Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lo Hai Qu on The Death of Wine Critics

Lo Hai Qu
I’ve turned this HoseMaster of Wine™ post over to my intern, Lo Hai Qu. It’s Lo’s job to catalog all the samples I receive for review, primarily wine, but a surprising amount of urine as well (Were it not for Lo, I’d probably mistake the latter for orange wines because they tend to have nicer labels). Lo also answers the phone, occasionally when it’s actually ringing, responds to my voluminous fan mail with prepaid restraining orders (I’m talking to you, Leslie Sbrocco and Jenna Talia Baiocchi), and massages my funny bone. Lo works voluntarily, and not because I lock her in a soundproofed room hidden underneath my Castello di Amorosa torture chamber replica dressed as Natalie MacLean and tied to a water bed filled with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Ah, but I do love the smell of cat pee in the morning.

Lo Hai Qu has some thoughts about wine and wine critics, and how Millennials differ from us old fucks.

Establishment wine critics are dead to me. I spent last week sending condolence cards to the people they left behind. “Sorry, Mrs. Parker, for your loss. You must be devastated. As for me, I never read The Wine Advocate, so, on the 100 Point Scale, my sadness is a 78—unctuous, with overtones of Schadenfreude.” “Dear Mrs. Laube, I can only imagine your grief. I’m sure Jim has gone on to a better place. I hear Hell is lovely this time of year. And there’s all the Lodi Zin he can drink.” “Dear Mrs. Heimoff, you must be Steve’s Mom. All the best. Please tattoo ‘I was wrong about Social Media’ on Steve before they drop him in the dirt hole. It’s comforting to know he’s met his final terroir.”

Me and my friends that like wine, we don’t care what wine experts think about wine. Since when do you need more than five years to understand anything? Medical school is like only four years, right? And you let those people poke stuff into you. Bartending school is only a few months, and then they make hella good drinks. How long is beauty school? And those geniuses have scissors near your neck. So, my point is, once you’ve spent a few years liking wine, the first thing you learn is it’s all a game. Everything you can learn from those old creeps you can learn from your friends on FaceBook, and the experts who write those cool wine blogs (not like the asswipe who writes this one) who have actually written about wine, ON THEIR OWN BLOG, for like years. Like I could see myself paying money for a subscription to Wine Spectator when I’m still living at home because the same generation you want me to listen to talk about wine is the generation who made this fucked-up world where I can’t get a job that pays more than $12/hour. Yeah, that makes sense.

So, you ask, when I want to learn about wine, or when I want advice on what wines I should buy, where do I go for that advice? I don’t go to those crusty old turds who write for established wine magazines. My friends and me, we don’t care about points. We don’t know what points mean. Points aren’t a conversation. Like Twitter, that’s a conversation! LOL, IMHO, MILF. #WINECRITICCORPSE. See? So if I want to know what to buy, I go on FaceBook, because the combined opinions of 40 people with an average of two years of wine experience is 80 years of wine experience! Who the hell has 80 years of wine experience? The Queen of fucking England, Elton John? And it’s 80 years of wine experience for free. This is the key word for Millennials, you dying old wine critics, “Free.” We like free. It’s why we invented the Internet, so we could get free stuff 24 hours a day—music, movies, pornography—which you idiots always paid for! We’re the smartest generation ever. So we expect free wine advice, too. And if you won’t give it to us, we’ll just make it up. It’s worked for Truth on the Internet, why won’t it work for wine? 

Maybe the confusion, to be serious for a moment, comes from the definition of “wine expert.” In the old days, people had to spend years and years studying wine, taste thousands of wines every year to fine tune their palate, taste the “great wines” as often as possible in order to understand how high the bar is set, travel to wine regions and taste rigorously, keep notebooks filled with tasting notes, and read extensively on the subject from books written by acknowledged and respected wine writers. Eventually, you’d be thought of as a “wine expert.” That is so last century. I’m only 28, and I know like at least 50 wine experts! Not one is over 35! How do I know they’re wine experts? They have a blog. They not only wait tables, do the schedules and lock the doors of the restaurant at night, they’re the Sommelier! They go to wine tastings at the local wine shop and taste every single wine every time and THEY DON’T NEED TO SPIT! Some have tasted more than a hundred wines under $25. These people know wine. Plus, they’re not old and their advice is free. Why wouldn’t I listen to them?

Don’t feel picked on, Old, Dead Wine Critics. We just prefer the voice of the crowd to give us what we need rather than the solitary voice of a professional critic, whether it’s movies, restaurants, wine or opinions. We like to share all those things with our friends, it’s just more fun and if one of us looks stupid, we all look stupid! Why in the world would I listen to a wine critic who costs money when I can go to CellarTracker and read what forty strangers have to say about a wine? This is how you learn! It’s just like in school when you passed a test because you copied the answers of the stranger sitting next to you! Hell, he has to be smarter than you are, he wrote down an answer! Same thing with CellarTracker. This is time-proven wisdom.

Millennials, we are so done with so-called wine “gatekeepers.” Why? Mostly because we don’t even know where the gate is. But, also, we have each other. And, as I’ve shown, we’re the smartest generation ever. We’ll never get tired of FaceBook or Twitter. We’ll never stop Yelping. We love Yelp! Where else can you go to find out what people with no class think about stuff they don’t know anything about? Except FOX News? Wine criticism is changing because we want to be the wine critics! And when that happens, when the old fucks writing today are finally done, retired or dead, then everyone will be a wine expert because they know their own taste—like you can be your own doctor because you know your own body. It’s the same thing! Believe me, Millennials are every bit as good at writing impenetrably and meaninglessly about wine and wine criticism as any other generation. If anything, we’re even better.


Thomas said...


At times, you strike perfect chords. You done it this time...

Just the other day I followed the lament of a well-known successful journalist regarding an attempt by a twenty-something, low paid editor at the venerable Atlantic Magazine try to lure the journalist into re-purposing a lengthy article that he had published elsewhere into a 1200-word piece (within a week) for inclusion on the Atlantic's blog. He was asked to do this for free, for the exposure it would bring.

Millennials will one day understand the folly behind the devaluation of talent, but it is likely to happen one day too late...not that wine critics have talent, just that free is a bad word to writers...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, Thomas. I often read my own words right after a piece goes live, and all I can see is all the places where I wish I'd done some rewriting. You know how that goes. But I never rewrite on HoseMaster--you gets what you pays for.

This piece was inspired by two sadly insipid posts I, for some stupid reason, read recently. One was by the Colorado Wine Press guy about the changing face of wine criticism (you sort of undermine your arguments when you misspell "Millennials" ten times in the same piece), the other by David White of Terroirist that was published at, no surprise, Palate Press, the home of oxymoronic Thought Pieces. Both pieces were sophomoric and empty, but what struck me suddenly was that the entire argument these days against the likes of Parker and WS and Charlie is about Pay for Play. M-O-N-E-Y. Well, money, and the odd notion that anyone can be a wine writer simply by showing up and writing about wine.

Then I saw someone on the news named Hai Qu, and the name Lo Hai Qu jumped into my head. And since 1WineDoody has an intern, why can't the HoseMaster?

Samantha Dugan said...

What's this now? Are there people out there actually implying that the role of wine critic might be losing it's value? That's just heresy I tell you! Crazy talk I say, and you ought not joke about such things Ron My Love, people might start thinking you're serious and like, start talking about it amongst themselves, fighting about it with each other even...civil discourse will ensure and the whole world of wine will implode....or some junk.

As always Honey, this was fucking brilliant. I do love you so.

winebookgirl said...

I don't think I have ever complimented someone on their condolence card writing before, but those are excellent.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
I didn't get to one thing I meant to in Lo's piece (if I could just get her to quit smoking...), and that was a silly point in David White's post about how Millennials are now turning to local wine merchants for wine recommendations. Wow! They invented that too!

I learned a great deal from wine merchants I met when I was in my 20's. There weren't any BevMo's or Costco's, nor were there any wine discounters because that used to be illegal in CA. You couldn't discount alcohol. So, I read wine critics, like Charlie and Finnigan and others, but I also bought wine based on personal recommendations from people at my local wine shops. I don't know what you think, My Love, but I don't think wine critics and wine merchants actually compete. Wine critics might get people to go to local wine shops because they can't find very many of the wines they read about at Safeway or BevMo or Total Wine. Someone looking for a 96 point wine that's long sold out is still a potential customer I've never seen before. I know you can find him a wine cheaper and better than the one he's looking for. And then you have a customer for life.

No matter. I guess I just struggle with the fact that I knew everything when I was 28 and now I'm an idiot.

Amy Love,
It's a gift.

kschlach said...

Ron, thanks for reading (and proofreading!). And I spelled Millennials wrong eleven times, can't I count on you for anything? Love to hear why you thought the posts were sadly insipid (real reasons other than spelling errors)!

Louis Calli said...


I positively never get tired of reading your posts. Except when I do. Which is rare. And usually only because the porn I'm streaming has finally loaded.

I've been a wine buyer is "boutique" shops for some time now. I don't know how long exactly. But some. I've found the best way to sell wine is to just make up critics and publications. In fact, my fictional "French Guide to American Wine" critic, Camembert Mustafa, frequently gives every wine I carry 95-100. Sometimes 102. My millennial set loves the musings of @titsmcgee, the editor of our hip younger skewed periodical "#OMGDRUNK". They rate wine based on a scale of 9 to 63 using Euchlid's algorithm and a team of monkeys wearing tuxedos.

I'm not just a wine expert. I'm a publishing magnate. I'm the William Ziff of fake wine scores. And I'm ready to sell out.

David White said...


While I'm glad you read my PalatePress piece, it'd be great if you could re-read it. Nowhere do I level any pay-for-play accusations at Parker, WS, or Charlie. Nor would I have issues with financial relationships, so long as they're disclosed.

Further, nothing about my thesis is particularly new or controversial. Wine criticism is changing.

Do you really disagree with such a simple statement? Every single brand that all the cool kids (and by "cool kids," I mean restaurant buyers with deep budgets) are purchasing aren't reviewed (or get bad scores from) by Parker, Spectator, etc. See Arnot-Roberts, Matthiasson, Massican, Wind Gap, etc. These buyers hear about these wines from social networks -- whether it's blogs, message boards, twitter, facebook, or real life tastings.

For actual data on this, just look at post-Parker-points price jumps on 2010 Bordeaux. His 100 point wines saw a jump, sure, but not nearly the jump they did in 2009... let alone 2005. Clearly, the influence is waning.

Thomas said...


With a name like Hai Qu, I'm surprised your post wasn't done in 17 syllables and three lines of 5,7,5.

David White:

"Clearly, the influence is waning."

That's good, provided it isn't being taken over by know-nothing babblers who pass along opinions as if they were fact and/or experience-based.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

There's a nice irony that you probably never got more play, or more attention, than when you were posting on STEVE!, and then when he banished you. You should be proud that he banned you. But it does show that he has some clout.

But that's not your point. I used a strong work in "insipid," which basically means bland, or uninteresting. This doesn't apply to all of your works (which I haven't read often, forgive me), but in the post I'm referring to you set yourself up as a spokesperson for Millennials, which you aren't, and went on to write line after line of gross generalizations backed up by nothing but your personal opinion. That, for me, is insipid. Speak for yourself, don't imagine you speak for a generation. That was my point in creating Lo Hai Qu. She, too, believes that she and her FaceBook friends are the norm, that what they believe is what every right thinking Millennial believes.

Also, there's a BIG difference between influence and talk, and actual sales. I haven't responded until now because I was tasting with a winemaker who was telling me how much a recent review in Wine Enthusiast boosted his sales. This is common. Yes, there are examples of blogs that sell quite a bit of wine, but that's pretty uncommon. Will that change? It depends on how good the advice is, I guess. Anyhow, that folks write and post and Tweet about a wine doesn't often translate into significant sales. Not in my experience.

My main point, Kyle, is that speaking for Millennials without any sort of actual proof that what you're proclaiming is how they truly feel is always a big journalistic mistake.

But, hey, I'm really glad you stopped being a lurker, if in fact you are a lurker at HoseMaster, and chimed in. I welcome Millennials with open arms.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My apologies, first of all. In my comment, I used Pay for Play in a haphazard and misleading fashion. What I meant was that Millennials didn't want to pay for reviews from experts, they wanted reviews for free. I can see how you took offense, and, no, you never spoke about Pay for Play between wineries and reviewers in your article. That was sloppy language on my part.

As to your other points. Parker put Marcassin on the map, and always gave high scores to Arnot-Roberts, which they proudly trumpet. Pax got high scores at Pax, and at Wind Gap too. Massican got a huge bump from Jon Bonne, and Matthiasson too. Don't know what they'd tell you, but one mention from Bonne is worth a thousand blog posts.

Is wine criticism changing? Doesn't everything change except maybe gravity? (Now some scientist will comment and say I'm wrong, gravity is changing because people are more obese.) Wine critics get old and die. Things work in cycles. Wine critics before Parker had only negligible influence. Then they arguably had too much. Now they're certainly on a bit of a down cycle, more to do with age and boredom than anything else. And in twenty years, they'll be huge again. As Vonnegut would say, And so it goes.

You're a better journalist than that Palate Press piece. I like your work. But, David, guys like Parker and Charlie Olken and STEVE! and Laube, they didn't spend any time, not one moment that I'm aware of, worrying about the old guys who were ahead of them in line--Broadbent and Finnigan and Johnson and Balzer. Wine criticism was changing then too. Those guys, Parker and Olken and Roby and Berger, changed it on the strength of their knowledge, hard work and integrity. Which is how most stuff changes. Parker insults "blobbers" now and then, but he never insulted his predecessors. Or said their time had passed, or that no one listens to them any more. Because it wasn't true then, and it's not true now.

So what you wrote wasn't wrong, only dreadfully obvious. And who knows dreadfully obvious better than I? Wine changes, wine writing changes, society changes, generations come and go. There's little news there.

But deadlines are deadlines, and a blog is a voracious eater of material and ideas. I get it. I just thought the rash of cookie-cutter posts on wine writing lately deserved a bit of trashing.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I never trust a monkey in a tux. They always want something.

The less seriously we take wine, and the business, the better off we all are. Seems you get that. Cool.

Don't be a stranger, Louis. Show up more than once a Millennial.

Paul said...

Waiting for the day #WINECRITICCORPSE trends on Twitter. A great day.

Charlie Olken said...

Is wine criticism changing? R. L. Balzer, Nate Chroman, Hank Rubin, David Garbellano (how many have heard of him yet he was a major player at one time and was married to Frances Peterson, Joel's mother). They all reviewed wine--as did the guys are Wine World like Roy Brady.

The medium is changing faster than the nature of the comprehensive review format. Joe Roberts may write in newspeak but and he won't use the 100-point system, but he uses letter grades with plusses and minues. Same game, barely disguised.

The notion that the "story" is the message is not new. Every publication worth its salt pays attention to the story. CGCW does it in long intro pieces to our varietal coverage. Parker/WA does it in the body of tasting notes. Spectator does it in four colors. But the story was always there and it will always be there.

The real question is whether anyone will pay for wine reviews in 20 years or will get them free. I am guessing that Parker and Laube and Heimoff and even Olken will be replaced by others who EARN a following by the quality of their written messages and their abilities to convince readers that they can help serious geeks find the wines they want.

No one will live by Massican alone. It is a joke to think that wines like that are ruling the market. There is simply not enough of them to go beyond a few geeks and sycophants.

Charlie Olken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kschlach said...

Ron, thanks for your thoughtful responses to David's and my comments. I really appreciate the time and thought, seriously. You are quite correct in your assertion about my blog's attention of late. Of course Steve has more (much) clout than I. I never said Steve, Parker or Laube have lost their influence completely, just that it is changing.

However, I never claimed to be the Millennials' (won't spell it incorrectly ever again...) spokesperson. My description of Millennials' traits and habits was not my own proclamation. My blog is not a scientific paper. I'm not going to cite all the other articles (peer-reviewed and not) that describe Millennials as wanting to actively participate, have freedom of choice and have confidence (often in excess) on my blog. If you doubt that I have evidedence (there is no such thing as proof other than in mathematics), here is a short list of a few sources that support my claims:

Gross, "The New Millennial Values," Forbes, 7/5/12

Young, et al. 2012. J of Consumer Marketing 29:2.

Rainer and Rainer, "The Millenials" 2011.

And for wine specific literature:

Wilson & Quinton, 2012. Int J of Wine Bus Research 24:4.

Henley et al., 2011. Int J of Wine Bus Research 23:1.

Nowak et al., 2006. J of Product & Brand Management 15:5.

And perhaps the one Steve needs to read most:

Reyneke et al. 2011. Int J of Wine Business Research 23:1

I apologize for the poor format of the citations, but this is just a blog ;)

Not every Millennial will fall into the umbrella of traits and habits that researchers have described, but I haven't seen Steve cite one scientific piece of literature to back up his opinions on the subject at hand. Sadly, but as a matter of fact, blogs aren't the most journalistically (is that even a word?) correct forums. They are places to express and share opinions. I'm happy that you care enough to facilitate such a discussion! Cheers.

Charlie Olken said...

Above deleted because it duplicated itself. Or maybe it was a clone.

kschlach said...

Charlie, "The medium" is half the battle in wine criticism! That's like saying transportation hasn't changed. People went from place to place in the Middle Ages. Nothing's changed about transportation but the mode... To criticize wine (or anything for that matter) requires communication. Some of the content is changing, but the changing in communication of content is what I am describing (I'll let David speak for himself unless he will grant me rights as his spokesperson...). It seems we're talking past each other...

kschlach said...

Charlie, you scared my for a second! After scrolling too quickly, I thought Ron deleted my comment! I can always hope. ;)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

It sounds like you're responding to Jon Bonne, not Kyle, but that's fine.

I wrote this piece yesterday in a sort of silly frenzy, mostly because I read Kyle's post and then, by coincidence, David's. They seem like two guys I'd like, and they have the passion for wine I look for. I'd never put myself in the business of predicting consumer trends, as they have, it's nuts. Ten years ago, who could have foreseen wine blogs? Things will only change faster in the next ten.

Yeah, that would be cool. Be the first time something like that has trended since #WHEREISOSAMACORPSE.

Millennials are, indeed, a different breed, raised on computers and the Internet where I was raised on TV and fear of atomic warfare.

No, you didn't claim to be a Millennial spokesperson, not explicitly. But it's clear you believed you knew how they felt about wine criticism. OK. I'm fine with that. But my reaction to your piece was simply, "Oh, man, get over the STEVE! thing."

Your thesis that wine critics are losing influence is based on very flimsy evidence. Very few, if any, wineries would agree. And I seriously doubt any people who work for distributors or brokers would agree. But I have no evidence of that either. As usual here on HoseMaster, I'm just making shit up.

I lampooned you, and David, with Lo Hai Qu because it seems everyone wants shortcuts to influence in the wine business these days. Parker and Charlie and Steve became influential because they worked their asses off (don't go by their actual size now) at a job they loved. If their influence is only with Boomers, so what? It's still a lot of influence. Is there a Justin Bieber of wine reviewing? Maybe, but it wouldn't matter to me. Or the other Boomers, for whom I am a spokesmodel. The model of wine criticism is changing, but, long term, authority gained by hard work and passion, prevails. That never changes. If the medium is the message, Twitter delivers mostly bird shit.

And I don't delete comments often--I think only once in four years. You're safe.

kschlach said...

Ron, I take no offense in your post. I am actually flattered you lampooned me. Trust, me I'm over the Steve thing. But I still find some of what he and others say provocative and worth discussing.

voice of reason said...

I enjoyed the original HMW post and all the post-post banter.

All of your comments have shown me that there is a danger (fair or not) that whenever a bright, new name (whether Winery or Writer) catches on, there is a danger that the Alumni may be overlooked.

I have nothing but respect for writers-of-old, and I am open to see if newer wine writers will keep my attention after a similar span of years has elapsed...

Marcia Macomber said...

Like, you had me at "Lo Hai Qu"! :-) (Sorry, been off at a training thing all day [grrrrr] and couldn't read this on my little phone under the table.)

My, it got so serious in the comments section. It seems so ironic with the myriad posts on the death of critics overlook the fact that, well, *like* they jumped onto the new bandwagon too.

Thomas dabbles primarily in various online forums and comment sections (at least I haven't seen a recent post over on your site in awhile); STEVE! most certainly expanded his 'sphere of influence' by joining the blogging ranks; Charlie did the same while also maintaining CGCW offline/subscription too. And all the formal wine criticism pubs all expanded online in some form. So everyone recognizes that how wine writers and critics connect with their audiences has shifted in the past several years and continues to do so.

The Millennial issues are diverse but are heavily influenced by the dreadful economy and their not having the $$ to buy more expensive wine (or the $$ for publications with more information on wines). Therefore, they MUST get as much information as possible for free. That shouldn't be too surprising. And it, too, will change over time as their pocketbooks get fuller.

Dear Hosé, perhaps, as Joe did, you should let LHQ take a crack at a few 'orange' wine reviews... :-)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, it's worth talking about, just not ad nauseum. Sadly, Tom Wark sort of covered a lot of this yesterday in his post. If I had seen that, I probably would have nixed my Lo Hai Qu bit. I dislike being part of a blogger movement, and I mean that in the lower intestinal sense.

I think there's a point in every serious wine lover's career when he's tasted enough great wines, purchased plenty, that he then becomes his own wine critic. I still read a few wine reviews, but am not looking for any new voices. But I'm certainly not a Millennial. For folks like Parker and Charlie and Steve, when they go, most of their readers will go with them. Wine Spectator may survive, and CGCW, and WE, but only by finding new, young wine critics. Which they seem to be trying to do. I doubt I'll pay much attention to them, but if their peers do, that's the point.

And, as I mentioned earlier, it might behoove them to simply do the work, not predict or revel in the passing of their predecessors.

Marcia Darling,
Yeah, I love the name. My best since Avril Cadavril (whatever happened to her?). Even my wife laughed when I said it out loud, and she's a tough audience.

Your points are well-taken. It's really the immediacy of the Internet that makes it work for wine and connectivity. I only use this blog, not Twitter and such, because I like my downtime and the quiet.

Wineries better hope that the Millennials start making money and the economy improves. Competition in the wine biz has never been this tough, and if disposable incomes don't rise, lots of wineries will slowly tank. Where will Millennials go for wine advice when they have money? You know, I think Lo Hai Qu has a shot at being the next Tim Fish.

Unknown said...

whoa, you really stirred the pot with this one, dr. hosemaster.

i will agree that print magazines still wield tons of influence. my limited experience as a winemaker has shown that a good internet review can move a few cases, but a good spectator review can clean a winery out of wine.

i also really liked your point about wine writers respecting their predecessors, and not trying to bury them alive.

but most of all, i appreciate you lampooning the echo chamber of bloggers blogging about the influence of bloggers. i wonder how many of them know the names of the winemakers who make their favorite wines? or the difference between EA and VA? who knows, maybe they understand more about wine than I realize. But I know that I get awfully tired of hearing them talk about how important they are, and would much prefer they stick the topic of wine. Maybe even go into a little depth about it.

Listen, I love reading wine blogs. I'll work 8 hours at a winery, then take a 3 hour night class on fining methods, only to come home and read about wine on the internet. But writing about wine writing should be banished to the same reject pile as winemakers talking about soil types and clonal variation. Nobody cares but the people who already know.

David White said...

Ron: Thanks for your thoughtful response.

Just one point: Your comment: "Don't know what they'd tell you, but one mention from Bonne is worth a thousand blog posts." just isn't accurate. Things are changing.

A thread on WineBerserkers bringing attention to a brand -- especially one that hasn't been reviewed yet/mentioned by WS, Parker, etc -- moves a huge amount of wine.

And I've had plenty of California winemakers tell me that they've received more mailing list signups (and, more importantly, sold more wine) after mentions on prominent blogs (including my own) than mentions in the SF Chronicle.

Kyle: You're welcome to be my spokesperson!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm surprised when a piece gets a big response. I never know. Nor do I set out to get a big response. I just write comedy.

Talking about wine writing is, indeed, rather tiresome, but it fills the empty air. But I hate it when movie reviewers talk about movie reviewing too, which they do too often in the NY Times. But someone must be interested.

A mailing list signup, while a start, only occasionally translates into a sale. But that's nitpicking.

I'm grateful for any kind of venue that sells wine. That's what it's all about. One critic loses power, another gains it, 'twas ever thus. We're all here because we love wine. I always figure no one is stupid enough to listen to my opinions about wine, and that's not my desire anyway. I like to make people laugh.

And it ain't a contest. You move more wine than Bonne? So what? Is he losing influence and are you gaining it? Who cares? You know, you could be gaining influence while he is as well. Charlie might be more influential than ten years ago, or he might not be. Parker's days are numbered--so are all of ours.

"Each critic's death diminishes me for I am involved in Winekind. Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."--apologies to John Donne.

Now I'm guessing you won't be linking to me any more on Terroirist...

Thanks, David, glad you chimed in.

David White said...

Ron: Of course I'll still link to you! And I assure you my comment re: wine sales wasn't a pissing contest.

My point is simply that I'd wish some people (you, Heimoff, etc) would admit that wine criticism and the wine media is changing. In the future, I think we'll have fewer all-powerful critics, and that goes for movies, books, wine, etc.

Wine is clearly lagging when you look at other industries. That's fine. But it seems quite odd to pretend that Parker and WS have the influence they did 5-10 years ago and will continue to have today's level of influence in 5-10 years.

Unknown said...

the new york times? dude, print movie reviews are dead. millennials are all getting their movie reviews from that 1-800 automated voice dude

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm a satirist, a wiseguy, a Fool, not a wine writer. I wouldn't deny that the wine media is changing, and I agree that WS and Parker are losing influence. In fact, I declared Parker dead four years ago on this blog--way before you started Terroirist. I'm not an employee of WE or WS or RP. I have no investment in their success or failure. I see stuff in the wine business that triggers satirical thoughts in my head, like your post and Kyle's, and I let it fly. Right and wrong, my friend, mean nothing to a clown. The future has a way of making everyone's predictions look stupid.

I'm old, I read the NY Times. But I never go to movies, so it doesn't matter. But the day I buy a book based on Amazon reviews, take me out back and Ol' Yeller me. Look it up, Millennials.

Joe Roberts said...

Hose - this is funny stuff but of all of the blobbers you went and picked on two who actually have talent?!? Dude, you're slipping! Also, for interns, the best thing is to get one started as soon as possible so that you can convince them that you're a worthwhile enough human that they'll eventually change your diapers for you when you're old and infirm. That was my plan, anyway...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I hired Lo Hai Qu to change my diapers but she got demoted to wine cellar duty. But doody is duty.

I learned several years ago not to pick on talentless bloggers because it's become something of a badge of honor for the HoseMaster to lampoon someone, God knows why. So I now ignore specific talentless Poodles, whose numbers are legion.

Cris Whetstone said...

Good discussion. What happened to making fun of peoples?

I think Thomas should just give up the ruse and just post "First!" from now on like any good millennial.

I think the days of centralized criticism with their attached newsletters are long gone in terms of having any big influence. And they are not coming back in any sort of cycle. The customer base and the tools they use are just too different now. No one used guides anymore. Everyone has a smart phone and instant access to a plethora of information. They don't want a listing from one person. They want a listing of people speaking about the one thing they are interested in. You don't have to like it but it's the way of the world. Information access is not going away. The old critics had the advantage of being gate keepers. The gates are gone.

This may leave all those who sell and market wine wondering where it is all going but I think for consumers it is a huge plus. I also think it opens up the wine market to people who may have been intimidated in the past by the gate keepers. Traditionally there has been a lot of looking down the nose at those who knew little by those that knew a lot. That now can easily be circumvented.

I would point out that you Ron have mentioned your disdain for those that refuse to accept that wine is supposed to make us feel happy rather than being a religious exercise full of judgement and needless decrees. For the vast majority of people it was always traditionally this way. With the gate keepers and their ivory towers being removed it allows for more people to feel they too can approach wine and enjoy it's exploration without have to feel small and without knowledge. You do not need vast wine knowledge to enjoy a glass after all.

Unknown said...

it's easy for bloggers to sit at their computers and say that the wine spectator no longer has any influence. but our wines just got good reviews from the the advocate, enthusiast, and spectator - and i can assure you that they indeed still have influence. we are selling wine faster than we can bottle it. we are picking up distributors in new states. for f*cks sake, we're getting calls from foreign countries!

we are surprised by all of this, because we don't make the type of big, bold wines that are usually praised by critics. we are fully aware that by next year, somebody else is going to be the hot new winery, and we'll be back to being a bunch of schmos. and i'm not saying all of this to brag (well, maybe just a little).

the point i'm trying to make is that print media and national publications still wield a ton of influence, and no amount of blogs stating the contrary are going to change that.

Charlie Olken said...

Thanks, Gabe. Perhaps that little bit of truth will make a small dent in the craniums of those, like the poster before you, who say things like "guides are dead".

But, then people often do not want to hear the truth when it impacts their unfounded pet theories.

Quizicat said...

While reading this piece I had to go over to Wiki (the fount of all self policing knowledge) to see if indeed Laube and Heimlich were still alive.
Getting beyond that, the similarities with the TV biz (my cursed field) does much the same thing now. Offer the joy of a tic on you resume for the opportunity to make some other idiot money. And there are a long line of kids scrabbling to get into this heartless industry and willing to do it for free. And the dinosaurs are so desperate to remain relevant that they are only hiring people now who are highly conversant in FaceBook and Tweeting. But at minimum wage who cares if they really do anything. I guess I'm off topic. I need a glass of wine.

Joe Roberts said...

Poppa Charlie - don't mistake a comment or two for the majority. I don't see how anyone could argue that print had no influence. I also don't see how anyone could argue that print isn't losing influence, either, but that trajectory is going to take quite a bit of time to play out fully.

Thomas said...


Thanks for noticing my Millennial status, although I have a feeling we don't share the same definition of the word.

To the subject of this post and the comments that shower from it: those who spend a great deal of time justifying or defending their existence leave me cold.

If only we could engage an ounce or two of individual curiosity for every pound of energy we spend trying to glean from others what we should think and do. I worry over the fate of individuality while everyone else seems to worry over the fate of social media. Makes me feel truly millennial.

kschlach said...

Joe- thanks for the complement, but you must be confusing me with someone else! Also, you might have just lost your intern (or created a line with many more hopefuls...).

Charlie- I am sorry to have hurt your (and STEVE!'s) pet theories. By saying its not changing does not make it so. Plugging your ears and closing your eyes does not make change go away. We've offered evidence of a change. David, nor I, have claimed that WEWAWS (I like that acronym) has no influence or are dead.(i propose Ron write a zombie apocalypse piece on Parker rising from the dead and retaking NorCal...) They are clearly still the most influential wine media. What I'm saying is that communication pie is getting bigger and slowly changing flavors (into multiple flavors actually). People are now able to taste more pieces and different flavors. They can now use a spoon, a fork, or a spork rather than only the big trough. They can even throw the pie in others' faces ;)

Ron- I've thought about your comments regarding the new wine writing generation "worrying about," "insulting," or throwing our predecessors under a bus. We are disagreeing with their assessments of the "industry" and trying to engage them in a dialogue by sharing our thoughts, opinions and insights. After all, that is one of the big Millennial traits...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I absolutely think wine is meant to make us stupidly happy. But there are those of us who want to delve more deeply into it, and for those folks, it's easier if you have some guides. Those guides are changing, it's inevitable. This comment thread seems to be about how fast and towards whom or what. It also seems to be about nothing.

Stop contradicting the brilliant essayists I lampooned. It's unseemly. But congrats on your winery's success. It was all about 1WineDoody, right?

Puff Daddy,
The guides may be dead, but I just bought some Girl Scout cookies!

As an alum of the TV biz, though it was long ago in a galaxy (a 1968 Galaxy) far, far away, I feel your pain.

And books are dying too, right? They've been dying since television came in. Man, I hope my death doesn't take that long.

You started this thread. It's all your fault. You made me mention Kyle and David's posts as inspiration for Lo Hai Qu. What followed is on you. I'd recommend a good dry cleaner.

It will be ten years, at least, before WEWAWS are done. The wine business moves very slowly, it's a big damned ship that has a hard time changing directions. Where will you be in ten years? Who the hell knows? But wine will still be produced, in larger quantities, all of it will need to be sold, it will take hordes of people to sell it, from the measliest tasting room person to the sleaziest marketer to the most corrupt wine critic. Then President Jeb Bush will bring back Prohibition and we'll all be out of work.

Posts with headlines like "Wine Critics are Losing It--Influence, that is," hardly speak to simple disagreement, but, hey, like I said, I've decreed Parker dead for years, and managed to insult everyone else who is a wine critic, so I am hardly one to give you a hard time.

Kill the old farts.

Unknown said...

Thanks Ron.

While Joe's post might not have moved as many pallets as the Spectator, his article about our winery was much more in depth. At the risk of pissing off Harvey Steinman, Joe did a much better job of "telling our story". It didn't result in as many dollars, but was much more fun to read

Cris Whetstone said...

Maybe I was not clear about what I meant by 'guide'. When I said guide I meant listings of wine reviews by some guy or even in a book usually with scores attached. That is separate to me from the more reference material books which can give you knowledge of individual regions etc. I think the heyday of guides is on it's way out. Information for delving into certain aspects of wine will never go out of style and will always be useful. I would argue that we haven't even gotten to the point where you can write comprehensive material for such books in a region like California. We still have so much to learn about what does best where here.

Charlie Olken said...

Hey Joe--

When you write "a long time to fully play out", are you agreeing with Whetstone that they are "on their way out" or agreeing with Kyle at CWP that "the communication pie is getting bigger"?

No one, me included (Kyle, are you listening) has said that things are not changing. The way in which information is exchanged clearly has expanded, but what has not changed is the value of expert opinion. It will still be delivered for years to come, but the media through which it is offered has already expanded (lots of publication are now solely digital--Berger, CGCW, Tanzer and others have substantial digital footprints).

The WEWS crowd of four color mags have so much more to offer than can ever be deliverd on digital media. 200 pages of stories, tasting notes, travel recommendations, recipes. We have seen early attempts to compete, and maybe Palate Press and Zester Daily will someday boast the revenue streams of the WEWAWS, but it seems very unlikely because the Internet, for all that it can do in terms of immediacy and breadth, is still a problem child when it comes to depth.

But, please guys, lighten up. Every young generation, including mine (we used to say, "dont trust anyone over thirty" and then we turned thirty) has new ideas, moves the needle, is up to date, etc. We all use Twitter and Facebook. We all publish online in public space and yet we are all still here and not losing readership.

And guys, please note, all the pubs that you think are on their ways out, have continued to replace old readers with young readers.

The names may change, the way in which information is provided may make better use of new media, multi-media, etc, but you have to posit that no one will want to know which Burgundy or Bdx or CA Pinot to buy among the hundreds and thousands of choices in order to make an argument that WA and the "guides" are dead.

kschlach said...

Charlie, I think we agree a lot more than we disagree. I do think exert opinion value has changed, albeit a little. Speaking more to Steve, I also think SM can and does sell wine, again with much lower volume than traditional means. Though what is traditional? Ron and Charlie, what was life like before Prohibition? ;)

Shall we go back to arguing over alcohol? Balance? Or maybe debating the merits of 50% of American wineries being not in CA? ;)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I knew what you meant, I was just screwing around.

Yet California is, by my rough estimate, only 1/50th of the states.

I do want to taste more CO wines, Kyle, as they seem to improving drastically. And I love Virginia wines, and New York wines, as well as those CA-haters to the North. The best thing about being a wine judge is landing on the panel that tastes "Miscellaneous Reds," or "Hybrid Grapes," or categories like that. Lots of cool, interesting wines from all over the country. Really fun.

Anonymous said...

Some day when the Alpha Centaurians get here they'll be puzzled by the huge stone faces arrayed on the Sonoma coast looking inward , protecting the Valleys within their spiritual sight. Nameless there forever more.
Lo Hai Qu's diction changed so dramatically in the course of her post that one suspects that, like so many hot chicks on the web, she's really an old guy posting in his jammies( they provide more freedom of movement than underwear)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Literary critics die first.

Two Shepherds said...

Am a bit hesitant to wade into these waters, as unfortunately the well written, Bonne article continues to spawn other posts, some of which have missed the point, and several that changed my perspective on people, and the more comments, the more people keep publishing. Perhaps one day, an actual CONSUMER (gasp) may even read and comment. ;)

Anyway, I digress.

One never knows when you are serious or satirical Ron, but as a new brand that has received numerous blog and print write-ups the last year, want to weigh in on that SOME blogs sell wine.

So,by the #s, many don't, there is no doubt. But I can count, directly, cases of sales, and even more important, wine club signups, wines untasted, by articles from David White, Meg Houston Maker, and Kyle, in particular. David is particularly effective in that he truly reaches consumers, something few do, and reposts the work of other bloggers, which has also helped bring me more customers. These articles exceeded (traceable)short sales over the Chronicle and Press Democrat.

I have been fortunate enough to be honored by two Bonne mentions, and I can only hope to get more, its an honor, and an invaluable marketing tool. But I can also tell you I sold more wine, directly traceable, via David's blog post.

Which is a nice fringe benefit, bloggers and print media don't write to sell wine, they write to share. Nor do I send samples to measure case good sales impact - they go into a much larger long term strategy of branding, which is impossible to ever accurately measure. But its a nice validation.
However I equally appreciate any thoughtful, well written article equally.

I know several other small, hot brands who can attest similar lack of sales from printed high profile articles. Nothing is a given.

People claim as a given that ad campaigns in WS, and mentions by a big
publication all generate big cases sales. I have asked repeatedly for that ROI for an ad, or traced sales for a mention, and most can't provide it.

The whole question of whether the nature of wine critics are changing,in a digital age, is in my opinion, a non question, but I will leave for everyone else to debate!

cheers my friend, keep writing, and hope to pour for you soon - perhaps at Rhone Rangers Mar 23rd!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm always being satirical, that's what I do. And thanks for weighing in. Your remarks contrast nicely with Gabe's experience with his label. Hey, whatever, or whoever, sells wine is a good thing in my book. More power to David and Kyle. But I'm guessing your Two Shepherds wines haven't been reviewed in major wine publications, William (I could be wrong). Do you think a 94 would sell more or less wine than David? Or would it attract the sort of mailing list customer you don't want?

To bring this full circle, I wrote the Lo Hai Qu post to satirize the endless articles generated by Jon Bonne's piece--Kyle's and David's were just two, but the only two I actually read. The comments just went their own way, as they always do. I like your point that actual consumers rarely comment here, or on any other wine blog, for that matter. Either because they don't read wine blogs, which I tend to believe, or they're intimidated by our superior intelligence. Yeah, right. No one actually knows.

My traffic these days is about 50,000 page views/month. Most, I would think, are in the biz. I'm here to make them laugh at themselves, something they do little of. I have no idea of how many hits others get, nor does it matter. The numbers always seem wrong or misleading or arbitrary. But if there are eleven "consumers" reading me, I'd be shocked.

Anyhow, it's been fun. I hated this post, genuinely hated it, George is right about the abrupt change of tone (I'm lazy, I don't rewrite), so, naturally, it gets 50 comments. And so it goes.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

And, oh, yes, I will drop by your table at Rhone Rangers. I have to hide my name tag now when I go to tastings, but you know me, so I'll stop by and taste as myself.

Tastings are weird for the HoseMaster.

Louis Calli said...

HMW inspired.

Thomas said...

I, for one, am happy to see that communicators are admitting that this is all about selling wine. It's refreshingly honest as opposed to the "wine journey" sentiment of so many bloggers.

I don't know who Two Shepards is, but
that person aptly points out the relative paucity of consumer participation directly on the blogs. If bloggers--or any wine critics--are moving wine in pallets that's fabulous (and thank you Gabe for the correct spelling of pallet). Where the hell were you bloggers when I operated a winery??? Oh, right: that wa sin the stone age of the 1980s-90s.

Unknown said...

thanks Thomas. I felt a little sheepish talking about the scores and sales of our winery, but it seemed relevant to the discussion. I am sure that blogs are a great help for small wineries focusing on direct-to-consumer sales. But when you are trying to build a national brand, getting noticed by distributors will open the door to getting discovered by thousands of customers. If we're talking about selling wine, the real gate-keepers are not critics or bloggers, but distributors.

I also want to remind everyone that I am not the owner of a winery, just the schmo topping barrels and running the plate-and-frame. Any similarities to a reputable winemaker are purely coincidence.

Dean Tudor said...

Another opium den story, but sure generating a lot of reaction...Opium = OPM (Other people's money).

Eric V. Orange said...

I'm even getting chuckles out of the comments.
I think Thomas should just give up the ruse and just post "First!" from now on like any good millennial. "

That's laugh out loud funny, Chris.

BTW, I may not buy a book from Amazon based on 'a' review, but if it has 4 or 5 stars from hundreds of reviews, I damn sure will.
I'm still trying to figure out how to apply that kind of metric to the events posted on LWE.

Keep me laughing Hose.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Well, I do try to be inspiring. Though I could use a dose of inspiration myself. Obviously.

Two Shepherds is the label of William Allen's Rhone variety wines. Don't you read Terroirist? Sheesh.

If you're feeling sheepish, I know a guy with two shepherds...

About time you showed up. You didn't read through all these comments, did you? Save them for a sleepless night.

I'd never buy a book based on an Amazon review, or hundreds of them either. I like authority, which explains my wife's policewoman's outfit.

Thomas said...


We don't get no California Rhones in upstate NY. California Rhone: is that worse than an oxymoron? And since when is Garnacha a Rhone variety?

Unknown said...

that was pretty funny. you should try writing comedy sometime...

Thomas said...

Who me?

Samantha Dugan said...

Hey Sweet Love,
Just popping by to let you know, yours is WAY bigger than Tom Wark's...and I am talking comments sections of course. I love you!

Cris Whetstone said...

Thomas, Good point on the sales. I failed to mention it earlier but that's where the rubber meets the road. Which information delivery will move wine. That's all we are aruguing about at the end of the day.

Speaking of rubber and delivery, thanks Samantha. I was about to try and get to sleep.

Anonymous said...

I went to a wine store once where there were no shelf talker reviews. I got confused and left. I couldn't possibly buy wine on my own.

Thomas said...


Both your post and your commenting name are funny.


You always get right to the meat of the matter.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
It's only bigger because you're here.

Oh, come on, just buy the wine with the cute, fuzzy animal on the label, that's foolproof.

Anonymous said...

I prefer the double entendre label, or the ones that were specifically made just for me, such as middle sister. That wine knows how I feel.

Joe Roberts said...

Charlie - both. And both will take a long time. And agreeing with Kyle that we all agree more than disagree. And with William that only the geekiest of consumers are following this debate. Also thinking that we all need to get together for beers...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

And this just in to my personal email, from Michael P.:

"Good morning. One last post, adding more crap to the pile, no?

SO, it seems like the debate that "wine critics are dead" in response to the change in criticism all boils down to...well bloggers blogging about bloggers who blog about blogging. A small group of people wrapped up in their own head. And this is certainly not wine-specific, rather just something that happens to all micro-industries. At least, I think so. It kinda seems like a bunch of people trying to show the editor why their opinion matters (referencing this blog perhaps to prove it all).

And then there is the "see things are changing." Well, have they not been since Rome fell? At least, things are always changing, which really means things are just the same as they were before: nothing is really changing. I imagine some British wine critic typing up the same idea in 1983 or 1984 when Parker was just, and finally, getting noticed after his comments about the 1982 Bordeaux. It like "I just discovered something really important idea: the earth in fact moves around the sun, no?" OMG. Oh, MG. The one underlying thing with all their self-reflective comments is the lack of understanding (except, honestly for the Grand Dame Hosemaster) that it's really more of the same. The Millennials and the spokes-people [?] saying "we are different, have something worth saying and hearing" and that being said to the people who are currently "in charge". Those people currently in charge...probably said the same thing when they were in the 20s or 30s to the people previously "in charge", and on back to before we can really recount. So why keep pointing out "really, you don't realize it, but things are changing"? Well, seeking approval and affimation from the people currently in charge, right? The "heh, something new's a'coming" people want the currents Heads of State (of Wine) to say, "yes, you are worth it. You are better than mommy and daddy said."

And in the end, that paradigm continues and so it goes. Nothing ever really changes. Sit. Zen it out, dudes. Stop holding on to the ideas. Sit. Let it go.

And, perhaps just delete this point, ya know. Let it go too.

Michael P."

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Even I'm not following this debate. What the hell were we talking about? I never should have let my Chinese sex sla...intern write a post.

As someone once said, "Wine blogs are the attention-barking of lonely poodles."

But it's fun, and I'm happy to see the biz changing. Not that is hasn't always. The old voices need to stay with us while the young ones evolve and learn. And then it will be their turn to step aside. That's the thing about Poodles--short life spans.

Anonymous said...

As "the geekiest of consumer" (though I would prefer the title of "knurdiest"), millennials all have this mutant power of evaluating a "gatekeeper'. See, the gatekeeper has to insert himself or herself between the consumer and the bottle in order to be relevant (i.e., profitable). This means that gatekeepers have to be Vampires, they have to be charming and cunning enough to trick the consumer into actually inviting them in, because they can't enter unless invited.

The vampiric elders- Parker, Asmiov, Jancis; they had this arcane ability to be so far removed from the masses yet still invited in. Never seen in public, the average consumer could never ask Parker what wine he would eat with lamb! You had to pay, and you paid for one-way access. And you were happy.

In the era of social media, the elders resisted, but the young upstart vampires pounced. Now you could get access two ways. These new Vampires could actually ask you to invite them in. Here comes Gary Vee and Joe Roberts. They are the everyman's wine drinker. They are close to you, and closer to the wine and you. There is a connection. People like that connection. Put in a comment section, and now I can ask Joe what wine he likes with lamb, and he might actually respond! Gary Vee plays with Thundercats; I played with Thundercats! I will buy wine from him.

But millennials also realize that they no longer have to summon the vampires through the web, they can go directly to the crypt and speak with the beast in person! And who better to ask questions about wine than the vampire who has personally tasted every single bottle in inventory. Cooking a rack of lamb you say? Have a $30 budget? Well vampire Samantha and evil overlord Gabe can point you directly to a bottle of right bank Bordeaux, actually in inventory that can be fondled and ogled, for only $25. Sam might even say to use a bit of the wine to deglaze the pan for a super-wonderful gravy. Fantastic. And she wishes me good luck with the dinner. What more could I want?

Gatekeepers don't seem to get that the consumer trend is simply a desire for the millennial to be as close to the wine as possible. Established critics do not try and market to me, they want to keep their distance. Joe wants to help me learn about wine, which is admirable, but doesn't get wine in my glass. Samantha can deliver everything I want.

And when Samantha makes me happy, I tweet. And now all my peeps know that Samantha can make them happy too. Through her own evil cunning, I made Samantha my gatekeeper without even knowing it. And now I spread the virus around, Samantha is the Gatekeeper, invite her in! And my friends trust me, and we make Samantha a god and preach her gospel in the twittersphere, facebook, and on yelp.

But the gatekeepers who desire to be gatekeepers just don't want to see the truth; we want to get as close to the wine as possible. Wine writers are too far away and out of touch with what I want. They think that paying for wine content is a crime; which it is, but they fail to see that regardless of talent, they are just as irrelevant. They just don't get it, but its right there in front of them in brick and mortar, flesh and blood, wine and glass. We want to interact, we want 2 way communication, and are no longer happy to just be fed.

Bit of a ramble there, but I think I managed to get the consumer point across as it relates to wine writers. I even managed to get through all those mentions of gatekeeper without mentioning the keymaster... (Sorry, had to get that Ghostbusters reference out before I exploded).

Samantha Dugan said...

Wow! I get to be a vampire gatekeeper?! This might require some thigh-high pleather boots....and red lipstick. In all seriousness I dig your point and as a retailer that does in fact put wines in people's hands, and suggest pan sauces while wishing my customers a happy dinner, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for understanding. Oh and the key master thing gave me a snort.

Anonymous said...

Samantha, if you do the thigh highs and red lipstick, you have to name the store "Flesh & Blood, Wine & Glass".

It just seems like all the chatter about millennial buying patterns and preferences, including the role of social and web based media, is a clear attempt to maximize profits by targeting sales. They just don't realize the reason why the millennials use social media- to form connections and communities, a trust if you will. An attempt to sell you something is recognized for what it is, which is why social media advertising doesn't work they way the marketing guys think it should.

Thomas said...


My only quibble with your take is about the "social media as community" thing. Maybe it was--once.

I am old enough to remember the promises made by the TV industry--something about bringing people together through information, or some such blather. Does that sound familiar? Look at where TV went.

Nothing in our culture is anything if it can't be profitable, and every person who can be fooled into thinking otherwise, is a perfect mark to those who run the con game. The easiest to con are those who believe the hype.

You commented: "An attempt to sell you something is recognized for what it is, which is why social media advertising doesn't work they way the marketing guys think it should."

Yes, advertising online direct to the consumer does not work, but taking your IP, email and whatever else and selling that to the advertisers works well enough for social media sites to go public on the DOW. In NYCity, we call it three card monte, and you can never find that friggin' shell.

Thomas said...

after "three card monte" I meant to type, "and the shell game."

Was going so fast I outpaced my fingers.

Unknown said...

woohoo! evil overlord status!

wineknurd, you might have the right stuff to be the hosemaster's next intern.

i get your point that consumers will buy the wines that their retailer recommends. I spent over five years selling wine by the bottle, and the most enjoyable part of the job was meeting people, learning their palates, and introducing them to new wines. To that extent, a wine salesperson does indeed have more influence than Robert Parker.

But America is dominated by the "three-tired system", another concept that only the nerdiest of the wine nerds understand. It basically means that between the evil overloard assistant winemaker and vampire gatekeeper wine salesperson is an extra layer, the invisible distributor.

For a winery to sell wine out of state, they need the help of a distributor. For Samantha to stock a wine on her shelf, she needs a distributor. Now that, my friend, is a gatekeeper. Retailers are buying cases, distributors are buying pallets. Retailers reach a neighborhood, distributors cover a whole state. And they are the only source in their state to carry those wines.

The fact is this: if you want to buy a bottle of wine, it either has to be produced in your state, or carried by a distributor in your state. Until that changes, distributors are the ultimate gatekeepers. And trust me, those guys are more concerned with our score in the Wine Spectator than our review from (no disrespect, Joe). Of course the world is changing, it always has and it always will, but for now that's the way it is.

Finally, I will say that I would much rather be talking about the importance of wine pH, a topic I am completely obsessed with that never gets mentioned on wine blogs. But this is what people are talking about,`and so it goes.

Anonymous said...

Thomas- we saw how well Facebook did when it went public, and its main problem is generating revenue from advertising. I am not saying it can't be done, my point is that it isn't working like "they" thought it would. I just heard an piece on NPR where they are saying the "Pandora method" is by far the best example of social media marketing. But I don't want to debate the methods, just the results.

Gabe- I am well versed in the 3 tier system having sold wine a lifetime ago. And I am in NC, the buckle of the bible belt, which loves the tax revenue it get from the 3 tier selling of "sin". As we know, alcohol leads to dancing, and dancing leads to babies.

The flaw in your logic, which is only a flaw because you can't read my mind, is that you can't be a "gatekeeper" if you provide a tangible good. The distributors have to make Sam happy or she won't buy their wine. They have to learn what she is willing to sell or they don't make a sale. I can't imagine what would happen if a Bronco rep came into Sam's store with fine vintage Chuckie vertical...

The critics and bloggers, no matter how important people think they are, do not sell you wine. I would make the argument that a Parker 98 shelf talker at Costco serves the same purpose as Samantha, but only because the retailer is too lazy to market himself. Which in itself is a self-fulfilling prophecy: ratings generate sales which generate more ratings to in turn generate more sales.

Evil thought digression- lets open a store and call it "90", and we will only stock 90+ WA wines and nothing more. Damn that's so evil it might actually work.

Back to reality, on the other side of the computer screen I am a chemist and would love to talk about wine pH and wine chemistry. I myself am currently infatuated with "Ester", the love child between acid and alcohol that gives us all these wonderful flavors and aromas!

Samantha- I started calling you Sam at some point assuming we were cool like that. I apologize if that was not appropriate.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Is anyone around here, aside from me, ever wrong?

Anonymous said...

Someone told me I was wrong one time, but I believe they were mistaken.

Good night form the east coast!

Unknown said...


i respect your opinion, but i disagree. i've just seen too much evidence supporting the value of magazine scores to say they are no longer valuable.

as far as pH, my current obsession is how it prevents spoilage bacteria from growing in wine; in fact, a good low pH can offer many of the same benifits as so2, allowing winemaker to produce quality wines with fewer sulfites. I'm also starting to think that pH is the best clue to the ageworthiness of a wine; and a much bigger clue than alcohol if you are looking for a wine with "balance".


I'm never wrong, and neither is my wife. You don't want to be around when we disagree.

On a non-sequitor, you have really curated a lively debate on this blog. You better be careful, you'll be on a poodle pedestal soon

Thomas said...

Yes, Ron, everyone...

wineknurd, once again I'm breaking a rule never to talk to an anonymous commenter because it usually ends badly, so here goes.

Facebook was overpriced; like water, public offerings find their level. That does not change the fact that the shell game continues.

Back in the day, there were more than 3,000 distributors in the U.S. Consolidation IS the gatekeeper.

In the scheme of things, a small number of retail shops are as savvy as the one in which Sam works...they seek the stuff from likewise small distributors and yes, in that regard they are gatekeepers. The vast majority of other retailers (and consumers) are in the hands of the small number of giants that distribute, and when you are a wine producer that exceeds a certain production level, your choices for distribution are slim.

Thomas said...

Oh, and where I live, wine pH is quite low. That helps make our Rieslings supreme.

Thomas said...


Low pH certainly has its anti microbial benefits.

Of course, it prohibits ML, too.

We are not surprised with pH at 3.2 and below in the Finger Lakes.

Unknown said...


First of all, I am a huge fan of Finger Lakes rieslings. They are tough to find in Oregon, but they are the first wine I look for when I find myself in New York City.

As for the ML factor, I actually see that as a bonus. The head winemaker at my winery is hesitant to put white wines through native fermentation, because he is afraid of spontaneous ML. Our riesling this year came in around 2.9, which means you could barrel ferment it with wild yeast and no so2 without having to worry about ML or spoilage. And if fermentation gets stuck at the end, who cares? It's a riesling with a low pH, it can handle a little residual sugar.

Anyway, thanks for nerding out with me on this subject. I know you've made some wine back in your time, we should try to trade bottles one day

Anonymous said...

Thomas- Not intentionally posting anonymously, its an open ID that I use on other boards. My name is Chris, and I enjoy wine and discussion.

However, my "gatekeeper" spiel as intended only relates to Ron's post, and that is entirely from the millennial point of view towards wine critics. Millennials are not involved in the distribution network, but are involved with the retailer. Just wanted to maintain that focus there, but we can certainly apply the concepts further back on the 3 tier system where the end-buyer is no longer involved.

Gabe- I believe you are also slightly off the topic of millennial buying preferences, and that the spike in sales due to magazine scores was not from their demo. I never claimed that scores weren't effective marketing, but that they targeted a different demographic (the "collector" demographic).

Also, you need look no further than the century of research conducted by German winemakers to understand that low pH = long lived wines.

I have a question for you wine maker types that relates to something I deal with in my career as pertains to microbial activity. Bacterials LOVE malic acid, but tartaric not so much. This makes perfect sense- wines go through MLF but not TLF.

is there a way to control or manipulate either malic or tartaric acid levels during growing or fermentation? Or can you only manipulate total acidity, which affectes all acids regardless of composition?

Thomas said...


In winemaking, "control" is often deceiving.

Acid levels can be affected via harvesting regimens (pick sooner or later), but that's not an exact science, and I don't think I've ever met or interviewed anyone who sets out to grow grapes that way.

Some acid manipulations reduce one acid more so than another acid. (I believe calcium carbonate addition reduces tartaric but not so much malic, or maybe it's the other way round; I've been away from it for quite some time).

In any case, next to microbial considerations, the real issue is acid manipulation's affect on pH, since the pH/acid relationship is not necessarily one-to-one.

Unknown said...


if there is a way to change malic acid into tartaric (or vice versa), I am not familiar with it. During the grape growing season, pH goes up as BRIX go up, with the malic acid and tartaric acid working somewhat in parallel with each other.
The most common pH manipulation used in the Willamette Valley is the addition of Tartaric Acid to lower the pH. keeping red below 3.6 is usually the goal, although anything more than a gram per liter can make a wine taste "sharp".
As Thomas said, you can add Calium Carbonate to raise the pH, although the byproduct will be h2o, and too much of that will obviously give your wine a "watered down" flavor.
The same way every move in chess has a counter move, every thing you do to "fix" a wine will also have an undesired side effect.

As far as millenial buying habits, my point was that their choices are limited to what is available in thier state, and that inventory is controlled by distributors. while they may not be looking for wines with a high scoring pedigree, those wines are much more available, whether they know it or not.

And I"m glad we agree that a high pH gives a wine good aging potential. Yet you never hear anyone talk about pH when they talk about whether a wine will age well. I find that odd.

Joe Roberts said...

Ron - yeah, like all good masturbation episodes, interest trailed off very quickly after the peak...

I will say that s a total nerd, I do enjoy following along. I'm just sure that most fine wine consumers would simply look at this all and think "uhm... what about **the wine**?!??"

Thomas said...


pH IS the wine...


I'm sure you meant to say that low pH gives a wine good aging potential. Riesling has a long, long shelf life--and we all know about beat-up Chardonnay's potential shelf life.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm afraid that, aside from a basic understanding, I don't care much about wine chemistry. When push comes to shove (I don't even know what the expression means), it's all about the alcohol. The rest of the chemistry is the just the lame set of backup dancers.

And then the chemists want to know why people like the 100 point scale, when it's really about the pH.

Thomas said...


pH(shawww) to you.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
I have been devastatingly wrong, so I got you beat.

Sam is just fine by me...

McSnobbelier said...

Perhaps Jean-Charles has it right with what moves wine. Golden Women hanging from the rafters serving him wine! Is that Gina Gallo?

Thomas, maybe you should have used that in marketing Cana Vineyards.

Thomas said...

Ah, an old Cana Gewurztraminer buyer has emerged...

Yeah, Chris, that visual has been making the rounds, which may not be a good thing for Boisset.

Remember the days when we sold Boisset???

McSnobbelier said...

All Boisset momories were erased from my brain after seeing Jean-Charles' Junk in Mondovino! And now you've brought them all back - Thanks a lot! Cana, pre-Summit and Galey days.

Anonymous said...

Thomas & Gabe- Why not a cold stabilization to remove tartaric acid rather than calcium carbonate?

If we get to 100 comments does Ron get a poodle?

Unknown said...


i did mean to say that low pH is good for aging potential. now whats up with our bottle trade? how about i send you a young riesling in exchange for an old riesling (no pun intended)


I've never heard of cold stabilization before fermentation before. My guess is that there would be some sort of nutrient depletion caused by holding wine at such low temperature for such an extended period of time, but that is just a guess. The real answer is probably that calcium carbonate is faster and easier.
any suggestion for reading material about that german wine research on pH?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I've had a hundred comments before on a post, and didn't get a Poodle. I did, however, get a migraine. I prefer the migraine.

Thomas said...


All my old wines are long digested. The last commercial wines I produced were 1992 vintage, which was not a good year here; so bad, that it catapulted my finances right out of the business.

Anyway, in the cellar I held Rieslings and Gewurztraminers produced from 1985 to 1992. In 2004 I hosted a group at my home where we finished them all off. Some held up spectacularly, especially the earlier Rieslings.


Calcium carbonate is a measurable way to reduce acidity--cold stabilization is not, and Gabe likely has a point about the negative nutrition possibility, but that's out of my league.

Thomas said...

oops--make that wineknured. Stupid to put an e next to an r on the krboaed......

Thomas said...

Man, did I mess that one up!

Thomas said...

But I made 100. said...

oh no... a frustrated and swearging blogger again. I guess your blog won't survive many many winecritics ;-)
enjoy the show...must (will) go onü

Unknown said...

sorry i missed them, but i'm glad to hear they held up well

PaulG said...


Now you tell me: "Wine critics get old and die. Things work in cycles. Wine critics before Parker had only negligible influence. Then they arguably had too much. Now they're certainly on a bit of a down cycle, more to do with age and boredom than anything else. And in twenty years, they'll be huge again."

20 years I gotta wait? And forget the "again" part. But I'm not waiting. No sir, I'm moving on to where the real money is. I'm unveiling a lineup of three Muscats. They will be exactly the same except for their prices and colorful feathered neckers (red, yellow and green). They will be marketed as... wait for it... the Three Muscat Tiers.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

103 comments, and you win Best Comment. "3 Muscat-Tiers" is brilliant! You Dumas blog proud.

You should have your own blog.

Two Shepherds said...

yes, Thomas - there are such a thing as 'California Rhones'. :) Some are even under 14% alcohol. ;)
Actually the wines have been well received by the NY/East coast market, who used to disdain CA. (and still do many, rightfully so.)

Ron, thanks for the nice reply back. Look forward to pouring for you tomorrow at RRSF!

Unknown said...

Great article - I never listen to critics. I want to select great wines based on what my friends tell me.

SomeshRao said...

Hilarious post and I think you hit it right on the nail about how millenials buy anything, not just wine. I wonder if Wine Spectator is going the way of Newsweek?