Monday, March 31, 2014

Introducing Carbon Footprint Wines!

In one of the comments left on this Best of HoseMaster™ piece, a common tater expressed his happiness that the blog world was finally moving on from all the talk about Natural Wines. This was in August of 2010. So much for that. I don't remember the inspiration, if you can call it that, for this piece, but it certainly must have been a reaction to all the relentless hooey the wine marketing world spews about its contribution to the health of the planet. Much of which we believe without questioning because it makes us feel better about our drinking habits. I thought it might be refreshing to hear from a winery that, like so many drunks, just doesn't give a crap. From August of  2010, here's "Introducing Carbon Footprint Wines!"

It certainly seems like every winery on the planet is jumping on the Green band wagon in an effort to sell wine. Organic, BioDynamic, Vegan, Techron, OxyContin, Martinized, Fleet--these are the words now commonly found on bottles of wine and in winery marketing brochures. All in an effort to convince wine buyers that not only will the wine get you trashed, but you can get stinko with a clean conscience. And, really, it takes so little effort on the consumer's part, requires virtually nothing except you believe what it says on the bottle, and you can spend all evening congratulating yourself that you've done your part to save the environment. Not like the BioDynamic winemaker who's flying off to South America, as he does several times a year, after Harvest to consult, and help make their vineyards "green." Luckily, United Airlines uses BioDynamic jet fuel. And it's not like you have to drive a fuel-efficient car, for God's sake, that's insane. Every 105 lb. woman needs to drive a four-ton SUV. For safety, dammit! But I shop at the farmer's market, and my wine is made by BioDynamic monks who never kill European grapevine moths, they just capture them, thank them in French for their love of vineyards, and release them in their neighbor's non-organic vineyard where they'll be Dow-chemicaled to death. It's a win-win.

However, I have recently come across one winery that is bucking the Green trend, a winery following its own unenlightened path.


Our motto at Carbon Footprint Wines is "A bigger footprint gets us closer to our destination." We believe that climate change is real and unstoppable. And while others see this as a negative, we see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to speed up climate change, get this whole thing over with, end the suspense and get right down to extinction. We're not killing the whole planet; Nature will survive, it always does, we're just killing off ourselves, the human race, an entirely worthy goal. When you open a bottle of our Carbon Footprint wines you can rest assured that we've done everything possible to not only make the wine delicious and satisfying, but we've also done everything we can to have degraded our natural resources and contribute to greenhouse gases. You have our word.

In order to produce the finest wines possible, grapes need to have the least competition possible. Every insect or weed, every living thing in the vineyard, detracts from the vines. This is simple scientific fact. At Carbon Footprint, we spray every single available herbicide, pesticide and fungicide over and over again until the only living thing in the vineyard is the grapevine. We've even contracted with the state of Arizona to have them ship us their suspected illegal immigrants to work in our vineyards where they spray without the benefit of masks and hazardous gear and soon cease to be a problem. The result? Award-winning Cabernet! Yes, Senator John McCain has given us an Arizona Medal of Freedom for our 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon "Wetback Reserve."

And that's not all we do here at Carbon Footprint Wines. We make sure and plant on our steepest hillsides for the best soil erosion results, leeching lots of chemicals into our local streams and ridding them of annoying piscine pests. Hillside vines make for fabulous Carbon Footprint Zinfandel, which sucks with fish anyway. And we recently dynamited our caves and built a gigantic air-conditioned warehouse so that you can be certain that every bottle of Carbon Footprint Chardonnay will be in perfect condition after its stay in our electricity-guzzling storage facility. And, luckily, the cave was where so many of our Arizona friends were living!

Naturally, every bottle of Carbon Footprint wine weighs several pounds. Many people will believe that we use a freakishly heavy bottle for marketing purposes, to try and make our wines seem more serious, more valuable. But that's not the case. We use heavy bottles to drive up the consumption of fuel in the various vehicles used to deliver it, and, of course, to prove we have a bigger penis than anyone in the wine business. Just try to pick up a bottle of Carbon Footprint "Adios Coho" Zinfandel with one hand! Don't hurt yourself! It's a Hernia in a Glass. In God We Truss! A case of these babies weighs more than your ego-, oh, sorry, eco-friendly Prius. It has a bottom you can fit a cake in. A Bundt punt. But, please, we're begging you, don't recycle it. Why not just toss it through your neighbor's solar panels?

We do hope you choose Carbon Footprint wines to serve to your friends and family. We're destroying the earth so you don't have to.

Here are some recent reviews from notable wine bloggers: 

"The Carbon Footprint 2007 "Polar Burial" Sauvignon Blanc is really, really good and shows the grape's typical aromas of gunpowder, nasal spray and RAID! It's brilliant! The music to go with it is Baby Got Back by Sir Mixalot." This sample was provided by the winery in the knowledge that I would praise it. --Wine Hurl Lots

"A complete surprise to me was the quality of the 2007 Carbon Footprint "What Glaciers?" Merlot. I know Merlot isn't the most popular drink right now, but this is far and away the nicest Merlot I've drunk through a straw (I couldn't lift the bottle) in months!" --Chaim Steveoff 

"For the 2008 Carbon Footprint "Tribute to Roundup" Pinot Noir is farewell in a bottle. Farewell to my ancestors, upon whose shoulders I stood, before dandruff shampoo. Farewell to the beauty of the Adriatic, the bounty of the sea denuded and destroyed and delicious. Farewell to the stories of the old masters whose wisdom has been ignored in the making of this wine, a fine Pinot Noir that may almost be worth the degradation of this perilous planet we call home for now, but not for long. Farewell to the meals shared with grateful wineries who call me Jupiter. Farewell." --On the Wine Trail in Flipflops

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Judgment at Geyserville

The distinguished panel before tasting

How different is it to taste and review wine with a group of people rather than to sit alone and quietly rate them? I find that it’s drastically different, and that it’s a subject rarely written about. (Like just about every damned stupid thing I write about on HoseMaster of Wine™.) Are the reviews of a single wine writer who evaluates wine on his own, in the privacy (or emptiness) of his own mind, more valuable than the reviews of a group of wine experts who taste and talk about each wine they rate? If you look at who wields all the power in the wine world these days, it seems the single reviewer is far more valued. The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator still have the most clout when it comes to wine sales, at least in the United States, and their reviews are done by individuals.

Yet we all profess that wine, more than any other alcoholic beverage, is a social drink. I may occasionally drink wine alone, but when I do, I certainly don’t drink the best wines. I think this is true of most wine lovers. When you share wine with others who love wine, or simply others whom you love, it’s a very different experience. It’s obvious why that is—wine appreciation is subjective. Every beginning wine jackass will tell you that. But instead of celebrating its subjectivity, we try our damnedest to make it objective. Assign it a number, proclaim it Double Gold, slap a badge on it, make a notch for it in our wines-I’ve-had-sex-with bedpost. We preach subjectivity, but our insecurity leads us to pretend objectivity.

Even when I write my much-loathed Wine Essays, I’m influenced greatly by the astuteness of my wife’s palate. She’s a keen judge of wine, and, in many ways, she’s a lot less invested in it, which brings more candor to her opinions. I’ve always tried to see the good in every wine, tried to hear what it has to say, questioned myself when I didn’t like a wine—what am I missing? I think my wife is simply less burdened, and can forthrightly say what’s on her mind. And say it in a thoughtful and insightful manner. Her opinion carries great weight with me, and certainly influences, and often changes, my opinions. Does that make my opinions more or less valuable? Well, hard to see how they could be less valuable, but you get the point.

When you taste wine alone, and taste them by the thousands, I don’t care who you are, it’s boring. Smelling, swirling, tasting, taking notes, spitting, assigning a number…over and over and over. And with only that one scary and insecure voice in your head to listen to. Wine critics are not superhuman, or without human frailty. If anything, they’re more fragile than the rest of us, filled with all sorts of whims and quirks, agendas and insecurities. This is not to insult them, though I do plenty of that, but simply to put their job and what they bring to it into perspective. Like Gods, we assign them omniscience when they are actually simply indefatigable. We believe them to have superior palates, when they actually have merely superior imaginations and vocabularies. What the best critics have is passion, knowledge, experience, and a capacity for communication. What they can’t ever have is objective or perfect judgment. They’ll humbly agree with that, then in the next breath tell you what you should be drinking.

Of course, neither can a panel of judges have objective or perfect judgment. But it’s a joy to sit and taste wines with a group of very qualified wine lovers. Andy Perdue, who runs the indispensable Great Northwest Wines website and is wine critic for the Seattle Times, offered me the opportunity to sit and taste a dozen Cabernet Sauvignons along with him, Mike Dunne, Dan Berger, and Ellen Landis, back in January of this year. They are writing about the tasting from their perspectives, and here I am doing the same from mine. Ellen has published her extensive notes on each wine already. Mike published his thoughts yesterday in the Sacramento Bee (which, due to some dread and mysterious disease, has suffered : collapse). Andy’s column should appear soon (and it has appeared--go here), and Dan has said he will write about the tasting in his worthwhile email publication Vintage Experiences. We’ll beat this dead horse until it’s Elmer’s.

Andy’s concept was to taste Cabernets from Washington against Cabernets from Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Andy brought four wines from Horse Heaven Hills, speaking of dead horses, Mike Dunne brought four from Napa Valley, while Dan Berger brought four from Sonoma County, three of which bore the Alexander Valley appellation. We tasted (at the terrific Diavola Restaurant in Geyserville, a must stop if you’re visiting the area), discussed and awarded each wine a medal, in the manner of most wine competitions. All five of us judge in a lot of competitions around the country, even around the world, so it’s a comfortable and familiar way to give some kind of shape to the results.

It would be presumptuous to give any kind of validity to the results of our group endeavor. For the most part, it was just fun. These are opinionated, articulate, thoughtful, slightly wacky folks. Hell, they invited the HoseMaster, which speaks volumes. I won’t bore you with tasting notes. I’m perfectly capable of boring you without them. But I’ll share some random thoughts with you, all of which are generally useless.

I am of the opinion that often the best, most interesting, wines in a tasting like this land in the middle of the final rankings. The most polished and least offensive wines drift to the top, often engendering the least discussion and disagreement. I’m not convinced that makes them the best wines. In fact, I think it only makes them the safest wines. Or, from another perspective, it makes them the wines that show themselves the easiest and quickest. I think I am more attracted to wines that make a slow striptease of it, showing one seductive layer after another, but only after some coaxing, and probably a bunch of money. I’ve learned this from years of experience. Some of it with wine. I’m rarely wildly passionate about the highest ranking wines. It’s the ones in mid-pack that usually enthrall me.

Two wines emerged on top, the Jordan 2010 Alexander Valley and the Kendall-Jackson 2010 Grand Reserve Sonoma County. This surprised all of us, especially when we found out that Mike had included some Napa Valley heavy hitters—Montelena, Corison “Kronos,”  Smith-Madrone “Cook’s Flat,” and Antinori’s Antica. I liked both the Jordan and the K-J. So Sonoma County came out on top, at least on paper. The judges’ decisions are final, after all.

Were those the most interesting, most compelling, most discussed wines? Not to my recollection. I was especially fond of the wine that ranked somewhere in the middle—Double Canyon 2010 Horse Heaven Hills. I’d never heard of the winery, but I loved the wine. It had just a touch of herbs, sage I thought, which I adore in Cabernet, and it was silky and elegant. I kept going back to it, a sure sign a wine is compelling. Though you often don’t vote for it as your favorite, the wine that has the least left in the glass at the end of a tasting is certainly the one that was most fascinating to you.

Corison’s famed “Kronos” bottling also finished in the middle of the rankings. I used the word “simple” for it in my notes. That’s certainly wrong, and, frankly, embarrassing. But that’s the danger of tasting but a few sips of any wine. It’s the equivalent of speed dating. You really don’t want to run your life by shallow evaluations. When the tasting was finished and we ordered dinner, it was the “Kronos” that I reached for. I never picked up the top two wines. The "Kronos" is a brilliant wine, a wine that outclasses its judges. And will end up being a trophy wine in anyone's wine cellar.

So what do we gather from this Judgment at Geyserville? In a word, squat. I learned a lot from tasting with such a grand bunch of talented wine folk, but our results were only mildly interesting. Like I have to tell you that.

Ever ask yourself what would have happened if the Judgment of Paris in 1976 had been overwhelmingly won by the French wines? It certainly could have happened that way. Maybe they should have gone Best Out of Three. There’s no doubt the results of that famous tasting changed California’s wine future forever. Would that have been the case if it had been a single wine critic passing judgment? Did the fact that it was an all-French panel make the results more valid? I’d say no to both questions. Did it prove California wines are better, or as good as, their French counterparts? Of course not. It didn’t prove much at all; and but for the presence of one reporter, it would have been as lost to history as our first Judgment at Geyserville most certainly will be. The Judgment of Paris proved only the power of the press, not the superiority of the wines. What did our little Geyserville tasting prove? We like to drink wine in the company of our peers, and eat pizza. Not necessarily in that order.

The more distinguished panel after tasting

Monday, March 24, 2014

The HoseMaster's Comprehensive Guide to Wine 3


You’re never going to learn a damned thing about wine unless you learn how to taste it properly. With your mouth. Advanced students learn to use their tongues, like with kissing, but you’re not there yet. It can be hard to put wine in your mouth and avoid your tongue, so, fine, use your tongue, but don’t expect to learn anything from it. Try to keep it out of the way, as if you were at the dentist’s office and he’s drilling. This is how professional tasters do it. Oh, I’m kidding. I’m just being tongue-in-cheek.

The purpose of this chapter is to keep you from looking like a moron when you’re out in public tasting wine. At home, you can do what you want, for all I care. Pour the crap up your nose, or drink it out of a dog bowl, what does it matter with the cheap shit you drink? But if you’re at the tasting room of a fancy winery, or at an expensive public tasting, try not to look like a dressed-up dildo from the Miley Cyrus Collection. First of all, after the wine has been poured, pick up the wine glass by the stem! That’s what the goddam stem is for—it’s the handle! Don’t pick it up by the bowl like you’re a cast member of “The Real Housewives of Appalachia.” Picking up a wine glass by the bowl is like picking up a steak knife by the blade. The minute you pick up the glass by the bowl, everyone in the room knows you’re the kind of person who thinks Negroamaro is that guy in “Twelve Years a Slave.” What’s worse, though, is holding the wine glass by the base, between your thumb and forefinger. What are you, a circus act? Only pretentious wine pretenders hold their wine glass by the base, and you’re a novice. You only aspire to pretentious.

Stemless wine glasses are stupid. Don’t pick them up. They’re like crotchless panties. It’s a trap to make you put your fingers somewhere you shouldn’t.

Stemless wine glasses are like forks without tines. They’re the chopsticks of glasses.

Once you’ve picked up your glass of wine properly, it’s time to swirl it. There’s no justifiable reason to swirl it, it’s just another idiotic convention that wine demands. Oh, “experts” will tell you, it helps the wine to open up. Yeah, right. If I want the wine to open up, I’ll take it to fucking group therapy. It doesn’t do that. Oh, those pompous “experts” will also say, it helps to volatilize the esters! What the hell does that mean? If I want to volatilize esters I’ll go fart in the Jewish Home for Old Ladies. But, still, to look cool, you have to swirl the wine in your glass. Try to swirl it as fast as possible. And, remember, if it’s wine from Australia or New Zealand, swirl it in the opposite direction or you’ll totally ruin the wine. Many people think the wines from Australia suck when, really, they’re just swirling them in the wrong direction. There, Australia, problem solved.

People often ask what the legs in a wine measure. This is simple. They measure the stupidity of the person asking.

Now that you’re finished swirling, and you’ve put Wine Away® on all the stains on your shirt and the shirts of those within your swirling radius, it’s time to take your first sniff. Try to clear your mind, which shouldn’t take long since it’s largely an abandoned warehouse, and let your sensory memory tell you what aromas you’re picking up in the wine. Can you smell flowers, or peaches, or blackberries? Do you smell oak? Does it smell creamy or buttery? Most people will tell you there are no right or wrong answers. Yeah, there are. There totally are. Chances are you’re going to miss most of them, but the people serving the wine know the answers. And you should, too. The answers are right in front of you, in the damned glass. If you don’t know what the wine smells like after sticking your nose in it and smelling it five times, you’re like the goober on “Wheel of Fortune” who gets the answer to the puzzle wrong after Vanna’s turned all the letters around. Sheesh. No right or wrong answers. Since when is life like that? Jerks.

Why does it matter what it smells like, anyway? We don’t buy wine to smell it. Well, for one thing, if it doesn’t smell good, it won’t taste good—think hobos. Also, it’s a proven fact that taste is 70% smell. This sort of seems like God fucked up. So we don’t really have five senses, we have 4 1/3. Taste blind and you’re down to 3 1/3. Think of that the next time you believe wine reviews. That esteemed wine critic judged that $150 wine using only 3 1/3 of his senses. Well, actually, there’s no sound involved, so you’re purchasing wine based on the opinions of somebody using only 2 1/3 of his available senses. That’s less than half! Boy, don’t you feel stupid now. Hey, you have this Guide, just cancel those worthless subscriptions to wine publications. Let’s face it, 2 1/3 of their available senses? They’re not even fucking trying.

As Putin said to his top advisor, Now it’s time to put it in your mouth. Take a sip of the wine and leave it in your mouth for several seconds. The most important quality of fine wine is the texture. There are many acceptable textures for wine depending on the wine’s provenance. It might be rich and sumptuous. It might be lean and delicate. It might be like the inside of your lover’s thigh, or, perhaps, the corns on your grandmother’s feet (which, by the way, is where the name “Cornas” comes from). Any texture might be acceptable, except corduroy. There are wines with the texture of corduroy, but when you swirl them, you know not to put them in your mouth—they make that creepy “swishy” sound.

Once you’ve taken note of the flavors and texture, it’s time to spit. Or swallow. I’m sure you’ve made this choice before. Once the wine has evacuated your mouth, make sure to notice how long the flavor of the wine lingers on your palate. This is called the finish.

Monday, March 17, 2014

How You Can Help With the California Drout

Everywhere you travel in California wine country, people are talking about the Drought. Conserving water is the topic of the day, though really, shouldn’t we also be conserving letters? Why is “draught” beer pronounced “draft,” but “drought” isn’t pronounced “droft?” Fucking English, what a stupid language. So let’s begin by saving letters, which conserves energy after all, and write about the “Drout.” That’s a good start. This very piece on HoseMaster of Wine™ is dedicated to conserving countless “gh”’s. If every citizen did the same, we might save enough energy to have Jim Laube electrocuted at no cost to the public! Tell me that’s not a worthy goal. And even if it’s not quite enough energy for electrocution, we at least get a couple sessions of electro-shock therapy for the guy. Zap his head until he’s a babbling NFL lineman. If you clowns don’t pitch in and conserve, well, we’ll just have to settle for cattle prodding his ass.

This year California is facing its worst drout in hundreds of years. There hasn’t been a drout of this magnitude since I mistakenly put the results of my herpes test on my FaceBook page. (I thought that’s what FaceBook was—a place to talk about stuff on your face. Turns out, for the most part, like the adolescent behavior it represents, it is.) Neither of these drouts is going away any time soon. As a public service, for those of my fourteen readers who live in California (Hi, Dad and Moms! You put the “gamy” in polygamy!), I’m providing some suggestions for how ordinary people, and also wineries, can help during this challenging drout.

For those with a spiritual bent, pray for Jesus to return and convert all that wine Treasury Estates had to dump back into water.
You can bet Treasury Estates wishes He would return and do a backwards, one-and-a-half transubstantiate and eliminate that pool of unsellable wine by turning it into water. Wine turned back into bottled water by Jesus?! Wow, that would be even more expensive than Evian. You could come up with all kinds of cool labels for it, too. "The Father, The Son, and the Holy Water." "H2OMG." I can see the print ads now—“Have a nice cold glass of 'Miracle on Ice.'” This is an idea that not only adds to our dwindling water supply, it saves one of our precious wine conglomerates. And what would be better than a cool glass of Holy Water before The Rapture?

Women who frequent winery tasting rooms should stop wearing goddam lipstick.
It takes an amazing amount of extra water to wash the traces of lipstick off a wine glass. Why are you putting on lipstick to taste wine? You’re already drunk. You don’t look any better drunk because you’re wearing lipstick. Wearing lipstick to taste wine is like piercing your nipples to get better radio reception. What the hell is wrong with you? We’re in the middle of a drout! We’re wasting water trying to get the lipstick smudges off the glassware because you care more about your appearance than you care about other people. I hope you know that when children don’t have clean water to drink, it’s going to be all your fault.

Winemakers making wines over 16.5% alcohol should stop adding water to the must.
We know you’re doing it. There’s a damned shortage of water, and you’re grabbing a hose and adding water back to your fermentations! Why? So you can make ridiculously lousy wine from raisins? Get higher scores by eliminating all the water you can out of the grapes while they’re still on the vine, then adding water in the winery to make the shit palatable? Then call it “long hang time.” Listen, long hang times are for Dr. J or John Holmes, not wine. Pick the grapes to make wine, not trail mix. Take all that water out of the ground and let it evaporate, then take more out of the ground and add it to the must? Just to win Gold Medals at wine competitions judged by people suffering with ageusia? Idiot. This the HoseMaster speaking, “PUT THE HOSE DOWN!” We need that water! Thank you.

If you’re the dimwit that rinses his wine glass between every taste, knock it off.
Who the hell taught you to do that? If you’re going to drink it, fine, stay hydrated, that’s important, it keeps the hangover from being nasty. Know what’s better? SPIT! You think rinsing your glass with water makes you look wine knowledgeable, but you’re wrong. It makes you look like a dick. Rinsing your wine glass between tastes is about as smart as brushing your teeth between every kiss. Not the way to impress the people you’re tonguing. Get over it. You cannot tell the difference between the Pinot Noir you’re tasting, and the same Pinot Noir with a milliliter of Chardonnay in it! You can’t even tell it’s 5% Syrah. Stop wasting our precious water on your profoundly stupid habit you think is professional. It’s tap water! You know what they put in that stuff to make it potable? Chlorine and anti-fish milt. Gallons of anti-fish milt. Trust me, once you taste it, you can’t get the flavor of milt out of your mouth. Ask any sperm whale. There’s nothing in tap water you’d ever put in wine and get away with. However, it can add flavor to an awful lot of white wines referred to euphemistically as “crisp.” So there’s that. But just stop rinsing between tastes! You look stupid.

Buy less wine.
If anything can help the current miserable drout conditions, it would be to lower the demand for wine. There’s even talk that the Chinese demand for California wine is, in fact, an evil, government-sponsored conspiracy to worsen the water supply in California and cause the state’s collapse. Every year, more and more vineyards are planted in order to satisfy the demands of wine drinkers all over the world. California fruit growers tear out their orchards and groves and plant vineyards because they can’t compete pricewise with whom? THE CHINESE! Starting to see the big picture now, genius? So by buying less wine, you not only conserve our most precious resource, you’re screwing the Chinese. Now the question is, where do you stop buying wine? Simple. Don’t ever buy wine at gas stations or 7-11’s. Why do I have to even say this? Who buys “Yosemite Road” wine from 7-11? Have you been on a road in Yosemite? Oh, delicious, I detect the meaty flavor of  road kill in my Chardonnay. This will go good with my microwave dog puke I’m having for lunch here. Yes, I know it will be hard to stop buying the wines recommended by the guy in charge of the pumps at the Shell station, but, really, is it that big a deal to swallow your pride, help conserve water during this desperate situation, and follow the reviews of  Tim Fish? Hell, he'll soon be a Fish out of water anyway. Yes, it’s a lot to ask. But the future of our industry relies on everyone buying less wine, and on following the advice of perfect strangers.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The New Wine Fairy Tales: The Apple Farmer and the Talking Owl

Once there was an apple farmer who was very poor. He worked very long hours tending to his orchards, and his apples were of the finest quality. But every year the prices for apples kept falling. Apples from far off lands were much cheaper, and the apple farmer couldn’t compete. The apple farmer’s wife was very unhappy. The couple was poor and nearly starving.

“I’m sick of eating apples,” she told her husband. “Applesauce for breakfast, apple strudel for lunch, apple pie for dinner, all served with apple cider. You know what apple cider is? Mouthwash for pigs.”

One day the apple farmer was out pruning his orchards. He was pruning one of his apple trees when the tree suddenly said, “Hey, fucker, that hurt!”

The apple farmer was astonished, and nearly fell off his ladder. He’d never had a tree talk to him before, only bark. Get it? Yes, even apple farmers have stupid occupational jokes.

“Apple trees can’t talk,” the apple farmer said, despite evidence to the contrary.

“Oh, we can talk alright, dipshit,” the apple tree said, “we just choose not to. We’re not chatty like stinkin’ cherry trees. Cherry trees won’t ever shut the fuck up. We only talk when we have to.”

Then the whole orchard started talking to the apple farmer. It had been many years since the apple trees had spoken, and now they wouldn’t stop talking. And it was the kind of talk that would drive anyone batshit crazy, just random noise. It was like being on the set of “The View.” Bad enough, the apple farmer thought, that I’m going broke taking care of these apple trees, now I have to listen to their stupid conversations all day.

“That’s it!” the apple farmer shouted. “I’ve had it! Tomorrow, I’m chopping down every last one of you. I’m done with apples!” And with that, the apple farmer marched back to his cottage.

“Nice going, asshole,” the apple trees said to the first apple tree that had spoken, “now what are we going to do?”

“Well,” the first apple tree said, “Don’t axe me.”

The apple farmer stormed home and told his wife about his plans to chop down the orchard. “I’ll sell the wood to the local pork smoker, and I’ll use the money to plant a new crop, a crop of something worth some actual money. Though I don’t know what that is yet. Maybe marijuana. That shit talks to you and you just don’t care.”

That night the apple farmer couldn’t sleep. He was determined to take out his orchard, but he didn’t know what to plant in its place. He decided to go for a walk, clear his head with some cold night air, and look to the stars for some guidance.

The apple farmer hadn’t gone very far when an owl landed on a branch just over his head and spoke to him.

“What’s the trouble?” the owl asked. “Shouldn’t you be home in bed with your wife? OK, I’ve seen your wife. Your wife is so ugly, when the dogs in the animal shelter see her, they volunteer to be spayed or neutered.”

“Oh, Owl, I don’t know what to do. I’m going to tear out my apple orchard and plant another crop, but I don’t know what to plant that will make money.”

The owl thought for a minute, and then he said, “Why don’t you plant grapes for wine? Everybody likes wine. And nobody from far-off lands can grow wine grapes like you can grow wine grapes here, so you won’t have any competition.”

“That makes sense, Owl,” the apple farmer said, “you’re very wise.”

“Oh for God’s sake,” the owl said, “that old chestnut. Just stand there a minute while I crap on your head.”

Soon after his meeting with the talking owl, the apple farmer tore out his apple orchard with the help of his wife and many of his neighbors. As quickly as he could, the apple farmer put in a vineyard. Way before the county where he lived could complain that he’d never filed an Environmental Impact Report. He’d received more sound advice about that from the talking owl. “Fuck them,” the owl said. It was a very special vineyard, intended to make the finest wine grapes. Almost 2500 plants were planted to the acre. Oh, shit, I forgot. Almost 6250 plants were planted to the hectare. Fairy tales are on the metric system. Duh. The vines were tighter than a Tokyo subway car at rush hour. Why this makes better fruit, no one knows. But it cost the apple farmer all of his savings.

The apple farmer’s wife was not happy. “Are you crazy?” she asked her husband. “The wine business is worse than the apple business. At least you don’t have to talk to the people who buy the apples. Have you ever MET any winemakers?”

Yet the vineyard thrived, and the apple farmer’s grapes were soon in big demand. He added more and more vineyards, meticulously farmed them, and sold the fruit for premium prices. Soon the apple farmer and his wife were living in a big house on the property. The apple farmer wasn’t home much. After his vineyard became famous, the apple farmer had started making his own wine. Wine the apple farmer spent a lot of time trying to sell in the marketplace, to little avail. But the apple farmer was happy. And since he was never home, the apple farmer’s wife was happy too.

One day, after a long trip trying to sell his own wine, the apple farmer returned home to a quiet house. Tired from his trip, the apple farmer climbed the stairs to his bedroom. He was about to open the bedroom door when he heard a familiar voice.

“Don’t worry about me, Baby, I’m always up all night.”

The apple farmer recognized the talking owl’s voice. He burst into the bedroom. The talking owl was making love to the apple farmer’s wife. And she was obviously enjoying it. “Wow,” she said, “you are a great horned owl. Do that thing with your eyelashes again.”

The apple farmer lunged for the talking owl, but the owl was quick, and flew out the bedroom window. “She’s ugly,” he said, “but a talking owl can’t be that fucking picky.”

A few months later, the apple farmer and his wife were divorced. The vineyard had to be sold in the divorce settlement. And sold at a loss, to a wine company that specialized in buying vineyards with money problems caused by divorce.

“I’m a damned good predator,” the talking owl said, “but those guys make me look like a pussy.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

The HoseMaster Visits Ramey Wine Cellars

The first time I met David Ramey, it was 1987, and I was attending the Sonoma County Wine Auction. In those days, the Sonoma Auction was attempting to emulate the Napa Valley Auction, with winery dinners and lunches, a barrel tasting, and a barrel auction. It was something of a four-day drunken brawl for me. I was still pretty new to the wine business. I’d studied wine for many years, but had just begun to work full-time in the business. Remarkably, I don’t think I understood how hard wine people partied. Oh, I have a bunch of sordid stories from that particular auction. After one dinner, a woman I’d met asked me to follow her home for a “nightcap.” Does anyone say “nightcap” any more? She got into her car, I jumped into mine, and followed her some 25 miles to her home. I pulled up behind her on the street in front of her house, excited, of course, and thinking I was about to get lucky. But someone else entirely got out of her car. Nice. I’d followed the wrong car for half an hour. Which made that person pretty uncomfortable. When I realized I’d tailed some perfectly innocent woman home, I threw my car into reverse and hightailed it out of there. I also got turned around heading home to where I was staying and spent a couple of hours lost on the unlit back roads of Sonoma County. I never did see the woman who’d invited me home again. Luckily.

One of the events I was lucky enough to attend was a luncheon at Matanzas Creek Winery where Dave Ramey was the winemaker. At Matanzas Creek, Dave was making some of the greatest Merlots California had ever seen. Famously, Dave Ramey had worked some harvests at Chateau Petrus, and while Matanzas Creek Merlot may not have been Petrus, the Merlots he made there in the ‘80’s were beautiful wines, soulful and thrilling wines, and really set the standard for the heights that grape can reach in California. I was thrilled to meet him, and weaseled my way into sitting at his table at the luncheon. As with much of my Sonoma County Wine Auction experience, I don’t remember much more after that. I’m pretty sure I didn’t follow him home.

I think of Dave Ramey as one of the best winemakers in the state. He doesn’t need the HoseMaster’s approval, and this isn’t news to anyone who loves fine wines. So when his Communications Director, Alexandra O’Gorman, invited me to visit Ramey Wine Cellars to taste wines with Dave and her, I was excited, and damned perplexed. I’m worse than a lowly blogger, I’m a lowly satirist. I have about as much influence in the wine business as Judge Judy. There’s not a thing I can do for Ramey Wine Cellars. But I’m not crazy. I accepted the generous offer and set up an appointment.

I don’t see a visit like this as an opportunity to rate wines. I find that practice fatuous. Sit with the winemaker/owner and be objective about his wines? I don’t believe very many people, if any, are capable of that kind of objectivity. I dismiss reviews I read of specific wines written from those circumstances, as I dismiss reviews of wines done at large industry tastings. It’s not that they’re wrong, it’s that they’re worthless to what your experience of those wines might be if you purchase a bottle and drink it at home. Industry tastings are the speed dating of wine reviewing, all about snap judgments and shallow appearances. Except with wine, you’re way likelier to get screwed. So this piece isn’t about reviewing each wine I tasted, but more about the experience and my overall impressions of Ramey Wine Cellars. I’ve never written a piece like this before, so bear with me. I’m trying to find my way.

When I taste at Ramey Wine Cellars, and I’ve tasted there on several previous occasions, I always come away with my faith renewed in California Chardonnay. I've always found it very difficult to find California Chardonnay that is genuinely compelling. Though I'd certainly call Mount Eden Vineyards' Estate Chardonnay and Mayacamas Chardonnay exceptions to that. And I’ve had a LOT of California Chardonnay. Partly, it’s style. Maybe I’m more particular about Chardonnay than other white varieties. If I am, I think it’s because Chardonnay seems to be the white grape that is the most screwed with by winemakers—the use of ML, of lees contact, of all kinds of oak regimens, all kinds of clones… So many California Chardonnays remind me of those poor little prepubescent girls dressed up for beauty pageants, a la JonBenét Ramsey. They’re someone’s idea of beauty, but, thankfully, not mine.

At my tasting with Dave and Alexandra, there were seven different Chardonnays to taste. Four were from the very difficult 2011 vintage. I asked Dave if 2011 was the toughest vintage he’s had to deal with in his career. Dave is a very articulate, very smart guy, and has a well-earned reputation for not suffering fools gladly. It’s like I have a twin! Dave said that 2011 was very difficult simply because it was such a cold vintage, but that he felt 2006 was a bit more challenging because of how much mold there was in the Chardonnay crop. I remember that year, it was the first year I lived in Sonoma, and there was a lot of mold everywhere. It was moldier than a hoarder’s house in Houston. A lot of the Chardonnays, and Pinot Noirs, from 2006 showed quite a bit of mold in the nose. It took a lot of work, and a lot of talent, to make great Chardonnay in 2006. Not a year to try and make a “natural wine.” Only an idiot would try that. I’m sure some did, but, as Dave Ramey puts it, wine’s job is to taste good. If you claim to be expressing terroir and the wine just tastes like old cheese from a blender, that’s just crap.

Only Nature can make natural things. Nature makes grapes. People make wine. Would you believe someone who told you they made the grapes? I’ve been around wine a long time. I can’t think of a stupider debate than Natural Wines. Humans spend 200 years destroying the planet, and now we think “natural” is better. An undefined "natural" at that. We are a sad race.

It was a pleasure to taste through the seven Ramey Chardonnays. It took us a long time. Dave and I rambled on and on about all kinds of things having to do with wine, and wine writers, and HoseMaster of Wine™. Dave’s very funny, and I was grateful and flattered he likes my stupid blog. He has strong opinions, and isn’t afraid to express them. Eventually, we tasted through all the wines, and along the way I kept learning things. About winemaking, about vineyards, about the business. I should have taken notes, but that’s not why I was there.

Ramey’s Chardonnays aren’t just good, they’re breathtaking. Here’s a list of the ones we tasted:

2011 Sonoma Coast $40
2011 Russian River $40
2011 Platt Vineyard Sonoma Coast $60
2011 Hudson Vineyard Carneros $60
2010 Hyde Vineyard Carneros $60
2010 Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Sold Out
2012 Woolsey Road Vineyard Russian River Valley NYR

The common thread among all of Ramey’s Chardonnays is their ineffable mix of power and great delicacy. And if I think about it, isn’t that, in many ways, the very definition of greatness? Not just in wine, but in most art forms. It really struck me as I tasted the 2011 Platt—it embodies my point perfectly. It’s greatness sneaks up on you. The delicacy, in the Platt’s case, might make you overlook it if you only spent a minute with the wine. Its power and grace slowly dawn on your consciousness the longer you spend with the wine. And, yes, as it should, it just tastes good. You know, I don’t care what Dave might have done to it, what kind of interventions he might have made (isn’t winemaking, in essence, a major intervention? Being minimalist after that seems to miss the point), the wine is gorgeous. I’ve singled it out, but each of these wines was far better than most of the California Chardonnay out there. The next day, I took a few bottles home, the 2010 Ritchie was fantastic! Wow. Sexy and rich, but still refined and intricate.

I asked Dave a question I’m sure he’s been asked often. He was kind enough to suffer this fool for just a moment. I asked him what California Chardonnays he liked. He thought a bit, and the only answer he came up with quickly was HdV. So they can take that to the bank. If you’re someone who loves Chardonnay, you already know Ramey. If you want to fall in love again with Chardonnay, start here. The hardest one for me to like was the 2011 Sonoma Coast bottling. Sometimes, I think, the vintage wins. But even that wine was darn tasty.

We finally got to the reds. Two hours had passed. We talked about everything from Lo Hai Qu, to my Jon Bonné parody, to swapping Chateauneuf-du-Pape tasting notes (I was trying to convince Dave to start making Grenache, or some kind of C-D-P styled wine) to stories about all the characters, charlatans and clowns in the wine business. We had just started in on the reds when Dave needed to leave to have lunch with his wife. It was his birthday. Oh, man, imagine spending your birthday with the HoseMaster. That’s sort of like spending Christmas in the Emergency Room. With your gerbil.

Here’s the red lineup from that day:

2012 Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast NYR
2011 Syrah Sonoma Coast $40
2012 Claret Napa Valley $40
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley NYR
2011 Annum Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley NYR
2011 Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville NYR

Dave stuck around a few minutes to get my reaction to the Syrah. In 2011, he declassified the Rodgers Creek Syrah and put it into this blend. Dave loves Rhône wines, as do I, and Syrah is the only wine in his portfolio that has its inspiration in the Rhône Valley. For me, Hermitage is the pinnacle of Syrah, certainly in France, and probably the world. 2011 wasn’t going to yield Hermitage in California. But the Ramey 2011 Syrah is beautiful wine, and has that cool climate beauty and power of the Rhône Valley Syrahs. Closer to Crozes-Hermitage, or maybe Cornas, with all that blueberry, white pepper and smoke. I’ve seen this for sale at around $30—that, my friends, is a steal.

After Dave left, Alexandra and I coasted through the reds. The reds brought me full circle back to why I fell in love with Dave’s wines in the first place—those old Matanzas Creek Merlots. He might be better known for Chardonnay, but maybe that’s because that’s such a fallow category in California. His red wines are also brilliant. I was amazed he’d made a Pinot Noir! I think he was too. They grafted some vines at Platt from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir, vines planted 2200 to the acre, which seems a little OCD to me, but there it is. The Pinot Noir had just been bottled, as I recall. I’d guess it will be remarkable with about six more months of bottle age. All the parts were there, just scrambled a bit.

It was a pure pleasure to taste through the reds. When I sat down to a place setting with 13 wines, I flashed on judging at wine competitions. You never get a flight like this in a wine competition. This was one great wine after another. The Claret is beautiful, very open and luscious, demanding to be consumed. Don’t know why, but I kept flashing on Nabokov’s Lolita. I think the Annum was my favorite. Again, it’s that Ramey signature of power and yet delicacy. People tend to say that winemakers need to pick the best fruit they can and then get out of the way. I think that’s naïve and hardheaded. Especially in a challenging year like 2011. Then the winemaker has to bring his best game, and Dave has plenty of game. And, hey, who doesn’t like Cabernet with game, especially venison?

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Ramey 2011 Annum was one of the top Cabernets of the vintage. Way too soon to say, but it has an early lead. Not to take away from the 2011 Pedregal, which might outperform the Annum given some bottle age. The 2011 Pedregal is very intense and very fine. Where the Annum is already showy and promises greatness, the Pedregal is still holding its cards close to the vest. I wish I’d had three days to taste the Pedregal. My hunch is it will be a classic one day.

Consider this piece an indulgence on my part. If you decide to buy some Ramey based on my thoughts, you’ll thank me. Most of you have probably had Dave’s wines at some point and you know how good they are. Well, a revisit is in order.

I owe thanks to Alexandra for setting up the tasting. There’s nothing I don’t like about her. And a big thank you to Dave Ramey, for the wines, for the insights, and for the kind words about this stupid blog.

We now return to our regular nonsense. But, first, go here and buy great wines:


Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Wine Blogger's Prayer

Lord, we come to you today with humility and reverence, and ask that you hear our pleas, for our hearts are open unto you as quickly as Stelvin allows, yet are as pure as the bark of Quercus suber. You led us to the path of blogger, encouraged us to begin our journey to discover wine, and, as you instructed us, we invited all of mankind to join us on that journey. Lord, it is a lonely journey. My room where I composeth my posts is as quiet as the grave, and my comments section is as barren as the wine list at P.F. Chang’s. I send my prayers twice weekly into your blessed Internet, and the silence with which they are greeted is as empty and soulless as a Wine Spectator editorial. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Shanken, I shall fear no Laube, for thou are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Though I’d prefer it, Lord, if your staff posted a link to me instead.

Lord, we ask that you bless us with the blessings you have bestowed upon our most devout brethren. Saint Thomas of Wark, of the Holy Distribution Trinity System, who hath many followers, which is a supreme miracle. Saint Dude. Nah, nah, nah, nah-nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah, Hey Dude. Lord, you have favored the Dude, have bestowed your greatest blessings upon him, and yet we can see no difference between his talents and ours. Just as he Vimeo, so doth we Vimeo. Just as we Tweet, so doth he twat. Is not our twat his equal? Hath thou so forsaken us that Saint Alder has ascended? Saint Alder of Catatonia, duller and emptier than the Amish FaceBook page? Lord, how you make us suffer. Have we fallen so far from grace that we are lower than Saint Blake the Petulant? Must we beggeth for alms on our blogs as he? Oh, Lord, hear our pleas.

Lord, we ask that you deliver us an audience greater than the number of people allowed in a Denny’s rest room at any one time by thine fire department regulations. We doeth as thou decree. We publish worthless and incoherent wine reviews and ask only for thine angels of UPS to bring us said wines for free, so that we may spread thy gospel, Drink what you like! Hear me, brothers and sisters! Drink what you like! Break free of the bonds of scholarship and hundreds of years of wine traditions! Drink what you like! Though your wine be corporate and more manipulated than a Florida election, drink what you like! Though your wine bears a label that insults your intelligence, calls you bitch or fat bastard, drink what you like! We shall bear witness, Lord, that we drink what we like, and, yea, we like what we drink when thine angels of UPS bring it for free. Please deliver us an admiring audience for our fatuous and simpleminded tasting notes. Let the words ring out! Great Post! Great Post! Great Post! Love, Mom.

Lord, we ask that you monetize our blogs, for we have talent, Lord, talent that comes from you, talent you should reward for you are responsible for our talent. Allow the winemakers of the world to see our talent, to admire that we Drink what we like. Allow the finest wineries in your kingdom to see the power and the glory that is wine blogging. To see that our future is their future, that your children of the Internet will cast out the powerful naysayers of print, the privileged paper tigers of the press. Your children of the iPhone will abandon the 100 Point Scale like the passengers of the Titanic abandoned ship, plunging into the cold, dark, unforgiving sea of stupidity that is their peer group. We are that cold, dark sea, Lord, and we pray that you monetize us, for we deserve it for our hard work and ability to type. Your children of Twitter will forsake the teachings of Saint Eric and Saint Jon, abandon them as they must abandon any prints of darkness. Your children will no longer continue beneath the fold, but dwell on the surface, where true knowledge lies. As the passengers of the Titanic hath discovered, there is only safety in the shallow, Lord, and none are more shallow than we.

Lord, we are the humblest of your servants. Yet we gather together and give each other awards, since you have forsaken us, and given us so little attention. Are you not the least bit embarrassed for us, Lord? We unashamedly praise each other, as baboons groom, the lowest of us attentively offering up our swollen fun parts to those more powerful in the hopes of being lovingly mounted in the parking lot of Meadowood after the Napa Valley Wine Writers Symposium. We yearn, Lord, to be the mounters, not the lowly Canadian mountees. Must we wait, Lord, must we wait so long for our palates to be recognized? Our friends are dazzled by our wine knowledge, why won’t strangers accept our wine thoughts as gospel? We have a CSW, and are in a wine tasting group. What more is there? In your name, we preach your truth. Drink what you like! And yet we feel forsaken, unheard, like Alice Feiring at a UC Davis Winemaking 101 course.

Lord, the simplest of us gather to have Wine Wednesdays and give each other strokes, as Boy Scouts often discover the joys of situational homosexuality. Other simpletons reach out to your least blessed children, Lord, your most intellectually deficient children, your children who seek wisdom from wine blogs, and offer to teach them the basics of wine with splashy graphics and using the simplest words. Forgive them, Lord, they are but the crazy guy in the park lecturing the pigeons, the retired professor lecturing to the empty class room in his mind. They are idiots, they are feebleminded, they presume to teach though they have the qualifications of a one-legged stripper and are just grasping at poles. Yet they are us. Others provide wine pairings for the stupid, who are much in need of wine advice, Lord, and underserved. Pairings for Girl Scout cookies, and breakfast cereal, and edible panties. Oh, Lord, what goes with edible panties better than wine from ancient bush vines? And yet these somms for the simpleminded are us as well.

Lord, hear our pleas. Let us be read and admired, let us be monetized through self-published books and newsletters, let our words be heard, our opinions carry weight, our business cards open doors to the most exclusive tastings. Ask not of us originality of thought, insight or integrity, for we have not the tools. Suffer us fools gladly, Lord, for we are but your fools. We walk our path to discover wine and expect others to walk fearlessly with us through the valley of the shadow of ignorance. We use our gifts to bless others with our wine wisdom and faultless palates, and want only to be recognized as a force for sales, and be taken on junkets where we can get drunk and be unfaithful, like people at real jobs do. We ask this humbly, Lord, though it’s only what we deserve. It was this, or a porn site on Tumblr.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Commander of Wine!

I've been keeping a little secret, among all my really big secrets, like how I'm actually just a floating head in a jar of Pinot Grigio who writes with his brain waves like Stephen Hawking, though mine are more like brain ripples. After long and intensive study, ridiculously complicated and difficult tests, I have achieved the singular title, Commander of Wine! The exclamation point is always included. As Commander of Wine!, I rule all who put wine acronyms after their names. I am now Ron Washam, HMW, CW! To read about my astounding achievement, take the virtual leap over the Pond to Tim Atkin, a mere MW, sans "!." And watch for the even stupider movie about my momentous achievement, "COMM," coming soon. Please feel free to leave subservient and sycophantic remarks on  Tim's site, or leave them here and expect them to be rightfully ignored.