This Winemaker Needs His Meds

I think it was Christopher Hitchens who said, and I paraphrase, "Assertions offered with no evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

I was thinking about this, and other things, as I read this amazing comment from Michel Rolland, the French wine consultant who was recently profiled by Eric Asimov in the NY Times:

Eric: I mention Clos du Val and Corison, two Napa Valley producers whose
wines adhere to a less upfront, more austere style

Rolland: “Are they as successful in the marketplace? No,”

We could dismiss this comment out of hand because it comes with no support. However, I can’t bring myself to do that.

Basically, Rolland was defending the notion that wine is best when it does not exhibit any characteristics that would place it as originating from some specific wine growing region on the globe, but rather is identifiable as a very specific style of wine that seems to be favored by certain wine critics and winemaking consultants.

As disturbing as this idea is, here’s something that’s even more disturbing. In suggesting that Corison and Clos du Val are not successful in the marketplace, Rolland is defining the marketplace as the pages of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and The Wine Spectator Magazine.

No one doubts that M. Rolland is a talented winemaker. However, it’s now equally clear that M. Rolland understands nothing about "the marketplace". It’s as though Rolland is one of those mentally ill sort who we treat kindly and with meds after observing that they believe every action in the world revolves around them…leading them to blurt out insane words. You have to wonder what kind of voices he is hearing.

Asimov remains so restrained upon hearing Rolland write off two very successful Napa wineries that there is nothing left to do but admire Asimov’s instincts. By not commenting on Rolland’s vulgar insult and (momentary?) disconnect with reality, Asimov seems to understand that this kind of statement is akin to Jack Nicholson’s character in "A Few Good Men" when he belts out "Of course I ordered the Code Red!" Nothing needs to be said. We are stunned into silence by the self-indictment brought on by hubris and a complete disconnect from reality.

I don’t think I like Michel Rolland very much. I don’t think he’d make a good dinner companion. Nor do I think he’s a very nice man. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treat him with compassion and get him some meds.


14 Responses

  1. Tim - October 12, 2006

    Too bad Rolland won’t see your criticism, Tom… he’s too busy watering back and micro-oxidizing wines now 😉

  2. tom - October 12, 2006


  3. Jared S. - October 12, 2006

    Tom – while I completely agree with your take of Rolland and his negative impact globally (as well as his impressive skills) I have to disagree about the issue of the marketplace. Rolland does not completely attempt to remove “the place” from each wine, what he does is focus on the end product meeting various requirements which, in almost all cases, DOES remove the sense of place.
    That said, I think he’s genius and dead on about the marketplace. I think this is terribly unfortunate, but because the global marketplace has a much larger pocket for the likes of Yellow Tail than Green Truck Cellars ( he’s simply taking it upon himself to deliver to that audience.
    To be perfectly clear, I hope and pray that in the end the global marketplace matures beyond wines without a sense of place. But I actually think that it won’t. The saving grace is that the market is big enough for both so Clos du Val and Corison will always be “just as successful” from a marketplace standpoint and very much more so successful based on quality and uniqueness of product.

  4. Jared S. - October 12, 2006

    Oh, BTW, I’m friendly with Asimov and love his ability to report on and remain neutral towards the likes of Parker and Rolland. I have never had the chance to ask his opinion in private (nor would I share it if I did) but I am sure his own opinion is much less neutral than his writing. Kudos to him on his restraint indeed!

  5. Ryan Scott - October 12, 2006

    If you want more of Rolland and Parker, go out and rent Mondovino, it’ll make your blood boil…

  6. Saint_Vini - October 12, 2006

    “Basically, Rolland was defending the notion that wine is best when it does not exhibit any characteristics that would place it as originating from some specific wine growing region on the globe, but rather is identifiable as a very specific style of wine that seems to be favored by certain wine critics and winemaking consultants.”
    Where does he say that? Its not what I get out of the interview. I think you can take the generally-accepted improvement in Spanish wines to mean the same thing if you chose. I chose to believe they made the wines taste better, not that they don’t taste “Spanish”.
    I’m not familiar with Corison, by CDV has been known to be struggling for years. It may be attributable to their stylistic direction, I don’t know.
    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you’re making wine for profit, make it taste good – whatever good is. If you’re making it for the sake of ‘art’, don’t complain when people don’t buy it.

  7. Brian Miller - October 12, 2006

    I hope CDV makes it. Their tasting room (a trivial part of the business, maybe) seemed to be doing quite well. And, it’s nice to have a winery not make syrupy fruit bombs. 🙂

  8. Daniel Lopez Roca - October 12, 2006

    I know Rolland am I am not so sure he is the mean wine globalizator Nossiter painted in Mondovino. Please, enjoy a glass of Yacochuya Malbec from Cafayate, Salta region and then other of Val de Flores Malbec from Vista Flores, Mendoza, and tell me if those wines (both Rolland’s) are the same globalized wine and if terroir has nothing to do. Nobody (not even Rolland) can globalize wine. Thinking so is simplifying wine and wine is a very complex thing. Mondovino is a very nice film but it is not need to be 100% in agreement with Nossiter. Argentina is more than Rolland and the poor grape producer from Salta he shows …

  9. Ryan Scott - October 13, 2006

    I’m happy drinking stuff that doesn’t get tasted by Robert Parker or perfected by Rolland, seems carry a hefty increase in price, I don’t think I would get 5 times the pleasure out of a $50 bottle than I would a $10 bottle of wine…

  10. Saint_Vini - October 13, 2006

    I think Daniel has it right. Many people are bashing Rolland based on Mondovino & interviews by Francophiles without actually tasting his wines. Tom, have you actually tasted wines both before and after he’s worked on them? Have you tasted wines he’s made, from different regions, side by side?
    I know that when Rolland consulted for a former employer of mine, we did numerous trials, but we didn’t let the fruit hang longer and didn’t use micro-ox. It was quite a bit more involved than that….

  11. Dr. Vino - October 13, 2006

    Michel Rolland and Fred Franzia doing a press conference together would give wine jounralists enough quotable quotes for a year.
    Fwiw, I tasted seven Rolland wines with the great man himself in NYC last week.

  12. tom - October 13, 2006

    In the case of the Eric Asimov’s article about M. Rolland, I’m not so concerned about his approach to winemaking or issues of a globalaized palate.
    I’m more concerned with how a man can actually write off two very successful Napa wineries as in fact unsuccessful in the marketplace because, presumably, they have not received scores of 95 points.
    In doing this we learn of M. Rolland that he either is a viscious malcontent, frighteningly uninformed about things yet willing to spout off about them to a writer for the NY Times or he is in need of some sort of medication because his connection to realityi is fleeting at best.. I’m not convinced it isn’t some combination of these three possibilities.

  13. Barrld - October 13, 2006

    Tom–Couple of points; first and most ironic, Eric Asimov recommended the CDV Ariadne a few months back as a Cali wine of distinction and grace. I bought the 2002 thereafter from the winery and wholeheartedly agree. Asimov has also recommended reds from CDV in his blog. Rolland’s bashing of CDV must have made Eric wince. Second, while Mondovino has been critically shredded for a number of factual mistakes, the core premise that wine has globalized, and that winemakers around the world have adopted a “global style” can’t be disputed. The globe trotting Rolland is an integral player in that process and he, of course, would say that such developments offer consumers higher quality wines across varietals, geographies and vintages. I don’t want to drink homogenized fruit bombs at every turn and, like many others who have moved away from unctous Cali Cabs that bash one over the head, I have moved away from the Rolland/Parker style to wines of uniqueness and distinction, which occasionally includes green peppers and stinky barnyard flavors and aromas.
    Cheers, Barrld

  14. Pete Hoffmann - June 25, 2007

    One solution to non interveneing wine makeing is to put on the lable VEGAN. Obviously, there is intervention in everything. However, knowing the trade, art, skill or whatever else you want to call it.. Yes, you can allow the wine to make its self and call ones self a non interventionist by allowing minimal inputs to the wine. With my experience, the less inputs one makes to either a vineyard or a barrel of wine, the better the wine tends to turn out. If the action is remidial, ie, de alc, or MOX due to “green flavors”, then I suggest one goes back to the drawing board and figure out where they went wrong. Non invention wine making could be a term that should be changed to minimal intervention for all the nit pickers who call irrigating a vine intervention. For that matter, planting the vineyard and determining the variety, clone and rootstock would be considered intervention as well.

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