Saturday, July 05, 2008

No-one said we are "poor, wimpy, stupid jerks"

In the July 2008 edition of Wines magazine (which I got from the Issaquah Winestyles store) , executive editor Cathryn Castle Whitman wrote the closing article, titled "We Are Not Poor, Wimpy, Stupid Jerks". The article is in response to one by Joel Stein in Time magazine, which you can read in full here.

Joel's article starts:

Touring wineries can make you feel like a jerk. Not just from saying that yes, you do totally taste the gooseberry in that merlot but also because the chemistry of oenology makes you feel stupid, the picking and crushing of grapes makes you feel wimpy, and the giant estates make you feel poor.

Cathryn quotes this and then responds:

Wow. In the span of two short sentences, Stein makes us wine enthusiasts out to be poor, stupid, wimpy jerks. I say not so fast, beer man.

I think Cathryn misses the point of Joel's article - he is not saying that all wine drinkers are stupid, wimpy, or poor - just that there are still a lot of wineries that are intimidating for "wine neophytes". Wines magazine has a similar philosophy to Gary Vayerchuck: wine should not be initimidating, taste lots of wine and find what you enjoy, and don't let "wine snobs" put you off. All of that is amiable - but you still need to recognize that some wineries are targeting the more "expert" wine drinker, and will tend to make us lesser mortals feel intimidated.

Cathryn writes:

The key is to enjoy ourselves and have fun while we're sniffing and
swirling and sipping. If we don't totally taste the gooseberry, we won't let it totally spoil our fun - or make us feel like a jerk.

Carolyn then mones on to tackle the "wimpy" part of Stein's 2-sentence opener:

As for Stein saying that "the picking and crushing of grapes make you feel wimpy," I know a few burly wine-makers who'd probably like to crush his laptop, like, well, a graoe. If you ever tour a vineyard during harvet, you'll soon find out it isn't a job for wimps.

Now, for me this is where Carolyn really loses the point. I don't read Joel's statement as in any way a maligning of wine-makers toughness. In fact, Carolyn re-inforces Joel's argument. Wine-making is tough, physical work - especially harvesting and crushing the grapes. Some of it is mechanised, but it is still a tedious manual job in most respects. Pruning the vines, picking the grapes - all manual. Most wineries feature huge fermentation tanks, with lots of hard work imvolved in moving the wine, cleanign tanks, filling barrels, ... And then there's the dirty job of making barrels. All along the line, this is a physically-demanding job.

All that just means that if you're an average person, all this phsyical work would seem quite daunting and might make you feel "wimpy".

And then the final statement that Carolyn takes issue with: "giant estates make you feel poor". I'm totally with Joel here. Has anyone been to a large winery or wine estate and not thought "Wow, this place is amazing! They must have spent a fortune building it!". Take the Mondavi Winery in Napa, or Opus One as a more extreme example. Or consider some of the older estates in Europe or South Africa that are located in old family estates/chateaux. At some point a family lived here and they had a lot more money that you do now...

Then there's the "makes you feel poor" apect of most wine tasting roooms I've been to i nthe USA. For example, in Napa you will be paying to taste, and for the higher-end wineries, you will be paying a lot. ($30 for a taste of Opus One). If that doesn't make you feel poor, then you probably earn a few times more per year than I do... :) I don't object to paying, to be clear, but sometimes I've felt like a poor country cousin being given a disapproving once-over, usually followed by the tasting-room staff steering me away from the expensive Reserve tasting list, as if to say "This isn't for you, boy. Have some nice, fruity wine instead..."

And in a snarky closing statement, Carolyn writes:

Maybe someday Joel and I will meet up at a writers' conference [me: they have those?] or something, maybe at the bar in the hotel lobby. And maybe I'll buy him a drink. I'll order a lager for myself, and for him, a nice merlot. One with a hint of gooseberry...

Snarky me thinks: Isn't gooseberry a flavour you usually associate with white wines (like Sauvignon Blanc)? :P

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