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NY Wine Fans Have a Point or Two

June 20, 2010

Well, that was unexpected.  Last week’s wine post really got people all riled up.  And I think that in the flurry of emotions my main point was lost.  Yes, I was expecting some kind of reaction.  But I wasn’t expecting to get a regional wine blog all up in arms.

There is a blogging guru of New York wines and his name is Lenn Thompson.  I haven’t written about his site, but I have been there on occasion. He is a tremendous resource.  What is funny is that I think he and I aren’t too far apart on our opinions on wine.

So when I saw this tweet about my post from last week:
Trying to decide if I should chime in on this thread and educate this dude.

I chimed in with an enthusiastic, “Do it!”

But then it started to get personal with this:
Not sure I want to give the ignorant folks any more attention than they already get. Clearly ANYONE can have a blog.

And this:
I think I’ll ignore him. Stupid people aren’t worth it.

Sigh.  While certainly I am not as much of an expert on NY wine as Mr. Thompson, I am not totally ignorant about the subject of wine.  So, I wanted to see where I might have come off as such in last week’s post.  I got a much clearer sense of the disconnect from one of the other editors at Lenndevours, Julia Burke (aka NYWineWench).

In a tweet, she wrote:
1) Chard is a warm-climate grape?? 2) Californians don’t manipulate wine?? 3) NY wines aren’t acidic?? 4) We need this guy??!!

Followed by the less helpful:
My grandpa always says, “You can’t argue with an idiot” – then again he’s a Rush Limbaugh Republican :)

So today, I’m just going to try to set the record straight.

My main point, which seems to have gotten lost, is echoed in a recent op-ed piece on Lenn’s own blog.  The comment refers specifically to chardonnay, but I think it has broader implications beyond just that varietal.  Here is the quotation:

What I have learned about New York State chardonnays is that we consistently fail when we try to be something we are not, and frequently succeed where the terroir (and acidity and fruit) is allowed to shine through.

Granted, my post was more about the failures than the successes.  But I believe that for NY wine to move forward it has to overcome some negative perceptions that exist for good reason.  And for NY wines to be considered in the same league as other major wine regions, which I truly want them to be, winemakers need to focus on what works best in their vineyard and make a wine that is true to the grapes they grow.

I have had a stunningly good Riesling from Hermann J. Weimer and a very tasty chardonnay from Wolffer Estates.  I am keenly aware that there is good wine to be had in New York, from the Finger Lakes, Long Island and beyond.  But I am not alone in my assessment that despite making some great wines, New York still isn’t taken seriously on the world wine stage.

So, thanks to Julia Burke’s specific criticisms I went back and reread last week’s post.  And I see her point. Some of the specific things I said could use a little clarification or further explanation, and others were unintentionally misleading. 

1) Chardonnay is a very adaptable grape.  What I actually said was that “I am so amazed to see so many New York wineries growing grapes that produce good fruit when grown in Mediterranean climate zones. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay may be the world’s best-selling wines, but growing them in New York makes little sense to me.”

Okay, so Mediterranean may be an exaggeration.  Technically, Burgundy is north of the Mediterranean climate zone.  And when I said “growing them in New York,” I really had in mind the Finger Lakes and Hudson Valley, and not Long Island.  That said, growing the grapes of central France in the climate of central New York still seems unlikely to put New York wines on the map.  My point here is echoed by Jim Silver’s op-ed piece quoted above: that it doesn’t make sense for New York to try to be something that it is not.

2) Of course Californians manipulate wine.  Big time.  Looking back at what I wrote, it is easy to see it as a sweeping and inaccurate representation of Californian wine production.

Really, I was talking about two things.  One is an emerging trend among certain winemakers to let the grapes express themselves with little intervention.  The other was my support of the overall philosophy of California cuisine, which is about using great ingredients and treating them simply to make something remarkably tasty.  For me this extends far beyond wine to almost anything I put in my mouth.

3) In terms of New York wines needing more acidity, I don’t need to go any further than the latest Tasting Table post on Lenn’s blog. Two of the five wines were mentioned as having some shortcoming in the acidity department.

But my main point here wasn’t that NY wines lack acidity on the whole.  Rather, it was that in the state of New York winemakers make some very sweet wines.  And many of these wines are lacking enough balancing acidity to be taken seriously by wine lovers locally, nationally or globally.

4) “We need this guy??!!”  I fully expect my fair share of ridicule.  I am highly opinionated and often critical of things that many people love.  But I’m not unreasonable.  I would even go so far as to say that I am exactly the kind of idiot you can argue with.

Last week I was a little loose in my use of language, and some of the criticism was fair.  I am glad for the opportunity to set the record straight.

But I am still curious about what Lenn had in mind for my education.

Maybe Lenn and his readers do not need me.  And that is okay.  But based on the comments from last week’s post, there are plenty of other wine drinkers out there who share my perceptions of New York wine.  Given my background in advertising and marketing, I strongly believe that consumer perceptions matter.  And if I were serious about changing people’s minds about New York wine, this wouldn’t be something I would ignore.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2010 2:34 pm

    “The other was my support of the overall philosophy of California cuisine, which is about using great ingredients and treating them simply to make something remarkably tasty. “

    Huh? I’ve never heard nor is it my experience that “the overall philosophy of California cuisine” is anything like that. Then again, I’ve never heard nor is it my experience that Jessica Alba’s underpants are full of magical unicorns, so I admit I have a few things to learn. If anyone could educate me about this “overall philosophy of California cuisine” and/or Jessica Alba’s underpants, I’d be grateful.

  2. mr.dave permalink
    June 21, 2010 11:36 pm

    Most of the wine I drink is plonk anyways, and if I am going to buy plonk, it better well be New York plonk. Anyways, my dad was always fond of saying that anything less than a 100$ bottle was like drinking Pepsi.

    I don’t care what anyone says, or how much knowledge/evidence is presented to the contrary, I will always believe that fine wine consumption is an elaborate social display/construct. Paying premium for a bottle, drinking and commenting on ot with your stupid friends, is every bit as simian as tearing threw the underbrush, beating your chest, and flinging pooh. It is just another of our myriad ways to establish status and self worth. Not that there is anything wrong with that (flinging pooh or drinking wine).

  3. Elyse permalink
    June 22, 2010 7:01 am

    These posts have been fascinating, Daniel- several people have brought up the cost of wine when that hasn’t even been mentioned anywhere!!
    Listen- wine snobbery is not about the cost of wine- it’s about being able to differentiate between interesting, stellar wine and deeply flawed, one note stuff. I have had both inexpensive (under $15) and expensive wine that swing to both extremes. You can drink excellent wine on a budget! But I hate to say it- it’s not going to happen very often if you limit yourself to NYS state wine.

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