Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Unspoken Code - Will She Crack It?

One of my Washington State Wine blogging collegues, Thad at Beyond the Bottle, wrote a thought provoking topic that I have been pondering ever since and wanted to address it myself. Thad directs his own readers to a quote from Paul Gregutt, wine writer for The Seattle Times:

"There is a sort of unspoken code among many in the wine press not to be too critical of specific wines or wineries."

Gregutt comments that he tries to stay on the "sunny side of the wine-reviewing street," but once in awhile he will give objective criticism in a positive direction for growth. Thad points out that many wine writers are given a lot of free (and unsolicited) wine by wineries, which raises questions about the wine reviewers objectivity. So with a flow of freebies coming your way, why risk it with a unsavory review?

Thad continues to point out that with the new wine "press" in the name of blogging becoming stronger and stronger by the numbers, that many of the wine bloggers are following the same approach - - post nice - - practice the unspoken code. However, in the wine blogging world, there are those who crack the unspoken code. Examples are, Alder at Vineography who will say it like it is. In fact, last summer Alder made the top of my list of wine blogging heros when he shamed the California wine retailers for not selling Washington wines - - and Alder is from San Francisco! Alice Feiring, long time wine blogger and author was banned from the Robert Parker message boards because she took on the Prince of Points (I’ll get you and your little dog, too). So with that said - -

What about the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman? Does she open her door every morning to find free cases of Walla Walla wines stacked on her front porch? When she tastes free bottles of wine, does she let the "free-ness" of those wines influence her and - - does she dare (gasp!) break-the-un-spoken-code?

Okay, here are the facts. I do not find free cases of wine on my front porch nor do I solicit free bottles of wine. Once in awhile a winery may recognize me and give me a bottle, but the majority of the wines that I write about - - I have purchased. Sometimes I will take a "field trip" and go wine tasting or sometimes a friend may drop by one of his/her favorite wines, but the majority of the wines I review - - I have purchased. In fact, when I first decided to blog about wine, it was not on the premise I was going to be up to my spit bucket with free wine. I assumed that anything I blogged about I would be the lone reader. Who knew others would want to read what I had to say?

So, when I "review" a wine, do I dare break the unspoken code? I have to be honest here and the answer is - - no. I do not venture into breaking the unspoken code, especially when I write about wines from Walla Walla. And why not? I am not getting paid when it comes to wine blogging, but most of all I have to live in Walla Walla. I don’t need empty wine bottles thrown at me because I bashed someone's wine.

If there is a wine that I do not care for or a winemaker/winery that I disagree with their practices I don’t say anything at all. Now, my readers may start assuming because I didn’t list a particular wine or a winery that I don’t like that wine/winery - - don’t assume. Chances are very great, if not hugely great, that I just haven’t gotten to them. You see, blogging is a hobby for me, as I do have a real day job. In my free time, I do a bit of freelance writing for a couple of magazines. Then if that isn’t enough, I am in the process of developing my own business. But the biggest reason for not listing a particular wine is I cannot keep up on all of the wines being produced in the Walla Walla Valley! When you consider there are over 100 wineries and figure in that each winery has at least five to seven, if not ten wines that are released every year - - I should be wearing a t-shirt that says: "So many Walla Walla Wines, so Little Time" (and if you make a t-shirt with that saying - remember to cut me in on the profits.)

Here is another reason why I haven't broken the unspoken code and one of the most important for me. The taste of wine is subjective and it is all about personal taste. Should I be liking a wine because someone from a wine magazine gave the wine 99 points? No and I don't listen to movie critics, either. I am a foodie and love pairing wines with foods. I might try a Merlot by itself and it can taste ordinary, but if paired with the right food, it might taste extraordinary!

An example of my personal tastes: There is a winery in the Walla Walla valley who has built a great reputation for their hand crafted wines. Their red wines are elegant, well structured and I would never-ever turn down a rich red drop. They are terrific food wines, too. However, I do not care for their white wines and trust me, there is nothing wrong with the craftmanship of these white wines. These wines win awards and get much acclaim. No matter what I may think, the bottom line is this (and the most important): their white wines sell very well. It wouldn't be fair to the wines and my readers to say what their tastebuds should and should not approve of. Just because my tastebuds may not find a certain wine approachable, doesn't mean it is a bad wine. I want all wine lovers to discover their own personal choices. Educate your palate regarding different varietals and styles of wine.

Do I get controversial? Do I break any codes? Do I remain all Bambi, Thumpers, peace, love and hippie beads? If you have been reading me for awhile, you know that I will climb up on my soap box when it comes to the point system and ill-mannered wine tourists and will continue to write my missives about those two subjects. I don't feel that I "review" wines. I just talk about my own personal experiences with the wines and hope my readers will find their own personal experiences with the wines or wineries that I write about. I don't give points and never will. I would encourage every wine lover to get beyond the points and don't let them rule your wine life. Sure, use them as a base, but don't let them dictate your style. Nothing worse is a "cherry picker" who will sashay into a winery and only wants to taste the 93+ point wines or will buy the wines not caring what the varietal is, let alone bother to taste the wines. Because the wine has a high score, the wine expert-poser assumes he/she will like them. What? You cannot trust your own tastebuds and have to rely on points? Then there is the cherry picker who will not go to a winery because the winery has no points on their wines. You do know that the winery has to submit their wines to be judged, don't you? There is no little wine fairy that flies around from winery to winery choosing wines to be judged.

I agree with Thad at Beyond the Bottle: If your decisions are based solely on one magazine, one column, or one reviewer, you're missing out on a lot of what wine has to offer.

I would encourage my readers to educate their own palate, keep an open mind and most of all, just enjoy!

9 comments:

Andy Perdue said...

Great subject, certainly one we think about a lot at Wine Press Northwest.

Your last point should be considered the serious wine lover's mantra. Look at reviews, medals, etc., when considering a wine - if you can - but follow Bob Dylan's advice when it comes to plunking your money on the counter: Trust yourself.

I think I smell a blog item for myself on this subject ...

Catie said...

Hey Andy,
Go for it! It would be great to read another blog on this subject and I agree with you and Bob: Trust Yourself. Thanks for dropping by.
C~

Thad said...

Catie, thanks for revisiting this important topic and extending the conversation further. And please keep up the great work sharing your experiences with wine. My enjoyment and appreciation for wine, especially that from the Walla Walla Valley, has only increased as a result of reading your blog.

Catie said...

Thanks Thad for the kind words! After all, you were my inspiration for this topic.
C~

info said...

great post Catie. Honest, thought-provoking, intelligent...but we expect no less from you!

Jill
domaine547

Mary Soderstrom said...

I just stumbled on your blog: very interesting. Here in Montreal there is very little Washington wine available, but recently my husband found Gordon Brothers 2003 Syrah which I'd recommend to anyone.

Would be interested in knowing what you think. The postal address is Pasco, but does it count as a Walla Walla wine? We were so impressed that we had it for Christmas and again last weekend when a wine loving friend was over. It also inspired my own blog entry,
marysoderstrom.blogspot.com/2007/11/wine-from-pasco-time-marches-on.html

Cheers

Mary

Catie said...

Hi Mary,

Gordon Brothers is an estate winery and so all of their grapes come from Pasco. The whole appellation thing in WA state gets kind of sticky. Walla Walla is a sub-appellation of the whole Columbia Valley appellation. There are many subs in the CV such as Red Mountain, Yakima, Horse Heaven Hills, Rattle Snake Ridge, and Wahluke (did I miss any?). Technically, any of the grapes from Pasco are grown in Columbia Valley. If the grapes are specifically grown in the smaller subs, then they are labeled as such. So, unless the wines say Walla Walla on the label, then the grapes are not from Walla Walla. And not all vineyards own wineries and not all wineries own vineyards, which is probably more common in California than it is Washington.

Then it becomes even more confusing, as there are several wineries in Walla Walla, but they not only use grapes from Walla2, but other grapes in the whole Columbia Valley region. And with that said - -

Hopefully that helps a bit. I haven't tried Gordon's Syrah, but I have tried several bottles of their Merlot. Very nice.
Cheers,
C~

Taster A said...

Thank you for sharing your views. In my wine blogging, I have a philosophy that there are so many good wines out there to talk about that I don’t have time to natter about the bad ones. I also feel that people should be encouraged to try wine. Saying this wine stinks perpetuates wine intimidation. I want people to try, experiment and find out what they like. There may be a tacit rule out there and if so, that is fine. In wine blogging, I see more value in encouragement than discouragement.

Catie said...

Hi Taster, And thank you for sharing your views. I like and appreciate your philosophy very much and you're right - - why waste time on bad wine.
Cheers,
C~