I Can’t Help Myself

To quote a friend:

"It’s a bit like watching a Civil War Re-enactment. You know who’s going to win."

I can’t help myself. The whole fiasco with the celebration tasting (it’s not longer a competition) of the 1976 Paris Tasting is so weird, juicy and fun I just have to offer an update.

A quick recap: In 1976 Steve Spurrier held a tasting between CA and French wines. The judges tasted the wines blind. CA wines came out on top. It was huge boost to the CA wine industry.

Now, thirty years later, there are plans for something of a re-do of the tasting to commemorate the event on May 24. A group of tasters will do their slurping in CA while another group will do theirs in London.

So here is the latest. Many Bordeaux don’t want near the tasting. Apparently, they don’t want to be showed up again. However, those that will participate have demanded that the Bordeaux wines be tasted against Bordeaux wines, then in a separate flight, California wines will be tasted against California wines. This is apparently all at the request of the Bordeaux producers.

According to today’s Wall Street Journal Story:

"Led by Paul Pontallier, manager of Château Margaux’s Bordeaux estate,
three of France’s top producers argued that they didn’t want their
wines tasted side-by-side with the California wines, but instead
Bordeaux against Bordeaux and California against California. The wines
are too different to be compared, they argued. "When you listen to a
Mozart symphony, you listen to all three movements — you don’t insert
a Beethoven in the middle," Mr. Pontallier explains. Mr. Spurrier says
he agreed to the French demand."

A bit cowardly, don’t you think?

Meanwhile, it turns out that a number of California wineries invited to participate in the "Celebration" have decided they don’t want to be a part of it, including Harlan and Kistler. Again, from the Wall Street Journal:

"Harlan Estate and Kistler Vineyards deny they feared losing. ‘We get
invitations all the time and we hardly ever put our wines in tastings,’
says H. William Harlan II, Harlan’s owner. ‘We really don’t have the
wine to spare,’ explains Mark Bixler, co-founder of Kistler, which
produces about 30,000 cases a year and sells only to people on its
mailing list."

There is a reason you never see Harlan or Kistler in wine competitions. They have nothing to win and everything to lose. This is really the same reason both Harlan and Kistler, as well as other CA wineries that declined chose to not be in the tasting. The organizer of the American side of the tasting, Peter Marks of Copia understands this. However, if he is having a hard time finding California producers to participate, I recommend he call me. I’m looking at a list of client’s of Wark Communications that would be happy to see their wines judged against anyone’s.

The real interesting tidbit is the dancing that Steve Spurrier, the grand organizer of the 30th anniversary event, is having to do. In the Wall Street Journal article we get this little tidbit from Mr. Spurrier:

"It’s ironic that some of the wineries in California
that benefited so much from the 1976 tasting are not participating. Someone has to be last and they don’t want to be there."

Clearly Mr. Spurrier is protecting his flank against the pressure that Bordeaux producers are putting on him to make this an unfair fight. Spurrier was practically run out of France after is 1976 tasting put French producers in such a bad light. However, his expertise, knowledge and dedication to the trade made him an unstoppable force in the Old World. Still, we find him criticizing the Americans, rather than the Bordeaux producers who don’t want any tasting to be blind. I find this all very amusing.

I can respect a producer that says, I don’t want to be in the tasting and I don’t need to be in such a tasting. But saying I’ll be in  the tasting as long as the tasting isn’t fair...well, that…that’s just, pardon my language, French.

4 Responses

  1. Jack - May 2, 2006

    I don’t understand this…do the wines have to be donated for them to be in the tasting? Isn’t this ridiculous? Further, you would have thought this would have all been worked out Way In Advance. Not now, when the tasting is imminent.

  2. Tim - May 2, 2006

    Isn’t this a bit of a worthless exercise in nostalgia? I don’t think anyone would argue that some California and other New World wines will stand up to the best of the Old World today, so what’s the point of this tasting? Back in ’76 not many Americans, let alone Europeans, thought much of domestic wines when compared to the best of France so the original tasting was news. This thing is just a publicity stunt IMHO. Now if they were also tasting the original wines from the ’76 tasting, that might be an interesting rematch…

  3. lagramiere - May 3, 2006

    Since when do they “invite” wineries to participate in these kinds of tastings? In ’76 no one even knew the tasting was taking place, they just bought the bottles and conducted the tasting. Seems like that would have been the right approach to take this time too, instead of this media circus they’ve created….

  4. Craig Camp - May 4, 2006

    I don’t blame the French. These Bordeaux vs. California Cabernet comparisons have been misused by marketing organizations for years. Remember Bill Hill’s 80’s traveling show comparing his wines against first growths? The fact of the matter is that most California wines are crafted to taste better when young than most Bordeaux. Oddly enough, when this first head-to-head was held in the 70’s, the wines of California were more European in style than they are today, making such a contest today more meaningless than ever. Should Pontellier really mold Chateau Margaux in the style of Opus just so it can win head-to-head blind tastings when the wines are 3 years old? A much better contest (and one I am sure the French would be more open to) would be to blind taste some 25 year old California Cabernet vs. Bordeaux of the same age.
    By the way, not so long ago I had a 1974 Clos du Val which just might fool a few people today: a wonderful wine. I wonder if the 2004 Clos du Val will age so gracefully?
    Just because someone hesitates to enter these events, which are more like crap-shoots than anything else, does not mean they lack courage. Perhaps those who avoid these types of events are the most courageous winemakers of all as they put down their foot and make wine the way they think it should be made instead of making it to win some pointless contest.

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