Wine reviews – honestly

I started this as a discussion topic at http://www.bcwineries.net but I thought that I would explore it a little further here just to see if there were more people who feel like I do.

Has anyone seen any honest reviews of BC wines? I mean really honest where they aren’t just given a point score (which are always between 86-90) and then a list of aromas and flavors that they get from the wine (of which there might really be a lot to list – different people find all kinds of different things in the same wine). I’ve had some fabulous wines that I think should be rated far higher than 86 points and I’ve had some stinkers from wineries that finish top 10 in Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards. But surely not all wine is created equal.

This topic has been buzzing in my head for a while and was one of the reasons that I started Wine Country BC. I’ve been reading Vines and Wine Access and Wine Spectator and Decanter and Northwest Palate and Vancouver Magazine’s Wine Awards issue and all of their online versions and review sites and all that stuff and I can’t really ever find anything truly negative or positive about wines from Canada. Some blogs can have great and brutally honest critiques (http://tv.winelibrary.com or http://www.vinifico.com for a more local example) but most of the time the passion for the subject (or maybe for the act of blogging itself) propels people into posting things about wines that are most interesting only to themselves. That’s why I stayed away from blogging for so long – who cares what I think? Who the hell am I to write about this stuff? What brought me into the new wave of blogging was the idea that maybe I can contribute constructively to the industry within which I literally live.

The wine industry in BC has been growing at a bizarre rate compared with the rest of the world, where oversupply has created excess product. Wineries here can’t make enough wine and some sell out well before the next vintage is even ready. (Good luck finding any La Frenz product after the fall wine festival.) Some have more trouble accomplishing this but the demand has been there and so eventually even the mediocre products will move. This can’t last forever and as we’ve seen with the so called ‘economic downturn’, growth on that scale can’t continue for long. At some point, if we haven’t gotten there already, the demand will plateau and decrease and we’ll be left with wine to drink and no one who wants to drink it.

So we have an industry with unprecedented growth and a bevy of ‘yes-men’ publications that will not really truthfully critique a wine. This also guarantees that they won’t loose the advertising dollars from the winery that bought the full-page ad on the inside front cover. The critics themselves, though well meaning and possessing a knowledge of wine that I truly admire, probably don’t have much control over that kind of content. Look no further than the whole “Cellared in Canada” debate last year, which took someone from beyond Canada’s wine industry really get the discussion going. Mainstream media was able to look at this subject from a ‘consumers are getting screwed’-perspective rather than curtailing their coverage of it because their publication depended heavily on ad revenues from (probably) all three of the major wine producing corporations that make wine labeled as “Cellared in Canada”. Wine Access and Vines magazines hardly mentioned anything about it yet Wine Spectator felt it was important enough write about.

Perhaps in the old days (ie the early 1990’s) wine magazines and CIC wines were needed. Perhaps wine companies couldn’t make enough from using only locally sourced grapes. Perhaps the public at the time needed to be convinced that the wines produced by a Canadian company were good quality. All of those things were perhaps needed at that time and kudos for the people who worked at that time in the wine industry and wine media. You have all done excellent work and have created a whole generation of wine lovers who have learned and are learning to appreciate wine and who are now helping others to do the same. Without John Schreiner, Anthony Gismondi, Julianna Hayes, James Nevison and Kenji Hodgson and many more, there would not be a person like myself who loves BC wine, and has enjoyed reading and dissecting every word and nuance written about it for the last 10 years. And I am not alone. Many blogs and online communities are springing up who are all as passionate about BC wine as I am.

At this point in time, most blogs are being run by people like me who are interested in something and want to share their passion for it. As the business community starts to embrace *buzzword alert* social media, blogs will start to develop around a specific marketing goal, which means that their honesty may be compromised. How easy will that be to spot? Will it be important? We’ll have to see. It sure is an exciting time to be watching. Let’s just hope we can be honest about it and help our wines be the best they can be. Cheers!