohol. It improved the fake Screaming Eagle, if I do say so myself, and made it worth the money to the fake connoisseurs who bought it and bragged to their asshole friends about it. It seemed to work wonders. Really, I think the future of fraudulent wine is in low alcohol wine.”

Well said.


Mockingbird said...


Thomas said...

This one gets an award from my standard poodle and me.

We both laughed throughout reading it.

Yes, I taught the curly bastard how to read and have been sorry for it ever since the poodle grew to full size yet still prefers to read while sitting snuggled in my crotch.

Samantha Dugan said...

Well who wouldn't?

SUAMW said...

We've come to an era of computers with pretty screens but less buttons and an operating system intended for those who don't really understand how to work a computer, cars that park themselves and, now, progeric wines.

I understand that this blog is about satire. It's not that difficult of a concept.

What I have trouble reconciling is the juxtaposition of your knowledge of wine with your apparent refusal to admit that some wines need time in the bottle to become far more than a tasty alcoholic libation immediately upon release.

Gotta love the flash-card solutions mentality that betrays a complete lack of understanding of how VSP, aggressive leaf pulling, and complete berry exposure shift the oxidative burden of Kreb's cycle from the leaf to the berry skin, thereby obliterating any varietal characteristic (or character for that matter).

Details, nuance and caveats. Who needs ‘em, huh?....

Otherwise, a well-written and well punctuated piece.

Thomas said...


I could send you a list of names...

Marcia Macomber said...

Ah, Veraison Wireless... nice! And I already got the visual label concept for Shit a Brix Winery (but I think the TTB kaboshes those types of label visuals....)

Viva high alcohol wines!

John M. Kelly said...

Aw crap, Ron. I had three blog posts in draft on this very topic, and with this single masterstroke you have rendered every one of them superfluous. (That's a tautology, kids.)

I really hope this piece gets read by every one of those pompous, self-serving prigs out there droning on and on about some fictional "lower-alcohol trend." Because I have pretensions of being a gentleman, as well as a businessman, I won't express how I really feel about these folks.

But seriously - here's a sincere, non-snarky "thank you" as I hit the delete button three times. Less work for me; more time to enjoy a refreshing cocktail.

Ron Washam, HMW said...


Thanks. Coming from you, that's a great compliment.

This post had a life of its own as I wrote it. I originally began it as a parody of the sanctimonious piece Alice Feiring had in the Daily Beast, but, then, the HoseMaster stepped in and it was suddenly about Splooge Estate, climate change, and, essentially, the idea that not all fraudulent wine is sold at auctions under fake labels. It also has a whiff of STEVE!'s astute analysis of the "proof" offered by its proponents that there's a trend towards lower alcohol. Amazing what the subconscious will unleash when you let it rip.

Marlene said...

Hose, I really needed a fix of you today!

Ron Washam, HMW said...


I hope this helped. However, be careful, I'm not fixed. I'm chock full of 2007 Splooge Estate.

Samantha Dugan said...

2007? Hmm, might be issues of taint.

Dean Tudor said...

I think we could use this narrative account in Canada..I'll spread it around...We've had a plague of fake icewines for about 20 years -- how would fake Screaming Eagle help ?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

"Taint"--perfect. Wish I'd thought of it.


Fake Screaming Eagle is no different than regular Screaming Eagle only it's more expensive. That should help the Canadian ice wine economy.

Terroir Is Me Daddy said...

If there is anything these fake wine lovers hate, it is being made fun of.

But apparently, the juxtapositioning of your knowledge with your apparent refusal to understand anything has made you ignore Kreb's cycle.

Instead, you are much more concerned with Alice's bicycle--or at least its seat which must smell like wines from some of your favorite wineries.

PaulG said...

Whoa... the natives seem to be getting restless. But in all truth, "They’re Veraison Wireless" is probably the pun of the year, if not of the decade. The rest seemed, well, phoned in...

SUAMW said...

Once again, Chas demonstrates how good he is at regurgitating what someone else said before without understanding it.

Ron Washam, HMW said...


Ann Hedonia wines could have been named after you.


Thanks for the pun approval. I phone the whole thing in. I'm disconnected from reality.


Zealots and crusaders aren't known for their senses of humor, only their righteousness. but it's fun deflating the gasbags. Sort of a Hindenberg effect.

John M. Kelly said...

As this point I'd cry "oh the humanity!" but there is so little to be found among the gas bags.

SUAMW said...

Come on, Ron. The only difference between what you say and what I say is that you hide behind "a voice" (there's medication for that). We both like to spit in people's eyes for the fun of it.
I just don't come up with sugar coated excuses for it.
By the way, lots of Gruner being made south of Monterey. It's flat, sweet, overripe and oxidized. You're bound to love it.

Alice Palace said...

Some winemakers want to make art
Some winemakers want to make money
Some drinkers like their wines tart
Some drinkers like their wines heavy
But there will always be trend-breakers,
Whose sole aim is to avoid being samey

Anna Rexia said...

Samey? Didn't you read Tilapia Botticelli today. It's not just about being different. It is about spirit.

Thin, green wines, as the Hosemaster reminds us, are an homage to the past, and as Tilapia says, they will bring us new hope for the future.

All you corpulent Californians need to go on a diet.

Thomas said...

Alice Palace,

Do not apply for the Ogden Nash award!