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Who's on Top?

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Richard L. Thomas
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Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
July, 2013 Issue


So we think we’re big time in the world of wine, but are we really? Drinks International, a global alcohol industry magazine, has released its list of the “World’s Most Admired Wine Brands in 2012.” What’s an “admired brand” you ask? The judges were to use the following criteria: Wines should be consistent or improving in quality, they should reflect their region or country of origin, they should respond to the needs and tastes of their target audience, they should be well marketed and packaged, and they should have strong appeal to a wide demographic. It’s quite a mouthful, but a sound business idea.
 
Only one California winery was on the list in the top 10, and that’s Ridge Vineyards, coming in at number six. And the winner was…Concho y Toro, which coincidentally just bought Fetzer (ranked at 36th). The rest of the top five were Torres (Spain, and owner of Marimar Estate in Graton), Penfolds (Australia and maker of Grange), Michel Chapoutier (France) and Cloudy Bay (New Zealand). In North America only, number one is Ridge Vineyards, followed by Kendall-Jackson (13th overall), Chateau Ste. Michelle (Washington, 23rd overall), Delicato (27th), Robert Mondavi (31st), Fetzer, Blossom Hill (38th) and Barefoot (49th).
 
I guess we aren’t such big fish in the sea of wine after all. I just thought I’d put everything in perspective as we begin to feel a little cocky and complacent with our place in the wine world. I think the list shows that a company like Penfolds can make the world’s greatest red wine and meet all of the other criteria to make it admired. Without buying Grange, try some of Penfolds’ “Bin” labels and get the intensity of fruit that comes through.
 
I’m not sure how many of you read the multitude of wine blogs, Twitter feeds and so forth regarding wine. Some make a few good points, but in general, it sounds like they’re preaching to the choir and looking for agreeing nods from readers. I did, however, find a sound bit of advice for the average consumer in “The Wine Curmudgeon.” He goes back to a 1977 article that states: “The result of all of this is that any but the most experienced wine aficionado often will (1) buy a very expensive wine, equating high price to quality; (2) buy a very cheap but unpleasant wine and then throw it all away; (3) buy the same wine all the time; (4) not buy wine at all.” That was nearly 40 years ago and nothing has changed, so I’m thinking our industry has made very little headway in educating the average consumer.
 
The Curmudgeon states five things that would considerably help (we’re not discussing great French or American wines, but the good, affordable ones). You’ve heard all of these before, right here in this column, so I guess I’m trying to show I’m not the only one with my head out of the sand when it comes to looking at the status of our industry.
 
Here they are: 1. Stop worrying about vintage—with our new bag of tricks, vintage variation is far less now and there is absolutely no problem with non-vintage wines and frequently they’re better with blending. 2. Use less expensive and lighter glass bottles and put your money where your mouth is by being eco-friendly. Also think about us old folks who have trouble lifting a case of even lighter glass. I still like my idea about using six-bottle cases instead of 12. Women shoppers (who buy most of the wine anyway) would also certainly appreciate it. It’s a proven fact, even by the so-called pros, that a punt and heavy glass do not improve the quality of the wine inside the bottle—that is the winemaker’s job before bottling! 3. Stop obsessing over oak. My Lord, how many times have you heard that as you break a tooth on the oak stick still in the bottle? 4. Appellations aren’t the be-all and end-all. This man is after my heart! Why, oh, why do so many egos need to be stroked? How many know where Grand River Valley is? Or even give a sh__? The only ones who care are the ones who live there. I could probably say the same thing about Chalk Hill, Petaluma Gap, Howell Mountain and even Pine Mountain. A logical question these might generate is: What state are we even talking about? 5. Write back labels in English. Please use simple terms and forget the descriptors that no one has even ever smelled or tasted.
 
Thank you “The Wine Curmudgeon” (overseen by Jeff Siegel) for your words of wisdom and also proving I’m not he only idiot on the block. I’ll finish these ideas with a quote from his website of the same name: “In everything I write, my philosophy is the same: The wine industry tries to intimidate consumers instead of educate them—and nuts to that.” Is that me or him writing this? Thanks, Curmudgeon, and I want to let you know you’re not the only one standing on this lonely corner.
 
Unfortunately I, by necessity, am writing this before the big, new Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge, so you’ll need to wait until next issue to get my feelings about its success or failure. Will the North Coast wineries have the guts to stand up against each other and see who’s king of the mountain, this year at least?
 
Well, so much to drink and so little time. I better get on with my homework also. Life cannot flourish with an empty glass, as I was once told. In closing, I’m sorry to say that the first-ever Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge isn’t concluded yet but, looking at the entries, it appears that the biggest blowhards were afraid to enter. Sure, be a chicken to prove you’re as good as you think you are. I guess once you suck in enough wine club members you don’t need the added publicity of being known as one of the best in any category in the entire North Coast. When the Press Democrat sponsors the post-judging public tasting and awards, I hope everyone attending notices who’s there and who isn’t. As you might guess, I’ll note who’s there and who isn’t and report back to you via this column—or maybe my editors will let me write a feature. Time will tell.


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