FAKES! On Wine and Baseball

The danger we all confront of becoming too jaded a person is surely the result of an accumulation of disappointments; not just a single shock to our idea that authenticity is worth seeking out. Still, today’s news that Barry Bonds appears to have used steroids heavily, and lied about it, is the kind of affront to my faith in authenticity that nearly puts me in the camp of the jaded.

The disappointment that comes with hearing this news helps explain and makes me better understand that group of wine drinkers who dismiss any wine that is or may be "concocted", rather than being an authentic artifact produced through man’s contact with nature.

This kind of wine lover, often called either obsessed or snobby, appears to only have time for wines that are unadulterated, unfiltered, single vineyard-sourced, unique in taste and meaning. I think the only way to become this kind of wine lover is to have been offended and disappointed too many times by wines that are over-produced, too likely to be created rather than made, bulked up either through over ripeness or possibly "Mega Purple" additives, or…just plane fakes. In other words, they somewhere along the line lost faith in the idea that wines should be natural. Now, they dismiss this ideal, and only give time and kudos to wines that really, truly are attempts at creating a drink that is a unique representation of a particular time, place and winemaker’s vision.

It’s not that I hadn’t heard the tales of Bonds’ steroid use. I had. But I dismissed it because I was taken by they majesty that was Bonds’ contribution to Baseball. This guy performed like no other baseball player I had ever seen in the three and a half decades I’ve been a baseball fan. No one hit a ball with such power and precision has he did. He ran the bases like his grandfather Willie Mays. Until a couple years ago, Bonds was a great Left fielder, combing speed with an amazing arm. He is the Single Season Home Run King. He is number 3 on the All Time Home Run List. He gets on base more often than he doesn’t, a feat that can be claimed by probably fewer people than are in the "3000 Hit Club".

To a fan like me, it feels like a privilege to get to watch him play, and for "my" team.

It was all fake. made up. Concocted. Created by a blend of talent and drugs. Utterly unauthentic.

I’m inclined to think of baseball differently now. How do I know the people on the field today are anything like the greats that came before them? Now, I can’t merely hope to experience the simple excellence of a great athlete. Now I have to wonder what I’m looking at. It’s a different experience I have now with a part of the American culture I’ve come to know very very well. I’ve finally been fooled enough. Now, the search is for authenticity, rather than assuming it. That’s a different relationship with the game altogether.

Then there is wine. Another object of culture into which many people have also invested a great deal of time and intellect. If a good number of these wine lovers have not already had a "Barry Bonds" experience, the chances are they’ve had a good number of "bad" experiences with unauthentic wines. It’s turn them into snobs; "Authenticity Snobs".

I understand these people perfectly and sympathize with them. Of course, the beauty of today’s wine world is that despite the growing number of wines that are simple and the same, there are many more vintners today who have the inclination and means to create wines of stunning authenticity and give great pleasure. You just have to look for them. That takes an effort and commitment but when your appreciation of the pleasure they give is heightened it’s worth the effort.

Baseball and wine are not the same thing, I realize, but they are similar. Both are invested with more meaning than they seem to offer on the surface. There is an historical depth to both that is counted in years or vintages. They both occupy enormous spaces in many people’s personal lives. Like wine drinkers, baseball lovers look beyond the surface to give meaning to our avocation. We stare at statistics, read histories or we visit the source, the ballpark, and appreciate just being there as much as the game that is played. Wine lovers seek out the vineyards behind the wine, they visit the wineries, and they record their impressions of each vintage for later recall and comparison.

It’s not too hard to imagine having your faith in the meaning of being a wine lover or baseball fan shattered when you discover its icons or benchmarks just aren’t real.

I’m disgusted today. But, I do have a new-found appreciation for the jaded wine lover that has chosen to dismiss most wines and made the decision to focus on those that are real.

4 Responses

  1. Terry Hughes - March 7, 2006

    Funny, until I read your remark about Mega Purple, I was inclined to forgive Bonds (and the late, great and poor Kirby Puckett) because “Everyone does it these days.” Well, maybe ALL of them don’t.
    Nice thoughtful post. Thanks.

  2. Michael Abbott - March 7, 2006

    Thanks for your terrific post on authenticity in wine and baseball — it was prose worthy of Bart Giamatti. As a winemaker I’m consumed with making authentic wine just as you describe. As a wine consumer I’m most excited about such authentic wines but I enjoy many of the more “standardized” offerings of the big guys. As a baseball fan I’ve been a Giants devotee since I saw Willie McCovey’s debut in the bigs at Seals Stadium in San Francisco. Now baseball has been corrupted by drugs, money and lack of loyalty on the part of players and owners. But they do serve wine at ball parks now, even in Triple A Sacramento.

  3. caveman - March 9, 2006

    And who we have to thank for unearthing the deception and informing the public as to why it is important… the media. Unfortunately there are too few mainstream wine writers who ‘have come up to bat’ for authenticity, explaining what is the difference. This would help the shopkeeper sell these bottles and get more new drinkers off of the yellow tail sugar pop.If there was ever a reason to continue blogging. Nice post Tom.

  4. Iris - March 12, 2006

    Nice to read this article – even if I do know nothing about baseball, I do love wine.
    I was very sorry, when I read some month ago blog comments pesting against “authenticity” in wines as “idealistic romance-novel views of what the world should be” and traditionalists anti industrialisation philosophie (Hugh Johnson).
    Our “leaders” too see a resolution for the tremendous crisis for French wines on the export market in a lack of “market orientated” products – which normally means standarized easy to drink wines – so they will spend huge effords (and budgets) in communicating brands “South of France”, fat bastards, wild pigs, lulu.b’s, french rabbits, Cape Wests, bandidos and other charmarrés.
    If you think that its usefull that wine lovers meet those “benchmarks” to become sensible for more authentic wines with real wineloving winemakers behind them later – I hope with you that more and more winewriters (and bloggers) will show us the difference.

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