"Irreverence is easy--what's hard is wit."--Tom Lehrer
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Hot New Winery Death
I always get a kick out of feature articles in wine publications that herald “Six Hot New (Cabernet/Pinot Noir/Zinfandel) Producers to Watch!” Inevitably, it’s six new producers doing the same damn thing everyone else is doing. It’s exactly like when the major networks premiere their new Fall television lineups. Robin Williams returns to television! Fire up the laugh tracks, Ma, Grandpa’s riffin’ again. Better yet, another Michael J. Fox sitcom. It’s just a damned shame he has Parkinson’s, because Tourette’s would be so much funnier! In wine, hey, it’s another $150 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley! Amazing! David Abreu returns to environmental degradation! Andy Erickson phones it in! And the label and packaging, well, it’s downright decadent, and, guaranteed to burn 50% more fossil fuels in the shipping! And here’s another “Can’t Miss” Pinot Noir producer with a stunning lineup of wines from, well, all the usual sources—Gap’s Crown, Pisoni, Sangiacomo, Hirsch, Keefer… This is wine’s version of “From the producers of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Two and a Half Men.’” What it guarantees is that it’s the same old formula but in a brand new package. You’ll be dazzled by the single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Terroir and a Half Men.
Those wine articles primarily serve to glorify the magazine’s power, not to serve its readers. Parker was famous for proclaiming that a winery or winemaker was a Producer to Watch, and then, an issue or two later, rating all their wines in the upper 90’s, guaranteeing it was now a winery to watch. It’s a little bit like rigging a horse race. You already know the outcome when you place the bet. But you still feel smug doing it.
I always wonder where those wineries are ten years later, when they’re no longer a Producer to Watch. Where once they were the Academy Award Winner for Best Actor, now they’re part of the Death Montage. So, at last, we arrive at the premise…
DEEP PUNT VINEYARDS AND WINERY
Deep Punt’s first few vintages of Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon scored more than 98 points, and the winery had a waiting list longer than a David Schildknecht wine description, and far more interesting to read. Collectors loved the wine, and loved the stylized and heavy bottles with punts deep enough to have their own microclimates. The vineyard was the first vineyard in Napa Valley to be planted underground and utilize solar panels to power the grow lights, guaranteeing a perfect vintage every year. The vines are six feet under and planted upside-down in order to give the vines better access to the unique soils of Pritchard Hill, and to make them really easy to pick. “Cabernet Sauvignon thrives underground,” proclaims Deep Punt’s consulting winemaker Phillipe Melka, “and we never have to worry about frost, wild boar or erosion. But it does rain fucking gophers in here all the time.” Once a Winery to Watch, Deep Punt has fallen on hard times, as indicated by a review on NothingsBiggerThanMyHead. “Yeah, we’re sending samples to bloggers now,” says Deep Punt’s owner Ray Guy, “I guess I’ve just thrown in the towel.”
Recent vintages of Deep Punt’s Cabernet have scored in the low 90’s, the death knell for cult wines. Mailing list members, once allocated three bottles, can now buy as many as they want, as long as they pretend they got the rest from the winery Wish List, and buy a truss for their UPS driver. Deep Punt’s innovative underground vineyard is reportedly for sale, ironically, at a rock bottom price.
LOWE STANDARDS WINES
Larry Standards and Alison Lowe met in college. Larry majored in Plant Massage, while Alison was earning her degree in Underage Drinking. “I was rubbing my pistil one day,” Larry recalls, “and Alison fell head first into the room. An hour later we were lovers, and two hours later she emerged from her coma.” Larry and Alison decided to pursue their dream of making great Pinot Noir, so they moved to Sonoma County. Alison worked two harvests at Williams Sonoma before she realized she wasn’t at Williams Selyem. “But I did learn a valuable lesson there,” she reminisces, “how to overcharge.” Soon, Lowe Standards Wines became a reality. Larry used his extensive knowledge of plant fondling to impress local vineyard owners, who love having their eco’s massaged, and soon he and Alison were buying Pinot Noir from several dozen notable vineyards. “The truth is,” Alison says, “every vineyard has unique terroir. Duh. How could it not? That’s the fucking definition of terroir. So we vineyard designate every one of our Pinot Noirs. When it comes right down to it, there’s a really good reason for this--we can charge more. Plus, blending vineyards into an appellation-designated wine cuts into my valuable drinking time.”
Once one of 2002’s New Pinot Noir Producers to Watch, Lowe Standards Wines is no longer the darling of Pinot Noir cult wine buyers. Perhaps it was the 45 different Pinot Noirs in their portfolio that soured the wine geeks. Or maybe it was that the Lowe Standards style went out of fashion. Their Pinot Noirs had more added enzymes than a Bill Clinton intern interview. Or was it because ordinary folks get weary of yet another, and another, single-vineyard Pinot Noir that tastes eerily like all the other single-vineyard Pinot Noirs? No, most likely it was that Lowe and Standards sold their label to Diageo. “Lowe Standards?” said Larry. “It just seemed a perfect fit.”
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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