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Field Notes from a Wine Life – Jambalaya Edition

Odds and ends from a life lived through the prism of the wine glass…

American Wine Consumer Coalition

I am excited that Tom Wark - Man of Action - and also the Executive Director of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association, is taking the initiative to build the non-profit consumer wine advocacy group the American Wine Consumer Coalition (AWCC), as preliminarily announced at his blog last month.


I was privy to an early iteration of his business plan and if his ideas for the organization hew closely to his initial vision it will be a rock solid benefit for wine enthusiasts.

My understanding of the nascent AWCC is an organization that represents the voice of wine consumers on a myriad of issues, but will most specifically be linked to consumer shipping rights while also providing an umbrella offering of member benefits for those that live a wine-inclined lifestyle.  In doing so, the AWCC addresses three woeful gaps in the wine landscape (my extrapolation not Tom’s):

1) Legacy groups like the American Wine Society have failed to implement technology and the cultivation of a member base under the age of 50 in the age of social networking and have forfeited the opportunities for connectedness that social media offers.

2) Wine social networking sites like Wine 2.0 and the Open Wine Consortium failed to regularly engage a captive audience and died an inert death.

3) Free the Grapes! has been very successful at coalescing a large number of consumers in support of shipping rights, but has largely failed at two key things:  Transparency in where the money goes (a 501c(6) trade association doesn’t have to do any financial reporting to donors) and they provide no member benefit.  Theirs is the “black box” of wine advocacy.

If the American Wine Consumer Coalition does even a half-hearted job of connecting and engaging with consumers with attendant non-profit transparency, the organization will be successful.  Godspeed and cheers to that potential outcome…for the benefit of all wine consumers.

Pulling Punches

Over the last week or so, the wine blogosphere has been revisiting its annual tête-à-tête with the 100-point system.  This time the lightening rod is a PR campaign from Hedges Family Estate in Washington called the, “Score Revolution” a sort of public petition against wine scores (and, by proxy, the critics who give the scores).

Folks have decamped to either side of the debate which is all well and good, but for one person whose livelihood has been based on wine criticism for decades, I’d expect a less flaccid (more rigid?) repudiation.

Charlie Olken, the Granddaddy of wine critics with his Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine, has this to say at his blog:  “They want us all to abandon wine ratings because they have outlived their usefulness—or, in the case of one winery—because they got crappy scores for their crappy wines.”

Two problems here, folks:  First, details make a story interesting.  For the casual reader, who are you calling out Charlie?  Hedges Family Estate?  If so, call your shot.  Second, facts are an important element to a story, as well.  And, say what you will about Hedges wine, but a search of the Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate and CellarTracker ratings databases doesn’t bear out Charlie’s assertion – the scores that are available on Hedges are all in the solidly “above average, but not great” category.

Charlie’s post, instead of being a skilled defense of scores, actually typifies what’s wrong with a lot of blogs –they’re poorly researched ideological opinions that are barely defensible beyond the sound bite. 

Methinks that if you’re going to wade into the court of public opinion then it’s best to name names and back up your opinion with some facts and in Charlie’s case, as an elder statesman, he should be raising the level of discourse instead of playing to the level of his competition.

On the Other Hand

On the positive side of the equation in regards to wine writing, Jon Rimmerman from Garagiste wrote a brilliant and insightful essay on the state of our national political climate.  Available by signing up for the daily Garagiste emails, I’ve taken the liberty of creating a PDF of Rimmerman’s essay from Monday, August 8th. This link initiates a PDF download that is well worth the read.

Imitation is the sincerest form of Flattery?

Around the holidays when nearly every wine writer who writes for a masthead heeds the call of the wine pairing article, you might expect some columns to look similar… But, in August not so much…

Color me surprised then when I read Matt Kramer’s column in the current issue of Wine Spectator (August 31, 2011) called, “Keeping Your Cool” about chilling red wines and then I see Ray Isle (also Food & Wine magazines Executive Wine Editor) who wrote a syndicated wine post for CNN’s food section on their web site called, “Chilling with Red Wine.”

I’ll give Isle the benefit of the doubt in regards to lifting the idea straight from Kramer, and assume that it’s a situation of, “Great minds think alike.”  However, for goodness sake, with wine, when there are a million things to write about, you might expect a slightly different twist on the same topic when they’re published in the same time window from two notable wine writers.


Posted in, Free Run: Field Notes From a Wine Life. Permalink | Comments (2) |


On 08/09, 1WineDude wrote:

Man, you are so on point with the AWS. Not that it’s a bad organization, but my experience has been that they don’t take up the pro-consumer flag.  For example, at an event I did with them recently in PA, that had a PLCB guy come and speak.  For them, it worked out great, but the message being sent is “the PLCB is okay.”  Not the kind of message I can get behind.

On 08/09, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

I’ve always been skeptical of the 100-point scale. I mean, honestly, what is the difference between a 92 and a 93 point wine?  I prefer something like a 3-star or 5-star system, that puts wines into a “class” without trying to turn wine into sports.


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