Confessions of a Wine Writer

By Alan Goldfarb

(This is, I believe, the first time in the 14 years FERMENTATION has been published, that I have given over this blog to another writer. It’s done because Alan is a very good writer, he always has something interesting to say, and he is my friend….Enjoy)

I have, over these many years, imposed on myself two rules: Never begin an article with “I”. Off the bat, I’ve violated my first edict. The second decree is that I never accept an invitation from a PR flack unless I can write something about the event. I’ve now, for the first time (I can’t remember the other times), in the space of a week, broken my second tenet, twice!

About a week ago, I agreed to attend a big wine company’s (BWC) unveiling of its new winemaker. I didn’t know a thing about the winemaker, but I knew I didn’t much care for the BWC’s wines. I accepted the flack’s invite because I liked the food of the restaurant at which the BWC’s presser was to be held.

As a kind of retribution for accepting the invitation from the flack — knowing full well that there was as much of a chance of my writing about the wines or the new winemaker, as the odds of the A’s going to the World Series this season – I showed up at the wrong restaurant. I misread the invitation. The tasting wasn’t at the restaurant I thought it was going to be; although to my credit, the actual restaurant had the first name of the first restaurant. And it was on the same street, but about a mile down the boulevard.

In the end, the new winemaker at BWC was charming and knowledgeable, but the wines were as mediocre as I had suspected they would be; and they weren’t even the wines of the new guy, because he hasn’t been on the job long enough to enjoy his first crush at the BWC.

There was nothing to write home about – or write anything about. The food at the second restaurant down the street, with the same first name? Not worth the trip into the city.

The upshot: Never disobey your own rules. And don’t disrespect those PR folks who make the invitations to writers, whilst they obey their own unwritten rule: Never ask a scribe if she or he is going to write about the occasion to which they’ve been invited.


The second invitation was my acceptance to attend Festival Napa Valley, an event for the last 13 years that has primarily celebrated music education. It isn’t necessarily a wine event. But I accepted the invite anyway, knowing that the chance to write about FNV, as a wine writer, were slim because I couldn’t identify an outlet in which to place an article that appeared not to offer much news.

It wasn’t until I attended the 50th anniversary dinner that celebrated the Trefethen winery (in conjunction with FNV), at which I tasted some mighty fine wine, that I saw an opening for a possible story; albeit FNV being tangential to the piece.

And it wasn’t until Tom Wark so graciously – and I think for the first time in the 14 years he’s been writing his Fermentation Blog – he invited another writer to post a story. I had a forum in which I could place my FNV/Trefethen thoughts. Tom’s gesture accomplished two things: It allowed me to open the scrim between wine writing and wine public relations; and it afforded me an opportunity to file a treatise – although quite peripherally – connecting Trefethen to Festival Napa Valley. It was the least I could do to reciprocate the hospitality afforded me by FNV’s publicists.

To the subject at hand: Trefethen, which is located in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, unfortunately has become most known in its recent history as the winery that “collapsed” in the earthquake of 2014. Thankfully, its iconic pinkish/beigeish wood-clad winery, built in 1886, has been fully restored. But its wines – some of which were made before the barn-like edifice nearly caved in on itself – are wonderful examples of what Napa Valley can produce.

The 1997 Chardonnay, poured that night so generously for instance, was fresh, crisp, and exhibited fine acidity that has carried it for 22 years. Served from magnum, it was still straw-colored with no discernible darkening, belying its two-decade life. Interestingly and curiously, the same wine, poured I think from a double magnum, showed browning and sherry-like oxidation.

But it was the two Cabernet Sauvignons that most impressed me. The 2009 Reserve and ’15 – unlike many, big, blowsy, tannic and alcoholic Cabs – were in perfect balance with gorgeous fruit and acid (both weighed in at a listed 14.1% alc.). And, they went in tandem with the filet mignon.

There you have it. This began as a self-deprecating journal of my self-rule-breaking foibles and wound up, I hope, as an acknowledgment of sorts of Festival Napa Valley, as well as a tribute to Trefethen wines.


Alan Goldfarb has been writing about wine for nearly 30 years. His most recent work: A couple of articles involving Rupert Murdoch were published in The Wine Spectator; an interview with Francis Coppola and Inglenook will soon appear in the Alta Journal of California; a profile of Stu & Charlie Smith of Smith-Madrone, will soon be published in SevenFifty Daily; and two pieces on a Sonoma Coast restaurant and wine, is to be featured in The Art of Eating Magazine.      

7 Responses

  1. Clark Smith - July 30, 2018

    Tom’s gesture and Alan’s self-deprecating yet wise article show them both to have a lot of class. Wine writers are at their best when they expose their vulnerabilities. Confession trumps pontification every time. Now how do I get my hands on that Chardonnay.

  2. tom Wark - July 30, 2018


    You’re right…where do we get that chardonnay….? And yes, again, a display of vulnerability always makes a piece far more interesting. I need to work on that.

  3. Alan Goldfarb - July 30, 2018

    If you guys play your cards right (be careful Clark, they’re showing), I know a guy who knows a guy, who can get you a sip of that Chardonnay.

    Thanks for the kind words my colleagues; they touch my vulnerable G (for Goldfarb) spot.

  4. Bob Henry - July 31, 2018

    “Where do we get that Chardonnay?”

    In the future, maybe here:

    Note the wine magazine review scores.

    All below 90 points.

    Wine scores that point-chasing collectors would have snubbed.

  5. Bob Henry - July 31, 2018

    Link to the Wine Enthusiast review of the 1997 bottling:

  6. Bob Henry - July 31, 2018

    Or you can buy a 3 Liter bottle today from the winery. (There appears to be two bottles in stock.)

  7. Jon Ruel - August 3, 2018


    Thanks for attending the event, Alan. It was quite a party! Thank you also for the comments on our wines.

    As we continue to celebrate our 50th Anniversary throughout 2018, we have been opening an aged wine, in large format, every Thursday and sharing it with our guests in the tasting room. Check out our Instagram @trefethenfamily for each week’s #throwbackthursday selection. The program has been a lot of fun, particularly with the older Chardonnays.

    And, Bob’s right, we do have a couple of the 1997 Library Chardonnay in 3L available for sale.


    Jon Ruel

    CEO, Trefethen Family Vineyards

Leave a Reply