Monday, February 23, 2015

Have You Ever Meta-Winemaker to Watch?

The inspiration for this post was published on Inside Scoop SF

Winemakers to Watch. It’s a wine writing gimmick, but a damned fine gimmick. I taste countless wines generally unavailable to my readers, I speak of them with great regard, using only my finest journalistic muscles, confident that there will be almost no one to contradict me much less even taste the wines, and then I bestow upon those winemakers who returned my admiration the most fervently the honorific of Winemaker to Watch. When, really, all you’re doing is watching me. Oh, it’s genius, I tell you. Works every stinkin’ year.

Winemakers to Watch are harder to select than the Winemakers of the Year. Duh. Winemaker of the Year is just one of the guys I called a Winemaker to Watch a couple of years ago. I don’t even have to think about that one. Hell, I usually just do it randomly and hope they’re not dead. Though, now that I think about it, a Posthumous Winemaker of the Year has a certain ring to it. I love a deadline. And there’s a lovely irony to Winemaker-In-A-Box. Many look better in an airtight bladder. Anyhow, Winemakers to Watch are not easy to find or select. I don’t just focus on the quality of the wine. In fact, I don’t really care that much about the quality of the wine. Quality in wine is vastly overrated. I’m looking for iconoclasts, people on the cutting edge of winemaking, winemakers who aren’t afraid to take chances and charge you a bunch of money for the privilege of tasting their experiments—you can’t expect quality, too.

I doubled the number of Winemakers to Watch in 2015 to ten. Five seemed arbitrary. Clearly, ten is twice as arbitrary. I’m also an iconoclast, and pretty likely to make my Wine Writers to Watch in 2015 list. Let’s be honest, you have about much chance of finding these wines as I have of finding a new gig if this newspaper cuts my position and puts me in an airtight bladder. So if I give you ten wineries to search for, your chances of finding a wine improve. So, really, Winemakers to Watch is like a Scavenger Hunt for wine dweebs. The dweeb who finds the most Trousseau Noir wins.

Now that the task is done for 2015, I decided to do a brief meta-analysis. I never meta-analysis I didn’t like.

Why acknowledge that wines are made outside of California? I guess I had to if I wanted to get to the non-arbitrary ten Winemakers to Watch. California is overcrowded with talented and professional winemakers, none of them worth watching. Most of them just make Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Who drinks that crap? That said, half of the list work in California, and the others work in Oregon or Arizona. It takes courage to make wine in Arizona. For example, where the hell do you find the Mexicans to pick the grapes? The New Mexicans won’t do it. And Arizona is building a fence on that border, too. The real Mexicans are pretty much target practice for rednecks. The Oregon wine industry, on the other hand, needs my help something desperate. Who the hell buys Oregon wine outside of Oregon? Sheesh, those people hate everyone in California, why should we buy their wine? Well, I’m on their side with that, and with so many obscure people making so much strange wine in Oregon, it was hard to keep the choices down to a couple.

What happened to Washington? I had a Winemaker to Watch from Washington, but he came in eleventh. It seemed arbitrary to include him. I fucking hate arbitrary. And the best wines from Washington last year came from established winemakers, and what good would it do me to list them? Talented winemakers making great wine isn’t what Winemakers to Watch is about. Think of it more like a season of “The Bachelor,” and I’m the hunk handing out roses to really outrageously drunk people no one’s ever heard of who give me a bonér. That’s pretty much how the system works.

Yes, I’m a hunk. But let’s not over meta-analyze.

What about the wines? How do they breakdown? I think there’s a nice balance. It’s about evenly split between white wines that want to be red, and red wines that seem to be white. This is what real wine drinkers want. Not much Pinot Noir, and, just to rub it in, no Syrah, and, well, no Zinfandel. But, hey, my Winemakers of the Year make a lot of Zinfandel. Though mostly I awarded them Winemakers of the Year just to break the balls of those “In Pursuit of Balance” clowns and remind them, hey, I made you, I can break you.

How come not much Pinot Noir? Have you tasted the crap that’s out there lately? Pinot Noir is a very challenging wine for most winemakers, and I wanted to focus on winemakers who are really good at the easy stuff. It’s like choosing up sides for Tee-Ball. And, frankly, it seems like all the great Pinot Noir producers are old and boring. I try never to mention them. (And, really, there’s a lot of terrible Pinot Noir being produced in California. But at least it's balanced!)

How about prices? Don’t care. Doesn’t matter. Nobody buys them. They’re all out buying that terrible Pinot Noir other critics are mistakenly rating highly.

This year’s class seems older. So what? What kind of a stupid, pointless observation is that? I’ve about had it with this interview. I think it’s important to ignore age as a factor in choosing Winemakers to Watch, so I did. What of it? It takes years to develop the chops to become a great winemaker, to learn all the tricks to make weird wines taste good. And getting a new label off the ground is often a lot more than some of these glorified cellar rats can manage. Older! Shut the hell up.

You listed four women. Yeah, but I managed to ignore all the other minorities! My Winemakers to Watch is the goddam Oscars of wine lists!

Does anyone else get annoyed by this sort of vapid wine writing?

A Wine Lover's Guide to Best Picture Oscar Nominees

Leave it to the Wall Street Journal, once the home of Jay McInerny, the Crown Prince of wine schlock, to come up with wines paired with Oscar-nominated films. It seems wine writers are so bereft of original ideas they find it necessary to come up with “whimsical” pieces matching wine with absolutely every artistic endeavor. And the result is uncompromisingly stupid. The author suggests a Klein Constantia wine to sip while watching “Birdman.” Maybe take a mouthful and feed it to your mate! That’s the spirit! Now go crap on her car. Watch “Selma” with a bottle of Torbreck? That’s Martin Luther King, not an aborigine. And, hey, why not a bottle of Negrette? And nothing like Sherry to wash down “American Sniper!” Yes, when the movie’s finished you’ll have Post Traumatic Sherry Disorder—Wall Street’s equivalent of serving their country. Frankly, shouldn’t you drink a wine that’s sight specific?

While this kind of article is, of course, meant to be lighthearted, it’s really aimed at morons. It reads like something you might see on Wine Folly, where they assume their readers have suffered Blunt Force Trauma. I read a recommendation for a piece of shit article like this and I feel like everyone thinks people who love wine, as I do, are obsessed with wine to the exclusion of common sense. What wine should I pair with the ballet? I’m reading the Top Ten New York Times Books of 2014, what wines should I open? There’s a new PBS series about Hunger in America, I should drink something lean.

For the love of God, stop writing crap like this. With “Whiplash,” the story of a drummer and the teacher that browbeats him relentlessly, an Albariño! Of course! Silly me, I drank an orange wine because I thought skins contact would be appropriate. No wonder I didn’t like the film, I drank the wrong wine. And Bollinger Grand Année with “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is genius, as is the suggestion to pair it with “seafood-inspired” small eats. What the hell is “seafood-inspired?” Some clam that found God? A lobster that recently devoted himself to charity so he’s no longer shellfish? I expect this sort of twaddle from wine bloggers, but WSJ? Yeah, OK, maybe so.

But you have to admire the suggestion to serve a German wine in order to more fully enjoy a movie about a man dedicated to stopping the Nazis in World War 2, "The Imitation Game." Brilliant. But why not a good bottle of Lynch-Bages for “Selma?” New Zealand Riesling with “Boyhood!” Why didn’t I think of that? And “Craggy Range” pretty much pegs Ethan Hawkes acting style. And when watching the story of Stephen Hawking’s life, “The Theory of Everything,” what else will do but Volnay? And if you really want to enjoy it, take it intravenously, like the great man himself! And if you need a song to pair with the movie and the wine, try Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vein!”

I find wine writing like this offensive. Well, I guess if anyone has it coming, it’s me. Lots of people find me offensive. But I do it on purpose. There’s a stuffy, rigid, insipid, mindless school of wine writing that fancies itself articulate, witty and interesting, but is, in fact, condescending and insulting. There are many examples, they appear regularly on WineSearcher and Pallet Press, but this piece is a marvel in that category. Many of those wine writers who are of that persuasion spend a lot of time making fun of wine bloggers, dismissing their work as ill-informed and worthless (which it most certainly is). I’ve been the object of their scorn, too, to my credit. Not that I give a damn. Not when I read their work and wonder at its emptiness.

But I know what to drink with the Wall Street Journal. Something Standard and Poor.


Thomas said...

Is Will Lyons a regular wine writer?

Anyway, a number of years ago the New Yorker had one of its staff writers come up with some drivel connected to wine. It was so bad it induced me tow rite a letter to the editor. The letter was not published, probably because I offered to be their wine writer if they agree that they need one. I didn't get the job either, but I haven't seen another one of those vapid articles in the magazine since--and I am always looking,

The NY Times often has something stupid connected to wine in its Sunday magazine, and the paper has a wine club, which is even worse than that something stupid in the magazine.

It is a mediocre world out there, Ron. Stay on top of it.

Don Clemens said...

Trousseau noir! Now THAT was a well-placed shot.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Mr. Lyons, whom I've never met, is one of the staff wine writers, along with Lettie Teague, for the WSJ. I don't read him, but a link to this post in Terroirist (shame on them) led me to it, and, I must have been in a mood, because I sat right down and hurled this crap at it. Mr. Lyons is far from the first to write a piece in this vein, but I found his work particularly meretricious. And because it was me who was upset, not the HoseMaster, I put it under "Ephemera."

It was a cathartic piece to write. And completely heartfelt.

Thanks. Once in a while I get it right.

Charlie Olken said...

I am beginning to think that Ephemera needs to be its own stand-alone piece. How about making it your Thursday offering.

Nothing wrong with it, and, in fact, it is so good on its own that it detracts from your pilloring the Winemakers To Watch, IPOB and the authors of that set of crap--as opposed to the crap in the WSJ.

I truly love the Trousseau Noir story. Two acres of grapes planted under the Portuguese name, Bastardo, to be the basis for a Port-like wine. Grapes did not work out so make something light and insignificant and sell it to the IPOB crowd. The NYT even did a story with a headline proclaiming Trousseau Noir as the face of the new California or something as ridiculous as that.

It is a game these fake pundits play to see how much they can separate themselves from the wines that real people drink. Thanks for calling that practice out. But, as with your Merlot rant in Ephemera last week, I suspect that the Oscar-related bit will overpower this other piece of great insight.

Marcia Macomber said...

It's a 2-for-1 day at the HoseMaster! Woot! It's so much more fun to read the HoseMaster ripping these wine-writing-themes to shreds than actually read one. As you said: so formulaic.

And the Oscars-that-went-on-forever? Boorrrrriinnnngggg! Keep throwing those jabs. We need 'em!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

In my view, I use Ephemera for far more informal wine commentary, expressed in my own Voice. There may be weeks I don't have any Ephemera to offer, so I don't want to publish it separately because then I'm back to twice a week and I don't want to do that. It's not the writing, it's answering the common taters.

As for these two pieces, I wrote the lead piece about ten days ago. I'm unhappy with it, though I think it makes its points. It reads very clumsily. Maybe I should have attended the Napa Valley Wine Writers' Symposium so I could learn myself how to write good. The Ephemera piece I regurgitated in a hurry last Thursday. It's a classic style of rant, but something about the WSJ piece set me off. And when I write pieces that are particularly insulting, they always get the most attention. Subtlety gets very little response. Just like in real life.

I recently asked for a pass to the SF IPOB tasting and Jasmine Hirsch sent me a very funny reply. She has me on the guest list, but insisted that the HoseMaster be his usual merciless in the aftermath. Jasmine gets it.

Marcia Love,
The Oscars are meant to be dull and never-ending. It's Hollywood trying to impress the masses, while at the same time marketing their usual schlock and sending love letters to themselves on national television. I only watched an hour or so, and, it seemed to me this year's fashion theme was "Booty Contest." Which, by the way, I approve of.

"Formulaic" is one way to see it. In another view, it's a kind of journalistic masturbation.

Thomas said...

Unfortunately, for wine consumers, general periodicals and newspapers will hardly ever be any help. They are built to straddle a ridiculously low bar.

I've spent many years trying to push through the subtle and--heaven forbid--the intellectual in my columns. Mostly, I get told "no can do" or eventually, I get fired from the column.

I had one editor ask if I could make a column about wine faults "more fun". I suppose I could have, but then I would have had to tell fart jokes.

Rob Romano said...

Abalone! You're just being Shellfish.

Bob Henry said...

You can call it Negrette -- or be politically correct, and refer to it as Pinot St. George.

Either way, still a distinct minority grape variety.

(Back in 2009, The Wall Street Journal ran a page one article on DeRose Winery, a champion of Negrette.

Google this headline:

"Shaken or Stirred, This Winery Is a Big Hit With Seismologists"

Will Lyons writes for the European edition of WSJ.)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

There are low bars, and then there are dumpsters. I used Mr. Lyons' piece, but there are endless examples. I'm also certain he wasn't that thrilled with the assignment, but paychecks talk.

Call a cop, call a friend, but don't calamari.

Oh, man, like an needy octupus, that sucked.

Coincidentally, just as your comment surfaced, I heard from Lettie Teague also mentioning the Mr. Lyons is the wine writer for the European edition of WSJ, which has no connection to the American WSJ. Like the woman in Fifty Shades, I stand corrected.

I hear there's a Santa Ynez winery planting Negrette. They're going to call the wine Pinot St. George and the Dragonette.

Thomas said...

Negrette sounds like a French detective.

I've heard of the Berlin Wall, but didn't know there's a Wall Street in Europe.

Nick Katin said...

Great read! And I couldn't agree more about the drivel that purports to be 'wine writing'. Nick

Karl Kelsey said...

Ron - If I wait too long to comment on this, I feel intimidated. It is kind of like decanting - if you decant the damn wine it better be better later. If it isn't better you are a putz.

I often feel like a putz which is why I mostly never decant wine.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I tried to imagine the person interested in wine who would find that piece thought-provoking or interesting or the least bit useful. Sure, it has some recommended wines, but in a context that is entirely idiotic. But I guess the editors of WSJ Europe know their audience better than I do. I'm sure it generated wonderful reactions.

No reason to be intimidated. Nobody reads this blog. Especially not the putzes at Decanter.

David Pierson said...

Ron, couldn't agree more at the stupidity and idiocy of Mr Lyon's column, but I got a great idea!! Why not match wine bloggers and wine writers that tear your ass off with boredom with their beyond dull, turgid, self-important reviews and scribblings, with movie directors who are guaranteed to tear your ass off with boredom and leave you either asleep or with a migraine by the second hour of their turgid, way too long, boring movies.. so here we go!! wine hacks: Will Lyons, Richard Jennings, Walder Y, Hawk Wakawakaka, Wine Doody, James Conaway and his damn novel Nose, Jay McInerney.. movie hacks: Alexander Payne, Jim Jarmusch, the Wachowskis, James Cameron, M Night Shyamalan.. have fun matching the turgid wine piece with the turgid movie!!!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Pretty good idea, but I'm not really much of a movie, or wine blog, fan. I stopped going to movies a long time ago. I might see one or two films a year. I'm not bragging, just stating the facts. I did see "The Imitation Game," and liked it, though it's based on a true story in about the same way "Jurassic Park" is based on a true story. And, having spent too much time around Hollywood, I know that Keira Knightley was cast as a brilliant mathematician simply because she's the prettiest face they could find. So I'd be pretty much at a loss trying to write that piece. And my list of wine typers that are a snooze is far longer than yours--though I know I'm on many such lists myself.

Thanks, David, you're always a provocative and funny common tater.

David Rossi said...

We need to move away from this 30 under 30 kind of stuff. I'm to old. How about the 100 under 100?

This way Peter Mondavi can be an up and comer. And I hear this Grgich guy is doing some crazy stuff with the under-appreciated varietals from Bordeaux in the valley just east of Sonoma.

You can say you heard it here first!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Maybe wine publications should move to a Rookie of the Year award instead of the annoying Winemakers to Watch. And Peter Mondavi is now over 100, so he's out as one of the 100 under 100. Damn, so close!

All of those gimmicks are just that, column fillers. I don't mind most of them, but they're so disingenuously written, as though the wine writer doesn't have some personal agenda. They're Hollywood press releases, meant to glorify the writer as much as the subjects. So stupid.

Bob Henry said...

“I hear there's a Santa Ynez winery planting Negrette. They're going to call the wine Pinot St. George and the Dragonette.”

Have John and Steve Dragonette and Brandon Sparks-Gillis been apprised of this?

(Has Stan Freberg?)

"Like the woman in Fifty Shades, I stand corrected."

Not having read the novel or seen the movie, this allusion is lost on me.

(My detractors claim a lot of things are “lost on me.”)

And thank you not linking me to the phrases “You're the Internet Tiger Woods” and “putz.” (Yet.)

Will Lyons said...

Evening chaps,
Ron, I'm warming to you and this was probably deserved. Some genuinely funny lines which made me laugh out loud.
Thomas, I have been writing a weekly wine column for 10 years now, five of those with the WSJ in London. You should tune in for the European view:
And it goes without saying, if you both ever come to London, you'll be sure of a very warm welcome.
Will Lyons

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Mr. Lyons,
Thanks for joining me in my little corner of the wine world. Satire is an ugly mistress, and, as such, is hard to warm up to, especially when it's you she's chosen to snuggle with, but I'm pleased you are beginning to embrace my form of misanthropy. We're all just here to have some fun and laugh.

I've been lucky enough to have Tim Atkin MW championing my foolishness, and that has raised my stature from obscure to inconsequential. Life is good.