Tuesday, June 2, 2015

EPHEMERA: "The Wrath of Grapes"--Not Just a Lousy Title


Most of the buzz in the biz the past week has centered on Bruce Schoenfeld’s article in The New York Times Magazine, “The Wrath of Grapes.” I think the title pissed me off to begin with, though I’m certain that wasn’t Schoenfeld’s doing. Maybe “Parr for the Coarse” would have been more accurate. Or “In Hirsute of Balance.” I thought I’d add to the discussion, though I am also certain that what I say and think is relatively unimportant.

When I was 42, Raj Parr’s current age, I thought I knew everything about wine, too. I’ve never met Parr, but he’s certainly well-liked around the wine world, which I’m happy to note, and not just by adherents of his winemaking philosophy. At 42, many people reinvent themselves. Parr had become a celebrity sommelier, the kind of oxymoron that makes me laugh, like “natural wine.” And the best way to get into the pages of The New York Times Magazine is to become a celebrity. Parr was smart, a sommelier who knew to hitch his star to a wealthy patron, Charles Banks. (Does anyone else find it ironic that Banks began his foray into the wine world with the money he made as an investment banker (paragons of integrity) with Jonata first, followed by the purchase of the very epitome of the wines Parr hates and Robert Parker made valuable, Screaming Eagle?)

Parr’s being front and center in the sommelier world brings a very distorted image of a sommelier to the public. He’s presented as the anti-Parker in the piece, the angel on your shoulder, not that big, fat, evil, 100-Point-Beelzebub whispering nasty remarks in your ear. At 42, I was damned preachy about wine, too. I wasn’t smart enough to get one of my wealthy customers to bankroll me through life, but I was certainly right about wine just about all of the time. Though I never had any desire to own a winery. And I never assumed it was my job to decide for customers what wines they were supposed to like. I tried to list wines that were great examples of their style and appellation, regardless of whether I found them personally rewarding. I swear, I thought that was the job! Turns out, I was a crappy sommelier.

Eventually, I learned that what I didn’t know about wine was infinite. This is still true today. The NYT Magazine piece paints Parr as a visionary, a kind and thoughtful revolutionary, a wine savant with unquestionable knowledge, instead of as a man who has had a single idea and has run with it. That’s not revolutionary, that’s narrowminded. Parr and Jasmine Hirsch had a simple marketing idea, and it has worked much better than they could have dreamed it would. Good for them. Now along comes Bruce Schoenfeld, who pitches an idea to the New York Times, writes a marketing piece for In Pursuit of Balance, and now Parr is the savior of wine. For another month or so, anyway. The last winemaker anointed by the NYT Magazine was Abe Schoener. Who talks about him anymore? Well, aside from Abe.

It seems to me there is a lot left out of the piece. That might be an editorial decision, or it might have been the author. The piece quotes Parker’s rant about Raj Parr, but fails to note that the rant was several years old. That seems purposefully slanted editorializing. It fails to note that Raj Parr doesn’t make Domaine de la Cote or Sandhi wines, which would seem to me to be important, especially to the vast majority of the readers of the piece who would certainly come away believing he does make the wines. Does he make picking decisions? Does he just tell Sashi Moorman how to make the wines so that they reflect their sites? Does he tell Sashi to make wines without any style? “Hey, Sashi, I’m detecting some style in this Pinot Noir. Knock that shit off.” And what about talking to some of the producers Raj Parr and his tasting committee have turned down for inclusion to IPOB? They might have something interesting to say.

I don’t like the tone of the piece. But Schoenfeld is a talented writer (even though he hates the HoseMaster, for which I am deeply grateful), so the tone must be deliberate. Stuff like Parker being “hefty and bearded” while Parr has a "teddy-bear physique.” He could have reversed those descriptions and they’d be accurate, too. The tone shifts back and forth, depending upon which side of the balance fence he’s writing about. Parr’s parts are lullabies, sweetly rendered and cherubic. The other parts are almost dismissive, and certainly skewed. And I know skewed. Steve Matthiason is a dreamer, an ethical man who follows his wine beliefs at his own expense. Doug Shafer lives among the grandiose architecture of Napa, whereas Steve lives in a farmhouse. See that? Grandiose vs. Farmer Steve. It’s propaganda, a NYT Magazine celebrity piece, plain and simple. And when a PR piece is written by someone talented, it’s just that much more effective, and that much more insidious. Yes, a piece should have a point of view, and Schoenfeld is entitled to his. It’s just that his point of view, illuminated by the hyperbolic subtitle, “A band of upstart winemakers is trying to redefine what California wine should taste like — and enraging America’s most famous oenophile in the process.” is so clearly sympathetic to one side at the expense of the broader picture.

Try making one of Parr’s “virtually flavorless” wines and selling it in the supermarket. Oh, that’s right, Santa Margherita did that twenty years ago. Unlike Matthiason’s wines, it won’t make you think. It will make you drunk. Try selling wines under 14% ABV in the supermarket. Oh, wait, just about every wine mass-produced for supermarkets is under 14% ABV. Why? Because you pay a lot more in taxes for a wine over 14% ABV, and that kills your bottom line. Are those great wines? They are to the folks who buy them. Maybe that Parr is on to something.

I’ve had a lot of fun at IPOB’s expense, and, to their credit, they’ve been gracious targets. Jasmine Hirsch is a sweetheart, and has always been generous to me. I’ve also insulted and satirized Robert Parker, and he has been equally gracious. It’s weird to me how Schoenfeld’s article paints Parker as responsible for what’s wrong with California wine, because, in truth, there is nothing wrong with California wine. And if there were, Parker would only be responsible for how it’s sold, not how it’s made. Are there wines that were made tailored to Parker’s palate? Yes. They were lousy and almost always scored lousy. Will there be more wines made tailored to Parr’s palate? Not very many, I’d guess. And that is a blessing.

What Parr really represents is the culture’s awareness of wine as something more than an inebriant. This is relatively new to Americans. Few people in my generation thought about terroir, including winemakers. You were basically unable to make “Parkerized” wines back then, so you didn’t. Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley in the ’60’s and ’70’s were all under 14% ABV, many were under 13%, just not by choice. Now people are thinking about the differences between wine and Great Wine. All this is fantastic, and it helps give meaning to wines like Sandhi. It also gives meaning to wines like Carlisle and Bedrock and Spottswoode, too. There’s not just one way to make Great Wine. Anyone, and I mean anyone, who tells you otherwise is a fraud.

I’m just sorry that Raj Parr and company were anointed by the Newspaper of Record. I’m glad for them, they’re all very nice people, and I’d love to have a puff piece written about me in that magazine. But for the vast majority of folks who read the NYT Magazine, that piece is very misleading and misguided. It implies California has made stupid wines for decades because of one critic, which is simply untrue. And it implies that Raj Parr is some kind of visionary, while in truth he’s more Don Quixote tilting at windmills.


50 comments:

Bill Ward said...

Spot on! Especially loved the part about there being no one way to make great wine. Hope we have some great wine together soon.

Clayton Lewis said...

Thanks for saving me time and energy today! I didn't want to search for the NYT Magazine, read the article and then find no juicy,juicy gossip within the piece. I may now go back to my regularly scheduled happy-go-lucky wine world workday...

Thomas said...

Right on, Ron.

I couldn't have--well maybe could have--said it better, but you did quite ok!

By the way, the newspaper of record has been sliding off its pedestal for quite some time, especially with the Sunday Magazine. It's saddening.

Beckstoffer said...

Great commentary Ron. The NYT article is a pathetic piece of journalism glorifying ones boys quest to bash anyone who does not share his own narrow-minded selfish and entitled opinions. Its an embarrassment to those who have worked so hard for generations to grow and produce great wines in California. Parr, if you don't like CA wines then pack your bags and go somewhere else. We don't need you here.

Skyscraper said...

*slow clap*

Mike Dunne said...

One quibble. That should be "centered on," not "centered around" in your lede. No wonder the New York Times Magazine hasn't done a profile on you. Aside from that, your insight is appreciated. I haven't kept up with what the In Pursuit of Balance gang has been up to, but also would like to know just what vintners haven't been welcomed into that club. Overall, the Times feature was dated and over-written. It had all the earmarks of time and cost, with the editors at the end of the day scratching their heads over what they should do with it until one of them suggested, "Let's publish it!"

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Bill,
Thanks. I'll see you in SF in a couple of weeks, right? I hope there are some great wines there.

Clayton,
I probably should have posted a link to the article, but, well, I guess I thought it would be easy to find for those interested. Maybe I'll go back and insert a link. Damn, I hate the Intergnats.

Thanks for being a common tater. Not much juicy gossip in the piece, though Raj Parr does crap on Seasmoke.

Thomas,
Oh, no doubt you could have said it better, Thomas, if you had a goddam blog like you used to. Now I have to do it all.

Beckstoffer,
I keep wondering what Parr might have done if he'd landed in Collioure instead of California, or the Jura, or even Madeira.

As I wrote in an earlier piece, there are a lot of wine messiahs wandering around the wine business right now, folks with all the answers. I like that, truthfully. Anything that engages people in talking about wine is a positive thing, and I love the comedy of it. Parr is less a messiah than a marketer. He's got big money behind him, and big money hates to fail, so he'd better be good at marketing.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Tim,
A little penicillin might clear up that slow clap. Thanks!

Mike,
Absolutely right about the grammar! Damn. My English teacher mother is doing a slow spin in the old grave right about now. I shall edit!

I've had a couple of winemakers tell me they were turned down for IPOB, but I'll be damned if I can remember who. They weren't especially happy about it, but if you have a committee to approve membership, you'd better turn someone down once in a while, or what's the point of the committee.

You're probably right about how it got published.

David Fish said...

HRH,
this is a very enjoyable read AND a slightly different style and tone from you (NOT enjoyable because different).

I did not read the original article, but your observations have just deterred me from wasting that time...

Cheers!

John Lahart said...

I must have missed something! I thought the piece does a nice job subtly skewering the POB folks. All that religion stuff. The final two paragraphs are howlers. The scene with Parr--one hears gentle wind chimes and chanting in the background (beneath the Armstrong). OK maybe the skewering is in the eye of the reader and unintentional?
Throughout, there's that nagging conundrum of "tastes good" vs "good taste." The age old yin and yang of the hedonistic vs the intellectual. There's the real pursuit of balance!
Finally, I think your comment regarding "the culture's awareness of wine as something more than an inebriant" is a bit too broad everyone knows it is really all about sugar with Americans. (look at how Rieslings are flying off the shelves!)

Anyway--given the current booms in cart beers and cocktails, does any of this "authentic" wine stuff really matter?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

David,
Oh, I guess it is a different tone, but the Ephemera pieces are meant to be in a completely different voice and tone than the satire. It's a nice break from writing comedy to write about what's on my own mind instead of that damned HoseMaster. If you get bored and have ten minutes, read the piece. Hell, you waste your time reading me.

John,
All your points are well-taken. You can read the piece as a subtle skewering if you try to, but you'd have to admit Schoenfeld is far more dismissive and insulting to Parker than anyone else in the piece. And the editors run a glamour shot of Raj with a thief (not Banks) and a wine barrel, and then a very old picture of Robert Parker (which might be doing him a favor). I don't think the editors saw it as skewering IPOB.

I thought the yin and yang were "tastes great" vs "less filling." Maybe not.

My comment about wine being seen as something more than an inebriant is certainly a broad statement. But the past decade has seen the ascendance of the sommelier in popular culture with more and more people seeing sommelier as a career path. That wasn't true even 20 years ago. There's more and more interest in wine, though, I agree, the current rage is craft beer and cocktails. Maybe I'm just hoping more people see wine as something more than a way to get shitfaced. I live a sheltered life.

Almost none of this really matters, John. It's only wine.

David Pierson said...

It is only wine eh Ron? Amen to that.. that's why I love the Hosemaster if ever there was an industry that needed some levity it's the wine industry.. another typical IPOB piece, we're right you're wrong thingy... I found it insulting that oh, you can only taste subtle notes in a balanced wine.. as a lover of oak and alcohol bombs I taste a helluva lot more than a so-called balanced wine that tastes like Kool-Aid or water.. but then, I got a crap palate and proudly so!!

5d416fd4-094b-11e5-ba38-ef4d914d96ca said...

"glamour shot of Raj with a thief" for sure, but if I spilled that much wine around the bunghole of a barrel where I have worked my ass would be out the door. Well, maybe I did but at least I knew enough to bleach it out with some sulfur before the cellar master saw anything

Cellar Rat

Mel Knox said...

In a way, Raj+Charles = Kevin Harvey at Rhys. Kevin doesn't make the wine but he has defined the style, arranged the vineyards, arranged the barrel purchases. So whereas it says winemaker on Jeff Brinkman's business card, we have to give ultimate credit for the wine to Kevin.

Like Kevin, Raj has spent lots of time visiting with winemakers and has learned a lot. Raj is more and more hands on in the winery, since he left SF for Santa Barbara county.

Sashi made wine at Stolpman, and I believe is still overseeing things there. That wine would never get into IPOB. Their Avion wine hit 16% alc,I am sure.



In away, this also reminds me of Lou Kapcsandy and Denis Malbec. Lou knows where he wants to go and Denis helps him get there.

Personally Parker has been great for me and all the people who buy barrels from me.
But having listened to the rants and whines of people about parker, I find it somewhat ironic that when somebody goes after parker's goat, everyone sides with Parker.



PaulG said...

Great commentary Ron, and your thoughts echo my Facebook post. This is a well-written polemic, but it's also a rather tired, incomplete re-tread of the same old arguments (Parker is evil, Parker has created horrible wines, Parker has ruined the public's taste, etc.) that have fed the Poodles for the past 6 or 8 years. Nowhere is there any acknowledgment that Oregon, Washington and British Columbia (note to Raj - wine regions which are also located on the Left Coast) wineries often produce wonderful wines that reach perfect physiological ripeness at below-14% abv levels. In fact, in the so-called "off" vintages which "the critics" dismiss, such wines are easy to find. See my reviews of the 2011 Oregon Pinots for a long list of examples. Parr For The Course is a great title. The guy's a showman, and has a gift for PR, that's for sure. Good for him. And good for you Ron, for writing such a solid commentary. As for the newspaper of record, well, I put this piece right down there with their recent article on big changes in women's underwear.

Kbell said...

I kept wondering why there were no quotes from the winemakers left out of the IPOB club. And I would love to know what the qualifications are to be a member---but I'm Irish and we generally don't want to be a part of any club that would be foolish enough to have us anyway. Thanks for the great read Ron.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

David,
We humans do love to dabble in the trivial, whether it's wine or sports or Bruce Jenner's dick. It is only wine, and in the case of IPOB, it's maybe 200,000 cases of wine total--which is a bad day for Yellow Tail.

I enjoy having fun at the expense of the business I love. It's a lot of work, and countless hours in front of the goddam blinking cursor, but it has its rewards. Thanks for hanging around to read it now and then.

I, apparently, have a crap palate as well. Took me 35 years to find out, but it's something of a relief to have Alice Feiring and Raj Parr and Isabelle Legeron MW convince me of it. I feel like a burden has been lifted.

Cellar Rat,
Great observation! I didn't even look at that. Cleanliness is next to Parrliness, as they say.

Mel,
I see your point, but only an insider like you would know that's how Sandhi works. And if I were a winemaker, I think I'd resent Raj acting like he is one. But no matter, I just found it odd that no mention of Banks or Moorman is in the piece. Writers leave things out for a reason--mentioning a wealthy investment guy might tar the quest for balance's purity. Though if the piece were in the WSJ, Parr might be left out and Banks would be the Quixotic figure.

As for Parker, I think that despite everything, he is personally well-liked by lots of folks. And the arguments and vindictiveness aimed at him are really old and really tired, as is he. I've gone after Parker's goat countless times, in a satiric way. And most people, here anyway, don't defend him. I'll say this for him, he's good at laughing at himself--not a common gift in the upper reaches of the wine business.

Paul,
It seems you poor folks in the Great Northwest need to start In Pursuit of Ripeness. Nobody wants wines under 14 ABV, unless you also have a bunch of residual sugar. Come on, you guys, get it together.

Thanks for the kind words, Paul. Maybe the NYT editors should have combined the women's underwear piece with Schoenfeld's. A photo of Raj in granny underwear titled "The Grape Nuts of Wrath."

Kbell,
I'm sure on their IPOB website there's some kind of explanation of how they select new members. And I have no idea how many wineries have been rejects, and why. I'd love for a rejected winemaker to contact me. Loser.

Mel Knox said...

I was just up in Seattle selling barrels. One of the winemakers, a former Boeing engineer, and I were talking about how wineries are sprouting in the Seattle area.

He said, Well, the bar for entry here is pretty low. That's bad for me because there is so much competition, but otherwise I wouldn t be here either.

Half the winemakers up there started out in retail, wholesale, or restaurants and they seem to be making pretty good wine.

Does anybody remember that about five years ago it seemed like winemakers were changing direction right and left?
First it was Wells Guthrie and Pax Mahle...there were articles everywhere about how they were picking sooner, etc. Then Adam Tolmach gave a controversial interview to Corie Brown. Sashi, his former assistant and Vassar graduate --he and Morgan Twain Peterson majored in food technology there-- was making 16%+ al wine at Stolpman and now is making wine with Raj.

Of course, five years is a long time in our lives but in winemaking terms it's yesterday.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Mel,
You've been around a long time, as have I, and it's never a surprise when the wine pendulum swings back and forth. Wells and Pax were two guys who clearly benefited from Parker's grace, but then decided to go a different direction, to follow their curiosity and passion. That's cool. Everybody gets to make whatever kind of wine they want. They have to sell it, and drink it (in that order).

What's funny is that of all the folks we've talked about, I can't think of one of them whose wines I would rate as Great. Not Sandhi, certainly. Maybe Shafer Hillside Cabernet. California is still undergoing a lot of growing pains, and like any teenager, it's drawn to weird cults. IPOB won't be the last one. Just a couple of years ago all we talked about was biodynamics. I guess we need something to talk about. I know I do.

I just read Kermit the Lynch's newest newsletter. I love this quote:

"One problem at the new hip restos in Paris (and more and more are popping up): instead of being grateful for their success, some take on a snotty attitude. Also, the so-called natural wine lists—you grow tired of the same producers on wine lists time and again. I’ll take some credit for pioneering natural wines, starting way back with Jules Chauvet and Marcel Lapierre, for example, but how some winemakers have convinced anybody that they are more natural than thou—I, for one, know better. Ask winemakers today if they make natural wines and they all say yes."

Ah, well, I suppose all wine is natural, if not downright authentic.

Route 246 said...

Ron, beautiful...AS ALWAYS!!

I'm just glad I don't have to pick a side. I love wines on both side of the fence here...usually just let my mood dictate.

I completely agree about Jasmine...let me in under a press pass due to my blog for first IPOB. Had an amazing time.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

246,
I'm not picking sides either. I love all kinds of different wines in all kinds of styles. Labels like Natural and Authentic and Balanced are as imprecise as the scores those wineries and wine writers hate and criticize. There are shitty natural wines, and there are brilliant wines that make no claims to natural. And vice-versa. This is so obvious as to be painful to write. Bad wine is bad wine, and good wine is good wine. Falling for the romance, the marketing, the drivel, well, I don't want to be one of Barnum's famous suckers.

If there's any takeaway that I'd like readers to remember, it's that IPOB is simply marketing. I'm certain Raj believes what he says, as Harold Hill says in "The Music Man," "I always think there's a band, kid," but much of what he says is demonstrably hooey. I'm also sure some of the guys in IPOB think it's hooey. But that's what marketing is, and to the extent that it gets you a glamour shot in the NYT Magazine, and sells wine to a few more young and impressionable and stupid sommeliers, Raj's is damned fine marketing.

My self-appointed job is to point out all the wine hypocrisy when I smell it. And if I can make people laugh at the same time, all the better. I don't feel any need to be right. Just a need to be different and interesting.

Mel Knox said...

Ron,

If you start pointing out all the hypocrisy in the wine trade, you're going to die of nervous exhaustion very soon. So, please, just point out the more humorous examples.

One of my associates has travelled the world with Raj and reports that he is doing more and more of the actual winemaking.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Mel,
Oh, don't worry about me, I'll die from all the arsenic in wine first.

You know, I much prefer writing comedy, but it's so much more demanding than just cranking out my stupid opinions. EPHEMERA is easy to write, and gets more reaction, too. Writing jokes is much harder, and people are much more critical of humor. But I'm the contrary type, so parody and satire is what I like best. I first thought of writing a parody of "The Wrath of Grapes," and I still might. Though my instincts tell me to move on.

Bully for Raj. Meanwhile, he stands on the tiny little shoulders of Sashi's consulting company led by John Faulkner as the main winemaker (I'm told). Granted, John does what Raj commands, but that doesn't make him the winemaker. That makes him the boss. I don't really care. I just felt that part of the puff piece's marketing was portraying Raj as the heroic winemaker/famous sommelier challenging the authority of the Almighty Wine Critic. It's the new wine mythology.

Charlie Olken said...

I don't blame Raj for this latest hoopla. I blame Bruce. He has turned old half-truths into a cause célèbre, which is a pretty good trick.

Your article is the best of the many responses. Thanks and amen.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Charlie,
I don't blame Raj either. He didn't write the piece. I blame myself for reading it. I'd cancel my subscription, but I have parrots and they have newspaper needs.

Are there any new half-truths in the wine biz? Seems like all of them are reruns.

I don't know that I've seen any other responses, but who the hell reads wine blogs?

Marcia Macomber said...

Oh, how wonderful! I see the Algonquin Round Table is alive and well here in Ron's comments section. I'll drink whatever Raj isn't drinking. Puhleeze! ;-P

Mel Knox said...

Marcia,

Raj drinks some pretty good stuff. I've drunk a lot of it with him.
He's a little bit on the insane side that way.

Chimene Macnaughton said...

Hey Ron,
I've only just started reading your blog and I'm all-in EPHEMERA and HMoW alike, love your voice(s) and appreciate the whip-smart vibe. I read the article in the NYT and I was really disappointed in the lack of depth, the slant, and as has been mentioned here, the old/tired Parker-bash chorus (we can all hum a few bars).
Here's my two cents with my backstory for context. First- California native here. Cut my teeth on real-deal Cali (Napa, mostly, let's face it) Chards and Cabs. Rose through the ranks of 1990s SF big-budget resto scene alongside Raj, never worked together. (Also never worked at Rubicon, but the wine program at my first job 20 years ago is what every snarky, lumbersexual-clad, pointy-toed somm in NYC wishes they NOW managed...did I mention the list was built when they were in grade school? But I digress.)
I missed the IPOB event in NY last year as my shop had just opened and even this year it was a pretty unjustifiable expense, but I talked my partner into attending, and I bought in for both seminars.
What bugs me the most about the NYT piece, and the overall hullabaloo about IPOB, and even Raj as poster child is that it all comes across as shallow, hollow, gimmicky, etc. And OK, that case has clearly been made. But that's NOT the day that I had at IPOB...Raj barely spoke- with Josh Jensen, Ted Lemon, and Jeffrey Patterson on your dais, well- you get my drift.
Their seminar alone was worth my 6am Jitney, the $250 for both seminars, and the many, many wines we tasted after that came nowhere NEAR the wines of JOSH JENSEN, TED LEMON, & JEFFREY PATTERSON. I loved what Andy Peay had to say and I thought his wines showed great as well.
Maybe it's as simple as the guys that got there first picked better sites and make better Pinot? Dunno. But the day was THRILLING for me. It's nearly impossible to get that kind of single/double varietal tasting across a vintage and a region (in this case the country of CA) ESP in NY, where these guys are split out amongst many distributors...add to that the back vintages that the three headliners brought to their seminar...I guess what I am saying is that I was impressed. And not star-fucker, I've-drunk-more-unicorn-wines-than-you impressed, more like- I started out in this business 20 years ago selling Calera, Littorai and Mount Eden pinots with ZERO frame of reference, tabula rasa girl, and to listen to those guys all this time later, and taste the wines, and harken back...I had this terrific day of reflection and perspective: YES- that time and those wine directors and those lists WERE that great, and these same wines are STILL the best in the room...
That's what IPOB was for me.
When you find the rejects and get their quotes- let's get Ted and Josh and Jeffrey to say why they're in too, 'kay?
Keep on rocking the free world,
Your new fan,
Chimene

Bob Henry said...

Ron,

"Turns out, I was a crappy sommelier."

Dont be so hard on yourself.

Let Tom Wark do that for you.

Bob

Seth Allen said...

The Wrath of Grapes was so balanced it might as well have been published by Fox News. The reason Europeans developed such a respect for lower alcohol wines in the first place is that until recent years, the wines in their most prestigious zones often couldn't reach acceptable alcohol levels without the magic of sugar. I'm sure those scrawny Nebbiolos and Pinot Noirs would have screamed Terroir, but they were so much more pleasurable with a bit more alcohol than nature could provide.

Raj and Bob both know that balance comes in all shapes and sizes. That's the point.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Chimene,
Love your energy. Thanks for the kind words, and for being a common tater. And for being all in.

I like the observation that Calera, Littorai and Mt Eden were still the best wines in the room. I think that's true. Those three guys knew about balance before Raj could legally drink. And they know that wines don't need to be emaciated to be balanced. The IPOB events are, in fact, very worthwhile. I was ill and missed the one in SF, though the lovely Jasmine gave the HoseMaster a free pass, along with a funny note demanding I be ruthless in my review. Above all else it must be said, these are quality humans, which is way more important than wine ideology.

I'll look forward to you hanging around here, Chimene.

Bob,
Tom's a protective old mother hen when it comes to Poodles. Just when you think he's done laying eggs, out pops another.

Seth,
Well, no matter what Schoenfeld thinks, IPOB hasn't changed the world one iota, except for the marketing gambit. It's all just a hill of authentic beans.

David Pears said...

Thanks, Ron.
For a Dane (who never reads NYT), it's nice to updated on how the IPOB crew are marketing themselves (or getting others to do it for them). As a European, I just drink whatever found way into the glass - balanced, unbalanced or defying gravity...

I've got a small request:

Read Matt Kramer's latest WS piece (on "the last glass in the bottle is oh soooo good) and please rewrite it - it screams for satire with sentences like "In short, however much over the course of a meal a wine may change, we change even more. Is it the relaxing effect of alcohol? Surely so. And it's all to the good too, lowering our shields and making us that much more vulnerable and available."

I immediately thought of roofies (and not of wine at all)!

Thomas said...

32 comments for ephemera!

It is always fascinating how a polemic, old or otherwise, can lift the molding on the woodwork just enough to let a few more out, especially if the polemic mentions RP...not complaining, just observing. It seems like 90% of blogging is about Parker or a counterculture to his; 9% is about sub par; 1% is above par.

Bob Henry said...

“In Hirsute of Balance.”

Is that another way of saying "being bearded"?

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beard_%28companion%29

(A central premise of Woody Allen's 1984 film "Broadway Danny Rose.")

"The IPOB events are, in fact, very worthwhile. I was ill and missed the one in SF, though the lovely Jasmine gave the HoseMaster a free pass, along with a funny note demanding I be ruthless in my review."

Your not reading wine books has never stopped you from "reviewing" them.

Shouldn't be any different in your not attending IPOB and still "reviewing" it.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

David,
Kramer is nearly self-parody, which makes him a challenge. And I don't subscribe to Wine Spectator, so I cannot always access his work. But thanks for your suggestion. A lot o f crap that passes for wine insight these days.

Thomas,
Opinion is easier than comedy to respond to. If I had parodied the Schoenfeld piece there would have been far less reaction. I'm used to that. But it's fun to have the interaction.

wineforlife said...

Wow! It's awfully hard to swallow back all the bile in this article. If the point of this diatribe, and it's hard to find the point, is that Parr is narrow-minded and about wine then just perhaps you shouldn't counter with the single most slanted and opinionated piece I have ever read about wine. Has it occurred to you that the great big old world of wine might just be large enough for both Parr and Parkers opinions? The slavish devotion shown here to wine of one type is dismaying, at least, but frankly is just stupid. I'm not surprised you were a crappy Somm; you are a crappy writer as well. Next time take the high road and admit there is more than one palate on the planet.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Wineforlife,
If you don' t have the integrity or courage to put your name on your poorly-written ignorance and abysmal lack of reading comprehension, then welcome to the HoseMaster's Go Fuck Yourself Club!

Doug Wilder said...

I made the mistake of writing about Abe Schoener and Steve Matthiasson years before they were groovy. Sorry, it is a habit I can't break.

Charlie Olken said...

Wineforlife: Get a life.

Your point that there is room in wine for Parker and Par is not the issue. Ron and the professionals who read his work have been espousing that point nonstop. It is the single mindedness of the IPOBers, "the natural wine is better" simply because it is better, indeed all the "I've got the right answer and you don't" folks who come on for criticism here.

You have somehow missed that point. But more than that, you have missed the straightforward fact that this column was not so much about Raj or IPOB as it was an appraisal of the journalistic shortcomings in the Schoenfeld article.

Charlie Olken said...

And I will cop to the proofreading error. My comment was meant to criticize those who think natural wine is a priori better because it is natural.

susan wu said...

At the end of the day, it's not good feeling for "internecine" phenomenon. Look at the French, they keep their mouths shut and quietly earn American's money.

The novelty of IPOB/Parr buzz, for me, emerged last month when Parr got James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional.

When a chef/restaurant wins JBA, dinners get it. They can relate to it based on their own dining experiences at the place and/or reviews from gifted food critics(like Pete Wells) and other fellow dinners. And with the broad media-coverage in food world, the public gets fair understandings about a talented chef and his/her food & style. It strikes a chord with common taters when they see the award nominees by JB Foundation.

But "Parr as Outstanding Wine Professional" seems to belong to different common denominator. Yes, he has the package. He's young with the professional title of sommelier; he's versatile - a wine maker and an author; he's innovative and an revolutionist by being the leader/founder of IPOB; he has the cockiness that New-Yorkers appreciate. Are his wines and theory time-tested? Have they garnished authority and reverie among industry professionals?

Apparently, timing is on his side: There's long been anti-Parker sentiment, and the 100-score system is too simplistic and manipulated. But still this Award is confounding. Perhaps there has been such a dearth of young talents who've accumulated expertise that is rooted deeply and solely in California and U.S. wines. Then, if you think about the culture of lobbying in this country, you start to understand it. Some folks want the good fengshui switching to them; they accomplish it by running "End the Parker Hegemony" campaign.

Then you have this Wineforlife, who has no idea of he talks about. If you think you're superior, take the high road and present it. He made himself like a dud and embarrassed all his buddies.

Mel Knox said...

When i was a kid, we were losing snowball fight. We retreated to our snow fort and my dad commented, No, you cannot win that way. You have to take the fight to them.

That is what IPOB does. It does not just say, Gosh Mr Parker, we disagree with you about that 16.8% alc Pinot Noir you rated as genius. It says, This is what wine should be and what's the matter with you that you cannot appreciate a 12,8% alc wine??

Parker takes a firm stand on many winemaking issues. So does IPOB. It's a free world.
Nobody is quite sure what 'natural' wine is. Go ask Alice. I think she'll know. (Ok, I just went to a Bill Graham exhibit.)....But let me ask you if any of the following practices are 'natural':
1/adding a chemical that inhibits microbial activity
2/running the wine through a machine that removes over 2 degrees of alcohol
3/heating the grapes to 180 F and then putting them into a vacuum

These are things wine producers do. Don't think Mr natural would approve.

Yes, the article in the Times was weak. I kept looking for the end of it in the back of the magazine, then realized that was all there was. Welcome to the brave new world of bankrupt newspapers and magazines. A friend works for a large metropolitan newspaper, complains there are no fact checkers, no copy editors and that they load more and more stuff on him w/o a hike in pay because where would he find another job??

Heaven forbid that I agree with Sashi and Raj all the time. But I still think it is funny that people who have been aching to see Parker get a comeuppance all these years are now whaling against IPOB and tell Raj to leave California. That part reminds me of the Viet Nam war epoch, when people who opposed the war were told to 'love America or leave it'...instead of changing it.Of course, Raj also makes wine in Oregon.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Susan,
Awards are always more for the associations that give the awards than for the recipients. A few months ago I glanced at the James Beard Awards website and there were an astonishing number of awards. I didn't count, but there were more Beards than a mullah convention. It's almost embarrassing if you don't win a Beard at some point. No, I'm not embarrassed.

Mel,
Wow, look at you being all open-minded. But I guess natural winemakers buy barrels, too.

The other way to look at IPOB is that it's not great strategy to base an organization as anti-anything. But it's a marketing strategy, not an actual movement. Which is why their only choice is to be anti-something, in this case, anti-Parkerized wines (which they sort of admit don't really exist). I admire the strategy, as well as many of the wineries involved.

Your point about newspapers and magazines ties into all this, too. How do you get coverage for your product when what's left is the Intergnats and its legions of idiots? Asimov and Teague and Wine Spectator can only cover so much. Banding together under a small umbrella makes sense from so many angles. Covering yourself in idealistic rhetoric, rhetoric which doesn't need facts in an era of unemployed fact-checkers, is time-honored tradition among propagandists. But it's only wine, and I have nothing better to do, so I enjoy it.

Thomas said...

...not to mention the convergence of fact with fiction so that the difference is harder to distinguish; now, everything written is referred to as an "article," even the stuff we used to call "advertorials." Even the great NY Times goes to lengths to make the word "advertisement" smaller so that the hacks can send them a check for the "article" they wrote themselves.

Mel Knox said...

Ron,

I just try to sell barrels to people who pay on time. People like Sine Qua Non, Shafer and Rhys.

IPOB does not say they are anti anything. They say they are pro their philosophy. But we know better, don't we!

Joe Roberts said...

I often find it interesting (and sadly telling) that very few serious wine articles embrace or even address the "there's plenty of room for all styles" view. Nothing against Bruce (he can write up a storm, particularly in terms of pacing and sentence structure), but I also found the piece missing details similar to those pointed out in your post above.

And to put some additional pseudo-perspective on this, the only thing on store shelves with more SKUs than wine is probably shampoo. And we don't see near-religious debates on whether or not "body maximizing" is inherently a better style of shampoo than "color enhancing."

Ron Washam, HMW said...

1WineDoody,
Shampoo, as an example, doesn't have much relevance for me. The only thing I need to shampoo is my dog. Ironically, she's a member of IPOB, In Pursuit of Butt.

Thomas said...

Rather than shampoo, I think realpoo is a better choice. (Apologies to George C.)

Bob Henry said...

A member of the mainstream wine press joins the bandwagon on pushing back against sommeliers.

Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal "Off Duty" Section
(June 6 - 7, 2015, Page D8):

"The Seven Habits of Highly Annoying Wine People"

Link: http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-7-habits-of-highly-annoying-wine-people-1433508077

By Lettie Teague
"On Wine" Column

2. ‘Curated’ wine lists

When did a sommelier become the restaurant equivalent of a museum director or an art-gallery owner? I’m talking about the fact that just about every sommelier today talks in terms of curating a list, seemingly unsatisfied with the perception that all they do is buy and sell wine.

The word isn’t even particularly accurate. For example, I’ve yet to meet a sommelier who has mounted a wine exhibition. Secondly, the word is so puffy and self-important, it undoes the notion of wine as a democratic drink, as well as sommeliers as an approachable professional group.

A wine list, after all, isn’t a gallery catalog. It is a sales document and hopefully a profit center for the restaurant. And sommeliers who believe otherwise aren’t doing their job.

Ross said...

I am a member of IPOB, but am not on the tasting panel or administrative side of the group.
If anyone in this camp has tasted the 30+wineries present at the ipob, they would realize that it represents a very broad range of wineries from all styles and alcohol ranges.
I make wines that are 14.? and 13.? and 12.? within each vintage and are all represented at ipob. The IPOB is about a common effort to make wines of a moderate ripeness level.
The group represents a blind tasting with panelists voting on subjective quality. RAJ and Jasmine do not have voting power in this tasting, by the way.

This is a group that accepts all applications, and decides based on the opinions of the 8-9 panelists, excluding the votes of aforementioned.
There is no rule against higher alcohol wine in IPOB, but the focus is on moderate alcohol representations of Burgundy, but never excluded dogmatically.
By the way, Robert Parker is one of many great wine writers and is not necessary at target of criticism, but he has been quite forward in his offense towards IPOB, as we have all read.

I am not involved in IPOB except as a member for Cobb Wines. My wines range from 12.5-14.2% alcohol, with some lighter and some more full-bodied..

Ross