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High-end Mosel wine producers are (slowly) battling for the identity – and the future – of German Riesling.
“We don’t aim to produce perfection,” Annegret Reh-Gartner told me over lunch at Schloss Marienlay, a beautiful estate on the Ruwer in Germany’s famed Mosel region.
Annegret is the driving force behind Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, a Mosel wine icon with roots dating back to 1349, and now one of only a handful of producers with vineyard holdings on the Mosel as well as its tributaries, the Saar and Ruwer. She is welcoming and open, the only things that hint at her family’s wealth (her father is probably one of the richest people in all of Germany, and their family holds several expensive vineyard areas in the region) are her keen sense of style and the impressive stone building housing our lunch table.
“We aim to produce personalities. You need soul.”
She states her views on Mosel wine matter-of-factly, with a surety that comes from clearly having considered the matter deeply. Despite being affable, warm, and small, she cuts an imposing figure when talking about the state of Mosel Riesling, even when seated. When she mentions the future of Mosel wine, her voice never raises but it does quicken.
“We can’t limit ourselves to super, well-balanced wines with residual sugar. We have to catch mice with bacon.” By mice, Annegret means the modern German wine consumer – Wine drinkers in Germany have rebelled against the explosion of cheap, bad, cloyingly sweet wines that plagued the reputation of German wines for decades. But instead of seeking out good, well-balanced wines from quality estates, those consumers have nearly abandoned sweet wines from Germany altogether, and are voting with their wallets in favor of bone-dry Rieslings…
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The latest issue of Wine Enthusiast has some advice for wineries and wine wine marketers on how to handle the next generation of wine consumers – and it’s probably wrong.
Well, it’s at least incomplete.
In the May 2009 issue of Wine Enthusiast, which I received as a sample from the recent TasteCamp East in Long Island, has an interesting article by Kathleen Buckley titled “The Millennial Effect.” I’m not a Millennial myself, but I can appreciate the challenge that PR in general will have to overcome to engage that target market. After all, they don’t respond to the mindless, unidirectional marketing tactics that have been the staple of the “traditional” marketing machine.
Apparently, according to the WE article, Millennials think about wine first and foremost as fun, don’t drink to get drunk, want a story and a compelling value proposition if they are to be a marketing target, and they love sparkling wine.
In my book, all of that simply means that the Millennials aren’t morons.
The advice from WE?
“Get into Social Networking. Think Facebook… Flikr a label or Twitter a wine recommendation… If your phone does tricks, use them.”
In my book, that simply sounds like a recipe for disaster.
At least, it’s not a complete recipe for engaging Millennials about wine.
In fact, it doesn’t say anything about actually engaging wine consumers. Twitter, Facebook, Flikr, even blogs… last time I checked, these are just tools. If you want to engage Millennials – hell, any wine consumers for that matter – here’s some advice that you can take to the bank: actually engage us about your wine / clients / products / etc.
Yeah, it’s that simple.
In fact, if you’re in the wine world and you were serious about how to get your message across to the Millennial generation, you’d already know how to do it, because Millennials regularly give this advice away for free nearly every day. Don’t believe me? Check out millennier.wordpress.com.
Sure, use the tools that everyone is using to engage each other, but don’t use the tools without having the desire to engage in a two-way conversation. Otherwise, that marketing-savvy next generation of wine consumers will eat you for lunch on Twitter.
The WE article doesn’t mention much about wine blogs, but there’s plenty to talk about on that front now that Vintank, the wine and technology think-tank firm headed by Inertia Beverage founder Paul Mabray, has released their new report, titled The state of Wine Industry Social Media.
The latest Vintank report is one of the few available that has any meaningful statistics on the influence of wine blogging, and it shows that if you’re in wine PR and you’re ignoring wine blogs, you’re probably making a big blunder.
Some highlights of the Vintank report findings:
- Every blogger that has an audience over 20 people has influence that is relevant.
- Wine bloggers in aggregate may be more powerful than traditional online outlets.
- According to data from Compete, the top 20 wine bloggers in aggregate have a larger audience than the Wine Spectator online.
That last one is my personal fave.
Vintank has confirmed what many have suspected for a long time, and it’s something that sponsors of events like the Wine Bloggers Conference and TasteCamp “get,” which is that wine bloggers may have small reaches individually, but collectively have a potentially enormous reach. Ignore us at your marketing peril.
(images: babble.com, winemag.com, vinfolio.com)
“Lay your seedy judgments, who says they’re part of our lives? I heard your promise but I don’t believe it –
That’s why I’ll do it again”
– Notorious, Duran Duran
Robert Parker can’t leave well enough alone these days, at least when it comes to bloggers.
Which is a shame really, because ultimately, in his attacks on other blogers and wine writers, he undermines his own credibility, gaining nothing as he lashes out at shadows that don’t even care about his existence. He’s either chasing ghosts, or his own demons – either way, it’s fruitless.
Parker, the oft-celebrated, sometimes-maligned uber-critic of wine, might be seeing a slight wane in his near-dominant influence on fine wine prices, but his words are still capable of moving mountains of wine at retail. So it would be logical to conclude that he has little to fear from most other wine writers, especially bloggers.
Unfortunately, no one seems to have told Parker that his place in wine lore is as secure as ever, and as a result he has, with his latest essay in the Wine Advocate, made a complete ass of himself to the wine blogging community.
Parker’s essay, “In Vino Veritas – The 2008 Red Bordeaux” begins:
“While heading to Bordeaux for my first look at the 2008 vintage, I was worried that at best, quality would be average to above average. …I wondered what the point was of putting my nose to the grindstone for 10-12 hours a day for ten long days, not to mention the enormous expense involved in travel, lodging, transportation, etc. Would this be 10 days wasted tasting an unexciting as well as unsaleable vintage? …When I was in the Rhône Valley in early September, several French newspapers came out with stories about the deplorable quality of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage. These pre-harvest reports resonated in other areas of the world press, as well as on those notorious blogs that can be authored by anybody who can string a noun and verb together, and by many who can’t. …as I have learned for the last thirty years, you taste and judge with an open mind.”
Notorious? I didn’t know we had that kind of clout, to be honest. Let’s read on…
“It did not take me long to realize that the 2008 vintage was dramatically better than I had expected… When you look at all the facts (not the rumor-mongering from irresponsible bloggers), it seems clear that after the vinifications were done in late October and early November, something excellent had been produced… So why has the quality of the 2008 vintage turned out to be excellent?… The facts, not second-hand reports or rumors bereft of careful analysis, are:…”
Parker then proceeds to basically give us a weather report to explain the positive impact that the favorable climate conditions had on the 2008 red Bordeaux vintage. That’s fine, but it doesn’t help his argument about being more reliable than rumor-mongering bloggers, since he could have called any number of Chateau there and gotten that information after harvest. Tasting, of course, is another matter, and Parker is a master at that – all the more reason why he doesn’t need to act like a jerk to bloggers when writing up his Bordeaux assessment.
But act like a jerk he has. This was Parker’s first mention of bloggers in the Wine Advocate (so I’ve been told – I’m not a subscriber), and it happens to be wholly negative.
If I had to summarize Parker’s credibility argument in this most recent essay, it’s basically that his Bordeaux 2008 assessment is superior to those previously offered in the French press or by the unnamed notorious bloggers, because:
- He works hard, grueling hours tasting top-end Bordeaux, at his own expense
- He actually goes to Bordeaux to try the finished product firsthand, and doesn’t make a premature assessment based on regional vintage weather reports
- He concentrates on facts and not upon rumors
- He’s been at this for 30 years (presumably longer than almost anyone else)
- He has made his assessment in the most objective way that he knows how, without the influence of any outside factors
And he’d be right, except for the slight problem that his statement about the misinformation spread by blogs is almost comically illogical.
- Logically, it doesn’t follow that Parker’s assessments are immune from influence – whether it be positive OR negative – by the hype that was proffered by the French media and, supposedly, the unnamed wine bloggers. He admits this in the very first paragraph. In essence, Parker is saying that after being influenced by the reports of the French media and wine bloggers, he then was able to impartially and objectively assess the 2008 Bordeaux vintage without their influence.WTF?? That’s like saying that after getting on the elevator, you were able to get to the 120th floor without getting on the elevator. It simply makes no sense. It follows then that it’s at least possible that Parker tasted without a truly open mind, with his expectations so low as to make the vintage seem superior.
- It also doesn’t follow logically that he would cite the non-non-influence of bloggers and the French wine media as being irresponsible and second-hand, while he offers a second-hand synopsis of their assessment of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage. Quoting the offending media would have resolved that, but he doesn’t do that here. So by lambasting those that offer second-hand information on the 2008 Bordeaux vintage, he makes the case for his own credibility in assessing the vintage by offering second-hand information himself? WTF? Now I’m really confused.
Parker should have just stuck to the fact that he has been at it for 30 years, spent a lot of money and time, and gave his analysis. Simple, credible, perfect. Instead, he undermines all of that great work by dragging bloggers and the French media through the mud, totally unnecessarily.
Why would someone like Parker do that?
There is a logical explanation to that one.
One option is that he wants to offer up a good old fashioned “I told you so.” I can respect that, actually, even if I cringe at the way that it was done. But there’s another explanation.
Maybe Parker notices the growing influence of blogging and alternative media on the wine industry. He may not like it, but it’s clearly influencing things, including him. Why else even bother mentioning it in the Wine Advocate?
The worst part about all of this is that most wine bloggers and wine drinkers don’t give a shit about Bordeaux ratings, they aren’t collectors, and they want to drink great wine at good prices without waiting 30+ years. Great Bordeaux is an amazing experience, deserving of deep coverage, but Parker’s eating away at his own credibility this time around by lashing out at the blogging community without any compelling reasong to do so. It’s as if he’s getting spooked by the shadows of newcomers, of spirits that he thinks are in his pursuit but in reality aren’t even chasing him, who don’t read The Wine Advocate, wouldn’t read the Wine Advocate even if there weren’t any wine bloggers, and who don’t care at all about the prices of 2008 Bordeaux wines because they’re already too fucking expensive anyway.
I hope Parker is making himself feel better by dragging blogging through the mud, because there’s precious little other value involved in doing so.
Most of the bloggers that he is lambasting in the Wine Advocate likely won’t ever read his words, anyway.
On second thought, maybe he does have something to be concerned about after all.
(images: tripadvisor.com, slate.com)
The best statement about what to do – and what not to do – to make and promote fine wine in Long Island comes from the LI wines themselves – and it’s a different story than the one that its winemakers are telling.
Before we get into what’s wrong with the current state of Long Island fine wine, we should talk about what’s right about it – which turns out to be quite a bit, based on my experience tasting and talking with several of the area’s best winemakers over the course of two and half days there as part of the first wine bloggers’ TasteCamp East event.
To say that Long Island has the potential to make fine wine is to offer a textbook definition of the phrase “gross understatement.” Long Island’s Maritime climate tempers the harshness of the Summers and Winters that can, at their worst, besiege the inland winemaking areas to the immediate west. It’s best sites are built on top of sandy subsoil, similar to Right Bank Bordeaux, making even nearly imperceptible differences in elevation vitally important in terms of the drainage and aspect needed to develop concentrated, ripe fruit on the vine. In other words, LI has better potential than just about anywhere else on the East Coast to consistently achieve the ripeness that is essential to making fine wine.
Long Island also has Burgundy-like weather variations – as Joe Macari, the North Fork’s tireless promoter of all things organic and biodynamic, told us, “It’s probably just as hard to grow grapes here as it is in Burgundy – harder, even.” This makes ripening grapes maddening in difficult conditions, and also means that, like Burgundy, vintage variations have a larger impact on wine quality than in warmer regions like the Left Coast. It also makes the results in the final wine more rewarding – even if an obscene amount of fruit needs to be rejected in the process.
There’s no question where the muse for Long Island wine originates, and it’s not the lushness of California wines. Just about everyone making wine in LI is looking to the East – specifically, France. The ghost of France is inescapable here, and it haunts most aspects of Long Island winemaking.
“I’m not ashamed to say it,” Richard Pisacano, the amicable and quietly passionate force behind the North Fork’s Roanoke vineyards, told me when I asked him where he looks for his winemaking benchmark. “It’s France, and Bordeaux. I use their clones. I use their barrels. The wines are unfined and unfiltered, with extended maceration.” In other words, he uses their modern techniques as well. After visiting Margaux in 2000 to taste their wines in their natural French habitat, “I just wanted to go home and cry,” he said.
Modeling after the French seems to make sense, given the (burgeoning) terroir in LI, and it permeates the wine-making philosophies of almost all of the wineries in both the North Fork and the Hamptons to the south. The favorite word of Eric Frye (Lenz’s eccentric and un-quietly passionate winemaker), based on my few hours sampling his finished – and his fermenting – wines, is “Burgundian.” In the Hamptons, the warm and approachable German-bron winemaker Roman Roth has clearly modeled Wollfer’s “Premier Cru” ultra-premium Merlot on the high-end Right Bank Bordeaux offerings based on the same variety. Even the Long Island cafe’s have a French flair.
Spending time with Macari. Roth, Piscano, Fry, or the charming folks at the helm of Shinn is a lesson in Long Island terroir and winemaking, all of them being different in terms of detailed approach, but identical in terms of a shared passion to collectively and collaboratively improve Long Island wine. There is mock competition between the North Fork and the Hamptons (in my view, Hamptons is currently in the lead), but there is great camaraderie as well between the producers. Put another way, you are unlikely to find any winemakers in LI who don’t care deeply about their region, and their wines.
What Is Wrong.
Now that we’ve established that the Where, the How, and the Who seem to all be dead-on correct in the world of Long Island wine, we can talk about the What, which might be the only aspect that isn’t right.
Long Island is extremely fond of its Merlot, to the point that they brought together five of the region’s wineries to make a collective offering called Merliance (rhymes with alliance, though Francophilia runs so deep here that some of its members pronounce it as mer-lee-AHNZ, as if it were based in France). But just because you’ve got sandy subsoil, doesn’t make you Pomerol, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should be charging Pomerol-like prices. It might be precisely this Bordeaux Merlot love-affair that is holding Long Island back from its true winemaking destiny.
Russell Hearn, the Australian-born Pellegrini winemaker, described the Merliance initiative like this:
“The goal isn’t to make the best Long Island wine – that was never the goal, nor will it ever be the goal – it’s to make the best representation of what Long Island wine is; not Califronia, not ‘more like Europe,’ but like Long Island.”
The sentiment is dead-on, but the trouble is that it might not be quite true that Merlot is the quintessential Long Island wine offering – at least, the wines themselves are giving a different story about the future of Long Island’s terroir than the one many of its winemakers are telling.
The best reds in Long Island are enchanting, and ridiculously expensive even in poor vintages, where they might better be described as ‘Under/Over’ (Under-ripe & Over-priced). The consistent quality comes from the area’s whites, which can run the gamut from racy and laser-focused, with downright beguiling ripe fruit aromas anchored by svelte minerality and food-worthy acidity, to all-out oaked fruit bombs that dial up the aromas, the acidity, and the structure for long-haul aging. And they don’t need ultra-ripe landmark vintages, like 2007, to achieve high-quality in their whites.
The trouble is not that Merlot doesn’t offer great potential here – it’s that it doesn’t offer the same consistent potential as their racy Chenin Blancs, or their elegant Sauvignon Blancs that combine lemongrass, mild grapefruit, and mouth-watering acids in near-perfect balance. In terms of reds, their superb and spicy Cabernet Francs will likely offer more consistent quality year-on-year than chasing after the sublime ripe red fruits of Right Bank Bordeaux ever will (not that the Hanmptons aren’t coming close). [ Thanks to Lenn Thompson over at Lenndevours.com for rightly pointing out that my snapshot of LI wines was not deep enough to fully support this last statement. ]
In that way, Long Isalnd’s terroir future seems to have more in common with The Loire and Northern Italy than it does Burgundy and Bordeaux. Only Christopher Tracy, the celebrated former chef and now Master of Wine candidate winemaker at Channing’s Daughters Winery, seems to really embrace this.
It’s hard not to like Tracy. He’s energetic, anchored, and at ease when talking about his wines, and despite being a walking fountain of SWE and WSET wine geekdom, he is approachable and down-to-earth. He’s also not chasing after points/ratings (Channing’s itDaughters wines are not sent out for reviews), which means that he has the freedom – and the ability – to experiment. And experimentation is exactly what Long Island needs to find its true terroir expression. A a result, his whites are outstanding.
Tracy’s model? Northern Italy’s Fruili.
It’s not that Fruili, the Loire, and Long Island share the same weather and terroir – they don’t. It’s that their wines, at their best, share the same unique balance of ripe, linear fruit, elegance, and racing acidity. The best wines of LI are telling us something about their highest potential, and they’re not speaking with Bordelaise or Burgundians accents.
If offering very good wine at increasing price-points is Long Island’s ultimate goal, then they need do nothing, and can happily continue their near-obsession with Right Bank Bordeaux wines made via Burgundian viniculture techniques. But if the goal is to offer the best-quality wines possible, with a pure representation of unique place, transferred faithfully from vine to glass, then Long Island may need to stop seeing so much red.