Required Reading for the Wine Industry

For anyone who concerns themselves with the future of wine in America or the future of the American wine industry; for anyone who involves themselves in the sales and marketing of American wines; for anyone who produces wine in America with an eye toward illuminating not only their hand but their land, then a new bit of required reading has been produced by Appellation America.

Roger Dial, the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Appellation America has produced a two-part essay on the what the American Wine industry and the American wine consumer needs. In a word: Diversity.

But Part 1 ("Building Diversity") and Part 2 ("Branding Diversity") of Dial's essay is something more than the kind of call arms for which Appellation America has been known. Instead, what has been produced in this relatively short read (given the subject matter) is a critical, honest and respectful analysis of the path that the American Wine Industry has taken to reach its current state of evolution.

In part, the first 80% of the essay is a lead up to a description and justification of Appellation America's "Best of Appellation Evaluation" program. But in much larger part, Dial has dissected the largely reductionist tendencies among marketers, and the willingness of winemakers to embrace these tendencies, that have played an important role in diminishing the possibility of a much more robust and vital American wine culture.

It's a stunning indictment of the past 40 years of the Wine Industry while being also a remarkable guiding light for the winemakers and marketers that Dial so clearly appreciates and has confidence in.

This is a must read. It's a must discuss.

8 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - November 8, 2008

    I shall read this; it seems interesting, but I do wish that Appellation America editors would learn the difference between “varietal” and “variety.”
    I’m a word pedant, as well.

  2. Erika - November 8, 2008

    Absolutely fascinating. Thanks for pointing this out, Tom.

  3. Dylan - November 8, 2008

    Okay, it took what felt like forever, but forever was an interesting read. I really enjoyed their profile breakdown (which, I thought, was fairly spot-on). The major impression this leaves me is the realization that too many wine-producers/marketers have taken the story of their land for granted. I was surprised by this, mostly because what Part 2 heralds as a rare mark of differentiation is what I do as a blogger (call me niche, I guess)
    Up until very recently (harvest has steered conversation toward the winery) the focus of our blog has been an emphasis on the land. Living and working on Tin Cross Vineyards taught a lot about the process, but it also created a deep feeling of pride. This wasn’t a McTerroir that we tediously labored over; we know our land stands out.
    And its for that reason the grapes from our mountain-top vineyard have a lot to be proud of. Its their personal story, not the owners, which is the one worth telling, because, unlike the owners, grapes can’t speak; the grapes’ story will rely on its ability to communicate to the senses. That was the intent of our product and the assignment we carried as workers–it wasn’t our job to be grape-growers, we were nurturing storytellers.
    After Harvest I remain confident these grapes are ready to tell a story that says without doubt, “I grew up on Tin Cross.” It’s certainly a story I think people should know.

  4. Tish - November 9, 2008

    Man is that thing long… both parts! Roger Dial is clearly knowledgeable and passionate, but someone needs to help him make that message shorter, punchier, easier to grasp and repeat. Unfortunately, as noble as his intentions and well-reasoned his argument(s), I think there are some fundamental barriers to Appellation AMerica’s goals, namely:
    1) As long as producers are allowed to grow whatever they want wherever they want within an “appellation,” defining quality within those regions is problematic.
    2)Aside from industry folks, collectors and other grape-oriented nerds, not enough wine drinkers care enough about wine pedigree in general to be interested in sense-of-place being a wine’s primary calling card.
    3) Wine bottles themselves cannot convey enough information about place to enable place to become part of the wine-selecting process. (I think part of Napa/Sonoma’s edge over other American “appellations” is their head start in the wine vernacular, not their qualitative superiority; they are recognizable names)
    4)As long as the 100-point scale continues to get used and abused by retailers, place will take a backseat. If Roger really wants to make wine origin a primary consideration in the selling and buying of wine in America, he needs to get retailers and restaurants on board. And unfortunately, doing that means complicating the wine-purchasing process for drinkers. In this age of streamlined everything, that is one very tall task.
    But I do agree, Tom, that this piece (er, both parts of the piece)is a must-read.

  5. Paul Gregutt - November 9, 2008

    Part One makes some interesting points about different consumer styles. Part Two is a real slog, but I would agree that defining the right grape(s) in the right place(s) should be at the top of any winemaker’s To-Do list. Like it or not, this will take a long time, because it takes a long time for even the most fundamental trials and experiments in vineyard and vat to play out. The expression of terroir needs not just soil and climate; it needs some age on the vines. In Europe ‘old vines’ are generally at least 35-40 years old; in America such vines are rare indeed. Even in Napa, how much old vine Cabernet exists today? Where terroir-specific wines are being made currently in America, it is the name of the vineyard and/or producer that carries the most weight with consumers, and what’s wrong with that?

  6. Thomas Pellechia - November 9, 2008

    I happen to agree with everything you posted above. How can that be???
    Don’t get me wrong, everybody, I am a believer in “place.” But I longingly seek some documented proof (as in scientific) that this thing called “terroir” is and can be quantified.
    I know that when i taste local wines, I can pick out traits and threads that run through the wines–and that is what I assume is “place.” Yet, I’d love for my assumption to be backed up with tangible, objective, measurable proof.
    If we could get that kind of proof, then Tish’s (and my) concern regarding growing anything anywhere may not matter so much to the issue of defining quality, as that would be connected to the objective measure of “place.”
    My sense, however, is that even with the proof I seek, winemakers in many places will still be able to intervene with a heavy hand to all but obliterate the expression of “place.”

  7. The Wine Commonsewer - November 10, 2008

    Fascinating read. Yes it was long, maybe a bit long with respect to a typical blog post or comment, but it was well worth my time.
    Place and terroir are admirable considerations, but in the end offer no more reliability for consumers than the much derided ‘100 point’ system, which is really a 15 point system (85 and under is box wine or Night Train or worse)
    What consumers should understand is that the point system is a guide, not a divine revelation.
    Same goes for appellation. That a wine is from Bordeaux is relatively meaningless without additional information. For instance, I drank one last night that was 100% Merlot. Very dry and minerally. A consumer buying that wine based solely on her expectations of a typical Bordeaux would have likely gotten a surprise.
    That said, I’ve had many a Bordeaux that wasn’t even good enough to pour down the sink. And that, is a problem that cannot be easily overcome.
    I’m not against defining appellations (unless it’s done using the rigid and clumsy hand of the law) and I applaud the efforts over at AA (heh) but, in a relatively uninhibited market consumers have many evaluative tools at our disposal, including price, reviews, winemaker notes, ratings, varietal, and, appellation.

  8. Morton Leslie - November 11, 2008

    Having declined to give him money to evaluate my wines, I guess I took it wrong when an email arrived with links to his tome signed by he, Rob Hastings, and someone from Amazon. I skim read it, and determined that it was just another self serving piece.
    Look, everyone knows that Parker, the Spectator and wholesalers have made a killing determining what wines ended up in the consumers hand. I’m sure it looks like a great opportunity to Amazon and Appellation America to get in on the action and control access to our customer.
    But give me a break, we aren’t a pathetic group of know nothings who need someone to teach us the basics, list and ship our wine. The majority of wine will still be sold in restaurants, grocery stores and wine shops. We know that the future is the most carbon efficient distribution and that is not Fed Ex or UPS. We know that it will always be up to us to build our own brand equity and sell our wine. They don’t own the web, the customer, or enterprise software. We can even use their same delivery/distribution company.
    Despite his lengthy spiel, what Dial doesn’t understand is…we don’t need them one bit.

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