Why aged wines are awesome

Sometimes, opening an aged wine has its hazards. This is the carnage after removing a cork that had disintegrated.

Aged wines take courage. Aged wines take patience. Aged wines take discipline.

All three of those things take a little work and some effort on the part of the wine collector, which may be why most wines are generally consumed young. In practical purposes, it is also expensive to keep wines in a cellar for extended periods of time and most people (or restaurants) just don’t have the space to keep a worthwhile collection. With little or no exposure to the taste of aged wines, most wine lovers will rarely be able to experience the amazing aromas and flavours of an aged wine. Without any appreciation of it, aged wines have little chance to become a part of our BC wine culture.

Unless of course you have lucky enough to have a friend or coworker who can expose you to the amazing world of aged wines. For me, the first seriously aged bottle of wine that I had the pleasure of tasting happened to be from a coworker at a winery in 2008 who had brought in a bottle to share. It was an Ontario riesling from the early 1990s and was a little over 15 years old at the time when I got to taste it. I’d never tasted anything like it. It smelled and tasted like apple pie and a full bouquet of flowers that had been gently doused in kerosene. It was weird at first but became entrancing and I loved every sip.

I have tasted other aged wines since then. I have tasted verticals of BC wines from Clos du Soleil, Black Hills, Painted Rock, Osoyoos Larose, and others, some of which went back a full decade to the oldest wine in the set. I have tasted 14 year-old Pinot Noir from Burrowing Owl that tasted nearly as fresh as the day it was bottled and Icewine from Lang that was just over 17 years old at the time. All were truly memorable and utterly amazing tasting experiences.

Why do we not age our wines in BC? Master of Wine Rhys Pender has often stated that BC wine, with its higher levels of natural acidity that is the envy of other wine regions around the word, is a perfect candidate for creating long-term, ageable wines. Washington State wineries like White Heron have figured this out and have made some amazing examples like the 2003 Malbec that I had purchased while on a trip to Wenatchee in 2011. I have worked hard to save some wines for at least a little while and this is how I did it.

The trick to aging wine is to either have some good distractions or be able to hide wines on  yourself. By distractions, I mean having other wines to serve instead of the ones that you are intending to age. If you want to keep that bottle of Nota Bene or Oculus securely stowed away for an appropriate amount of time, it is best to have other wines readily available. Ideally, though not always financially practical, it is best to have multiple bottles of the same wine to try out. In my own experience, I was able to purchase a case of 2006 Nota Bene and it became our special occasion wine that we opened only on our anniversary or some other special dinner. Choosing our anniversary was a great way to do it because that meant that we only really opened one bottle each year. That made the wines last a long time until the last one was approaching 9 years of age (from the vintage date) by the time is was consumed.

The other option is somehow to hide the wines on yourself. For me, I put them in my wine rack where I have carefully labeled some of the wines with neck tags on them. For the wine that I really want to disappear, I actually put them lower down in the collection and I simply do not label them. It’s as easy as that. The labeled wines stand out more and I will naturally head for those wines first. It’s not failsafe, but it is surprising how much longer a wine will last if it doesn’t have any attention drawn to it.

If you are looking for something that will really go the extra mile, consider a larger format bottle such as a magnum or a double-magnum. These are not as uncommon as they used to be although you might have to go to the winery’s own wineshop to purchase these. Larger format bottles age more slowly than standard 750ml bottles because the ratio of wine volume to surface area of the cork is much greater. Therefore, the flow of oxygen into the bottle (the rate of “oxygen ingress”, according to those in the cork trade) is is about the same but the volume of liquid inside the bottle is much greater so the wine ages slower. The ratio of the ullage (the air space between the wine and cork) is also correspondingly smaller compared to the volume of the wine. Anecdotally, a magnum will add 30-50% on to the total age of the wine. If your 750 ml bottle of 2003 Oculus peaked at 10 years in 2013, the same wine in a magnum will probably be at a similar state of development right around now in 2017 or 2018. That percentage likely increases as the bottle size gets larger with double-mags, Jeroboams, Imperials, and other larger sizes but, since I’ve never owned any of those formats myself, cannot personally attest to the ageability of those sizes.

What I can attest to is that aged wines are a completely different, amazing, and engaging wine experience unlike anything else that you ever get from an old bottle of cola. There is something about wine as it ages that makes it change into something truly amazing. That does not mean that every wine gets better with age. Some of them clearly are not meant for that and some people do not like the taste of aged wines. That is purely a matter of taste. You should not ever feel guilty for opening a bottle of wine ‘before its time’ if that is the way that you prefer it. Wines don’t get better with age, they simply change. If you don’t like what they change into, then it isn’t better for you, is it?

For me, I love aged wines and I believe that there are others out there who would love them too, if only they could try them. If you have aged wines in your cellar, share them with friends and help spread the word! Aged wines are a beautiful experience.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

8th Generation 2011 Riesling Selection

Mullings Over Wine Pretentiousness in the Digital World

Here is what I hear when I read reviews or listen to someone criticize wine shops, wine shop staff, or even sommeliers as being “pretentious”. I hear this:

“Everything I need to know, I already know. Anything that someone tells me that may differ from that is wrong, must be false, and is therefore completely fabricated just so that they can appear smarter than I am. They are just being pretentious.”

It’s like a delusion of intellectual grandeur, perhaps driven by the internet age’s self-serving gathering of “information” – “facts” that conveniently suit the searchers’ beliefs rather than challenging something that they think that they already know. The digital age doesn’t allow us to experience anything that hasn’t been added to our factual playlist. It’s very easy to say, when hearing something new or that conflicts with your previous knowledge or experience, that someone just made something up. It’s an easy defense against something that may differ from your own intellect or perceptions by belittling it or turning it into a joke and laughing at it. And of course, if it’s easy to do, it must be on the internet (or some news channels). Travel websites with reviews (hint: rhymes with “Mip Advisor”) are loaded with these kinds of reviews and, while I admit it’s kind of entertaining to read in a Jerry Springer-kind of way, it can get downright mean and needlessly offensive when the focus of the criticism is directed to your own work place. I’ve seen more than a few co-workers get angry and stressed over some of those more hurtful and ignorant reviews.

Here’s why I think it’s a little unfair to criticize wine professionals in that way, or to belittle them as “pretentious”. People who have spent years studying, learning about, and working with wine will very likely know more about it than you do. They have spent a good part of their lives and a large amount of money studying wine on a level that goes beyond the average consumer or enthusiast. Not everyone that you meet in a wine shop has that training but some of them do. Shockingly, they are not out to make you look like stupid or knock you off your pedestal in front of your friends even though that’s how some people react to it. They are sharing something with you that they love and find interesting and because you are standing in their wine shop or store, they assume that you want to know about those same things.

Mechanics are not criticized for being pretentious. Neither are medical doctors. Both are prized (and well paid) for their knowledge base and skills and we depend on both of them to get things fixed when things need fixing. They have both gone through lots of training and apprenticeships to get where they are and love what they do and do it because they love it. I want the pilot on my next flight to be the one who had pictures of aeroplanes all over his or her room as a kid, dreamt about being a pilot all day as a teenager, and loves every second of their time in the pilot’s seat. I don’t want the pilot who became a pilot because, it’s a job. Thankfully, becoming a pilot is harder than just playing Flight Simulator for weeks at a time and reading wiki articles. Just because you bought a big Nikon SLR and outboard lighting gear at London Drugs doesn’t mean that you are suddenly now a professional photographer. Those “filters” on Instagroan don’t make your photos look professional either – they stand out like a glass of grape Kool-Aid at a wine tasting. Simply knowing facts about something does not compare to years of dedicated training and experience.

I believe that both of those issues – false intellectual delusions of grandeur and de-professionalism – are internet-age personality disorders and are somehow related. Sometimes I think that my awareness of these disorders is part of what has held me back from writing in-depth articles. I know it taints some of the early podcasts when I consciously held back information because I didn’t want to come across potentially as a wine snob or elitist when really I am neither. Perhaps I was tentative to start blogging at all for the same reason. I never read blogs before and still don’t read them that often as part of my daily media diet. Who is this blogger to be so bloody all-knowing? Why do I think my comments are worth anyone’s time to read? What gives me the right?

Truthfully, I don’t know. I’ve been in the industry now for 10 years and have been lucky to have worked in almost all aspects of wine production – vineyard work, cellar work, u-brew, wine sales, wine shop management, and marketing. Maybe that gives me some experience that’s worth something to somebody? After 6 years of blogging, I’ve really enjoyed the interactions I’ve had online, meeting people IRL, travelling to new places, and learning about new things. I think most wine bloggers are similar in this regard. You would think that getting a lot of wine bloggers together would result in massive arguments and heated discussions about wine and technology as they all try to intellectually one-up each other. But after attending 3 Wine Bloggers’ Conferences over the years, the fact is that you’ll never get that many genuinely knowledge-hungry people that love to express their passion for their trade together in a single place without giving them an Ivy-league degree at the end. If anything those conferences are a respite from having to defend your obsessions with wine and wine knowledge against the spectre of being labelled as “pretentious”. Most attendees of the conferences that I’ve been to are nowhere near the classic wine-snob or the knowledge-insecure customer. They are eager to challenge themselves, to be proven right or wrong, and learn from any new experience being offered.

To be fair, the wine world has changed significantly over the past 4 decades, evolving from a formalized Hugh Johnson “Wine Atlas” terroir-based, European-centred approach on one side to meritorious “democratizing” criticism of Robert Parker Jr. and Wine Spectator on the other. The problem with the former is that is has a high resistance to change and has taken years to respect much of the industry outside of Europe. (The Oxford Companion to Wine, which I long ago nicknamed the “Condescendium”, being a prime example and really, who still publishes huge encyclopaedias anymore?) The latter can change direction on a whim and seem needlessly spastic in its focus on the current trends. Supertuscans may have been all the rage one year but almost invisible on the review pages next.

While we currently seem to believe that all knowledge that is knowable is somewhere online the fact is that the digital world is not the “all knowing”. If all you’ve got is “a thousand songs in your pocket” (from Apple’s early promotions of the first iPod), you’re missing out on all of the other music that isn’t in your playlist. There is nothing on your list that you didn’t put there yourself so there is no way that you ever hear anything that will challenge your listening abilities. Of course there is also the argument that mp3’s are only able to reproduce a very small amount of the frequencies of live sound, leaving all kinds of subtle overtones out. Zooming in on the pixels of a JPEG of Tom Thomson’s April in Algonquin Park online are nothing compared to what it’s like to stand in front of the same painting and see the the brush strokes, dead colouring, or craquelure up close. The digital domain can only really hope to reproduce a small portion of the world as it exists in real life. The digital world is not the real world. Information on the internet is not knowledge. Wine can only be experienced IRL, not on a blog, which is the main reason that I don’t do wine reviews here.

Outside of that digital world, there are people who actually have knowledge that can extend beyond the confines of a search engine. Humans have the ability to think beyond the threshold limits of what our little electronic devices are capable of. Let’s not belittle them by calling them pretentious.

A Finished Product

20141108-193943.jpgWhen is a wine truly finished?

These are the crazy things that I think about while I’m driving along highway 97. It’s amazing I haven’t had a serious accident lately.

What I mean is this: When a car rolls off the assembly line at Toyota, it’s finished and ready to be used. It’s the same with any other manufactured product. In the art world, when a painter is finished a painting, it’s done. It’s a finished work of art that won’t change noticeably over time. A book is an author’s finished work. A photograph is a photographer’s. A sculptor’s final work can last hundreds of years as statues.

When a chef finishes a dish, it must be enjoyed at a particular time. Wait too long and the food gets cold or worse. There’s a short amount a time for the finished product but at least it is finished and in a presentable state.

So when is a bottle of wine a finished work? When it’s in the bottle? Just bottled? After 6 months? 6 years? Wine makers are artists of a sort as well (some of them really act like it sometimes) and it must be more than a little daunting to know that the wines that that they make will be received completely differently based on when someone opens the bottle. How many times have you bought a wine from a winery only to hear them say, “Save this one for about a year before opening it.” You won’t hear that after buying a bottle of beer, or a cola at 7-11.

There is no real definitive time when a bottle of wine is actually finished. Like a chef’s meal, it won’t last forever but some wines are capable of lasting for years.

IMG_0814Music is another art form that seems like it should have a more finished product but it isn’t. When is a piece of music finished the way that the song’s composer wants it to be? In Bach’s time, was the manuscript the finished work of art? Nobody can hear a manuscript – it needs to be played by a musician. So is that first performance the finished piece? Or is it the tenth? We’ve had commercially available recordings for only the past century so. Are the recordings the final product? Which recordings? The original vinyl version of Sgt. Pepper’s, the CD version, or the mp3 from iTunes?

What’s the Point?

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s why wine is considered to be a grand metaphor for humanity. People change and evolve over time the same way that wine does. No, we don’t lose our acidity and tannins, but we have moods and changing situations that make us react to various stimuli in different ways from day to day. We are ever evolving until the day we die. There is no definitively finished or completed human, there is always room for change of some kind (improvement, education, enlightenment, etc). The variations can be small, subtle, and barely noticeable, but over time will become obvious.

We see the changes in children more quickly because they are young and their growth (physical and intellectual) is immediately apparent. One day they can’t talk, the next day they can say words, and the next day they can tell you why they should be able to climb onto the roof of their playhouse when they were told in no uncertain terms not to do that.

20150123-095548.jpgThis whole idea is a direct result of my recent 8-year Nota Bene vertical. As I opened the bottles, some wines were aged beautifully – complex, aromatic, and smooth – while others were clearly on the young side. They were all Nota Bene but which was the real finished product? To me, the ’07 stood out but the ’05 was pretty good too. The ’12 was still showing it’s youth but was also a great tasting wine, albeit at a different stage of its life. I was concerned that some of them would be too austere for drinking this early but I needn’t have worried about it.

Just like a young child, the ’12 had changed noticeably over the past 10 months. When I first tasted the ’12 last April as part of staff training at Black Hills, it was not very complex, lacked a little structure, but was strangely smoother than previous vintages at the same age, which I ascribed to the dominance of Merlot in the blend for this vintage. Over the next 7 months, I smelled or tasted it daily for nearly 5 days each week and noticed how it changed month to month. Some of it was based on my own tasting but some of it was also based on customers’ reactions, which itself was widely variable. I had one customer say that he preferred his Nota Bene to be super-mature and was only now drinking his ’02’s! Many indicated that 5 years was about they most they could handle, more because they just couldn’t wait more than that to open it. I have a sneaking suspicion that the vast majority of the customers from last summer will have gone through all of their wines by the time next summer rolls around.

Nota Bene has a reputation for age-worthiness but the wine culture here seems to endorse early drinking rather than holding on to wines for to a more mature state. To be fair, most wines aren’t meant for long-term ageing but if the wine culture drinks everything young, then why bother?

IMG_0805Let me be clear here – I think that there is nothing wrong with drinking age-worthy wines young. It’s all a matter of taste and whatever each person wants to find from that ‘finished product’ is a personal choice. The gentlemen that bought a recent vintage of Oculus to open “tonight at the camp site” obviously knew what he was getting into and choose that wine for that reason. (If I could choose to do that with a bottle that was $90 at the time, maybe I might do that more often as well…) That ’12 Nota Bene did taste quite amazing last summer in August. It also tasted beautiful 3 full days after my vertical party, so it does have some staying power. I am interested in exploring the idea of what exactly that ‘finished product’ is, if it even exists at all.

This is part of its nebulous nature and is what keeps us interested in it. Famous wine people like Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, and Robert Parker probably all still love wine even after spending a lifetime putting it under a microscope. What other beverage can claim this? It is unlikely that there will ever be as many publications about tea or connoisseurs of root beer. (Perhaps a flawed exampled – have you tried the one at Burger 55?? Damn…)

Get on with it

I suggest that wine is not ever a ‘finished’ product like cheese or a car or a can of cola. Wine’s evolutionary nature combined with our own makes for endless possible points for intersection. Person A can taste a wine on Day X and hate it while Person B might love it. If Person A had waited a few years until Day Y, it may have been the best wine they’d ever tastes, maybe even their ‘epiphany wine’.

As if wine making isn’t already full of variables, the elusive ‘finished product’ seems to take it all to another level. The unpredictable nature of it all seems to be part of the attraction. Here’s to hoping that this never changes.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

On Subtlety

20150116-104654.jpgSubtlety is like a complex joke. You either get it or you don’t. Some people are incredibly perceptive of minute variations and changes of colours, textures, timing, or some other quality while other people can’t see the difference.

If you drive a car going to work, do you think about the weight transfer to your tires going around corner? Professional race car drivers do but most people probably don’t in the course of their daily drive. Most pro sports players, especially the big stars, are able to move in complex ways or perceive small movements in their games at a level far beyond what the armchair athletes watching on TV are capable of noticing. They’ve trained for it.

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Watching the game with Desert Hills Gamay.

I started curling a few years ago and it has always amazed me just how tiny, small variations in anything to do with the game play can cause huge difference in results. From throwing the rocks (weight, direction, spin – called ‘handle’ in curling’) to sweeping (when, how hard), one subtle difference in any variable can effect where the rock will stop. On top of then there’s all the strategies of play to consider. To be even a moderately acceptable curler (not even a pro), one has to be aware of, understand the reasons for, and be able to execute the technique for throwing rocks and sweeping. Curling is entirely a game of subtleties that are very difficult to see on television.

Um, so like, what does this have to do with wine?

Has technology has blunted our senses to a point where we are able to perceive less? I don’t think so. People are different and have always been different even before our current electronic age of smart phones and stupid people talking on them while driving. I think that digital technology is limited and that humans can perceive way more than digital technology can dish out. I think that’s why we’re starting to see vinyl records back on the market. As far as full, nuanced sound goes, vinyl can’t be beat.

It is my belief that different people have different thresholds of perception. Some people can see more details, hear different sounds, and smell more scents than other people. We are all human and humans are all different, although nobody should be judged better because of their skills. If you can’t hear a difference between vinyl and a 128kps MP3 on your iPod then don’t worry about it – you don’t need to buy a new record player. However, for some people it does matter a lot because they can perceive a difference between vinyl and MP3 and to them it is as clear as night and day. I also believe that anyone can learn to perceive anything if given the right guidance.

$5 wine and $50 wine

What’s the difference between a $5 Merlot and a $50 Merlot.

$45.

No, I mean in terms of taste. Is there a difference in taste between the two different price points?

There should be. Hopefully the $50 wine was produced from grapes grown in a high quality, low-yielding vineyard that has unique terroir and is vinified and handled with care using quality tanks and barrels. Ageing this wine in a cellar will change it slightly, smoothing the texture, integrating the many complex aromas and flavours.

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Not Beethoven’s 5th Symphony

The $5 wine was probably mass-produced from grapes grown in many vineyards anywhere (because it doesn’t matter), fermented in massive tanks, pumped through many different processes, and bottled within the year. Ageing the wine is not needed because it’s shelf life is limited to about 3 years. The wine will taste good, smooth, and pleasing but may not have a lot of different flavors or aromas.

These are both generalizations and there are a million shades of grey between the two extremes. There is also the potential for some amazing upsets on both ends of the spectrum – $50 wines that are awful or $5 wines that are beautifully complex. That’s what makes wine hunting fun. It depends on what you are looking for in a wine and how much you can perceive about it.

As I said before, I believe that anyone can really learn to perceive anything if they know what to look for. I find that as I learned about wine, the more I started to look for certain things. I really liked wines that had tannins and that had more than 2 or 3 different flavors and aromas. I wanted wines that had lots of different things going on. I wanted to be challenged with every sip.

Not everyone wants that and sometimes I just good to have a simple glass of wine without anything complicated. I think of music the same way.

Brilliance of the 5th

My music history teacher in university for my second year was an animated fellow. He was an excellent tenor who truly loved music and was oddly good at communicating that to us, his students. (I say ‘oddly’ because many music teachers were either great teachers or great musicians but rarely both.) When it came time to cover the beginnings of the Romantic era of music (the 19th Century) Beethoven occupied a huge space in the syllabus. I can’t recall any single composer that was so important in the history of western music that we studied more than Beethoven. When we started studying the 5th Symphony, I learned why that was.

IMG_0812Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is probably the single-most widely known piece of music that isn’t in a Star Wars movie. The theme of the first movement can be mimed in front of anyone and they will know what symphony it is. Even people who don’t know ‘classical’ music generally know the 5th Symphony’s first movement. It can even be typed – da da da daaaaa – and people will understand it.

This is part of its brilliance. My teacher’s theory about why this particular piece was so popular (not even recently – it’s been popular almost since its first performance, which is an interesting story, but not for a wine blog) revolves around its simplicity – it sounds simple (and loud and fun) but there are so many details for people to look for if they want to. If they don’t, it’s also awesome, bombastic music to hear an orchestra bash out for about 10 minutes. Its brilliance is that it appeals to many different people on many different levels.

The entire first movement (and parts of the other movements) use this four-note phrase as a motif. What can one person do with a motif like that? Tons. Oodles. Buckets. It is a simple motif that can be expanded upon in a million different ways. It’s so simple but complicated at the same time. The theme gets treated differently in very subtle ways over the course of the first movement and ends up a little different at the end. How is it different? You’ll have to listen to find out. That same 4-note theme can be heard in each of the other movements of the symphony as well. Listen carefully…

Come on dude, this a WINE blog. Get on with it.

The best wines are the same. They will not be obscured by details so as to seem forbidding or needlessly complex. Sometimes complexity itself doesn’t taste very good. Instead, they will be able to appeal to a wide group of people who can appreciate it at all levels. People who want to get all kinds of subtle flavors and want to challenge their palate will be able to do that. People who want something that simply tastes great will also get that.

Sometimes a wine needs to be aged for this aspect to be appreciated. That’s why some people age their wines. That’s why I (try) to age some of mine. Sometimes, I want to be challenged with those subtleties that usually only come with bottle age. Other times, I just want an inexpensive, tasty wine that probably won’t be very complex. And that’s awesome too. I like the wine to match the occasion. Nota Bene doesn’t make sense for pizza on Tuesday but it does for a special dinner party.

There’s always a range of subtleties for people who want whatever they want to perceive. From simple to complex, CPE Bach to Beethoven, AC/DC to Tool, or Two-buck Chuck to Petrus, the range of subtleties itself makes life that much more interesting. Enjoy the nuances and subtleties that wine has to offer. There’s a lot out there.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Hints of Gooseberries and Baloney

There’s an old Celtic proverb that goes, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” I’m about as Celtic as won-ton soup but I’ve always found that proverb appealing for some reason. Growing up English-speaking in a French-speaking province meant that I probably had different, minority cultural views than the rest of the province. Language is very important for determining how we view the world. In the wine world, it’s not insignificant that there is no direct word in English for “Terroir”. Nor is there a word in French for “winemaker”. (The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (not the name of an episode of The Big Bang Theory) is the bigger linguistic concept, if you want to look into this kind of thing further.)

Our language certainly influences how we see the world but I think our world also influences our language. When I lived on the east coast, any liquid that fell from the sky was called “rain”. When I moved to Vancouver, I soon discovered that there were many shades of falling liquid (“showers”, “drizzle”, “downpour”, “pissing”, “deluge”, and – my favourite – “mist”) that each had their own characteristics.

So how does language enable (or hinder) us from describing the wines that we drink?

The Wine Review

People who are new to wine (and some that have been here awhile) find wine reviews kind of bizarre at best and misleading at worst. Tasting notes in magazines, websites, blogs, and apps are filled with descriptions of how the wine supposedly tastes. This wine has “hints of cherries, violets, and forest floor” while this one has “leather, earth, and cigar box notes” with a “firm structure” and much “intensity” and “smoky overtones of licorice”.

Interesting. Wine can have all that stuff in it?

It seems to be a bizarre way to communicate about wine, which itself is a difficult task. A customer at a store I used to work at (here it goes, another one of these stories that I wish I’d made up, but didn’t) that was shopping for a wine with his wife, pulled a bottle off the shelf, looked at it, and then yells across the store, “Honey! This one’s got strawberries in it!” Aside from getting some people to think that wine makers actually add these flavours to the wines (they don’t), it doesn’t actually tell anyone very much about the wine or if they’ll like it or not. One would assume that if one likes strawberries, then if it lists strawberries on the label then one should like the wine. But is that how it is meant to work? How does one communicate that kind of thing?

One of my heroes, Frank Zappa, said (allegedly) that “writing about music was like dancing about architecture.” They are two completely different modes of expression and not easy to make sense of saying the same, or even similar, ideas. I spent years writing about music at university and it was quite frustrating at times. So I decided to start writing about wine.

Perhaps I like the challenge. Perhaps I’m an idiot that really doesn’t learn? More likely is that I’m really interested in how people communicate. How do you know you will love a wine before you taste it? How can you express what you sense so that someone else can get the same reaction? Can it even be done? If it can’t, then what’s the point?

The Point

Wine people get really serious about this kind of thing sometimes. Wine reviews in magazines and blogs, favourable or not, can have a huge impact on the sales of a particular wine. Robert Parker was as powerful as he was in the wine world because of his tasting notes and final scores in the Wine Advocate. I’ve always found those final point scores to be the most divisive within the industry and consumers. Consumers seem to like them, if only as a useful shorthand when shopping. Wine industry, especially those who produce wines that have received good reviews, also love them. The rest of the industry, while not outwardly expressing their disdain, mumble quietly to themselves about it.

I’ve always had a problem with the scores simply because they are far too reductionist. As an neophyte wine drinker, I cannot say that scores didn’t influence my purchases. To see a high score or read a good review meant that if I saw the wine on the shelf, it would very likely tip it in favour of me purchasing it. I’m not sure when that changed but I do remember an incident that provoked some thought. I was searching for a Gewürztraminer from Domaine de Chaberton in Langley. They had won a top prize for it, scored big, and was on the cover of some magazine at the same time. I loved Gewürztraminer (still do) and went after it. I went to my local wine store. Not there. I went to Domaine de Charberton’s wine shop. Sold out.

I finally found it at a small wine store in Langley. It was there!! Hallelujah, I was saved! I brought a couple of bottles up to the dude at the till. I told him I’d been looking for these all day and that I was happy I’d found it. Then I asked what he thought of it. He said, “It’s good, but it doesn’t have a lot of varietal character.”

PLOOFFFFFFFFffffffffffffffffffff….   <<That’s the blogging approximation of the sound of an air mattress deflating slowly.>>

Aside from being a gargantuanly stupid sales job on his part, this dude brought me a dose of reality about my situation. I had gone nuts over trying to find a bottle of wine based on a review, medal, or point score and this guy’s disagreement deflated it in one shot. It made me think about what I was doing searching for this bottle of wine that I hoped would be awesome based on something that was communicated to me (in this case, in a magazine). Was the wine really as good as the magazine said it would be?

Well, I liked it. “Varietal character”? Check, all there. Lovely Gew in all the ways that I liked it at the time.

The end result of this was twofold: First, I never went back to that store. Second, I started to question all of the wine reviews that I read. I started to read them more for entertainment, for a giggle at the extravagant vocabulary and erudite turns of phrase (ha, that one was pretty “erudite” eh?), than to actually learn about the wines themselves. Because to me, it didn’t matter anymore. I wasn’t going to chase after the wines that got the reviews any more than I was going to see a movie that had the best reviews. To this day, I have never sipped on a glass of wine and thought, “Hmm, that’s a 91.” Nor have I read a book, eaten food, smelled a flower, or saw a beautiful woman walking down the street and assigned a point score to the experience. To reduce a wine or any human sensory experience down to a two digit number is ridiculous.

Get on with it

Whenever I get a little ‘too serious’ about wine tasting notes, I think back to this article about a potato chip connoisseur from The Onion that kind of pushes the reset button for me. I look for wines that I think I will enjoy based on recommendations from store staff or friends, tasting samples, and my own intuition. I have lots of wine friends and I’ve come to understand their tastes in wine. One of them prefers fuller, richer styles of whites and hates overly acidic wines. Another can’t stand BC Sauvignon Blanc, finding it too saline for her tastes. Another likes to be more adventurous and loves complex wines with lots of different flavours. Sometimes I can calibrate my recommendations to or from them based on this knowledge. I know that I have made purchases based on what my friends have told me about a wine. It’s not a conscious thing but I’ve found it interesting that I even do this. I know that effective communication is a huge element of working in a successful winery wine shop (or any retail store). Quickly and effectively communicating about the product is key when making the sale.

The point is that this interaction with my friends (or customers) is something that is more useful than words in a magazine wine review or a point score. Is there even a word in English for this kind of interaction or relationship? Can we ascribe a word to it now that we know it may exists? I can see it is how I am, therefore I should be able to have a word for it. (I’ll work on that and get back to you.)

When assigning value to a wine ultimately comes down to basic person-to-person communication, everything else seems kind of pointless.

What do you mean “blended”?

Another question that has been inspired by the many wine tourist friends that I’ve met over the years is about blended wines. I worked at a winery that offered a beautifully constructed premium blended wine that a customer vocally poo-pooed before even tasting it.

“None for me! I don’t like blended wines at all. I much prefer the single varietals,” said the customer.

“What wines do you normally like to drink?” I asked.

“Oh, I love Bordeaux, Rhones, and Chiantis mostly,” was the reply.

*facepalm*

I wish I was making this up but alas, I am not. There was nothing I could do but “Uh-huh” and nod approvingly. A certain amount of tact is involved in working in a wine shop and I was not going to bother to explain that all of the wines they told me were actually blended wines. Bordeaux wines can be made with 9 grape varieties (6 red, 3 white), Rhone wines with a few (4 in the north, upwards of 27 in the south), and Chianti’s (based on Sangiovese but with a bunch more). Suffice it to say that blended wines may be a bit confusing even to some experienced wine lovers.

What is a “blended” wine?

IMG_0811The Oxford Companion to Wine defines a blend as:

Any product of blending but specifically a wine deliberately made from more than one grape variety rather than a single varietal (which may contain only a small proportion of other varieties).”

Blended wines are made with more than one different grape variety. Different grape varieties have different flavours and textures so blending the varieties together in different ways can enhance a wine beyond what the single varieties could have accomplished on their own. In short, the finished wine should be better than the individual wines were on their own. If that wasn’t the case, they should never have been blended. Wines are generally blended with others of the same colour although that isn’t always the case. Shiraz (a red grape) sometimes has a little bit of Viognier (a white) blended in during fermentation which, bizarrely enough, makes the wine darker. It also makes it more aromatic which is the reason Viognier is used in the first place.

In addition to this, I also extend the idea of blended wines to include wines that have been made using more than one vineyard source, although this might be a little confusing because it’s very hard to tell by taste. In my mind a Merlot from [yellow tail] may be made with only one grape variety (Merlot in this case) but because the Merlot comes from perhaps hundreds of vineyard sources, it dilutes any trace of terroir (or any possibility of unique wine flavours) from the finished product. Of course, that’s exactly the point – to create a non-invasive, innocuous, and widely appealing wine with no sharp edges. Because it’s a deliberate, human-initiated activity, I consider it to be a blended wine as well. A lot of BC wines are made this way but on a much smaller scale than the [yellow tail] example above. Unless it is stated as a single vineyard, most wines will very likely come from 2 to 4 different vineyards.

Blended wine is cheap wine

Well, not necessarily. There are still wineries in BC that produce a low-cost base-line blend using the tailings of batches of wines that were used elsewhere or that didn’t measure up in quality.  These wines will be the least expensive bottle in their portfolio and honestly, there is nothing wrong with that in my opinion. The alternative is that it is sold off at a reduced price to another winery where it will be blended away into something else or worse, that it is simply wasted and poured down the drain.

Sometimes these wines can be an accessible and inexpensive option to start learning about wine. For me, Gray Monk’s Latitude 50 was always on my radar as an early wine lover. Road 13’s Honest John’s series and The Cellarhand from Black Hills are other modern takes on this same style.

IMG_0810Many blended wines in BC are climbing higher up the portfolio’s quality ladder. My theory is that wine makers are getting more confident with their skills and are starting to put more thought into making a better wine and not just accepting what nature throws their way. Perhaps the Pinot Gris was a little flabby last year? Maybe adding a little Pinot Blanc will brighten it up? Adding a little Chard might round it out a little. There’s all kinds of qualities in wine that can be tinkered with simply by combining wines from different grape varieties. Wine makers in BC are getting better and more confident at crafting their blends. Winery sales and marketing staff have also gotten behind the blended wines as well, which is critical if a style is going to be successful in the marketplace.

For me personally, I love seeing what a winery can do and the blended wines are a great indicator of their potential.

Blended wine is not as fruity

This came from a customer’s comment sometime last year and has stuck with me ever since. I wouldn’t say that blended wines aren’t as “fruity” as single varieties but that perhaps they are simply not as predictable. It’s hard to tell what to expect from a wine by looking at the name on the label. Seeing “Pinot Noir” on the label tells you a lot. For BC wine in means that it’s going to be a light to medium red wine without a lot of tannins and some bright cherry flavours. Seeing “Felicidade”, “2Bench”,  or “Autumn Gold” on the label means nothing unless you’ve previously tried the wine.

Being less predictable also makes the wines a little more challenging. Single variety wines are easy to figure out if you’ve tasted enough of them and know that you like a particular one. It’s an accessible way to get into wine and learn about it. I remember being faced with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a bottle of Cru Bourgeois Haut-Medoc and choosing the Cabernet Sauvignon because I’d had a few of them before, liked them all, and bought the Cabernet Sauvignon because I thought that I would like it better than whatever the other one was. Of course, the other one was also made of Cabernet Sauvignon (mostly) but because that wasn’t on the label, it didn’t register with me. My loss.

Blended wine is in fashion

IMG_0809Well, it is right now. Or maybe it was? Fashion changes quickly in everything although its difficult to predict and, in the world of wine, is extremely slow to adapt. There’s a big time lag between starting a wine and getting it to market. Wine tastes also change much more slowly than tastes in music, shoes, or handbags. (Uh, so I’ve heard. I’ve read about it somewhere…) Pinot Gris was the hot variety in BC when I first moved to the Okanagan 7 years ago. Blended wines are moving up in the BC wine world and leading the charge for high quality is the blend known as “Meritage”.

Meritage (pronounced “meri-tij” not “meri-tawj” – it rhymes with “heritage”) is a way of indicating that the wine was made using the same grape varieties allowed in Bordeaux. (Technically for a winery to use the word “meritage”, they must belong to the Meritage Alliance, an American organization of which wineries can become a member and therefore be able to legally use the name “Meritage”. However in practice, it has become a generic term to denote a style of wine that is like a Bordeaux.) The earliest prestige or trophy bottles in BC wine’s history were all meritages; Oculus (first vintage ’95), Pinnacle (’97), Nota Bene (’99), and Osoyoos Larose (’01). It was as if BC wine had to prove to the world that we could make a serious meritage. Our current generation of the industry came about at the height of “Parkerization”, when rich, extracted styles of wines were the ones that gained the most attention and were considered to be the most prestigious. Thankfully that era has past but the desire to craft a high quality, complex blend will hopefully never go out of style.

If you blend it…

So the moral of the story is this: Be not afraid of wines not named Cabernet. Single varieties are good, for sure, but there’s a whole world of creativity out there for you to try. Instead of Merlot, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir, look for Character, Corner Stone, Fossil Fuels, and Freud’s Ego. A lot of the blends will also have the varieties listed on the back label just in case you wanted to start with a wine that has varieties that you know you like.

There’s lots of great blended wine out there to discover. Challenge your taste buds and enjoy the wine adventure. Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

The Terroir of Tasting

I believe that where and when we taste a wine will have an effect on how we perceive the wine. The physical conditions and environment of the person along with those of the wine will influence perception. I call it the “Terroir of Tasting”. How can wineries better prepare their own wine shops to have better tasting terroir for their customers? The same is true for music – listening to a song at a loud concert with all of the sensory stimulation that comes with it (light show, smells, other people, etc) is very different from listening on an iPod in the dark – so why not for other experiences like wine?

Don’t agree? Try pouring a glass of your favourite wine into the most suitable stemware that you own. Turn on some appropriate music, light some candles, maybe prepare a little food to compliment the wine, and then… take that wine and drink it while sitting on a bucket in a broom closet with the door closed.

Not the same experience, is it?

“The wine tasted different at home than it did when I tasted it at the winery,” said more than a few customers to me over the years while working at a wine store. There must be reasons for that and it may help understand the terroir of tasting a little bit more. It’s not a scientific study or anything (this is a wine blog after all, not a peer-reviewed academic journal) but are a collection of observations based on my own experiences. Just like in Jonah Lehrer’s book Proust Was a Neuroscientist, science generally proves what art has already figured out first. A great article recently in The Guardian also touches on this subject as well.

So, why do the wines sometimes taste different when you get them home? Let’s explore…

1. Travel Shock

Wine bottles get shaken up a lot while they are travelling. While there’s nothing scientific to prove that the wine is somehow different after arriving home, I think it’s always a good idea to let the wine rest for a while (maybe a couple of weeks) before opening it after coming home from your wine country excursion. Just like wine, we can be travel shocked in a way as well. Having a glass of water is a little boring during a meal but I’m pretty sure most people think it tastes pretty amazing after a vigorous run or a workout.

2. Decanting or Ageing

Sometimes wines poured in a tasting room have been open for a little while. They may have been exposed to oxygen for an unknown amount of time and anyone who has worked in a wine shop pouring the same wines each day for years knows that the same wine will change as it is being pour throughout the day. (I always used to feel bad for whoever had to taste the top 2 inches of wine from a freshly opened premium bottle of Cab Franc at winery where I used to work.) It may be that you, as the wine customer, tasted the wine at a point that you really enjoyed.

While I’m on the subject, glassware is also hugely influential on how a wine will be perceived. Notice I didn’t say how a wine will taste. Some styles of wines just show better in some types of glasses. I did a podcast about this early on using a Pinot Noir and the results were astounding even though we were all a little sceptical that it would make a difference at all. I’ve visited a couple of very promising new wineries and been very disappointed because, for whatever reason, they skimped on the glassware or were using glasses that were entirely inappropriate – wrong size or shape for the portfolio, or just plain cheap. I’m not saying that every winery has to have Riedel Vinum XL’s or anything but if the winery plans to sell a $45 meritage as the top end of their portfolio, it won’t show very well in a $3/stem thick-walled wine glass they bought in bulk at Canadian Tire.

3. Palate Fatigue

20141108-213136.jpgEven professional tasters admit to palate fatigue. Everything starts to taste the same and none of it is good. Or at least the distinguishing flavours are a little more blurred than they would have been. Tasting the wines at the 7th winery of the day is going to be different than if it had been the 1st winery that day. It’s not rocket science to figure that out. Wine makes us hungry and after we’ve had food, our tastes seem to settle down a little.

4. Bombardment of the senses

Wine tasting is really a multi-sensory experience. Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer was intently interested in creating works of music that encompassed more than just listening to sound. Schafer (in the late ’70’s) listed the traditional Catholic Mass as a true multi-sensory experience because it involved all of the senses (sight – the beautiful church, smell – incense, taste – communion, sound – music, touch – kneeling) and this was a huge influence on all of his works. His best music had to be experienced in person and some of them sound utterly ludicrous without the proper context. Hearing 12 trombones perform around the edge of a lake in the wilderness is vastly different than listening to the same music on an iPod while waiting for the bus in the rain in Vancouver. (A completely random example that I may or may not have experienced myself…)

A turntable and a large record collection are part of the experience at Culmina.

A turntable and a large record collection are part of the experience at Culmina.

I’m amazed at how little thought goes into the acoustic environment in a wine shop. Live music can make it feel more like a special event and some wineries have really built a tradition with having regular live entertainment. I created a whole project designed for performance in wine shops and have personally seen what adding music to the mix can do to lighten the mood. Thornhaven, Dirty Laundry, and Sonoran in Summerland and Hester Creek in Oliver all have regular music performed throughout the summer months. There are probably others who have live music but these wineries have been doing it for a long time. Does that effect the tasting terroir? You bet it does.

Colours help as well. Is the environment bright or subdued? I’m amazed at how many so-called ‘architects’ or ‘designers’ think that dark brown or black is an appropriate colour for a wine bar. Thankfully we’re seeing this change with the newer, more thoughtfully designed spaces like the bright white spaces of Painted Rock in Penticton and Liquidity in Okanagan Falls. Other wine shops have more earth-toned ambiance that also work well. I love the differences between each wine shop because it really expresses the different personalities of each location. Rustico‘s shop is an old-time saloon, cluttered with wine, signs, and products everywhere and it’s great. Meyer Family Vineyards is surrounded with windows that show the vineyards rising up all around them and it’s spectacular when tasting around that focused tasting bar. Ancient Hill‘s wine shop is a classically grand and has unique views without loosing its cosiness that really contributes an elegance to the wines.

Delhi to Dublin at Festival of the Grape '12

Delhi to Dublin at Festival of the Grape ’12

The only sense that needs to be restricted is the sense of smell. A stinky wine shop will not sell much of anything although neither the customer nor winery owner will be able to put a finger on why. Possibly the only thing aromatic that I can think of that will enhance the experience is a yeasty, cellar aroma which is part of the wine’s own natural habitat anyway. Terravista in Naramata has their tasting platform (it’s a piece of glass across some barrels) in their tank room and it’s a cool experience tasting the wine steps away from where it was made surrounded by all of the sights, aromas, and ambiance of the cellar. I remember tasting the first vintage of Painted Rock‘s Syrah outside of their old, tiny tasting room after it had just rained – the smell of wet earth lifted the syrah right out of the glass. It was an unbelievable experience.

Scented products like soaps or incense have no place in the wine shop to be sold as gifts. Those scents are distracting and can interact quite badly with the wines. I did a test at a wine shop where I worked some years ago: An otherwise beautifully scented soap turned an otherwise beautifully scented Pinot Gris into the pleasant smell of rotting flowers instantly. We opted not to carry that product.

Unless all of those winery smells are exactly the same at home, it’s likely that these differences will influence how you perceive the wine once you are home from your trip to wine country.

5. Context

No crowds means lots of time to learn about the wines.

Church and State’s comfy tasting bar

Then there is the context of the wine drinker and the wine itself – where are they in their day? Is there an optimal point for both to get the most out of wine? This is a big part of what intrigues me about what I do in wine sales. Wineries sometimes shoot themselves in the foot by not taking into account the ‘terroir’ of their tasting rooms. They can’t control the timing (when a customer will actually taste a wine or how many wineries they’ve already been to) but they can be aware of their tasting room environment. There is one other thing that can be either beneficial or detrimental to a customer’s wine shop experience and it’s something that I’ve found that I am tolerating less and less the more wineries I visit.

The tasting bar. There’s just something about it that has always bothered me. In terms of efficiency (getting the most customers through the bar quickly) it’s hard to beat. But I don’t have a bar of my own at home and if I did, I’m not sure that I would drink my wine standing up at it. When I go to bars, I usually get to sit down rather than stand. After visiting a half-dozen wineries, I find standing at them to be kind of tiring. None of this occurred to me until I stopped working at a winery with a tasting bar and started at another winery without one (FYI – Black Hills). It was a truly enlightening experience because I realized that the customers were getting an entirely different experience without having to stand uncomfortably at a tasting bar. They could relax, listen, have a proper conversation, and actually take the time to enjoy the wine rather than “splash and dash” through a portfolio of 8 wines in 5 minutes before hitting the road. Black Hills isn’t the only one doing this. Culmina has sit-down guided tastings and you can also sit down at both Church and State‘s and Painted Rock‘s tasting bars. Mission Hill and Hester Creek both have tours or experiences that feature guided tastings in different locations away from the typical tasting bar. Did all of these wineries really put a lot of thought into their customer’s tasting terroir when they deigned their building or set up their wine shop? You bet they did and it shows.

Conclusions

It’s time that wineries in BC start to thinking about how they present themselves a little more. Some wineries have not really given the ‘tasting terroir’ of their wine shops much thought and it shows. I’m sure that most of the successful wineries have already done this and realize how important it can be to presenting their wines as best as possible. It can also be taken a little too far where the experience overshadows the wine by a long shot (where most people remember the experience but can’t recall anything about the wines).

If you are a winery, please take the time to consider how your guests are experiencing your wines. Little changes can make a big difference in sales.

If you are a tourist in wine country, take the time to appreciate the effort that a winery has put into their ‘tasting terroir’. Some of those special touches can be used at home to make your own wine experiences more enjoyable.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

The Oral Traditions of Wine

Orality – That which characterizes speech; a culture characterized by the primacy of speech over other forms of signification. Usually opposed to literacy, orality refers to those aspects of a culture’s way of life that are attributable to its investment in the resources of spoken language. These may include formal ways of organizing thought (myth) or knowledge (magic); or they may be associated with rhetorical and other systems for fixing and transmitting sense.”

– from Key Concepts in Communications and Culture Studies by Tim O’Sullivan et al, 1994.

DSC_3047

Rhys Pender, MW, at Clos du Soleil’s first vertical tasting.

Working in wine sales, I have noticed that much of what I do revolves around talking. Lots of talking. When I leave work after going “Blah blah blah blah” all day, I relish the time on the motorcycle heading home, where talking out loud is utterly useless and I can take pleasure from just shutting up. All the wineries and stores where I’ve worked have lots of things to read (back labels, magazines, books, rack cards) but I’ve noticed that people don’t seem to pay attention to those as much. Even those eager customers who carry notebooks around for their tasting notes are few and far between. People seem to make purchasing decisions based on the experience of tasting the wines and on the stories and descriptions told to them by their friends or wine shop person behind the bar.

I’ve included stories from friends as an influence here because I don’t want to put too much emphasis on the influence of the wine shop person, who has a vested financial interest in making sure that the wine is appealing. That’s their (my) job. While it is unlikely that a person selling wine can ever make someone purchase a wine that has a taste that repulses them, it is possible that that person can enhance the tasting experience itself enough to make it more pleasurable than it might be otherwise. Ever get home from wine trip and and find that the wine doesn’t really taste like you remember in the wine shop? There could be a few factors at work there (bottle variance, travel shock, etc) but the presentation (the stories of the wines / sales pitch) are a part of that experience and therefore somewhat influential on the perception of the wine at that moment.

This has been my experience especially when asking people to try two wine styles about which they have huge preconceived notions and would otherwise refuse to taste – oaked chardonnays and rosés. These are two different styles of wine that have had huge backlash over the recent decades and there are still people who prejudge the modern examples based on past experiences. Oaked chards will always be “vanilla wine with some grapes added” and rosés will always be sweet “Mateus” or “White Zin” (depending on the person’s age). I’ve noticed that how I introduce these particular styles of wine has everything to with how they will be perceived. I happen to enjoy both of those types of wines and perhaps my enthusiasm for them is somehow infectious. Who knows how effective I would be at selling those wines were I not to be as fond of those styles?

Andrea Robinson, Master Sommelier, wine writer, and Andreawine.com

Andrea Robinson, Master Sommelier, wine writer, at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2010

Preferences and tastes are individual. Everyone behind the wine bar has had different experiences with wine and with the wines that they are talking about. Most of them at least like wine and a lot of them (in BC at least) are selling wine for a casual summer job because they are retired or are students. Others enjoy learning about everything that wine has to offer and are focused entirely on every aspect of it from start to finish. Regardless of where the person behind the bar is coming from, everyone has a unique perspective that they use to tell the “story” of the wine at the bar. Because these kinds of interactions are essentially verbal only, I believe that wine sales is an intensely oral tradition rather than a written tradition. I think a big part of wine culture itself is also oral in nature and that most people have experienced wine this way. How many books on wine do most people read? Terry Theise’s Reading Between the Wines has never made the Times best seller list at any point but I think every wine lover should read it. Most people will have more experience talking about wine than reading it. Just like the fish that was THAT BIG, the stories can get a little convoluted.

There’s a game that I used to play at summer camps called Telephone. We would all sit in a line or circle and the leader would whisper a phrase to the person at the head of the line, who would then turn around and whisper that to the next person. The message would get whispered from person to person all the way through the line until the last person who would say out loud what they heard. Without fail the original message of “Swimming in the lake is fun!” would mutate into “Weasels like to bake pies!” and everyone would laugh hysterically.

Just like that camp game, the message that people hear can sometimes get muddled. Oral communication is tricky that way, especially coming out of an age where oral communication has been relatively rare. Sure, we’ve all been talking the whole time but can we all listen with the attentiveness before technology (recordings) allowed us to hear things repeated back verbatim? But that’s an article for a whole other kind of blog…

Technology and social media is bringing back a kind of oral tradition (called Secondary orality by Walter Ong) which perhaps explains some of the appeal of platforms like Twitter and Facebook. On these platforms, ‘facts’ are debatably not the same as ‘facts’ that we would read in a newspaper article or peer-reviewed published work. (Of course, what constitutes a ‘fact’ is another argument altogether.)

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Roie Manoff behind the bar at Silkscarf Winery in Summerland.

People remember stories that they hear (such as from wine shop sales people) and think that they are ‘facts’. I saw a tweet the other day from someone who had had the ‘facts’ somewhat turned-around from the ‘facts’ as I think I know it. It was a photo of a bottle of Merlot and the tweet mentioned something about the Merlot coming from the oldest vines in the Okanagan. As it happens, I used to work at the winery where that particular Merlot came from and that particular bottle was definitely not from the oldest vines in the Okanagan. That winery made two Merlots and the tweet featured the lesser priced version of the two (which was blended from across unknown number of vineyards of any possible age).

The problem isn’t with the customer getting their facts straight. Perhaps they heard them talking about the other, more expensive Merlot and got them confused. But the less than truthful information could have mutated well before that, confused in the mind of the person who happened to be telling them the story – i.e. the wine shop person who sold them the wine. Wine shop people are told to tell “the story” of the wine, which comes from the viticulturist / wine maker to the wine shop sales personnel (through any number of communications or marketing managers). Just like in that camp game of telephone, ‘the story’ can be easily and inadvertently altered at the beginning with more changes happening over the course of the summer as the same story gets told over and over again by the same person.

There is also the issue of where that ‘story’ comes from. Was it from the wine maker? Winery owner? The communications manager? PR person? Director of Sales? Wine shop manager? They all have a reason to include or exclude certain facts for various reasons. Some wine makers are secretive while others are openly candid. Who’s version of the story will be ‘the story’? Will it really impact how the customer appreciates the wine?

From my experience, it absolutely will. Anyone who has had a bad experience in a wine shop or with a particular wine will not only have trouble trying that winery’s wines again but will also have their own story to tell. I explored that recently in a post about expectations in the wine shop wherein that oral storytelling tradition has been integrated into the megaphone of social media platforms. In that case, do the ‘facts’ really even matter all that much?

Perhaps all sales, not just in the wine shop, are part of a tradition of orality. I find it fascinating how this aspect of our human nature (humans have been an oral species far longer than a literate one) is present in a culture based around an age-old beverage like wine.

Cheers from wine country!
~Luke