Why We Should Love The Guy Who Kept His Murdered Girlfriend In The Closet For 18 Months

“Now, because the chick grows rotten, she is gone but not forgotten.”

- Ira Einhorn

I’ll digress before I begin:

I recently read an Alice Feiring article in Newsweek called ‘Why We Should Love Natural Wines’, which I found interesting in part because Feiring—a respected and renowned wine critic, formerly with Time Magazine and named Online Wine Writer of the Year by the Louis Roederer International Wine Writer Awards—claims that 95% of the wine she drinks is labeled ‘natural’.

Alice Doesn’t Drink Here Anymore

As a non-respected, non-renowned wine critic who hasn’t won an award since my hairline was voted ‘Most Likely To Recede’ in high school, I am curious how someone who drinks wine for a living can so restrict her intake.  Either she’s pulling our collective hollow leg or intends to re-invent her popular blog to include only those wines which are dry-farmed, hand-picked, unfiltered and vinified without manipulation, added sulphur, sugar, foreign yeast or acid-adjusters.

Which—without stats to back me up—I’d guess comprises less than 1% of all wine made.

According to Alice, who admits in her opening paragraph that many wine people find natural wines to be ‘homogeneously cidery and coarse’ and compare them to bad vinegar, we should love them anyway.

Tom Wolfe

The Phiering philosophy would likely phire-up the phunny bone of my hero Tom Wolfe, who in 1975 wrote a tongue-in-cheek assessment on why we should love abstract art—even art we found homogeneously cidery and coarse.  His conclusion (based on a quote by New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer suggesting that without a persuasive ‘theory’, abstract art cannot be appreciated) is that critics have become more important than either the art itself, the artist or the poor benighted consumer.

Wolfe says, “I had gotten it backward all along!  Not ‘seeing is believing‘ you ninny, but ‘believing is seeing’.”

Replacing enological terminology with art words, one re-reads Alice Feiring’s piece and concludes (as Wolfe did with all the Pollocks, the de Koonings, the Rauschenbergs and the Stellas he gawked at) that, within the genre known as ‘natural wine’,  it’s not ‘enjoying is believing’ you ninny, but ‘believing is enjoying…’

But Hell, It’s Earth Day, So Let’s Toss Tender Young Alice A Bone

“Fetch, Baby.”

In 1997, in Champagne-Mouton, France (home of Pineau des Charentes, which has nothing to do with the story other than to justify its appearance in a wine blog), Ira Einhorn was arrested and ultimately extradited to the United States where he stood trial for the 1977 murder of the unstoppably-beautiful Holly Maddux.  He’d gone on the lam four years later, just days before his murder trial was to begin, by skipping bail and fleeing to Europe.

What gives the case it’s sickest, most Court TV-iest appeal is that, rather than doing the responsible thing and disposing of dead Holly, Einhorn kept her remains inside a trunk inside a closet inside his apartment.  In fact, he was caught when nature took it’s inevitably icky course and Holly began to seep into the neighbor’s apartment downstairs.

And So, Why Should We Love This Fleshy, Fumbling, Felonious Fuck, As My Headline So Pointedly Demands?

For the same reason that Alice Feiring incites us to love natural wine:

We should love Ira Einhorn because it’s Earth Day. 

I mean, composting your girlfriend?  How much more ‘green’ can you get?

Oh, and also, Einhorn invented Earth Day.

Ira and Holly

Now, before you start, People Who Think Earth Day Has Any Real Impact On Humanity’s Ecological Holocaust; yes, I know that event organizers have made sworn statements distancing themselves from Einhorn and saying it just ain’t so, but these are also the folks who petition to have carbon dioxide declared a ‘pollutant’ even though we exhale it, and who want electronics manufacturers to be liable for the cost of recycling TVs, even though real environmentalists shouldn’t be home watching TV—they should be out scraping British Petroleum sheen off of Mexican ducks.

Whether or not you accept Einhorn’s version of things, he insists that back in 1970, before he became a potbellied prisoner and was merely a whale-sized windbag, he alone created the largest secular holiday on the planet (this year, for example, over a billion people will refrain from exhaling on April 22) while he was hanging around the University of Pennsylvania campus writing poetry and seducing cute chicks.

Ira as Master Of Ceremonies, Earth Day, 1970

What’s beyond question is that Einhorn was Master of Ceremonies at that first Earth Day rally in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, introducing such photo-opportunists as keynote speaker Edmund Muskie (best known for the so-called ‘Canuck Letter’ in which he was falsely accused of making disparaging remarks about French-Canadians—like that’s a problem to begin with?) and Allen Ginsburg, author of the preternaturally awful ‘Howl’, which I still haven’t been able to entirely slog through even though he wrote it in 1955—but I’m trying; I’m trying…

So popular was the event at the time that in many places, Earth Day is now celebrated for an entire week—although most people opt out once they discover how hard it is to hold your breath for that long.

Despite the fact that Einhorn, obviously a charter member of the Pennsylvania Brain Trust, opted to defend himself (using as his central theory that the CIA framed him by murdering Holly and planting her body in his closet as payback for him investigating the agency’s  paranormal military research program), the jury came back after two hours of deliberation with a verdict of ‘repulsively guilty’.

I Know, Right?  I Couldn’t Believe It Either

Not that he was convicted, but that it took the jury two hours instead of two minutes.  But I guess after instructions, a lunch break and forty-five minutes of guffaws, giggles and belly-laughs, that’s about right.

Anyway, dear Ira is currently serving a life sentence in the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution in Houtzdale, where it is unknown exactly how he intends to celebrate Earth Day, 2012.

My feeling is that we should all send him a aquifoliaceae sapling and request that he plant them in memory of every beautiful innocent slain by every sick narcissist everywhere.

Aquifoliaceae is Latin for Holly.

And should he respond that Houtzdale has no garden in which to plant them, we should suggest that he read the fine print on the Hallmark ‘Happy Earth Day, Psycho’ greeting card:

It’s our intention that he plant said shrubbery not in a garden, but within his fat, foul, fraudulent and festering sphincter.

And Happy Earth Day to you, too.

*

Here’s where to send holly bushes:

Aquifoliaceae

Ira Samuel Einhorn, Inmate #ES6859

SCI Houtzdale 
P.O. Box 1000
Houtzdale, PA 16698-1000
(814) 378-1000

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Las Rocas On A Garnacha Roll

Left: Calatayud. Right: Mars.

If you’re trying to farm in Calatayud, you’re pretty much stuck between Las Rocas and a hard place.  Among the most inhospitable-looking places in the solar system, ranking between Halley’s Comet and the fifth moon of Neptune on the bucket list of retirement destinations, Calatayud, in Zaragoza, in Aragón even sounds like it should be orbiting some made-up Star Trek planet.

In fact, it’s located in northeast Spain, along the river Jalón in the midst of the Sistema Ibérico mountain range.  The municipality motto is ‘Muy noble, leal, siempre augusta y fidelísima ciudad de Calatayud’, which is a Catalan phrase meaning, ‘It’s too friggin desolate here to do anything but lay siege on the capital or get drunk.’

It is—despite the rocks and arid climate—home to some really remarkable wines.

Or, as Las Rocas would have you believe, it’s not in spite of the rocks; it’s because of them.

Yolanda Diaz, blonde bombshell among the barrels.

In 1962, a group of Zaragozan grape growers formed a cooperative in the frontier town of Miedes, about 55 miles north of Madrid.  Named Bodegas San Alejandro, it is going stronger than ever and now comprises 350 farmers on more than 3000 rock-strewn acres in  Calatayud; under the directorship of delightful Yolanda Diaz, the area has done some truly magical things with garnacha.

La Kook Garnacha

Not only a ‘kook’ but a ‘kek’—one of its many aliases.

'Drink to me only with thine thighs'.

Another is ‘grenache’, which is what it’s called in southern France.  Here, especially in the Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon, it’s a blending grape often used to complement cinsaut, syrah and mourvèdre.  In Spain, where conditions are particularly favorable for this thin-skinned, heat-loving varietal, it is often made into a stand-alone wine that can, when handled deftly, show wonderfully savory flavors of rhubarb, pomegranate and pepper.  And by ‘handled deftly’, the understanding is that the vines will be planted in higher elevations which thicken the skins, and where there is a sufficient temperature drop during the night to preserve the fruit’s natural acidity.   Otherwise, the grape is prone to flab out quicker than Jessica Simpson at a country buffet; garnacha’s high sugar content requires the balance of tart tartaric acid to keep it lively and is the main reason that it’s the most popular grape for fortified wines like Banyuls, Maury and Australian versions of Port.

Calatayud sits at an average elevation of 1800 feet, with vines planted as high as 3500 feet where conditions permit garnacha to fully ripen while clinging to chemical stability and a rich ruby color.  As a result—and as Las Rocas so effectively proves—the best wines from the best vineyards do not require the melioration of other locally grown grapes like tempranillo and syrah.

Ebro dam

And cheap? A lot of inexpensive, quality wine can be grown in semi-deserts like Calatayud, where the rain comes a single season (spring) and the rest of the year is gripped in drought—provided that adequate water is provided.  Zaragozan summers consistently reach temperatures in the low hundreds, and yearly precipitation is under twelve inches.  But the large-scale irrigation system around the Ebro River has helped make Aragón among the richest autonomous regions in Spain, especially in agriculture.  The co-op method is also key to keeping prices stable; pooling resources and sharing equipment and marketing costs is vital.  EU subsidies don’t hurt, either.

From what I can tell, the trio of Las Rocas wine covered below are stellar examples of Calatayud terroir, Calatayud intensity and Calatayud price point.

Rock on, Yolanda.  If you’re gonna get stoned among the stones, this is the way you wanna do it.

Tasting Notes:

Las Rocas Garnacha, Calatayud, 2009, about $14:  Juicy with sweet raspberry and dark cherry, and expressive without the overpowering smack of oak that can (in Rioja, for example) slow the appreciation factor.  With less than a year in barrels, the wine is bright on the palate with a nice intriguing depth showing up at the finish line, mostly earth and pepper.

Las Rocas Garnacha Viñas Viejas, Calatayud, 2009, about $20:  From vines between 80 and 100 years old, this is a huge tipple for the tariff.  It shows big fruit, mostly plum and cherry and the forefront, with a bit of chocolate and ginger dropping in around mid-palate.  Savory and integrated, the mineral notes seem to reflect the depth that the roots have reached in their long journey through the Spanish soil to my kitchen table.  Finishes with vanilla and graphite.

Las Rocas Red Blend, Calatayud, 2009, about $14:  Lacking a bit of the flavor depth of the first two, this blend is an exception to the 100% garnacha that characterizes the region’s wine.  Tempranillo and syrah go into the mix, though at what proportions, the accompanying literature does not specify.  Jammy and a little tight, the wine has a slight tannic bite but is otherwise alluring and ripe with spice, black raspberry and stone notes.

Posted in Calatayud, Grenache, SPAIN | 2 Comments

Ready To Read Another Dull ‘En Primeur’ Column? Good, Because I’m Not Ready To Write One

American wine people love to pronounce French words—especially those that they actually can pronounce.

That’s why they’re always talking about lieu-dit, cépage and egrappage when they could be talking about ‘vineyard’, ‘kind of grape’ and ‘yanking the friggin’ stems off’.

Tim, Jancis and Robert

With en primeur, the water gets a little murky.  During the spring following harvest, wine merchants gather in Bordeaux (there are also Burgundy, Rhône Valley and Port en primeurs; different times, different places) to gauge the previous year’s vintage quality via barrel samples, and subsequently, to make purchases based in part on preliminary scores made by field experts Tim Atkin, Jancis Robinson, RPJ and similarly panegyrized grape groupies.

Of course, they could refer to en primeur as ‘wine futures’ but where’s the Francophilian fun in that?

Scholarly Scribery is One Thing; Pronunciating is Another 

L.: French Dip. R.: French Dipshit

The problem that here arises is that the term ‘en primeur’ is beyond the verbal sleight of your average dipthongy, alveolary, stress-timedy practitioner of the King’s good English—especially the ‘r’ part.

Our throats simply have not evolved to accommodate such sounds unless we’re spitting out phlegm or choking on a French Dip sandwich, and of course, mangling a foreign word while trying to look smart and sophisticated is far worse than a shrug of total self-confident American ignorance.

Nonetheless, wine writers are expected to drool all over en primeur stories since it is ‘that time of year again’ in Bordeaux.

Not only that, but the good ones are supposed to actually attend it.  By good one, I mean, of course, critics who either live in France or have trade affiliations or bosses willing to fund the trip.

Me, I’m constantly at risk of being fired for writing about wine instead doing the job I’m actually paid to do, so on my expense report, a round-trip ticket to Paris (another word Americans can’t pronounce) and accommodations at the P’tit Dej-Hotel Bordeaux Lac (choke on that one, Billy Bob) is not likely to go over well.

So, I am forced to take another route: Plodding through the painfully prosaic, prolixly platitudinous prose of press peers, editing the same so adroitly that their words pass as my own.

But Sacré bleu, bubbelehs; reading some of this drudging nonsense is interminable—worse that having to slog through Virginia Woolf’s ‘play-poem’ The Waves again.

But, whatever.

Ergo:

EN PRIMEUR 2012 SUMMARY:

Hard to tell.  Some is good, some is bad. 

Recommendation:  Either buy or don’t buy depending on your personal inclination.

**

Alrighty, then:  Here’s something Bordeauxish that you might actually find useful: A two-part look at the legally allowable grapes of that hallowed region.

RED WINE GRAPES

It’s an old joke: ‘Tell somebody there’s ten thousand stars in the sky, he’ll take your word for it.  Put up a ‘Wet Paint’ sign, he’ll have to find out for himself.’

Likewise, wine grapes.  I wrote a column recently suggesting that appellation law allows five red wine grapes in Bordeaux—cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot—and was instantly assailed by wine writers wiser than moi and reminded that there are actually six.  I had, of course, omitted carménère, a grape grandpèred in to appease major fifth-growth players like Château Clerc-Milon, whose 14,000 cases per year contain about one percent of this strange, loamy, smoky fruit.  Now, I can’t imagine how 1% of anything short of anthrax spores could overly influence a bottle of wine, but if the good folks at Clerc-Milon feel that their single acre of carménère is worth making me look like a total tête merde on my own website in front of literally dozens of readers, I wish upon their French fannies an Exodus 8: 1 – 4: A plague of frogs.

Real ones, too—not their next door neighbors.

The purpose of the opening joke, of course, was to illustrate that if  I had instead chosen to write about the hundred varietals legally permitted in Sherry prior to the phylloxera infestation of 1894, not one of these sad-sack sack scholars would have been able to tell me what they were.  Hell, let’s be honest: Most of them couldn’t have told me what three are allowed today without a Google grape grope.

The point is, when wines are blended—and to some extent nearly all are—it’s for a reason, and it’s often good wine education to learn why one ‘auxiliary’ grape is preferred over another.  It can be tradition, price, final acidity, alcohol or tannin—or all the above—but every winemaker except the most cynical is after a certain positive synergy of juice weights, flavors and aromatics.

A vivisection of Bordeaux’s sanctified sextet offers an overview of why these particular blends may in fact be the paradigm of wine-world solidarność.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Not the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux nor the easiest to ripen, cabernet sauvignon wears the appellation’s kingly crown nonetheless—perhaps because of the six nobles, it’s the most reliable in terms of varietal integrity—cab-based wines are instantly recognizable for their brooding but elegant crush of blackberry, currant and dark cherry tastes.    Certainly, the grape lends itself to Bordeaux’s deepest, most potent bottlings, and non-fruit descriptors often include tobacco and cedar, and, when pyrazine linger in less than fully-ripened clusters, an unmistakable note of bell pepper and green olives.  Strangely, though the scent of eucalyptus is often noted in cabernets grown near eucalyptus groves, no connection has yet been found to explain it.  These days, it’s easier to explain cab’s origin: It is not, as previously believed, a particularly  ancient varietal (Pliny’s ‘biturica’ winds up being closer to carménère), but 1996 DNA testing proved that it is a relatively recent cross between cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc, neither of which it conspicuously resembles—like if Obama’s biracial parents had produced Sandra Oh.

Why does Sandra Oh always look like she's saying 'Oh??'

Merlot:  Speaking of Sandra Oh, I would miss no opportunity to rub terroir in the face of urban mythologists: Following Sideways, any change in merlot sales were too negligible to notice.  And not only that, but, screw Miles anyway—in its most perfect prosopopeia, merlot turns cabernet’s elegance into juicy-fruit splendiferousness.  Upon the right bank of the Gironde estuary (looking downstream, toward the sea), merlot has found a viticultural Valhalla; the ferrous clay subsoil, unlike the left bank’s gravel and limestone, retains moisture, and in the appellations of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, merlot-based wines burst with velvety plum, chocolatey cherry and all the intensity of the fruit cake spectrum—without the astringency often associated with cabernet.  With 172,000 acres under tillage (compared to 72,000 for cabernet sauvignon), merlot is by far the most prolific grape in Bordeaux.  Named for it color companion the blackbird (merle in French, and in Latin, hilariously, turdus merula), the cultivar appears to have originated in Italy, where it still produces good, but not spectacular wines.

Cabernet Franc:   When merlot is not the danseur noble, it’s often used as a softening agent for cabernet sauvignon, but when it takes the lead, it prefers a pas de deux with cabernet franc, which shares its affinity for cooler, heavier Right Bank soils.  Characteristically lighter than its scion cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc’s reputation is built upon its fusion finesse, adding aromatics—typically, floral scents like violets, rose petals and white blossoms—and tart red fruit flavors like raspberry and pie cherries.  Although an argument could be made that cab franc’s true glory-hole is not in Bordeaux but in the Loire (or the Finger Lakes of New York, in Canadian ice wine or in the terra rossa of Croatia’s Savudrija peninsula), you’d still have to explain Château Cheval Blanc—the Premier Grand Cru Classé Saint-Émilion which is mostly cabernet franc.

Petit Verdot:  Compared to new kid on the block cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot is a thick-skinned, late-ripening, long-suffering squatter.   Scant good it’s done them: So much more reliably does cab ripen that most of the old petit verdot plots have been torn out and planted to its more reliable consorts—today, less than a thousand acres of petit verdot remain, nearly all in the Médoc, where it’s used to ‘stiffen’ Left Bank blends.  As a stand-alone varietal, petit verdot is meh³, tannic and sour; it does its best work in Margaux, where in Troisième Cru Château Palmer it may compose up to a tenth of the blend.  In California, however, it strikes the Forty Niners’ mother lode, and today is the single most expensive varietal you can buy by the ton.

The real Pierre Galet is in focus.

Malbec:  This inky, scowling, dark-skinned grape has hop-scotched around France like an Armée de Terre brat, using more pseudonyms than Prince; nearly a thousand malbec monikers have been recorded by ampelographer Pierre Galet.  Called côt noir in the southwest (where it is responsible for the famed ‘Black Wine of Cahors’), auxerroix in Burgundy and The Grape Formerly Known As Pressac in Bordeaux, other synonyms include mouranne, medoc noir, vesparo, jacobain and estrangey—though, estrangely, malbec argenté is not malbec, but a variety of the grape abouriou.  Better suited to the cooler, dryer, high-altitude climate of Argentina, malbec is now the most widely grown varietal in that country, with more than 61,000 acres currently under cultivation.  In France, where it produces a richly tannic blend of boysenberry, brown spice, leather and pomegranate flavors, plantings have dwindled to a few hundred acres.

Carménère:  And then there’s this: A crappy little reminder that I know less about wine than I pretend to.   And as suits such a buzz-killer, carménère can be gamey, tarry, vegetal and quite prepared to go all Philippe Pétain

The real Philippe Pétain is in color.

with the white-flag when faced with an invading army; in this case, sap-sucking aphids.  Annihilated in the same phylloxera epidemic that whittled down the Sherry varietals, carménère was slated for resurrection with the other noble grapes of Bordeaux, but proved by far the most difficult, and today, as it fades to oblivion in Bordeaux, it’s found new life in Chile, where it was, until DNA proved otherwise, thought to be merlot.  There, it serves its original purpose, being used primarily to blend in color and smoky overtones to Bordeaux-style cab/merlot blends.

*

WHITE WINE GRAPES

It ain’t all resveratrol down here on the Reservation, kids, and as late as the 1960s, the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux was lily-white sémillon.

"Welcome to Bloomfield Hills, White People!"

Likewise, the Detroit neighborhood where my folks bought their first house in the sixties was also white—Pillsbury Dough Boy white, if you must know.  And  it remained that way until urban blight, race riots and a bit more pelf in the status quo tiller sort of tilted the city sideways—and my parents, along with about half a million other Caucasians, slithered to the suburbs.

In Bordeaux, the change was more horticultural than cultural.   Some of it can be traced to 1963—the year that Martin Luther King led 150,000 Detroiters on the ‘March For Freedom’—when châteaux tried to come to terms with a poor vintage in the wake of the great frost of 1956 which destroyed many red wine vines.  60% of Bordeaux’s 1963 output was white, which meant that the estates only had a few years to sell the majority of their half-assed wines before they began to deteriorate.

This wake-up call, along with improved technology, saw a lot of Bordelaise vineyards replanted with more cold-resistent red varietals like cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and today, the region’s red wine production is nearly ninety percent of the total.  The subject of white Bordeaux is almost an afterthought as the typical non-industry person’s ‘free association’ image of Bordeaux is of heavy, pricey, cellar-seekers like Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Haut-Brion.

And Sauternes.

Sémillon:  Sauternes is the exception that proves the rule—succulent, sweet , rot-rich Sauternes, is generally sémillon-based; arguably the most age-worthy white wine on the planet—bottles that might have graced Thomas Jefferson’s cellar are still alive today.  Of course, the most widely heralded name in the appellation is Château d’Yquem, the only white wine deemed worthy of Premier Cru Supérieur status in the 1855 Bordeaux classification.

d'Yquem

D’Yquem’s ability not only to last, but to develop strata of complex and unique overtones as it does is due, in no small measure, to fungus—specifically botrytis cinerea, called Edelfäule in Germany and muffa nobile by the Italians.  Gray fungus infections begin with damp weather during véraison—a viticultural term meaning ‘the onset of ripening’—and if the weather doesn’t clear up by harvest, this necrotrophic nightmare can destroy the crop: Nine vintages in the 20th Century were deemed unworthy of bearing the d’Yquem name.  Usually, however, a period drying out allows botrytis cinerea to develop, causing the grapes to raisinate, concentrating the sugars and producing a wine of almost ethereal intensity and depth.  Familiar flavors that emerge after a decade or so of aging are crème brûlée, orange marmalade, caramel and honeysuckle.

Noble rot in action

Most grapes are susceptible to botrytis (strawberries, too-when they get moldy in the refrigerator, that’s what it is), but sémillon is particularly so as its thin skin allow the easy permeation of spores.  It is, however, a multi-faced grape that gets flabby in hot climates, and requires a cool weather face-slap every night or so to remain sharp and focused.  In Bordeaux, it receives this sort of treatment, as it does in Chile, which has more acres planted to sémillon than anywhere else on earth.  In South Africa, amid more white/non-white issues than either Bordeaux or Detroit, it was once the most abundant varietal, although today, it only makes up about 1% of vineyards; by contrast, 9.6% of the population is white.  Australia is another zone which has embraced sémillon, and in the Hunter Valley , where it was once referred to as ‘riesling’, it produces a racy, toasty, citrus-soaked wine that can outpace the best of the dry sémillons from Pessac-Léognan, Graves and Entre-Deux-Mers.  In California, it’s sort of stuck at the ‘getting  to know you’ stage, but Washington has had some success with late harvest and ice wine versions.

The common denominator in most of these regions, including Sauternes and Barsac, is a reliance on the acid-retention skills of sauvignon blanc to liven up the sémillon shindig.

Sauvignon Blanc:  Unlike the Loire—the ancestral seat of sauvignon blanc’s best French interpretation—as a stand-alone wine in Bordeaux, sauvignon blanc is pretty much nonexistent; Château Couhins-Lurton and  Pavillon Blanc de Chateau Margaux are rare examples.  Most of the biggest and brightest stars like Graves’ Château Smith Haut-Lafitte (selling for $80+ per bottle) blend in about five percent sémillon and another 5% of what, in Smith Haut-Lafitte’s case they call ‘a secret weapon’—a nearly forgotten varietal called sauvignon gris, helping to round out a crisp palate of gooseberries, star fruit, and lemongrass.    For the most part, sauvignon blanc prefers the compact chalk and marl soils found around the Loire River, where it results in wines of depth and elegance and frequently displays notes of hay, nettle and lime.  In Bordeaux, sauvignon blanc tends to showcase stone fruits like peach and apricot along with floral and woody aromas.

Château Pape Clément

Muscadelle: The only other grape of any real significance in white Bordeaux blends is muscadelle, named for its resemblance to, but not its relation to the more familiar varietal muscat.  Like its sister grapes, muscadelle plantings have steadily decreased over the decades, with the only about two thousand acres remaining, mostly in the Entre-Deux-Mers.  Most of the top whites from Bordeaux use less than 3% muscadelle in their blends, with one noted exception:  Château Pape Clément Blanc, listed among the Grands Crus Classé of Graves and currently selling for a shade under $200 a fifth—it’s around 10% muscadelle.  For a real feel for what this grape contributes to a bottle, you’ll need to travel a bit further south to Dordogne, where in the small AOC of Monbazillacthere exists a muscadelle-based dessert wine that is a nice, lighter foil to the unctuous wines of Sauternes and Barsac.

The other grapes legally allowed for white Bordeaux are nothing more than ‘also rans’ and appear in such negligible quantities that they scarcely rate mention.  Ugni blanc and colombard produce wines that are thin and acidic and are best used as a base for distilling Cognac; merlot blanc, a cross between merlot and folle blanche, is basic blah—better, if only slightly, in nearby Blaye, Bourg and Fronsac.  Odenc was once fairly popular throughout Bordeaux, but is now restricted to Gaillac and the AOCs of Bergerac, Côtes de Duras and Montravel.  Mausac brings up the Bordeaux rear, although in Limoux—a subprefecture of Languedoc—makes a quaffable sparkling wine.

"Go ahead. Make me gay."

Ironically, although it’s less represented in production numbers and reviewer pixels than its red-skinned brothers, most of the scientific progress over the past couple of decades has been in improving white Bordeaux—a new French paradox?  There may, as a result, be a revived interest in planting white wine grapes here, just as a reverse ‘white flight’ has seen the children and grandchildren of those who fled in the Detroit Diaspora gentrify ghettos lofts and riverfront properties.

Don't bother. Eppie marries some local wanker and they move in with Silas. The End.

Here’s to the future, right?—let’s raise a glass of Carbonnieux and toast Clint Eastwood.

*

This would conclude today’s broadcast of allowable Bordeaux varietals if it wasn’t for the slightly inconvenient truth that the neighborhood has been integrated since the Romans were playing Occupy Saint-Émilion in the Second Century.

As for me, I’m off to catch up on the next round of en primeur blogs.  That or a read few hundred billion more pages of Silas Marner—it’s nearly bedtime.

Posted in Bordeaux, Cab/Merlot, Cabernet Franc, FRANCE, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Constellation Brands: A Falling Star? One Can But Hope

I’m from the Motor City and I love cars. I worked in the automotive industry for seventeen years, I still remember how to rebuild a carburetor when my kids have no idea what a carburetor even is since none of their cars have one.

It does not immediately follow that I love oil companies though, does it?

I love wine, too.  I do not, however, necessarily love wine companies.

What’s A Constellation?

According to cosmologists, a constellation is a hyperinflated stockpile of stars which, from a distance, look interrelated but which are, upon closer inspection, not even vaguely related to one another.

According to wine writerologists, Constellation is the world’s largest, most hyperinflated caboodle of consumable crunk with over 200 brands of wine, beer and spirits being drawn inexorably into the black hole of homogeny that is, of course, at the center of every galaxy.  The most newsworthy of their acquisitions, perhaps, was the billion dollar inhalation of Robert Mondavi Corporation in 2004—a move which has Fumé fanatics fuming to this day.  Almost as noisy was Constellation’s 2007 $800 million grab of Fortune’s wine operations, which includes Clos du Bois and added 1500 acres of vineyard to their hoard, allowing sales to top $3.7 billion in 2008.

Such juggernaut expansion is often viewed as a manifestation of the American Dream and mom ‘n’ pop better get with the program and sell up while the offer’s on the table.  Having worked for billion dollar Fortune 500s, however, I’m maybe left with a bit of a bile on my tongue; give me a tiny, cash-flow-challenged boutique winery with nine fingers in the loamy clay and the tenth raised at rapacious raiders like Constellation whose primary purpose (I surmise) in a buyout offer would be to increase share value.

I say ‘surmise’ without insider knowledge of course, but based on a rather cynical certainty of how publicly-held, multiple-subsidiary conglomerates work—and the fact that Constellation is in the midst of a five-year pruning program that has nothing to do with grape vines.  Rather, they are systematically dumping low-margin wines and promoting those which put smiley-faces in the wallets of shareholders.

And you don’t have to have a B.A. to know that those tend to be mass-produced generic wines sold at cut-rate prices.

Rob Sands

Now, you can certainly make the statement that Constellation’s line of super-premium wines (including Ravenswood, Clos du Bois and Inniskillin) is top-notch, and you can commend them for dumping swill swingers like Almaden, Inglenook and Paul Masson.  But don’t let this fool you into thinking that the decision was eno-aesthetic and not bottom line—even Constellation CEO Rob Sands wouldn’t try to pull that wool over your eyes.

At the time, he said: “This transaction will allow our wine sales forces to focus on selling higher-growth, higher-margin wines.  It demonstrates our commitment to improve return on invested capital.”

Soon afterward, the company shucked 80% of its Aussie business, the purchase of which may have been a colossal blunder from blast-off as the Australian wine segment has steadily lost market share since [yellow tail] wallabied its way into American stomachs and pocketbooks.  Today,  the unhappy ending is that [yellow tail] accounts for half of all Australian wine sold in the States, and what’s suffered as a result are more upscale labels like Hardys, Banrock Station, Leasingham and Chateau Reynella—all once among Constellation’s sprinkle of stars.

Americans have, evidently, drunk the shiraz-flavored Koolaid and bought into the notion that Antipodean alcohol has to be frivolous, whimsically packaged and cheap, cheap, cheap.

Offloading the Australian unit, however, did some prestige damage to the company as it fell behind Gallo in both volume and wine sales.  Still, everybody’s heard of Gallo.  How many non-wine people do you think would name Constellation as the world’s second biggest winemaker?

Back To The Black Hole Analogy

Direct Hawking quote on black holes: "Mmmfgrrrmffff."

According to Stephen Hawking, even the largest, most aggressive black holes will ultimately perish because, slowly but steadily, they radiate photons.  And though it may take an idiotically long time—10 raised to the 61st power times the age of the universe (roughly the same time as it takes a Michele Chiarlo Barolo to become drinkable), black holes have a defined and calculable shelf life.

Historically, most publicly-held corporations have suffered the same fate.  In 2009, a multinational research firm tracked the histories of over two million companies and found only that only 1% had been around for more than a century, and only a tenth of one percent were able to survive until their two hundredth birthday.

And Constellation Brands, Founded in 1945 as Canandaigua Industries Company in Victor, New York? 

After an era of discounts and bulk sales,  there appears to be a bit of trouble in paradise.

On April 5, Constellation Brands announced that its fiscal fourth-quarter net income fell 63%, and subsequently, stocks fell $2.19, or almost 9 percent, ending up at $24.69 in premarket trading.

For the three months that ended Feb. 29, Constellation said that it earned $103 million, or 51 cents per share. That compares with a profit of $279.8 million, or $1.32 per share, in the year-ago period.

And next year doesn’t look much better.  For fiscal 2013, Constellation expects to report a lower net income of $1.89 to $1.99 as a result of stock repurchases and interest expenses—analysts had expected $2.24 per share.

It Couldn’t Have Happened to a Nicer Bunch of Visigoths

♪ ♫ 'Have you seen, my old friends Bobby, Mikey and Tim? Can you tell me where they've gone?' ♫

Not that I’m anti-capitalism, but when publicly-traded corporations like Constellation have shareholders to appease, major acquisitions often result in ousting key (and well-paid) players, downsizing with blue-collar layoffs, outsourcing (as Constellation did in Australia before the divestiture)—even liquidating the company for short term gains.  Figure that when Constellation bought Mondavi, the only people who really made out were stockholders, board sitters, and people named Mondavi—although Tim was deep-sixed and Michael resigned.

As for the hoi polloi, 360 people lost their jobs; about one-third of the Mondavi staff.

Just as I don’t want the earth to be eaten by a black hole, neither do I want a bunch of Mondavi workers on the dole or my favorite small-production vintner—the one whose web page describes their wine as hand-crafted, artisanal and/or boutique—to get swallowed up by an insatiable balance-sheet machine.

Nor frankly—in the interest of Constellation’s nearly 8000 employees—do I want to see them pulling any creditor-circumventing Chapter 11 shenanigans, then imploding in a thermonuclear collapse of fiduciary gravity.

Although if it happens, we all know that there will be those among the green-eyed wine cognoscenti celebrating (with apologies to Noel and Liam) with a Champagne supernova in the sky.

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In Defense of the Wine Snob

I used to be a snobby sommelier at a snobby restaurant, and brother, I learned to spot a non-snob a mile away.

Kassel as sommelier

It’s not that filthy-rich Bloomfield Hills cardiologist who claims that he really doesn’t drink much wine, then orders the $600 Gaja to wash down a lamb chop: He’s the mayor of Snob friggin’ City.

Nor is it the upstart wine blogger who repeatedly insists that his web site ‘takes the snobbery out of wine’ then disses 90% of the wine that Americans enjoy while ordering some boutique South African pinot noir that otherwise—without his name-dropping claim to ‘insider-knowledge—is unsellable: This cat is Snobville U.S.A.

It’s not even that grunge-caked, domicile-challenged vagrant huddling over the heat grate in the alley by the restaurant’s dumpster—even he turns his nose up at Scorpio as being ‘too medicinal’, Boone’s Farm as being ‘kid stuff’, Night Train as being ‘so-o-o ten minutes ago’ and always shows up with a half-gallon of Black Velvet: Snobomundo.

No, the closest I ever came to encountering bonafide non-snobs was that geeky couple from Westland who were on their first date and asked me to recommend a wine because they were intimidated to pronounce Château Malescot St. Exupéry—and anyway, for them I wound up recommending a couple of Diet Cokes.

And just so that we’re all singing from the same hymnal, what I mean by ‘snob’ is pretty textbook—provided that the textbook you use is a dictionary.  As defined by Merriam-Webster, the word snob describes ‘someone who displays an annoying air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste;’ and to further refine, defines superiority as ‘having a more comprehensive understanding of a given subject’.

According to this, I am The Grand Apotheosis of Wine Snobs. 

And not only that, but most of my colleagues in the wine-writing, wine-serving and wine-prattling fraternity fit the bill as snugly.

Mama's little helper.

Why should this be a bad thing?  I’ve spend decades reading books by Johnson and Zraly, visiting vineyards, interviewing enophiles and guzzling a Red Sea worth of wine—I’ve developed a reasonable palate and have written more than a million words on the subject.  If you haven’t, you’ve likely spent your time on something more lucrative and productive, and good on ya for that.  Me, I have painstakingly weaned my tastebuds from the flabby Central Valley plonk that Mom used to swig and nurtured my annoying superiority complex to the point where if somebody asks me if I’ve ever tasted some obscure wine that I’ve never heard of, they will totally believe me when I lie and say, “Of course I have; I thought it was ‘interesting’.  What did you think?”

My contention is that snobs make the journey along the wine world’s highway lovely, lively, loopy and lush, even if it’s paved with gold from the non-snob’s pocket.

So, put on your butyl gloves and hazmat protective lenses and let’s dissect; you can decide for yourself whether you are proud to be a pretentious wine snob currently, or would like to become such a know-it-all wanker and bask in the bevy of beautiful babes that a wine snob’s obnoxious air of preeminence inevitably reels in.

Or alternately, if you would prefer to squander your remaining days as a Woodbridge-wallowing weenie.

Things Wine Snobs Like:

  • The sort of establishment we wine snobs frequent

    Well-appointed dining rooms where the effete tinkle of stemware sounds like translucent icicles forming in the Crystal Palace; an ideal setting for intellectual debates about whether zinfandel is a clone of the Croatian crljenak or the Italian primitivo.

  • Multiple wine glass styles to maximize enjoyment of hoity-toity selections; prerequisite is that the glass must cost at least as much as the wine and you have to be able to pronounce Riedel without thinking about it.
  • People who ask questions about wine that we can answer without sucking off Google’s teat.
  • Free wine.  The secret underbelly of the wine critic’s debauched existence: Distributor ‘samples’ arrive daily.  I haven’t paid for wine in twenty years—the only  inconvenience is if somebody puts you on the spot by asking  the price of a wine you’ve reviewed and you are forced to respond,  “Oh, they sell the stuff?”
  • Wet saddle leather, melted road tar and cat piss.  We must like them, otherwise, how would we know what they taste like?

Things Non-Snobs Like:

  • Typical night for a non-snob

    Piggly Wiggly shelf-stacker staples like Franzia (still thinking inside the box), Barefoot (even the name is gross) and [yellow tail], Australia’s [two buck chuck]; this trashy trio make up more than 10% of domestic wine sales.

  • Cheap scotch out of a brown bag.
  • Easy to pronounce varietals like chardonnay and zin instead of tongue-twisters like viognier and gewürztraminer.
  • Dessert wine with the main course: In pairing food and wine, snobs who claim to be non-snobs always say ‘drink what you like’, then mock non-snobs who choose really sweet white wine to accompany their chateaubriand.
  • Everclear.
  • Fre Wine:  Just as Christians confront themselves with the question: ‘If it wasn’t going to guarantee my personal salvation, would I be volunteering at soup kitchens or adopting HIV-Positive orphans from Mbandaka?’, wine snobs ask themselves: ‘If it wasn’t for the buzz, would we bother?’  Non-snobs have no such qualms, and readily embrace dealcoholized plonk like Fre and low-octane honeybear drool like Bartles & Jaymes Pomegranate Raspberry Wine Cooler.
  • Miller Lite.

Life is short, and you are regularly confronted with choices like snob/non-snob during your journey through this vale of toil and sin, aren’t you?  Uncle Chris knows; he understands.

Now, go and do the right thing, children.

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged | 3 Comments

Michigan Wine, 2012: State Of The Stating-The-Obvious Address

(April is Michigan Wine Month, as certified by Governor Rhymes-With-Spider, who’s been at the business end of more recall referendums than my Ford 150).

niboR dooH, robs from the poor and gives to the rich.

Ever since Al Gore starting criss-crossing the country in his gas-gulping Jetstream 400 to lecture about global warming, global warming has had nowhere to go but up.  Whereas it spells disaster for polar bears and Christmas elves, it’s a shot in the arm for Michigan farmers, where—according to Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association—corn yields have risen from 81 bushels per acre in 1970 to 153 per acre in 2011—this despite last year’s wet, late planting season.

He predicts that the trend will continue, increasing to 250 bushels per acre by 2025.

“Technological advances in both machinery and the crops themselves also are part of the equation,” he admits, “but global warming is key.”

So, Let’s Talk About the Wines and Vines Among the Pines

What’s good for the corn is good for the cab franc, and Karel Bush of the Michigan Wine & Grape Council reports that vineyards from all across the state have reporting 2011 yields well above normal.

Jim Byrum points out that the bane of benumbed bears is a windfall for weather-weary winemakers, resulting in a longer growing season and longer hang times, which is one reason why Michigan reds have seen such a marked quality upswing in the last thirty years.

“This is a great time to be in agriculture,” he raves.

Paul Hamelin of Leland’s Verterra Winery says, “2011 is a monumental vintage; one of those exceptional years where all varietals did well;” sentiments echoed by Charlie Edson of Bel Lago: “2011 is potentially one of the top vintages since 2000.”

One toke over the line?

…Although, damn  if ol’ Lee Lutes of Black Star Farms didn’t find something to wheeze about: “Many winemakers are feeling stressed because of size of the crop, but this is part of the learning curve in winemaking.”

Gentlemen, start those Hummer engines; this is a trend that we’d to see develop some legs.   The polar bears, like Lee Lutes, will just have to deal with it.

Michigan Wineries: A Savvy Sommelier’s Snack Pack

Michigan currently boasts nearly a hundred wineries, so I could no more can handle covering them all in a single column than you could handle reading that much pedantic prose.  So, here’s an absolutely random, dart-at-the-dartboard omnibus from each of our four federally-approved AVAs:

Leelanau Peninsula and the Old Mission Peninsula

Black Star Farms

A destination joint as much as an eno emporium, Black Star encompasses a picturesque peninsula parcel twelve miles north of Traverse City; there is, beside the winery, a a distillery, an equestrian facility and a Select Registry Distinguished Inn of North America inn for those who just can’t tear themselves away.  Handcrafted wines by Lee Lutes are perennial prize winners and Lee himself is among the most engaging wine personalities in Michigan—which allows me to yank his chain, as above.

Standouts:  A Capella Ice Wine, 2008; Arcturos Pinot Noir Rosé, 2010; Plum Eau de Vie.

www.blackstarfarms.com

10844 East Revold Road
Suttons Bay, MI 49682

231-944-1270

Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery

Likely the only winery in the world born via the U.S. Navy and an ophthalmology degree, the Grossnickles (Navy vet Steven and Alanna) vacationed in Leelanau up until 1983, when they moved in.  The winery’s name, of course, refers to its global coordinates, identical to Bordeaux’s—and like Bordeaux, Forty-Five North enjoys a climate meliorated by the big body of water to the left.  37 acres are under vine, with three more planted to raspberry, the winery has consistently ranked highly in competition thanks, in the main, to the skills of winemaker David Hill.

Standouts: Rosé of Cabernet Franc, 2010; Unwooded Chardonnay, 2010.

www.fortyfivenorth.com

8580 East Horn Road
Lake Leelanau 49653

231-271-1188

Gill’s Pier Vineyard and Winery

Gill grapes, not to be confused with Gilbert Grape

Founded by Ryan and Kris Sterkenburg in 2002, Gill’s Pier (named for a once-bustling landing on the west shore of the Leelanau Peninsula) produces a passel of delightfully named, delightful-tasting boutique wines that run through a gamut of varietals—with a special emphasis on riesling.  They’re an ultra-cool and chatty couple who’d love to see you in their pole-bar, Bacchus-flanked tasting room someday soon.

Standouts: Riesling, 2010; Merlot, 2008; ‘Just Unleashed’ NV red blend.

www.gillspier.com

5620 N. Manitou Trail
Northport, MI 49670

231-256-7003

Leelanau Cellars

Solidly old school, LC has been producing Wine Coast wines for 35 years.  Under the honcho-hood of Bob and Michael Jacobson, the winery produces thirty varieties (from blueberry to baco, and every shade between) that maintain a consistent reputation for quality and affordability.

Standouts:  Dry Riesling, 2008; Reserve Chardonnay, 2008

www.leelanaucellars.com

5019 North West Bay Shore Drive
Omena, MI 49674

231-386-5201

"You put your right hand in..."

Left Foot Charley

Old Left Foot himself did not get his name from a Hokey-Pokey addiction, but from owner Bryan Ulbrich’s gimpy childhood.  He’s turned it into a wine-centered adulthood just opposite the downtown Traverse City bocce court.  His wares include oodles of wine, but also cider, including a wonderful ginger version that, served warm, takes the bite out the fiercest Michigan winter.

Standouts: Aforementioned Ginger Cider; Pinot Blanc Island View Vineyard, 2010; Riesling Seventh Hill Farm, 2010.

www.leftfootcharley.com

806 Red Drive
Traverse City, MI 49684

231-995-0500

Harbor Springs Vineyard & Winery

Five miles north of Harbor Springs, the HDV & W is removed from the hustle of the already laid back Leelanau AVA and hidden within a tunnel of trees along lake Shore Drive.  In addition to a small, but serviceable roster of wines, owners Jimmy, Marci and Sharon Spencer and Jim and Kim Palmer offer organic menu at the adjacent Garden Café.

Standouts: Pinot Gris, 2010; Cherry Finale

www.harborspringswinery.com

5581 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Harbor Springs, MI 49740

231-526-3276

Shady Lane Cellars

Adam Satchwell is a fool for riesling—his trio of interpretations, dry, semi-sweet and sparkling—regularly win awards in international competitions.  But don’t sell his reds short; his lush, plush Blue Franc crush, vinted from blaufränkisch, is among the most user-friendly examples of this unusual varietal that I’ve tried.

Standouts:  Blue Franc, 2010; Dry Riesling, 2010, Late Harvest Riesling, 2011.

9580 Shady Lane
Suttons Bay, MI 49682

231-947-8865
info@shadylanecellars.com

Doug and ShawnVerterra Winery

As grown in the rolling, temperate hills of Leelanau, Verterra grapes have proven to be world-class as vinified by Doug Matthies and Shawn Walters, the wines are superb.  Only made since 2010, the phenomenal 2011 growing season has allowed the team to expand from nine wines to 16.  Expectations are high that the bulk of them will be prize material.

Standouts: Reserve Red, 2010; Unwooded Chardonnay, 2010.

www.verterrawinery.com

103 E. River Street
Leland, MI 49654

231-256-2115

Lake Michigan Shore and Fennville

Country Mill Winery

Primarily an cider mill and farmer’s market, the wine line-up is based on apple juice rather than grape.  It’s low alcohol, semi-sweet and luscious stuff, and a trip to the source offers a full day’s worth of family-centered activity including a petting zoo and a replica farmhouse doll house which is really staggering in its detail

Standouts: Mighty Mac Apple Wine; Blueberry Mac.

www.countrymill.com

4648 Otto Road
Charlotte, MI 48813

517-543-1029

Domaine Berrien Cellars

Boondocks, maybe, but worth the voyage: DBC has, since 2001, been squeezing out Rhône varietals in a cherry orchard.  From the discerning palates of Wally and Katie Maurer—a Chicago couple who moved here to make wine with Katie’s father until his death in 2007—comes a light but lovely syrah and what is, without doubt, the best viognier in Michigan.

Standouts:  2008 Syrah, 2008; Marsanne, 2009; Viognier, 2009

www.domaineberrien.com

398 East Lemon Creek Road
Berrien Springs, MI 49103

269-473-WINE (9463)

Fenn Valley Vineyards

Established in 1973 atop a large sand ridge extending inland from Lake Michigan between the Black River and the Kalamazoo River valleys, this vineyard was among the first to exploit the lake effect that has proven key to Michigan wines.  Among the most progressive wineries in Michigan, winemaker Doug Welsch continues to work with the research team at Michigan State University, experimenting with exotic blends like edelzwicker, which my homeboy Sean O’Keefe tells me is a gewurtz/riesling blend.

Standouts: Riesling, 2010; Traminette, 2010; Meritage, 2009.

www.fennvalley.com

6130 122nd Avenue
Fennville, MI 49408

269-561-2396

Free Run Cellars

Along with his brother Christian, Round Barn winemaker Matthew Moersch  considers Free Run a birthright—his family has been growing grapes in Southwest Michigan for a quarter century.  Birthright with an emphasis on ‘right’, which is what they’re getting, having dominated the 5th Annual Southwest Michigan Wine Evaluation held in February.

Standouts: Gewurztraminer, 2010; Riesling, 2010

www.freeruncellars.com

10062 Burgoyne Road
Berrien Springs, MI 49103

269-471-1737

Living without Gravity may look fun, but it isn't.

Gravity

“Everyone is effected by gravity,” quips winemaker Rockie J. Rick.  “We began planting our first vines (cabernet franc) back in the late ‘90s. Since then our vineyards have expanded to encompass 30 acres, with more being planted every year. In 2011, after more than a decade of growing and selling grapes, we decided to open our own winery.”  Still small potatoes with a mere 30 acres planted to vines, most of the grapes are sold to local wineries.  But the start-up is gaining notice for a pair of pinots, gris and noir.

Standouts: Chambourcin; Pinot Gris

www.gravitywine.com

10220 Lauer Road
Baroda, MI 49101

269-471-9463

Lemon Creek Winery

The Old Man of the Sea of Michigan wine, LCW has been growing wine grapes for 150 years. 300 acres in the loam/clay countryside of Berrien County, Lemon Creek winemaker Robert Lemon produces a variety of elegant wines, white, red and pink.  Distinguished for a really amazing cabernet-based ice wine from the first commercial planting of that varietal in the state.

Standouts: Cab Franc, 2008; ‘Moon Shadow’ Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine, 2007.

www.lemoncreekwinery.com

533 East Lemon Creek Road
Berrien Springs, MI 49103

269-471-1321

White Pine Winery and Vineyards

Take this place seriously: Winemaker Dave Miller has a PhD focused on grapevine photosynthesis and how crop level influenced fruit and wine quality.  Lest that seem dull, wash it down with one of his delicate and lovely vinifera wines and some truly remarkable hybrids.

Standouts: Reserve Riesling, 2009; Dune Shadow Red, NV

www.whitepinewinery.com

317 State Street
St. Joseph, MI 49085

269-281-0098

Right label, wrong vintage

Wyncroft

Michigan’s eno elitist paradise, winemaker Jim Lester has for years turned out superb artisan, super-premium wines which are, for the most part, priced accordingly.  But you definitely get what you pay for: Lester operates in the style of Bordeaux’s garagistes (garage winemakers), foregoing a tasting room and on-premise sales in favor of mailing list orders and those wines you can find at a select group of restaurants.

Standouts: Shou, 2009; Bouchet, 2008; ‘December Harvest’ Riesling, 2008

www.wyncroftwine.com

716-B East Front Street
Buchanan, MI 49107

Posted in Fruit Wines, Lake Michigan Shore, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan, MIDWEST, Old Mission Peninsula | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Tudor Wine For Easter Brunch? I Think Probably Not.

Lately, there’s been a lot of press about potential employers demanding Facebook passwords from job applicants.  That, of course, is foul, freedom-foiling flimflam suggesting that somebody’s off-hours, filled with personal opinions, photos and occasionally salty lingo, is within the same realm of scrutiny as their salaried, nine-to-five occupation.  Hence, it’s a trending trousseau of troubles that we must take arms against.

Dan Tudor may be the poster-child for the reasons why.

According to his bio, Dan Tudor, a winemaker from Santa Barbara, considers his own accomplishments to be ‘impressive’ and so they are.  His pinot noirs have scored consistently in the 90 + point range, and in between impressing himself, he’s worked diligently and successfully to maximize the potential of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.  His wines are really that good.

And there’s the rub.  Suppose you were scrolling through the Facebook posts of a winemaker/wine hawker ‘friend’ (someone who had either requested or allowed you to status-surf; I can’t remember which) and tripped over statements made by said individual—not one, but many—that you found to be inconceivably offensive.  Would you recommend his wine?  Pick one up at the neighborhood Bottle ‘N’ Basket?

Let me rephrase: Would you, as an equal-opportunity crusader, buy a product from man who was unabashedly anti-woman?  Or, say you’re a Caucasian fan of MLK Jr. and Civil Rights: Would you shop at a store that proudly discriminated against black people?  What about one whose owner suddenly started posting blatant, anti-gay social media messages?  Would you continue to rave about his/her wares, no matter how good they were?

Perhaps this is viewed as a loaded and complicated question bound with strings of context.  Fair enough.  Not by  me, though.

I would not.

Now, I’m sure that Dan Tudor is none of the above nasties—at least, he’s never posted anything to suggest it.  But when he loosed a series of Easter Week comments referring to folks who identify with a specific religious denomination (83% of Americans, according to Wiki) as ‘dangerous’, ‘scary’, and ‘willfully ignorant’ simply because he disagrees with their world-view, he crossed the line (for me) from being a private dude airing dirty mental laundry to being the public face of a hitherto (again, for me) well-respected business concern.

In fairness, at least Tudor is non-denominational in his approach to mocking folks who go to Mass, hold Seders or bow to Mecca: He’s equal-opportunity, unabashedly labeling anyone who believes in God ‘pathetic’ and the quest for holiness as ‘crap’.

Over and over and over again.

Now, lest you misinterpret, I’ll establish here, beyond question, that I’ve had no official affiliation with any church, mosque, temple, synagogue or Satanic cult since I was a teenager.  In fact, I’m an immutable atheist—neither proud nor ashamed of the fact, just honest with myself and the way I’ve come to understand the universe.  That said, I maintain great respect for anyone—strangers, casual acquaintances, old people and young people and especially, family members (including my uncle—a parish priest in Switzerland) who have cultivated their faith like a Kinabalu orchid, and who, as adults, are still able to bask in the glow of the profound mysteries that have sustained them since childhood.

Combined, my father (who taught at St. Cyril and Methodius Seminary for thirty years) and my uncle have published more than twenty scholarly and well-received books, many with religious themes.  The idea that some grape-grinder in California is nonchalant about referring to them as pathetic and willfully ignorant is really sort of unacceptable.

In fact, for my part, I’m jealous of them—I’d love to have their foundation of spiritual conviction and a stronger grasp of eternal hope.

I just don’t.

But in the long run, it’s no matter. What I drew (and continue to draw) from parochial school and the steady input of Catholic rhetoric snaking through my upbringing has nothing to do with Holy Trinities, bodies of Christ, omnipotent overseers, be-absolved-or-burn-forever dogma or a need to slaughter Muslims and reclaim the Holy Land—none of which I swallow.  But this:  Respect your parents, don’t kill, steal, bullshit your way through the important stuff or screw around on your wife—remains golden.

Be good people, people.  How pathetic, scary and willfully ignorant is that?

"I am every Italian who ever lived. Aren't I?"

As grownups, we can discuss slavery, Wounded Knee, Mai Lai, Guantanamo Bay and Mississippi fire hoses in 1963 without winding up bitter, petulant, insulting and anti-American, can’t we?  When you look at Sicily’s soaring Mt. Etna, do you see it through Mafia-colored sunglasses?  Likewise, the evil Crusades, the shameful clerical sex scandals, the political machinations seeking to control birth-control, even 9/11 Islamist loony-tunes fanaticism all seem to come down to a basic question:

Are you or are you not able to abhor the innocent blood that religions have shed over the centuries and still cling dearly to your faith?  After reading about suicide bombers in Kandahar and innocent black boys being shot to death in Florida, are you still able to love your neighbor as yourself?

That’s down to you, but my assumption is that most people can do it, because most people do.

Tudor vociferously maintains that no systematic moral direction is required for human beings; that morality is hard-wired into our DNA.  That makes Idi Amin, Bernie Madoff, Pol Pot, Josef Mengele and John Wayne Gacy—I know, Gacy came from Christian parents, but regardless, where were his cerebral circuits, Danny Boy?—a bit hard to decipher.

More likely, the school of thought that keeps the vast majority of humans on paths of straight and narrow is a core certainty that there are bigger purposes, bigger themes, bigger enigmas and greater rewards than are dreamed of in Dan Tudor’s lonely philosophy.

Even as an atheist I find I can genuflect at Hagia Sophia’s altar, marvel at the sacred K’abba, bow my head before the Wailing Wall and hold the hands of monks inside the Towers of Hanoi.

Likewise, can I respect Dan Tudor’s right to have anti-religion-follower opinions and admire his skill in producing extraordinary wines.

I just don’t have to buy either one.

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged , , | 5 Comments