Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hot New Winery Death

I always get a kick out of feature articles in wine publications that herald “Six Hot New (Cabernet/Pinot Noir/Zinfandel) Producers to Watch!” Inevitably, it’s six new producers doing the same damn thing everyone else is doing. It’s exactly like when the major networks premiere their new Fall television lineups. Robin Williams returns to television! Fire up the laugh tracks, Ma, Grandpa’s riffin’ again. Better yet, another Michael J. Fox sitcom. It’s just a damned shame he has Parkinson’s, because Tourette’s would be so much funnier! In wine, hey, it’s another $150 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley! Amazing! David Abreu returns to environmental degradation! Andy Erickson phones it in! And the label and packaging, well, it’s downright decadent, and, guaranteed to burn 50% more fossil fuels in the shipping! And here’s another “Can’t Miss” Pinot Noir producer with a stunning lineup of wines from, well, all the usual sources—Gap’s Crown, Pisoni, Sangiacomo, Hirsch, Keefer… This is wine’s version of “From the producers of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Two and a Half Men.’” What it guarantees is that it’s the same old formula but in a brand new package. You’ll be dazzled by the single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Terroir and a Half Men.

Those wine articles primarily serve to glorify the magazine’s power, not to serve its readers. Parker was famous for proclaiming that a winery or winemaker was a Producer to Watch, and then, an issue or two later, rating all their wines in the upper 90’s, guaranteeing it was now a winery to watch. It’s a little bit like rigging a horse race. You already know the outcome when you place the bet. But you still feel smug doing it.

I always wonder where those wineries are ten years later, when they’re no longer a Producer to Watch. Where once they were the Academy Award Winner for Best Actor, now they’re part of the Death Montage. So, at last, we arrive at the premise…


Deep Punt’s first few vintages of Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon scored more than 98 points, and the winery had a waiting list longer than a David Schildknecht wine description, and far more interesting to read. Collectors loved the wine, and loved the stylized and heavy bottles with punts deep enough to have their own microclimates. The vineyard was the first vineyard in Napa Valley to be planted underground and utilize solar panels to power the grow lights, guaranteeing a perfect vintage every year. The vines are six feet under and planted upside-down in order to give the vines better access to the unique soils of Pritchard Hill, and to make them really easy to pick. “Cabernet Sauvignon thrives underground,” proclaims Deep Punt’s consulting winemaker Phillipe Melka, “and we never have to worry about frost, wild boar or erosion. But it does rain fucking gophers in here all the time.” Once a Winery to Watch, Deep Punt has fallen on hard times, as indicated by a review on NothingsBiggerThanMyHead. “Yeah, we’re sending samples to bloggers now,” says Deep Punt’s owner Ray Guy, “I guess I’ve just thrown in the towel.”

Recent vintages of Deep Punt’s Cabernet have scored in the low 90’s, the death knell for cult wines. Mailing list members, once allocated three bottles, can now buy as many as they want, as long as they pretend they got the rest from the winery Wish List, and buy a truss for their UPS driver. Deep Punt’s innovative underground vineyard is reportedly for sale, ironically, at a rock bottom price.


Larry Standards and Alison Lowe met in college. Larry majored in Plant Massage, while Alison was earning her degree in Underage Drinking. “I was rubbing my pistil one day,” Larry recalls, “and Alison fell head first into the room. An hour later we were lovers, and two hours later she emerged from her coma.” Larry and Alison decided to pursue their dream of making great Pinot Noir, so they moved to Sonoma County. Alison worked two harvests at Williams Sonoma before she realized she wasn’t at Williams Selyem. “But I did learn a valuable lesson there,” she reminisces, “how to overcharge.” Soon, Lowe Standards Wines became a reality. Larry used his extensive knowledge of plant fondling to impress local vineyard owners, who love having their eco’s massaged, and soon he and Alison were buying Pinot Noir from several dozen notable vineyards. “The truth is,” Alison says, “every vineyard has unique terroir. Duh. How could it not? That’s the fucking definition of terroir. So we vineyard designate every one of our Pinot Noirs. When it comes right down to it, there’s a really good reason for this--we can charge more. Plus, blending vineyards into an appellation-designated wine cuts into my valuable drinking time.”

Once one of 2002’s New Pinot Noir Producers to Watch, Lowe Standards Wines is no longer the darling of Pinot Noir cult wine buyers. Perhaps it was the 45 different Pinot Noirs in their portfolio that soured the wine geeks. Or maybe it was that the Lowe Standards style went out of fashion. Their Pinot Noirs had more added enzymes than a Bill Clinton intern interview. Or was it because ordinary folks get weary of yet another, and another, single-vineyard Pinot Noir that tastes eerily like all the other single-vineyard Pinot Noirs? No, most likely it was that Lowe and Standards sold their label to Diageo. “Lowe Standards?” said Larry. “It just seemed a perfect fit.”


Unknown said...


"Alison worked two harvests at Williams Sonoma before she realized she wasn’t at Williams Selyem." You might as well retire right now - I don't think you can ever top that one! (Although raining gophers is pretty darn close....)
George Ronay

The Sommeliere said...

Ron, coupla of your best lines:

Deep Punt Wines: "Collectors loved the wine, and loved the stylized and heavy bottles with punts deep enough to have their own microclimates." I actually HAVE a bottle or two like that!

And even better: Lowe Standards Wines “I was rubbing my pistil one day,” Larry recalls..."

You have done it again--made us laugh when we need it most!

Steve Lay said...

Wow! where does one start to add something of value. Probably is best to stick with personal observations.
1. Everyone has a gimmick to differentiate a service or product in the market. Sometimes they take hold and have legs and sometimes they blow away and make the founder look stupid. I always thought winery buildings are edifices to Dionysys was a much for genius. Unique bottle designs is another that illustrates--if it ain't broke don't fix it.
2. I talk to myself some and most people around me do not see any improvements. But maybe plant communes would work. A good test as to what might work is what I call "the reasonable man test"; when applied, does the test show something that makes sense or improves something. Like grabbing a "pistil" (assuming you have one).
3. Keep politics out of wine, which is hard to do in CA.
4. I rebel when I feel some slick NY Pub and ratings service sells their sole to the highest bidder. Pull your slick willie on the intellectually wine challenged. I should not be led around by rating services. Always chasing ratings is very disappointing. The best thing is to DOPW (drink other peoples wine) till you find what you like.

Done I feel much better.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, man, I think about retiring from the blog every week. Thanks for the push. And thanks for the kind words.

Marlene Darling,
Those deeply punted bottles always drove me nuts when I was a sommelier. It's really hard to tell how much wine is left in the bottle. They make it seem like there's a lot more. And your balls ache after moving cases of them around--but you wouldn't know about that.

Happy to provide a laugh to your day, Love.

Hey, sounds like you need to start a blog. But, in the meantime, feel free to rant here. Feels good, doesn't it?

Bob Henry said...


To your comemnt . . .

"The best thing is to DOPW (drink other peoples wine) till you find what you like."

. . . I am reminded what that great seeker of truth (and an honest man)Diogenes said:

"What I like to drink most is wine that belongs to others."

~~ Bob

Daniel said...

Come on Hose...doesn't everyone love punts that are big enough to bathe in? why does that sound dirty?
big bottles that are heavier than a magnum, and always feel full, are like driving a convertible sports car up here in the PNW, useless and completely for acting like you've got a Jeraboam but you probably have a split...
can we add useless tissue paper wrapped bottles and wooden cases that customers always ask if they can have for free but the bottle shops sell them for $20?!?

love the comment on terrior and single vineyards...just because they are different doesn't mean they are better, or even good, or certainly worth the $$$...


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Gang,
I have no idea what this post is about, except it's about 1000 words. It's one of those pieces where I just sit down at the keyboard and begin to type, trusting that my comedic subconscious will lead the way. The piece has the feel of the haphazard, but it's an etude in comedy, not a sonata. Whatever the hell that means.

There is a lot to wonder about the phenomenon of "cult" or "trendy" wines, about the marketing of same. Endless comic material, really. This was just a morning's workout for me. That it gets a laugh or two, that's what I care about.

Marcia Macomber said...

Thanks for the sorely needed laugh after finding video editors online non-functional today. (Grrrr!) A little (or a lot of) levity helps considerably.

Those guffaws that come so fast and furious to you at the keyboard are nigh unto impossible for the rest of us to produce. But we'll happily read what pours out of your fingers today.

Lots of fun in this post. This may have been the first (or many) zingers that got me going: "...
the single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Terroir and a Half Men."

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
Doesn't it suck when the Intergnats don't cooperate? I guess Mercury is in retrograde. Or Freddie Mercury is in retrograve, one or the other. I get confused.

Always lovely when the regulars drop by.

Unknown said...

I resemble this post!

Ron I would appreciate it if in the future you only did satire of others and not me. I find your satire of others to be hilarious, but when it is too close to home I just find it boring.

So to recap- Others=Funny and Me= Not Funny

Route 246 said...

Ron, keep it up...I cry every time...due to the hilarious content...and sheer irony that IT'S ALL TRUE!! :)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey, man, how's it goin'? I saw that Dan Berger gave Fulcrum rave reviews. Cool. That and a donut will get you a donut. I didn't have you in mind when I wrote this piece, but there are so many wineries who were once the Hot New Winery To Watch who are now wondering where everybody went that it wrote itself. Even Playboy has to have a new Playmate every month.

At least your wines are actually good.

Route 246,
Actually, it's all NOT true, it's just crap I make up in my head. That it bears any resemblance to truth is pure coincidence. Or is it...?

clay h. said...

Delightful- I kept waiting for you to mention the former wall st stock guy turned Pinot master. I can't wait for you to get the Coravin crowd in your sights.....

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Clay H.
I don't quite know what to say about Coravins. I have written that one good thing about them is that the Coravin will make all the cork-haters shut the hell up.

And don't forget to get in on the Drilaporker® craze! Enjoy your favorite porker for years!

Wall Street guy turned Pinot master? That's more Bull than I can Bear.