Do You Care About Wines You (Probably) Can’t Have?

Vinted on August 5, 2009 binned in twitter, wine products, wine review

Damn my over-processing brain.

I was going to write about two wines that I tasted last week while I was in in Napa & Sonoma for the Wine Bloggers Conference… technically I was actually (sweltering) in Tacoma when I tasted them, but I received the wines in Napa & Sonoma…

Anyway, I was going to write about these wines when my ever-processing, never-lets-me-rest brain decided to switch it up on me.  Now, it turns out I’m writing about not getting these wines. Or, writing about writing about not getting these wines.  This will all clear up in a minute or two.  I think.

The wines in question are C. Donatiello’s Rose, and the new 2006 release of Prime Cellars’s Cab.  Both of them are very, very good wines, the kind of wines that I want to get to know and want others to get to know – small production, interesting, made by up-and-coming, passionate winemakers who are tweaking things, trying to find the right balance and improving their wines early on with every vintage.

The thing is, I’ve been wondering if I should write about these wines.

Because chances are that you can’t get them…

Here’s my take on the C. Donatiello Rose:

08 C. Donatiello ‘Marie Pavie’ Rose (Russian River Valley): Ultra low-production, slightly oakey but all strawberry, all dry, & all good. #

You probably can’t get it unless you’re in Headlsburg, and are a friend of the winery, because Chris Donatiello doesn’t sell that wine – which is a pity, because it rocks.  I’m getting increasingly impressed with what Chris has been able to achieve in terms of quality across his entire spectrum of wines (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at the moment) in such a short amount of time.

Prime Cellars is another CA producer (Napa this time) that I’ve been keeping my eye on, and I managed to meet up with winemaker Ted Henry at his ‘day job’ at Jarvis before the kick-off of the WBC.  I’d written about Prime’s inaugural release last year, and after tasting their 2006 Cab I think that Ted has started to hit his stride in terms of what he’s aiming for in Prime:

06 Prime ‘District 4’ Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): Big & about as classic & concentrated black cherry as you can get. Bravo! #

At least the Prime can be ordered on-line, and shipped to one of the (few) states that will allow you to do that.  Otherwise, you’re going to have to hit some restaurants in the Napa / Sonoma area to try it.

Most wine writers probably get faced with the question of whether or not to write about wines that are difficult for their readers to obtain. As wine bloggers receive larger and larger volumes of samples, we’ll be faced with this question on a more regular basis, since statistically speaking the chances are fairly high that we’ll get wines that are harder to come by at a local wine shop.  Take Napa, for example – according to the Napa Valley Vintners Association, while Napa’s wine industry accounts for 34% of CA’s wine economy (responsible for about $42 billion of the U.S. economy annually), “about 70% of Napa Valley’s 400 wineries make less than 5,000 cases of a wine a year. 95% are family-owned.”  I other words, it’s the small stuff that add up to the big numbers.

Which brings me to the big question in my over-thinking mind:

Is it worth writing about wines like these?

I can’t imagine that highlighting these wines is useful for the average wine drinker who might be looking for a decent bottle of vino for dinner, or even to the enthusiast who would be interested in trying new producers (since s/he probably can’t get the wines outside of Northern CA).

But having said that…

I happen to enjoy reading about wines and learning about new producers, even if I can’t try those wines.  Because I’m a wine nerd. In my simple, nerdy view of the wine world, people need to know about producers like these, because their wines are probably going to get better over time, and it will probably be fascinating to watch (or taste) their progression.

So… I’ll probably keep writing about them.

Which means the real question is – Are *you* willing to read about wines that you (probably) can’t try?

I posed the question to the greater “twitterati mind” (a.k.a., my followers on twitter).   The result of this very quick and highly un-scientific poll were that people mostly did want to learn about wine even if it’s one that they might not be able to ever taste.  Seems that people, like me, just enjoy learning about this stuff. They also hold out hope that one day, they’ll be able to try those wines that they can’t access now.

Some sample responses:

Wendy A PaDutchTravel @1WineDude ok, yes I still lik 2 read bout them, I can still dream and put on my wishlist. cuz u never no when u might be able 2 try some

Lulu Belle PinotParty @1WineDude Sure, why not? Educate the wine-os. Love to hear it. If I’m resourceful enough, may even find a way to taste it as well.

Andrew Hall AndrewSGHall @1WineDude Sure. Both cases (cost/availability) should only be seen as temporary. U also learn by seeing the limits of wine.

Amanda Maynard amaynard6 @1WineDude Sometimes. If it’s something spectacular and lives up to expectations, yes. If it’s anything less, no.

Dan Fredman dfredman @1WineDude Not interested in notes on 1900 Margaux or 59 La Tache, but love to read about artisanal, eclectic, unusual and weird wines…

The Wine Brat winebratsf @1WineDude yes because it’s a fascinatig glimpse into what I don’t have

Regina Smith allaboutvino @1WineDude Yes! I can live vicariously through them. :)

Christy Wild christywild @1WineDude well, in my opinion, I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t be able to try them…I try and make a note and to find them later

Cory Crow loseaneye @1WineDude In a long-form blog post they’re very interesting reads.

Robert McIntosh thirstforwine @1WineDude not really

Lenn Thompson LENNDEVOURS @1WineDude True geeks seek knowledge even if the wines are unattainable. At least in my never-humble opinion.

Kathleen Rake KathleenRake @1WineDude Yes, I like to read about them even if they’re unavailable, but I have to admit I get more excited when I can get them to taste.

Matthew S Horbund mmWine @1WineDude not sure what a twitterari [ editor’s note” my misspelling! ] is. I love reading about wines I haven’t had before. Let’s me try to find them.

TheWineWhore TheWineWhore @1WineDude Totally!

So… how about YOU ?


p.s. – I should note that because I was overflowing with wine from the WBC, I was finally able to try out a product sample that I’d been sitting on for months.  It’s basically a single wine bottle-sized bubble-wrap package called the Wine Mummy.  Wine goes into Mummy. Mummy goes into suitcase. Suitcase goes into water. Shark’s in the water.  Our shark.  Which is how it works, except for the parts I borrowed from Jaws.  Anyway, happy to report that the Mummy worked quite well, and my bottle survived two plane flights in perfect condition (which is good, since it was red wine and I wouldn’t have enjoyed getting those stains out of all of my travel clothes).  Worth a look if you’re traveling by air to wine country and are worried about bringing a bottle of something decent back home with you.

(images: 1WineDude,





  • Gabriella Opaz

    We suffer from this same question on a frequent basis. Do we write about Spanish and Portuguese wines that are only available in…well…Spain and Portugal. The answer is, yes! If we don't write about them in an educational way, highlighting the region, wine, winery or grape, people are losing out on good info. I would much rather add to their list of interesting wines to taste, or wineries to visit, in their lifetime then not talk about it all. But that's just me :)

    • 1WineDude

      The worst part is, I've got even more posts coming about harder to find wines. But, just like you, I can't stop because it's too interesting to me!

  • Ted Henry

    A very valid point dude. I think about this a lot and I think the blog world is the best place to write about these wines. The mass media guys are not ever going to be interested.

    Blogs have a personal angle to them and thats what tiny wineries like PRIME are all about. If someone wants my wine and contacts me directly I will figure out how to get it to them. (e.g.-my Aunt Betty lives in Tuscaloosa, I'll have her drop off a case). This is what we small guys can do that Constellation, Gallo and KJ can't. I personally deliver wine in the SF Bay area all the time. Not too many winemakers do that.

    I'm just saying that we little guys have something authentic to offer and with a bit of effort we are not really that hard to obtain. (Hey, even you got a bottle!)

    Damn good topic by the way…

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, bro.

      Great point that you're bringing up here: small wineries & blogs are kind of mirroring each other in a way!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, bro.

      Great point that you're bringing up here: small wineries & blogs are kind of mirroring each other in a way!

      Case in point: I'm writing in part about two wines, and both winemakers have chimed in on the conversation…

  • Dylan

    Tourism is the answer. Not everyone lives in the area where they can obtain a certain wine, but one day they will like to visit and they will keep those wines in mind when they do. It's just the same as someone describing to me their trip through the Greek Islands. I cannot possibly experience that where I am now simply because I'm not in the Greek Islands. But whenever I do go, I can sample all the positive things that my friend may mention as well as add a little adventure on my own. In that way you're doing a service to the winery and the customer when it's a good wine, even if the time they drink it will remain far off. Of course, I wouldn't make it a habit. Some people would like to taste a wine right now.

    • 1WineDude

      And some people would like to taste a wine right now while sitting on a beach in the Greek Islands. Like, say, me for instance! :)

  • Chris Donatiello

    OK Joe, any 1winedude fans that come into the tasting room this summer get a free bottle of rose. How's that for accessible?
    -Chris Donatiello

    • 1WineDude

      Whoa! Hey, I'm a 1WineDude fan, does that mean I can get another bottle…? Please??

  • Joel Coleman-Nakai

    Joe, good discussion topic. I am in agreement with Ted Henry that blogs are the natural and logical habit for discussion of small production wines.

    Also, since it is bolded above and central to the discussion, I'd like to clarify the statistic about winery size in Napa Valley. Of the nearly 350 members of the Napa Valley Vintners (non-profit winery association) – which includes the vast majority of Napa Valley-based wineries – about half make fewer than 5,000 cases per year and about 70% make fewer than 10,000 cases. Other than that your statistics were spot on…95% of our members are individual- or family-owned businesses and despite the relatively high profile of the region their combined contribution to the state wine production is just 4% by total volume…but significantly more when measured by economic impact.

    Keep up the good work,
    Joel Coleman-Nakai
    Napa Valley Vintners

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Joel.

      Hmmm… I got the info from NVV… sorry if I misrepresented it!


  • Sonadora

    Many of the wines I write about are wines you can pretty much get from the winery…you either have to visit or live in a state they ship to. Or they come in my club shipments as club exclusives. I started writing about them because I wasn't finding any other reviews on the internet (that was 3 years ago and I often google now to see if anyone has written about the same wine and I still don't see much). But those are the wines I'm most interested in knowing about, so I will seek them out in the future!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks – another great point, many of us are blogging about this stuff because no one else seems to be covering the wines (similar to Ted's comment); and many of them are so good, *somebody* has to write about them…

  • joeshico

    As a newbie to all this and an amateur to wine reviews with an attachment or a new found appreciation of NY Finger Lakes wines I understand the post. In reviewing wines that are readily available to me I have to understand that the availability is somewhat limited to readers outside New York and surrounding states. Where I have an advantage is I blog and review wines I enjoy as a hobby not a business and that I, in a miniscule way, can let readers know what I like and what excellent wines are being produce in my home state. I also like to read about wines from small wineries with limited production. I guess that make me a ' wine nerd ' too.

    • 1WineDude

      Nerdiness makes the world go 'round, my friend!

  • @deniseslattery

    This IS an excellent topic. I enjoy reading about all kinds of things in theater, film, books, restaurants, performance etc. that I may never get to personally experience. I like to read music reviews by people like, say, Sasha Frere-Jones because he's such an excellent writer and I can learn about an artist and build on musicology. But I don't always go out and buy what he's chatting about even if I could! I don't even need to go looking for it. This is just cool stuff that comes across the transom. It influences me and helps me understand a catagory (in this case pop music). To me, wine writers are like this, too. And it's very, very important that we have all kinds of perspectives! It's great!

    Now, as a winemaker and small winery owner (under 1,200 cases) we have the classic problem of not having enough production to have meaningful distribution, yet we need to continually be working to make sure people know about our wines outside the tasting room. So, it's great when someone wants to blog or write about our wines. When this happens (and we are so grateful when it does!) it's exciting to know that the experience is being shared. Hopefully, whatever the writer shares is being used to build on knowledge in a category. In our case, low-oak, high-acid, single-varietal, terroir-driven wines created in small lots for food pairings. Oh, and all that from Walla Walla! Cheers!

    • 1WineDude

      It's good to know that blogs are having an impact and finding a niche.

      Note to small producers: Keep sending those samples out!

  • Steve Heimoff

    We ask ourselves this question at Wine Enthusiast. Why write about/review cult wines that only .00000001% of people will ever even see much less drink? It's a tough one. I like to taste these rare wines because it's educational and helps me frame my thinking. Also, a wine magazine should cover the Petruses and Harlans because it would be weird if we didn't. But that makes it all the more important to cover less expensive, more widely available wines, unlike some magazines that shun them as "common." Finally, if someone really, really wants to find that C. Donatiello (and they are terrific wines) they'll have to search for them. Sometimes, the good things in life are worth searching for.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Steve – Are there any other general guidelines that WE is using to help keep the coverage balanced?

      Also, it's always nice to have my palate validated by someone with skills – thanks! :-)

  • vinogirl

    Yes, blog away. There is always something to be learned. I regularly read a blog about NY wines which I am sure would be nigh on impossible to find, but I read it anyway because I am interested in all wine.
    Besides, you write so well (and you don't take yourself too seriously), that it's always a pleasure to visit.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks for that – very kind!

      Wine geeks, UNITE!

  • MyrddinGwin

    This may be a few weeks late, and I know you already write about some wines I'm very unlikely to ever drink due to availability, but I really encourage you to keep at it! Sometimes, opportunities arise to taste really rare or expensive wines, and part of the joy is of seeing someone's passion about trying something really cool.

    Last weekend, I got my first opportunity to try a premier-cru Bordeaux. It was a 1986 Château Margaux. Though there were several other really, really awesome wines there, that was the one I was blown away (furthest?) by.

    So please keep on writing about anything really cool you try. Thanks, Dude, for sharing!

    • 1WineDude

      MG – or a year or two late :-) But I appreciate the sentiment and the kind words!

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