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Vin de Napkin - News Cycles

Sometimes the wine news comes at you like a torrent, other times like a drip, a leaky faucet.

The past couple of weeks have been a torrent.

Yes, times are good in the wine blogosphere when there are other things to talk about besides Robert Parker.

I’ve found a couple of hidden (and not so hidden) gems in the news lately ... makes for good social commentary fodder ...

Consider, Joyce Dewitt from the 70’s TV show “Three’s Company” is now promoting Livingston Cellars wine.

Aimed at Baby-Boomer RV travelers, the campaign appears to be good, targeted marketing, but who can resist taking a shot at faded glory and $6 wine in a 1.5L?

Hold that thought on not talking about Robert Parker.  Elsewhere, the TV show “Bones” on Fox is airing an episode on May 7th called “The Critic in the Cabernet” about the murder of an influential wine critic ...

And, across the pond, those limey Brits in the U.K. government are starting a campaign to curb wine drinking based on the passive consumption of calories, completely forsaking an assault on, I don’t know, Shepard’s pie or fish and chips ...

And, finally, our man Gary Vaynerchuk gets a $1M advance and a 10 book deal from HarperStudio.  Godspeed, Gary.  But, wait a second, didn’t he start a video blog because he admitted that he’s a lousy writer?  Hmmm ...





What I blogged about a year ago: 2006 Yalumba Y Series Viognier


Announcing Wine Blogging Wednesday #57:  California Inspiration

I am pleased to host and announce the May edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday with the theme, “California Inspiration.”

Appropriate thanks go to CorkDork for a job well done in April and, of course, to Lenn from Lenndevours for fostering this monthly commune, now in its 5th year, in online wine conviviality. 

Thematically, this month is intended to be broad while acting as homage to Robert Mondavi, the 1-year anniversary of his passing on Saturday, May 16th.


Because Mondavi was such an inspiration physically, spiritually and philosophically to so many – both in the industry and to consumers, while acting as the forefather of the modern California wine movement, I would like for WBW participants to revisit a California wine that they have enjoyed, or have a particular fond memory of, and tell a story.

Simply, Mondavi promoted an air of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness, conducting many of his business practices around a philosophy of aiding other wineries in knowledge and practices to create a profile for California wine that would rival the world’s finest wines.

Mission accomplished.

The easy route for this theme would be to taste a Mondavi wine, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Mondavi would have preferred an air of openness.  No good is accomplished by a singularity of purpose that acts as an exclusionary barrier for others.

Likewise, Mondavi was a people person, fostering a spirit of goodwill amongst friends new and old while promoting a life well lived that included wine and food as complementary companions on the table and in life.

As wine enthusiasts, some of our fondest memories, the various chapters in our lives, frequently have wine as a major player.  It is these stories that I want to see relived and recounted, with a California wine as the centerpiece. 


What is your “California Inspiration?”

Nostalgia, recent experience, poignant, triumphant, all stories are welcome, just make sure that it has a beginning, middle and an end with a specific wine.

Please go buy or pull from your stash, a bottle of whatever that wine was that created a memorable chapter in your life, revisit the bottle, and share your story.

The deadline for submission is May 13th. Please email me, post a link on my WBW post, or at this post.

I look forward to learning more about each of the participants through their words and stories. 

As a bonus, the best story, as judged by Lenn and myself will win a 1-year subscription to Sunset magazine, the lifestyle magazine for California and the West Coast.

A couple of Mondavi quotes as grist for your writing mill:

- Out of all the rigidities and mistakes of my past, I’ve learned a lesson that I’d like to see engraved on the desk of every business leader, teacher, and parent in America: The greatest leaders don’t rule. They inspire.

- I’ve always wanted to improve on the idea of living well, in moderation, wine is good for you - mentally, physically, and spiritually.

- It is giving me a great satisfaction, because I had the notion that we could make great wines equal to the greatest wines in the world, and everybody said it was impossible.

- There are a lot of people with a lot of money, and I’m amazed they don’t understand what a great pleasure it can be to give.

- Wine to me is passion.  It’s family and friends.  It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.  Wine is art.  It’s culture.  It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living.

- Wine has been a part of civilized life for some seven thousand years. It is the only beverage that feeds the body, soul and spirit of man and at the same time stimulates the mind….

Goodness and Godspeed to all as you celebrate the Good Grape for Wine Blogging Wednesday and honor Robert Mondavi in the process!


Looking for the Lunatic Fringe?

Reading Dr. Vino’s posts and notes from his email exchange and that of Mike Steinberger’s with Mark Squires, Robert Parker and Jay Miller, respectively, reminds me of the worst kind of hell known to man – high school.

Most of us graduate from gossipy name-calling, rumor-mongering allusions, pettiness and snootiness from a perceived position or station in life—mostly around second semester of your freshman year in college.

Most of us do, I should repeat.

Of course, there are always those that don’t move on to higher education, and those that simply never move on to higher mental maturity.

Now, I will grant Bob Parker (I don’t know him, but I do like to call him ‘Bob’) and the members of his team a certain defensiveness because they are frequently assaulted with games of “gotcha,” but the bigger grievance I have is with the Squires message board, and all messages boards, legacy throwbacks to a pre-Web 2.0 era, that are largely bastions of triviality marked by group think and bouts of nastiness, with denizens that project faux bravado from the keyboard.

Based on following the wine blogosphere, I have noted that Lyle Fass, formerly of Chamber Street Wines, and Alice Feiring have both been booted off the board in the last year or so.

Not content to learn from others, I followed along (albeit silently) on eBob and a Notre Dame football board for a period of time last year before finally giving it up.

Many argue that all social networking is a time sink, but, in my opinion, there is precious little that offers less value than message boards.  I find they are primarily populated by nut-jobs with pseudonyms spouting off nonsense to the nth degree, mostly the lunatic fringe, that special sub-section and micro demographic of a movement or interest group that spout a vigorous and often extremist party line.

My moment of clarity on message boards came somewhat simultaneously.  On the eBob board, I read with bated breath as an anonymous person defended and re-defended something of so little significance with such venomous vigor that I was left dumbfounded. This train wreck in slow motion unfolded over a 16 hour period, as well, just to ensure that the argument was slow and painstaking.

At the same time, I read posts on a Notre Dame Football board in which adult men listed their wish list for recruiting, talking about football players that are juniors in high school, pending their first prom, with an intensity of 4th hand understanding that left me bewildered.

What it really boils down to is the wine world doesn’t have the corner on bores, or boors, often the same people.

No, they exist in all niches on the internets.

Do you know what is even more head-scratching—that I was spending MY TIME on them.  “What am I doing,” I thought.  It’s the same notion I have when I throw another $100 on the blackjack table in Vegas after getting swept out of my first $100 in 15 minutes. 

Message boards, unfailingly, are the equivalent of listening to the insecure, loud mouth guy at the bar bare too much information that is ill-informed in cringe-worthy fashion.

If you want to see the lunatic fringe, message boards are a good place to look; it’s the online equivalent of going to Wal-Mart on the first of the month.

You won’t find me at either place or message boards in general—wine, football, etc.  If that makes me guilty of my own brand of high school snootiness, so be it.

What I blogged about a year ago:  An Open Letter and a Call for a Merger in the Wine + Technology Space


Robert Mondavi Day and the Evolution of Wine Criticism

There are two unequivocal truths in the world of wine – Robert Mondavi was a legend whose impact is unquestioned and the other shaping factor in wine over the last 30 years has been the indelible imprint of wine ratings.

Robert Mondavi Day on May 16th

In a little less than a month, we’ll mark the first anniversary of wine industry titan Robert Mondavi’s passing.  Few argue about his impact on the business from both an industry and a consumer perspective.  He was a giant who cast a shadow that may be equaled, but won’t be eclipsed.

I’ve been a fan of the man for as long as I’ve been a wine lover, it was Mondavi who greeted me and welcomed me into the world of wine – he was an unknowing ambassador for so many people’s entry into the world of the grape by virtue of his role as unofficial spokesperson for California wine.

In order to commemorate his passing in an unofficial capacity, I’ll be doing a couple of things – on Wednesday I will announce Wine Blogging Wednesday for May that will have a California theme with a loose Mondavi tie-in (in order to be inclusive, he would have wanted it that way.  In addition, I’m pondering creating a Facebook Fan Page for an unofficial declaration of May 16th as “Robert Mondavi Day,” and, finally, I’ve created an embeddable social object for others to use, marking Robert Mondavi Day. 

If you are inclined, please consider grabbing the HTML from my site and embedding the icon/social object on your site to commemorate the anniversary of his passing.

I intend to observe May 16th every year, and if you’re even tangentially a fan of US wine, I urge you to celebrate with me, honoring a man whose impact on our domestic wine life can’t be underscored or minimized.

Dullard Dogma in Wine


I have been giving a lot of thought to wine criticism lately.  As people posit about the rise of Internet wine writing relative to print journalism, Spectator, Enthusiast, et al, one thing remains very clear to me – ultimately, Spectator and Enthusiast may morph into more of an Advocate style work, with less lifestyle editorial and more of an emphasis on ratings.

Clear, simple and to the point, no pun intended, wine ratings aren’t going anywhere. 

Therefore, our popular media and the cult of personality with critics aren’t going anywhere either.  So, even as our culture speeds out of an aspirational lifestyle focus, one constant will remain – wine consumers of all stripes will still look for arbiters of taste.

Laube and Spectator, Advocate and his team, and others, even emerging voices, borne out of the Internet, will continue with influence.

At this point, it’s cultural that we look to others for guidance or validation in opinion influence.

However, and this is a big however, the limitation, and the void that I think needs to be filled is more of a holistic approach to that arbitration of taste.

Simply, the mark of intelligence is the ability to argue both sides of an issue with equal vigor.  If you’re smart, you have an opinion, but you can address the issue of gun control from both a “liberal” and a “conservative” perspective. 

It’s only the dullard who argues vigorously with dogma.

Reasonably enlightened people, typically those who enjoy wine, understand that our world isn’t fraught with issues black and white, but rather subtle shades of gray.

Therefore, shouldn’t wine criticism follow this same line of thought?

Unfortunately, at least today, it’s not so:  this dullard dogma is a primary limitation to wine criticism:

It’s not a 360 degree perspective on a wine

What would be really helpful, for the development of wine criticism, since it’s not going anywhere, is instead of wine critics dividing up the world and one guy focusing on California, the other on France, etc. is to have two people focus on a country and give notes on the same wine like Siskel and Ebert. 

You get to see pros and cons this way.  The legacy movie critics would frequently disagree on a movie, but at least a consumer walked away understanding an opinion on the movie from two perspectives, more holistically.

I may be more art house than blockbuster in movie taste, but seeing both sides of the issue helped me decide whether a movie was worth seeing.

For example, nothing is as polarizing as oaked California Chardonnay.  It’s also a style that a good many consumers like.

It’s like that for most wine issues related to style – New World vs. Old World, natural wine vs. “normal” wine, oak vs. unoaked, big fruit vs. restraint, food wine vs. high alcohol, etc. 

If wine reviews were undertaken like movie reviews by the old Siskel and Ebert, then a review would present both sides of a wine in a manner that allows a reviewer to make up their own mind, not having to align with a historical understanding of a single critic’s palate.

Call me crazy, but the dullards dogma seems to be something that is easy to move beyond and a primary inhibitor.

Look for a new voice to emerge as the voice of reason in an otherwise unreasonable world, somebody who transcends the hegemony of points to holism, while fitting into a point driven culture.


The Penny Plan

On Thursday I wrote about the significant challenge of “core” consumers representing such a small slice of overall wine consumers, particularly related to high-end winery sales sustainability. 

It’s pretty simple, if people are trading down, and there is only a small percentage of wine consumers who are considered “core,” drinking wine daily or several times a week, when those people abandon or siphon away from the over $15 price segment most of the small production wine industry shakes like an 8.0 earthquake has hit.

At the same time, there is an ongoing vigorous debate in California about a tax hike on wine and alcohol.


The post I wrote received a ho-hum response.  The tax issue in California is one that incites vigorous debate.  While the two – my post and a much broader alcohol tax issue aren’t completely analogous, they are loosely interrelated.
I can’t help but be reminded of a February email exchange I had with John Gillespie, President of Wine Market Council, who produces the research on wine consumers, “core” and otherwise.

I asked:

Based on your experience with campaigns in trying to make wine a more casual part of everyday life, what are the barriers to creating large scale consumer mindshare in the same vein as what the Food Boards like beef, eggs, and cheese do with advertising?

Gillespie observed:

Back in 1989-90 there was a mandatory wine commission in place which supported an advertising test market campaign put in place by Wine Institute.  The campaign failed and many divisions among producers were created.  From that point forward, it has been understood by all major players that only a voluntary contribution plan could work, but even on that basis there has never been sufficient agreement or support to do a national advertising campaign.

He continued:

At Wine Market Council, we’ve accepted the reality of the situation and now focus our more modest budget on producing valuable consumer research for the industry …

A lot of time has passed since 89-90.  I was a junior in high school, looking for scarce night moves and paradise by the dashboard light, Nirvana and Pearl Jam hadn’t yet hit it big and hair metal, now enjoying a renaissance, hadn’t fallen out of favor.  19 years ago is a long time ago ... 

I can’t help but wonder if organizing support around an industry campaign aimed at the positive lifestyle and health benefits of wine ala ‘Got Milk’ and other food boards isn’t a good idea whose time to revisit has come.

Again, by my reasoning, there are not enough consumers to support the number of domestic wineries and continued sales growth in the high-end.  Creating actionable mind share to convert “marginals” to “core” consumers seems like a reasonable and healthy thing for the wine industry to rally behind.

The counter-argument might go, “why do this, Millenials love wine, they’re our next generation consumer.”  Yeah, they are.  And, they are also the next generation consumer for the cocktail culture and craft brews, too.  You don’t think every packaged good company looks at Millenials as the growth savior?

Maybe it’s time to look at a winery opt-in “Penny Plan” whereby a penny goes into a fund for every bottle sold to support broader market advertising and mindshare creation. 

Heck, pass it to the consumer and round up pricing, encouraging retailers to charge $0.01 instead of .99, while the actual funding takes place at every level of the value-chain, the winery level, the distributor, the retailer and the consumer. 

I think we have to do something, anything.

This is a hypothesis on my part, but the increase in volume and per capita consumption is based on Gen. Y taking to Y and drinking more while Gen. X adopts wine a little bit later in life, yet, converting this activity from casual affinity to orientation seems like an imperative, a mandate, not hopeful thinking.

As I noted, it would seem that a rising tide raises all ships, except in this case where increased wine consumption, IS NOT creating a rapid acceleration of “core” consumers, at least not to the extent that creates long-term health.

Is it hyperbole to say that thousands of wineries may hang in the balance?


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