[ Editor’s note: following is the third guest post from the 1WD intern: the young, unpaid Shelby Vittek, who many of you will recall really shook things up with her first 1WD article (and continued that trend with her second). You can check out more of Shelby’s wine writing work at TableMatters.com, and find her on twitter at @BigBoldReds. You’re of course encouraged to chime in and let us know what you think (but keep things civil, you opinionated b*stards!). Enjoy! ]
Have you ever wanted to know what kinds of wines make up 1WineDude’s cellar? What exactly constitutes the mass of media samples he gets shipped every week? Where do they come from and exactly how many bottles are waiting to be opened and reviewed?
I used to wonder. But that was long before I spent months sorting through the endless boxes of wine samples in the cellar. In October, I bravely—and perhaps somewhat stupidly—agreed to take on the massive project of cataloguing and organizing them all. I had watched this episode of 1WineDude TV, (cut to 3:25) where I got my first preview of the mountain of boxes, but really had no idea how big of a challenge I had signed up for. At the start of my “internship,” I was prepared to personally catalogue maybe a couple hundred, 500 bottles at the most, and thought I’d finish the project within four or five weeks.
Yet here we are, over four months and 820 bottles later, and I’m just finally able to announce that every single wine has been accounted for and its details entered into a tracking spreadsheet. Of course, this number is bound to change the next time I hear the doorbell ring and am met with five more shipments of samples. But for now, the cataloging chaos has calmed, and my “wine friends” (as 1WD’s daughter calls them) have a slightly more organized home.
To celebrate the end of a huge undertaking—even if momentarily—I want to share with you some intimate details of the wines I’ve had my hands all over for months, as well as some things that surprised, perplexed, or disappointed me…
First of all, what’s the big deal with California? I don’t get it. More than half of 1WD’s cellar is made up of bottles from California: 425 to be exact. This was not what I had expected, and certainly doesn’t represent the way my East Coast Millennial eyes view the wine world. Personally, I’m more interested in an unheard-of indigenous grape from Italy or a great-valued Spanish wine or a weird region in Greece. It didn’t take long for me to grow tired of entering yet another cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay from yet again Napa Valley or Sonoma into the spreadsheet.
Part of my general disinterest in California may stem from the fact that I’ve never traveled to wine country there before. I’ve extensively visited wineries all over Europe, but never any in my own country. Why? Well, partially because my parents honeymooned in Napa and California wines will forever remind me of them…not as cool as they used to be (sorry, Mom and Dad.)
But also because I’m an East Coaster. On this side of the U.S., we don’t have access to all the California wines that people who live there do. I’m sure a great deal of 1WD’s samples from out west would be very difficult to find on shelves here on the East Coast.
Keep in mind that a flight out of Philadelphia to Portugal is just as long as one to San Francisco. If I could spend the same amount of time on a plane and be in Europe or California…well I’d choose any European country, any day.
During the long, cold winter months I spent “hanging out” in 1WD’s basement cellar, I had plenty of time to think back to my memories of traveling through wine regions in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France. So the few numbers of wines from European regions in the cellar saddened me. There were 59 from France and 54 from Italy. There were only 49 Spanish wines in the mix, mostly from Rioja, with very little love shown for some of my favorites from Ribera del Duero and Toro. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would be beyond thrilled to have these 162 bottles as part of my own cellar. But their presence lacked in comparison to wines from California.
And Portugal? Where are you? There were only 7 Portuguese wines—2 of them ports, the rest Vinho Verde. What about the great reds of the Douro Valley? Are they supposed to be off the maps for bloggers for a specific reason?
I was happy to find what I thought to be a healthy number of wines from Argentina—52 bottles—though after 1WD’s recent 2-week trip there, I doubt they will be uncorked or unscrewed anytime in the near future. Chile, on the other hand, has some catching up to do. I only catalogued 21 bottles from there, even though I know the country is producing some interesting up and coming wines. Even my own Napa-loving mother enjoys dabbling in great values from Chile. For the time, she mostly drinks wines from Santa Rita and Cono Sur, but I’d like to see her explore beyond the two producers to which she seems to default.
Over in the corner sits 25 bottles from Washington State and 15 from Oregon—wines that seem to be living in California’s big bully-like shadow. There were other regions I wish I had come across more often too, like Austria or Germany or South Africa. I can’t help but feel like there should be more from these places, like these areas should be trying harder to be heard.
Another surprise was the small representation of wines from the land down under—only 25 from Australia and 15 from their neighbor, New Zealand. Lately I’ve heard a lot of chatter about Australian producers trying to “reemerge” with less boozy wines. The “typical” high-alcohol wines from here carry a not-so-great reputation in parts of the geeky wine world that I don’t think they completely deserve. I have no problem with bigger wines. As long as they’re in balance, I tend to like them very much. (Hence, the inspiration behind my @bigboldreds Twitter name.)
But if Australian producers are making a greater effort to make a wider variety of wines that appeal to those afraid of bigger ABV numbers, then I hope they also put the same effort into getting samples into the hands of people the can help promote them. And at the very least, should get their message across to consumers.
There were a few odd-balls in the mix, which excited me or intrigued me, and some that I can’t wait to taste—a few from Uruguay, some sparkling wines from Brazil, a Tokaji from Hungary and one bottle from Mexico.
While the samples in 1WD’s cellar may not exactly mirror what consumers see on shelves or perfectly represent the state of the wine world, I think we can take away something useful from taking a closer look at the wines that make up the collection. To producers or regions that want to be noticed, well, you need to give us a reason to notice you. If you aren’t promoting your wines to the media who are talking about them, how is your message or your wines supposed to be known by consumers? It would be okay if you were engaging consumers directly, but that doesn’t seem to be working out so well for most of you (yet). Either way, we want to hear from you, see your bottles, and taste your wines.
The amount of samples that constitutes 1WD’s cellar is just absolutely… outrageous. I mean, what’s someone supposed to do with 820 bottles of wine? Sure, the simple answer is: Drink them. But Joe isn’t really the biggest fan of tasting a bunch of wines at a time. He typically tastes 3 or 4 wines before dinner, and then drinks his favorites with the meal. Even if he tasted 4 wines every single day for 6 straight months, there would still be more bottles to get through, and that’s not accounting for all the new samples that will arrive in the meantime.
With only a few more weeks left of my internship, I’m happy to have tackled the massive endeavor of sorting through wine samples just in time. I’ve learned a lot and grown more curious along the way. I want to send a special shout-out to the crowd of PR folks who send copies of technical sheets, which include SRPs: You are the best. To those of you who don’t: You should consider doing so. It’s much more convenient and easier for Joe to grab the tech sheet wrapped around a bottle when he goes to taste it than it is for him to play a scavenger hunt game through his emails to find it.
The clock is ticking and I’m feeling the pressure to arrange some great tastings before I check out, as both a reward to myself for sorting through 820 bottles of wine, and as a way to create space in the cellar for all the new shipments of wine that will come once I’m gone. My long days in a cold cellar are on the steady decline, and it’s now time for a drink. Where do I begin?