Those of you who have just been rescued from being stranded for decades in South American jungles and are now coming to grips with you strange new world that involves cellular telephones, 3D television and the Global Interwebs, might not have heard that influential wine personality and bestselling author Gary Vaynerchuk last week announced that he has retired from producing his frequent wine-critique videos.
It’s a move that, in impact to Gary’s fan base, is probably a bit like Howard Stern’s recent announcement that he’s scaling back the number of shows he will produce each week – which is to say, polorizing.
Gary’s latest move comes a little over 160 days after he retired WLTV in favor of his mobile device venture Daily Grape, and a little over seven months after he shut down Corkd. For those concerned that he might also shut down his best-selling books, please note that it’s a lot harder to do that once the printed copies are in your hands!
It wasn’t a great week for wine personalities sticking around – Mike Steinberger also left the scene (at least temporarily) when he had his excellent wine column axed from Slate (to which I say “F*ck Slate!”). Anyway… The wine world is, understandably, rife with speculation on the Whys behind Gary’s move. I think a (much) more interesting topic, though, is the What: as in, What does Gary’s wine retirement from wine criticism mean for the wine world in general?…
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Burt Williams might speak softly and have a relatively unassuming appearance, but when it comes to age-worthy, elegant Pinot Noir he is one hundred percent deadly Jedi Knight.
That much was clear during the recent West Of West festival in Occidental, CA (I attended as a media guest), where Littorai’s Ted Lemon interviewed Williams to kick things off. It was tough for me to pay attention, because a) there were Sonoma Coast Pinots sitting in front of me ranging from `96 to `01, and I was ready to geek out, and b) I found the entire event confusing, because I’m an anal Right Coast guy who requires exposition and purpose stated clearly up-front, and the WoW Fest proceedings launched without much detail on either.
Fortunately, possessing a formal plan is not a prerequisite for making great wine. In fact, to hear Williams tell it, very little about Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was planned in the early days when he first starting making Williams Selyem wine in his ‘spare’ time. “We got a call from an ATFA agent,” he mentioned, “who basically told us that we should get bonded before we got arrested; so, we got bonded.”
Williams also told us that “if the wine is balanced… if you pick the fruit before it’s really ripe… I know Sonoma Coast [Pinot Noir] can age!” Proof is in the vinous pudding: the 1996 Williams Selyem Riverblock Pinot Noir (about $100 if you can find it, and an ‘A’ rated wine if I’ve ever had one) is delicate, earthy and svelte, with cherries, plums, spices and hints of game meat. The finish could accurately be described as gorgeous; it’s a wine that doesn’t smack you over the head, but seduces you.
And it’s in drinking wines like that 1996 Pinot – wines which seem to be made at a more-than-expected frequency in the West Sonoma Coast area – that you say to yourself (if you’re me, anyway): “F*ck Napa Valley Pinot – this is where it’s AT!”…
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