The blogosphere today, the last day of 2012, is rife with wrap-ups and recriminations, and countless writers making predictions for the coming year. I myself have no prognostications to offer, but I do have a brief, modest list of things I’d like to leave behind in 2012; three issues that I hope are no longer relevant as we turn this next page of the calendar. Some folks chose this time of year to be wildly optimistic, and I’m usually among that crowd. But, I think I’ve seen too much of the wine world this year to believe that wearing the rose-colored glasses is still an option. Of course, we all need to dream. So, here’s hoping the following problems somehow magically fade away as we begin a new year.
1. I Say Variety, You Say Varietal Maybe I was an editor and writing instructor for too many years. Maybe I’m an uptight, anal jerk. Probably both. Regardless, I can’t help but get pissed off several times a week because so many people in the wine industry – producers, merchants, journalists – cannot get these two words straight. Grapes come in thousands of varieties. Yes, there are varieties of grapes. Grapes are nouns. Wines made predominantly from a single variety (check local laws for levels required) are varietal wines. When we describe wines we use adjectives, which are words that modify nouns. Wines are described as red or earthy or bitter. Those are adjectives. Varietal is an adjective. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. If you are commenting on a particular bottle of Napa merlot, you can also use the word as a noun; for example, “This producer’s varietals are overpriced dreck.” But grapes are not varietals. Vineyards are not planted with this or that varietal. As Count Rugen would say, “Stop saying that!”
2. Still In The Dark Ages During the past year, I’ve had wineries tell me that they don’t use email for business. I’ve had wineries ask me to mail letters to them, and they would respond in similar fashion. I’ve had discussions with wineries during which I’ve had to ask them why they haven’t updated their web page in more than two years. Even worse, I’ve had to ask wineries why they have no presence on the Internet at all. In 2010, according to the Wine Institute, California had 3,364 bonded wineries, and that number, from all appearances, continues to rise. What possesses winery owners and managers to believe that they can compete in this increasingly demanding marketplace while continuing to use outdated methods and mechanisms? How do they think they can attract and retain customers when so many rival producers and purveyors are doing everything imaginable to build their own businesses in the most up-to-date fashion? Relationships will always be the foundation of commerce, but to ignore the current modes through which those relationships are created and nurtured is sheer folly. In today’s world business is about speed, access, visibility, and information. The winery that fails to grasp these truths is a winery planting the seeds of failure.
3. Damn the Treacle! Full Speed Ahead! Can we pass a law that prohibits wineries from releasing any wine that carries a back label filled with the sort of vapid, pseudo poetry that would embarrass a sappy, love-struck teenager? Just about a year ago I addressed this annoyance in another entry, in which I confessed to an appreciation, somewhat diminished at the time, for the Ridge Vineyards labels that are chock-filled with information and not a whisper of sugar-coated nothingness. (http://thegrapebelt.com/2012/01/03/hey-whatcha-readin/), I also praised those countless producers, most often found outside the USA, who simply provide what the law requires and leave it at that. I still like the minimalist approach, but I’ve rethought my view on Ridge and now believe that most wineries would benefit from a similar tack, if for no other reason than such information gives the impression of integrity, reliability, transparency: all things that customers crave from a winemaker and winery. If producers can’t say something precise and informative about the wine in the bottle, and “hints of eucalyptus bark and rhododendron spore” is not information, then they should oblige official mandates and leave it at that. The bloviating about lilacs and damp schist don’t do anything for the customer except create doubt and insecurity, neither of which is great for sales.
Next, three things I would like to see in 2013.