Archive for May, 2008
So, really – who cares what I think?
Maybe not too many wine consumers.
According to a new Pew Internet study report, the Internet has a small influence on consumers’ buying decisions when compared to offline channels (like recommendations from salespeople, friends, etc.). That includes Internet sites like, oh, for example, 1WineDude.com.
Hmm… maybe I should be putting a little more time & effort into my off-line consulting…
Anyway, according to the Pew report (which, to be fair, measured on-line impact on purchases of music, housing, and cell phones only):
“No more than one-tenth of buyers… said that online information had a major impact on their purchasing decision.”
And here I’ve been trying to steer wine consumers right and not realizing the whole time that nobody is listening (er – I mean, reading).
What’s also interesting (assuming you still might care what I think at this point) in the Pew report is the gap between those who actively contribute to the on-line dialog (by submitting reviews, for example), and those that simply consume the information:
“The large gaps between contributors and readers are understandable; not all consumers
are interested in lending their voice and many may be content to free ride on the efforts of
others. However, with the growth of broadband adoption at home and the buzz about
online participation in a Web 2.0 world, widespread activity in this arena might be
expected. Yet the data in this report do not show this; there is clearly a distance between the numbers of those who contribute and those who lurk.”
I can’t say I’m too surprised by that finding. In my experience, especially with people of my g-g-g-g-generation, I’ve found that there is a need to consume information via the Internet, but very little drive to create that information themselves.
Case in point: my friends will tease me about the number of websites that I maintain (official number: too many), and in the same conversation will ask me why I’ve not updated one of the websites in the past 3 days.
They want to consume – they just feel that it’s someone else’s place to author that content. Is this “The Architecture of Non-Participation?”
Deep down I’m a skeptical guy – which in my twisted in mind is being patriotic (hey, the U.S. was founded by a bunch of skeptics!) – but I gotta admit, deep down I am also feeling like wine is different.
I know, I know – wishful thinking, right?
But hear me out (if you still care what I think, that is): Buying wine is different than buying music or a cell phone, because wine is meant to be shared. By its nature it’s a social beast, to be enjoyed with others. It’s one of the few goods we can buy that actually becomes an event unto itself. A cell phone can be nifty but it’s probably not going to be a lubricant for life. And try sharing your cell phone with someone else without going totally insane.
If you take a look at social networking websites like the Open Wine Consortium, Corkd.com, and CellarTracker.com, you will find lots of wine consumers willing to share their views, reviews, and recommendations. I would find it hard to believe that those interactions don’t influence the wine buying decisions of consumers somehow.
And wouldn’t it be great if, instead of wine distribution monopolies, stuffy media mags, and 2 or 3 critics dictating nearly all of our wine purchasing choices, we actually influenced each other and helped each other out based on our own experiences of wines that we thought actually tasted great?
But then again, who cares what I think?
(images: thoomp.com, allposters.com, imagechef.com)
Most of you reading this will have heard by now that Robert Mondavi, patriarch founder of the Robert Mondavi winery enterprise, died on Friday, May 16, at the age of 94.
By the time this article posts to the web, there will probably be hundreds of well-written obits. available on the Internet.
Most of them will talk about how Mondavi literally redefined the world of winemaking by taking his (at the time far-flung) vision of putting California on the map as a fine wine locale – and making it a reality.
Most of them will talk about his charitable giving, and focus in his later years on establishing vital centers for the progression of art, food, and wine, most of which is chronicled in the book Harvests of Joy.
But I don’t think too many will venture into the Dark Side of Mondavi. How he reportedly squandered the family enterprise, for example, or how his lavish giving my have contributed to the downfall of his family-run business empire.
And you know what? That is totally okay by me.
Because for every single thing that Mondavi screwed up, he did about one thousand things right.
Mondavi’s place in the world wine lore of history would be solidified if he was remembered only for establishing one of the world’s most successful wine businesses. But when you factor in that he literally conceived of – and then implemented – the modern CA wine industry, taught the U.S. how to make low-cost, high-volume wine of consistent quality, actually made friends with the French, and almost single-handedly introduced wine into the lexicon of the idea of “fine living” in the U.S., you have something else on your hands entirely.
For every single thing that Mondavi screwed up, he did about one thousand things right.
You have a veritable doer of great deeds.
A legend. A titan.
A King of the U.S. wine industry.
Oh, by the way, he did all of that stuff after he was 50 years old. You know, when most people have stopped working and have moved onto perfecting their golf games.
Is there a downside to all of this Kingliness? Sure.
Just as George Lucas’ Star Wars changed movie-making forever for both good and bad, Mondavi’s influence will forever be felt in the world of wine – both in making decent wine accessible to the masses, and in influencing the Parker-ized fruit bomb clones that currently flood the wine market.
Would you take that trade off? I certainly would.
Seems to me a small price to pay for the wine Kingdom of plenty that Mondavi was able to establish. Now, to the best of my knowledge I’ve never changed the world. But I imagine if I did, that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to predict all of the minor negative ramifications of my good deeds. Can you fault the guy for not being a clairvoyant on top of being the King?
It’s never too late to do great things.
The chasing of Parker scores is peanuts worth of collateral damage compared to that.
If I had to boil it down, I’d say that the Mondavi era hasn’t really taught me anything – at least, not anything I didn’t already know from my experience with another “King” – King Lear.
In Shakespeare’s Lear, the title character redeems his humanity – but only in the moments before his death at a very old age.
It’s never too late to do great things.
All Kings die – even the ones that are larger-than-life. But great deeds? Well, those don’t slip away quite so easily.
Hail to the King, baby!
(images: media.sacbee.com, nytimes.com, timeout.com, hd.org)
Vintages. Can’t live with `em… pass the beer nuts!
The question of whether or not wine vintages (the year printed on the label, which is almost always the year when the wine’s grapes were harvested) matter is one that often perplexes the budding wine enthusiast.
The questions that the Dude here regularly fields regarding wine vintages generally come in this variety:
Is it a “born on” date? Or an indicator of quality? Or a deciding factor in how long (or if) a wine can be aged?
The answer is “Yes.”
In this post, I’m going to try to clear up some of this vintage mess for ya. Mostly because I genuinely want to help. And, to be totally honest, because I get asked about wine vintages a lot, so I want to have a place to send people for more info. (read: I am lazy and don’t feel like answering the question anymore… hey, so sue me, I’ve got a newborn in the house!)….
Here’s the honest truth (well, the truth according to the 1WineDude, that is) about wine vintages: For the most part, the wine vintages printed on the label don’t matter all that much.
The reason that wine vintages (mostly) don’t matter is two-fold:
- 99% of wine sold today is not meant to be aged. Most of the wine that you encounter is meant to be enjoyed within 6 to 18 months of the vintage. In this sense, the vintage year functions more like a “born on” date – if someone is trying to sell you a really inexpensive older vintage wine, it’s probably because they want to pawn off their remaining stock of that vino that’s won’t otherwise sell because it’s past its prime.
Does this mean that the wine will magically turn into vinegar at the stroke of midnight 18 months after the vintage date, Cinderella-style? No – but thanks to the miracle of chemistry, there’s a good chance that the fruit characteristics of the wine will start to dissipate after that time. For the majority of everyday drinking wine that you might buy, you can set a mental note to enjoy it before its second harvest birthday. That way, you will get a chance to sample those tasty fruit flavors before they disappear.
For the most part, the wine vintages printed on the label don’t matter all that much.
- Modern wine-making can turn even poor harvest years into decent (and sometimes great) wine. Many moons ago, before the advent of versatile solutions for modern living that we take for granted today (like refrigerated transport, temperature-controlled fermentation tanks, and best of all those nifty little laser-pointer flashlights that can fit on your keychain), winemaking techniques were not as advanced as they are today. As a result, the conditions of a particular harvest year (weather, economy, invasion by the Huns, etc.) could have a dramatic impact on a wine’s quality.
While this is still true today to some extent, the stability of most of the world’s major winemaking areas, coupled with ultra-modern winemaking techniques and technologies means that consistent producers can churn out decent everyday drinking wine even in poor harvest years. In my experience, this has even been true for some fine wine in “bad” vintage years from regions with consistent weather (like California – Opus One’s 1998 blend is a good example of this).
So when does a vintage really matter?
Vintages do matter when you’re splurging on a fine wine purchase from a region that has a variable climate year to year.
The most famous example of this being red Burgundy, the fickle Pinot Noir areas of France that can produce wine tasting like sublime berry seduction one year, and rotten cabbage the next. If you’re going to shell out the coin for something special (either for drinking now or laying down for a special occasion later), it can’t hurt to do a little vintage homework. I recommend using the mobile vintage chart from BBR.com, which you can reference right from your web-enabled cell phone while at your local wine shop. This can help you to gauge the relative quality of a vintage for a fine wine purchase.
BUT… don’t steer clear of a vintage entirely just because it’s been deemed of lesser quality than a previous year. Why? You can miss some amazing bargains that way – these vintages are like a lower stock value; it’s time to buy. In an “off-year” you might have access to quality wines that might normally be out of your comfortable price range, and it’s a chance for you to explore the winemaking styles of great producers without totally breaking the bank.
Vintages do matter when you’re splurging on a fine wine purchase from a region that has a variable climate year to year. The most famous example of this being red Burgundy, the fickle Pinot Noir from France that can taste like sublime berry seduction one year, and rotten cabbage the next.
The majority of my fine wine purchases have been in “bad” vintages – I scoop that up like a day-trading stock hunter! The bottom line is that a passionate producer with talented staff and a history of great winemaking will still make impressive wine in an off year. They may not be wines of sublime perfection, but they sure as hell won’t be bad, and they have the potential to totally knock your socks off.
(images: globalbeautes.com [modified by the 1WineDude], art.com, weimax.com)
I know what you’re thinking, after reading the title of this post.
“Is the Dude about to go on yet another tirade about the PLCB? Okay, okay, they suck – we get it already…”
Well… the answer is “Yes.” Sort of. I’m about to go on a bit of a tirade about the wine shipping laws not just of Pennsylvania, but also of WA, ID, AZ, CO, KS, MN, IA, WI, MI, IN, KY, GA, FL, SC, NC, NY, VT, CT, RI, and IL (pending review of currently proposed legislation).
The state of affairs of wine shipping laws in those states is almost hopelessly broken. Notice I say “almost hopelessly.” That’s because I’ve thought of a way to fix it. Let’s break it down…
I say broken because those states have laws on the books that restrict the free trade of inter-state wine sales – a practice deemed unconstitutional at the federal (and for some also at the state) level. For the most part, these states are trying to protect state-run monopoly businesses that would be handed their own jock straps in the free market if, say, a big buyer like Costco were permitted to sell and ship wines directly to consumers in those states. The state run operations add extra cost while limiting value and selection – because they are monopolies, they don’t need to compete on the basis of price or service. If individual consumer rights, or the best interests of local state wineries get in the way of their monopoly profits, those citizens are simply disregarded – even if the states’ supreme courts have ruled against those practices. So, they make billions, pay big bucks to lobbyists to protect their position, and the state governments (for the most part) turn a blind eye to it all (probably because of the huge windfall).
How to fix this mess? Simple. Here’s a 2-step process of playing politics that could turn the tide. The thing to keep in mind is that politics is almost always a numbers game. And it almost always involves you (the people getting screwed) getting off your keesters and getting active.
- Stop buying wine from the state. I mean it. Don’t buy wine from your state-run liquor store. What will this do? It will reduce the windfall (remember the part about this being a numbers game?). No profits, no windfall. No windfall, no paying lobbyists to turn the tide of free trade legislation. No lobbyists, no deceit-filled battles to block the spread of capitalism to the wine shipping business.
Disclaimer: I’m not advocating you breaking the law – and to be honest, your state’s liquor laws are so convoluted you probably violated them already if you took any cough medicine this year. Anyway, I don’t care where you get your wine, as long as it’s not from a state-run monopoly. If you are lucky enough to live near a bordering state that does sell wine through the free market economy… well, I’m just saying that you might have alternatives.
- Write your state legislators. This is still a numbers game, because far fewer people actually do this than you’d think. So, if you flood your state legislators with correspondence, eventually they will question whether the tide needs to turn against the monopolies. Especially if you followed step 1 (politicians likely won’t stand by a sinking ship that is losing money) and indicate in your correspondence that you’re a voter in good standing and any re-election bid support on your part will hinge on their demonstrated support of free trade.Fortunately, writing your state legislators is very easy. Head on over to FreeTheGrapes.org – they will find your legislators e-mail addresses for you, and give you a handy form-letter to send them (don’t forget to add the re-election support part – politicians usually don’t like losing their jobs).
Maybe this sounds unreasonable, overly-simplistic and ridiculous to you.
But ask yourself this:
Is it any more ridiculous than a business with cripplingly poor business models, that can’t compete on the basis of service, selection, and price, making in excess of $1.5 billion dollars a year by hiding behind antiquated laws and charging you artificially high prices?
What if your state controlled your cell phone service that way? Or forced you to buy milk only from the state, even though it was stored improperly and cost 35% more than what your cousin, who lives in the next state over, pays for his family’s milk (which he can buy from wherever he feels offers the best milk at the lowest price)? Or limited your selection of underwear to a handful of brands and sizes?
Or treated women’s designer shoes the same way? (scary… that one might have the potential to drive some women I know to kill)…
Sure, there’s a big difference between “essential” goods like bread and luxury goods like designer fashions. But before you write off wine as an item that is fair play for regulation by the “pleasure police” (Robert Parker‘s term for the alcohol regulators in his home state of MD), don’t forget that two of our founding fathers (the two widely regarded to have had the most raw intellectual horsepower, by the way) – Jefferson and Franklin – viewed wine as an essential life good, equal to water and bread in terms of necessity.
So… who’s being unreasonable?
(images: blog.whathappensnow.com, wine.appellationamerica.com, ronalfy.com)