Not Just Another Bomb…But, Much More.
I hesitated to provide the quote below. The reason is that it suggests that the article written by Clark Smith at Appellation America is not the best, most thoughtful exploration of "The Big Wine" phenomenon yet written. In fact, that’s what it is. Rather, by providing this quote, it suggests that Clark’s "Some Like It Hot" article is just one more lobbing of a bomb. It’s not. It’s much more.
However, this small piece of Clark’s article, which does indicate his bias, is also the conclusion of one man who has been at the center of the move toward The Big Wine. It is the perspective of a man who, you will see if you read this article, clearly understands the trajectory of the California wine industry and how it came to be that 16% California Pinot Noir is not a scandal:
"If there is no appreciation of depth, longevity and balance, we won’t
seek it. Alcoholic toasty butter bombs may be the destiny corporate
wineries have chosen for us, but that’s certainly not the limitation of
our styles, and such wine speaks absolutely nothing about our terroir.
But I fear we are creating the opposite impression among consumers, and
losing the best of them. If California is not to be doomed to
typecasting as devolved Muscle Wine, winemakers must redouble their
efforts to explore alternative styles outside the mainstream and
recapture the magic which our wine carried before bulking it up
actually dumbed it down."
The state of wine from California, particularly it’s "bigness", has been the focus of a great deal of thought, words and debate over the past 2 or 3 years. Dan Berger, for example, has written extensively on the subject. It seems to me that to the extent that Clark is putting out a clarion call for change, it is a call not for a reversal of style back to balance, but simply to diversity of styles. This is wise.
This long article also confirms one other thing that should be of importance to serious wine lovers, those in
the American wine industry and to the American wine media: Appellation America has become the best source for articles that explore the edge of contemporary wine thinking. There is something of a "counter culture" approach to its editorial vision due mainly I think to three things:
First, is its mission of exploring ALL of the American wine industry. This gives validity to the remarkable range of styles and varieties that can be achieved in America’s varied growing region. Second, the approach is due to its stable of writers, many of them very committed wine lovers, who think about wine deeply. I’m pointing here to Dan Berger, Alan Goldfarb, Thom Elkjer and Ray & Eleanor Heald. Finally, the editorial direction of Appellation America seems to have been firmly set by Roger Dial, the publisher. Roger (disclaimer: Wark Communications has consulted for Appellation America in the past) is so committed to the idea that diversity of style and territorial exploration is the real prize of wine appreciation that this view colors the entire website. It’s a vision inevitably leads to the necessity to publish articles like the Clark’s "Some Like it Hot" as well as a number of other exploratory pieces that have come to define this adventure in redefining the focus of wine journalism.
It strikes me that the state of American wine writing has never been better. This is not the case because Appellation America is on the scene or because there are wine blogs. In fact, the various wine newsletters, wine magazines and various other journalistic explorations into wine are all better today than they’ve been for years. This is certainly due to the fact that more people are drinking wine. It’s due to the fact that there are more people who need basic wine buying advise as well as there being more people who want in depth education. Plus, the growth of the American wine industry into every state and resulting in there being more than 5000 wineries here in the U.S. means that we have many more tradespeople who can appreciate far reaching articles on the subject.
Clark’s is just such an article. The type you would not have seen published 15 years ago. For those who read "Some Like it Hot" it will color the way they understand the stylistic evolution of California wine. That’s a good thing.
Tom, I have you in your PR hat to thank for alerting me to this great source of thoughtful, intelligent articles. I appreciate the stance they take on the “corporate wine” orthodoxy. I appreciate even more their coverage of up and coming wine regions away from the West Coast. Dan Berger’s articles on Virginia come immediately to mind. It’s the only online place to find all that info under one URL.