“Vitischkeit” or The Doonish Problem

hornsThere is a problem, and it is somewhat unexpected, even counter-intuitive, if you will. When I blurt out to people that my company is not making any money, many tend to be incredulous. “The brand is so famous, you are so famous,” I will hear, and “the wines are better than ever.” “You’ve shrunk the company, cashed out (handsomely, they are thinking but not saying) and you are now focused on your dream. How great is that?” In the fantasy world of compulsory happy endings, following one’s dream, (especially preceded by a presumably generous payday or two), should lead to guaranteed success/happiness… And yet, it is all very mysterious…

Mystery #1, why the company is not making money, may be a bit surprising, but is not inexplicable. The company – certainly I must bear the responsibility for this – just did not make a lot of good business decisions (my own damn stubbornness and myopia) for the last five or more years. We didn’t make hay while the sun shined, ((Which is not to suggest that the sun was shining consistently throughout this period, especially in 2008 and 2009.)) as it were, failed to rebrand skillfully, ((Note, this is not the easiest thing to do, even for people who are really good at it, and we were, or at least I was, totally out of my league in this department.)) didn’t raise our prices and lower our costs – all of the things that a company needs to do to achieve functionality and profitability in a highly competitive environment. Mystery #2, why the mainstream press has not been particularly supportive of our recent efforts (indeed, seeming to relegate Bonny Doon and moi-même to a kind of airbrushed Stalin Era-style of invisibility vis-à-vis the late 20th century Rhône movement in the New World) is also not particularly surprising: I have mocked them, I’m afraid, sometimes mercilessly. ((Possibly a function of my own narcissism and inability to take either legitimate or illegitimate criticism in stride, with a certain propensity toward total ballisticity when met with the latter.))

stalingroupI’ve stopped that now (pretty much), but remain an outspoken critic of wine pointillism, of the pervasive overblown, overripe style, of the cult of the wine lifestyle/fetishism, ((This last item is perhaps a bit disingenuous, as I would likely hesitate for no more than a Beaujolais Nouveau second to trade my brand’s perhaps slightly umbral status for extreme cultdom.)) and other aspects of the modern wine business that I find particularly egregious. In truth, the mainstream wine media and I are no longer members of the same tribe, if we ever were.

Mystery #3 is a difficult and painful one (and partially related to Mystery #4 as will become clear, or not, in a moment): some (mercifully, not all) of our distributors seem to have lost interest in our wines, or at least suggest, when pressed, that, while they personally like the wines a lot, indeed, virtually all find them to be truly better than ever, they also, for inexplicable reasons, find them somewhat challenging to sell. ((This is an incredibly complex problem. In a few instances, the problems may have stemmed from the sale of the Big House and Cardinal Zin brands six years ago, resulting in continuing brand confusion in the marketplace. (Most people are finding it hard to take in new information these days.) But as far as the wholesalers, these mega-brands were a rather important revenue source for them, and, in their sale, we hurt some of our wholesalers (with no malice, of course) in the pocketbook. In some cases, especially in the instance of larger distributors, we have become just no longer economically significant to them – nothing more than a rounding error in some cases; for some of the smaller distributors, perhaps it is now harder for them to sell the more esoteric and expensive brands without Big House as the icebreaker. But certainly the bulk of the issue is related to the deep structural problems inhering in the current state of wine distribution. There has been considerable consolidation in many markets – mid-sized distributors gobbled up or squeezed out by large companies – leaving large suppliers with large marketing budgets to have their way with restaurant chains, hotel groups and mega-retailers. Volume, more than quality of placement, really seems to be the byword. (The notion of “brand building” seems to be something like a quaint anachronism.) Small independent retailers and restaurants (and wholesalers) are still, for the most part, continuing to fight the good fight, but they are heading into a strong headwind. It is my conceit that wholesalers, like wineries and essentially everyone these days, is struggling to find a sense of their own relevance. We have to be making a product or offering a service that is truly necessary. (How many of us can claim to truly do that?) )) It is difficult for me to understand how our brand is truly perceived in the “market,” or seemingly, multiplicity of markets (if not universes), and it all seems rather Rashomon-like to me; I can hardly believe that people have such radically different perceptions of the same brand, the same wines. ((The problem seems to occur mostly in “red states.”))

rashomonIn any event, these distributors (they know who they are) are generally terribly sorry and wring their hands, frustrated that they can’t do a better job for us. ((Most everyone is scared about the future (and about the present in most cases, too), whether one admits it to anyone, even to oneself. When you are operating essentially on a survival basis, it is hard to remain focused on the potentially sublime, transcendental and inspiring elements of the wine business. In a practical sense, time is money, and you’d prefer not to spend any of those precious commodities, explaining the great virtues of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc grown on gravelly soil with an eastern exposition, and how the resultant wine is so utterly brilliant for gastronomy, viz. paired with a lobster and fennel risotto.))

And in a (perhaps) related phenomenon (Mystery #4), why are many of the cleverest, most switched-on of the wine writers, some of whom I’m happy to count as friends (more or less), ((Important note: I would not characterize most of them as “close” friends, but certainly as “friendly” – respectful and always a pleasure to spend time with.)) more than a little guarded or reticent to give a real ringing endorsement of the current or recent lineup of our wines? They seem happy to hang out with me, happy to write lengthy pieces about the fascinating plans I have for the future, but are still, incredibly (at least to me), largely incapable of breaking down and writing the magic words: “The wines are better than ever! Randall is doing important work that should be supported! ((It is horrifying for me to spell this out so baldly. I seem to be saying that they are just “not getting it.” (I think that, in fact, they are not getting it.) But in their defense, I would suggest that the reasons may well be due in part to the deep problem of evaluating the real value of New World wines, and, in part, to the psychological issues I will very foolishly attempt to elucidate (see footnotes infra). There is also the very remote possibility that the wines are, in fact, not as great as I think they are. On a certain level, the friendly critics may believe they are currently supporting me by being somewhat parsimonious in their praise of the wines. Perhaps they imagine that the rigorous standards to which they hold me – no easy “A”s or grading on the curve – will inspire me to work harder and perhaps “live up to my potential.”)) Go out and buy this juice now!” (Exclamation points optional, of course.)

I’ve thought long and hard about this problem, and of the issue of what might one legitimately expect as far as support (putting aside the question of in precisely what form that might be) from one’s friends; obviously, this has something (rather a lot) to do with the degree of closeness, length of association, and a thousand other factors derived from the fabric of human experience. ((It is a source of shame to me that I am generally so self-absorbed as to not take a more active interest in the affairs of my friends and loved ones.)) We want to help our friends, of course, but generally only to the extent that we are not putting ourselves too much in harm’s way, and if there is some sort of potential psychic pay-off to ourselves at the end of the day. So, why is it so hard for my friends to speak up on my behalf? ((If there ever was any doubt about the degree of my narcissism, this should settle matters once and for all: while there is absolutely no doubt that my friends wish me (at least with their conscious minds) the greatest success in all of my ventures, it is not inconceivable that their good wishes may be tinged with the teensiest bit of ambivalence. I’m not exactly saying that they are on a subconscious level jealous of my (putative) success, but rather, that I may have triggered an innate competitive response by inadvertently drifting into their No Fly Zone, upsetting the Natural Order of Things. As a published author (who enjoyed some critical success), how could they not want to be a little tougher on me than on anyone else? I am the Winemaker after all, not the Wine Writer, and where is it geschriven that I might have the last word? And then, there is this other thing I do that just utterly pisses guys off. I seem to change my direction rather too often (it’s all utterly consistent from my own point of view), thus coming off as, if perhaps not a weasel, at least as someone whom one has to watch closely and warily. Men, in general (in comparison to women), are far less tolerant of other men whom they perceive to be mercurial shape-shifters. At least I am. It is a cardinal rule among men that we not allow ourselves to be duped or even to look remotely foolish.))

Perhaps they truly are not so impressed with the wines – bear in mind that relatively subtle wines such as ours, not obvious blockbusters, are very difficult for a critic to give that resounding thumbs up. ((This itself is an important question that I’ve wrestled with elsewhere. I believe that to evaluate the qualities of a wine is an incredibly difficult, often largely subjective, virtually always non-replicable exercise, utterly fraught with many variables (time of day, air and wine temperature, fluctuation of atmospheric pressure, influence of lunar/solar phenomena, physiological and emotional state of the taster, degree of turbidity of the wine, degree of turbidity of the consciousness of the taster, etc.) Because of all of these variables, it is not surprising that most wine critics have chosen to look for certain polestars to which they might orient themselves. For Parker and the Wine Spectator, it has been concentration, “ripeness,” power, low acidity, soft but detectable tannins and the presence of a certain amount of the very best oak that money can buy. These are qualities that can be detected with some degree of consistency, and this is incredibly helpful to the critic who wishes to maintain consistency of his own personal brand. For “counter-critics,” it may well be the absence of the aforementioned qualities that make wines interesting, though the positive presence or sensation of “minerality,” acidity, appearance of optical turbidity and other signifiers (volatile acidity, 4 ethyl-phenol) of non-interference in the winemaking process may also be relevant.)) This is the fairly obvious hypothesis, and it may be true, but it begs the larger question. If we are producing wines in a style that “enlightened” critics embrace, just why has it been so difficult for them to put themselves out on a medium-sized limb and speak up?RG_CardinalZin

Clearly, I have, in part, been my very own worst enemy. Being the notorious advocate for Bonny Doon Vineyard wines – some good, some maybe less than particularly stellar – for so many years, it is not surprising that there remains some residual skepticism of the sincerity of my declarations. ((I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion the opprobrium permanently affixed to one’s name after having enjoyed but one capriotic liaison d’amour.)) Certainly, I was a bit over-the-top with some of my shenanigans – dressing up as Cardinal Zin at public events, accompanied by a coterie of sassy, ruler-brandishing nuns.

Perhaps these behaviors were compelled by a deep-seated, visceral, almost genetic fear of failure, (coupled with a perhaps less-than-perfectly-genteel upbringing). In the absence of any real training in (or even for that matter, real comprehension of) the business of business, I had nothing to rely upon but my wits to stave off catastrophic failure. I was, perhaps still am, in short, the stereotypical rude Ostländer: one who has not properly learned his manners. ordealbookcover

In the Ordeal of Civility, John Cuddihy wrote about the psychic conflict of shtetl Jews suddenly thrust into modernity and the deep ambivalence of the already assimilated Jewish intelligentsia – Marx, Freud and Levi-Strauss – whose cultural critique of the dominant Gentile culture, Cuddihy argued, mirrored their own psychic conflict. ((I remember Cuddihy writing something to the effect of, “Scratch the surface of an “id” (or “it”) and what you find beneath is a “Yid.” In my case, of course, it would be a “Vit.” )) I have myself been fighting my own psychic battle – mostly a question of whether I truly dare to aim for greatness (and risk colossal failure) or rely on the safer course, producing wines that are good enough and, in some sense, commercial. Well, my friends, that ship has already sailed, and there is no turning back. ((It just remains for me to perhaps be a lot more convincing, as I am the Boy Who Cried Terroir, and virtually everything else.))

While the reluctance of my friends to speak up for the wines may be due to their slight embarrassment at my earlier behavior, or perhaps, more realistically, they are just afraid of backing the wrong horse, of appearing foolish, or worse, having their hearts broken if I fail to follow through on my putative commitment to real excellence and originality. ((The real commitment is to making the sincere effort to produce a vin de terroir, and to following that resultant path wherever it leads.)) They certainly grasp the audacity and worthiness of my proposed enterprise, but want to make sure that I remain on the straight and narrow; by praising the current line-up, perhaps they are fearful that I might regress to earlier behavior patterns, modify the trajectory of my arc, and somehow, tragically, settle for less. (( (There is, by the way, no chance of that.) ))
While it would be great to receive greater encouragement from the friendly wine critics I truly care about – it may in fact be the difference between surviving and not – at the same time, in the end it may also prove to be a distraction. I used to worry so much about what Parker and the Wine Spectator would say about the wines; they were always the unseen Superego I was trying to please. Learning that there is no way that I am ever going to please them has proven to be utterly liberating. For now, there is nothing to do but focus on the work ((“Work!” quoth Maynard G. Krebs.)) to be doon.

    32 Responses to ““Vitischkeit” or The Doonish Problem”

    1. David says:

      Since you’ve asked (or perhaps you didn’t), I’ll give you my two cents, as a consumer (a thoughtful one I like to think).

      The type of derision you put out, albeit somewhat indirectly, towards your wines, I think, has a very negative impact across the public stack (consumers, distributors, restaurants, etc).
      Indeed, it is fine, and necessary to be critical of one’s own work. Additionally, cultural criticism is a vital task for ALL members of society.
      However, what I often see (read, hear) from you is an attitude of “Well, I’m trying to make the sorts of wines that I love, but, truth be told, I know i’ll find better, at better price points from France and Italy. I mean, after all, the wines may be good, but they don’t reflect their origins, they show no special sense of place”
      I’m paraphrasing here, of course. However, find that when one reads your prose, one walks away thinking: “gee, here’s a smart guy, with a vision, who has a business, but really seems to think I can do better elsewhere. Why should I bother with his stuff, when I can be guided by his opinions”
      In this case, unless you are interested in opening a business like that of Kermit Lynch (which you clearly don’t seem to be), then you are behaving against your own economic interests.
      Self derision can be humorous and charming as a personality trait. However, it seems to me, that you would be better served to keep your criticism of your products (and don’t misunderstand me, one should ALWAYS be critical of one’s work), directed at yourself and your company.
      Just a thought

      • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. You are undoubtedly right. I should be more circumspect in my criticism of my own wines. The reality is that while this may not be clear to everyone (or anyone), I am in fact intensely proud of the wines that we make, and would hazard that they compete exceptionally well at their price point against most any wine in the world. What I hear over and over from customers when taking the wines out to sell is that they over-deliver in value. (Which is both a good thing and bad thing to hear.) Good because it tells me that there is still a strong demand for the wines; bad, because it reminds me that in fact the wines do over-deliver. (We’re not charging enough for them.) Maybe I’m just too impatient, or am just indiscreet in communicating that impatience, wanting to feel that it will be soonest that I am producing true vins de terroir from dry-farmed grapes. My impatience does not serve me very well.

    2. Keep the faith Randall. You are the inspiration and guiding light for so many of us. Most especially myself as a (1) a wine blogger (who happily writes about you regularly, sorry I am not Wine Spectator.), (2) a consumer and Doon member, and now (3) as a new vintner headed into my 3rd Harvest, which you inspired and helped coach, encourage.

      I can’t quite fathom what wine writers wouldn withhold writing- or who they are. At least Jon Bonne’ is a fan, who writes about you. I can’t see the risk or the limb…and shame on any who cower, if they are. A reviewer is supposed to be neutral, not have ‘sides.’

      Your wines are underpriced and wonderful. While many of the Baby Boomers, still fixated on Parkerized style wines, may never convert, consider the Millenials. I continue to be surprised now in the fact that don’t follow in their parents footsteps, and want interesting wines. Yours are that, and affordable. And they’ll love the labels. 🙂

      Keep being ‘Randall’ and I think its great you have spoken up. People think icons are made of marble, and invulnerable. Rhone on, I can’t imagine a world without BDV wines in it.

      • Thanks so much for your great encouragement, William. It is most appreciated. I agree that there is great hope in the Millennials. It’s not clear if many of them in virtue of their youth have enough of wine’s big picture to totally get the value of understated, discreet wines. The culture itself seems to demand that one speak with a megaphone, and certainly most winemakers have gone from acoustic to (highly) amplified. Reminds me of when Dylan went electric and nearly got booed off the stage. #goodolddays

    3. Dea Elmi says:

      I read with great interest your well written post. I was at a wine bar recently and tried the Clos de Gilroy 2010 Granache. The mgr was poring it and wanted us to taste it. A week later I go by the same wine bar meet the owner and mention to him how lovely it was to have that wine, how much the other two people and I enjoyed it. He told me in an offhand manner it was a pure chance that I was able to have a glass or two of that wine with my meal as they aren’t very interested in California wines very much. I asked him why and he said we just aren’t, they are out dated and out of style. I didn’t want to argue with him, being new in town and a girl and all but I thought wow that’s a very broad brush and how unpatriotic.. gosh! We loved it and I was thrilled to see that Austin Wine Merchant and a few other wineshops in town have your wines, which I love. Want to try them all. Cheers from Dea who still trying to sort things out in central Texas.

      • Thanks so much, dear. I am hoping that BDV can continue as somewhat of a genre-bender – synthesizing some of the most interesting aspects of both Old World and New World. And yet genre-benders are not always well appreciated; if they are not successful in creating a new paradigm (best outcome), they can sometimes fall between two posts, which I’m afraid happens to us a bit.

    4. John Dawson says:

      Writers are great for relevance, and relevance can support direct sales. But writers need a steady injection of new bits and bobs from which to sew their stories, and a long-term project like San Juan B. that is in its nascent stages does not provide many juicy bulletins in between milestones. What about hosting a “Writers Campout” at San Juan B, where the writers have to do 4 hours of manual labor in the morning, but then get to ask you any questions they’d like during 30 minute 1-on-1 interviews later in the day, followed by an outdoor comparative tasting of the Le Cigare Blanc? Dinner is cooked by everyone. The evening concludes with a reading by the campfire of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and bottles of wine that the writers bring to share. Then the following weekend, you do the same thing for somms, the weekend after that, for your top California distributor reps, and the weekend after that, for your 100 top customers.

      • Your vision of a Popelouchum kibbutz sounds quite compelling. It is something that I want to/need to do absolutely soonest. We are always up against the shortage of cash in mounting these sort of events and practicality (damn) seems to always get the upper hand. We are somewhat limited in the facilities in San Juan, but I am in total agreement that the best way to create relevance is to give people something tangible, not just the vaporware of my sometimes overheated prose.

    5. Randall,
      Work is the key word…
      Would you that the work lead on a path of self-destiny, or to return to that grind of gears which is the modern wine machine. Does not the flypaper print of critical scores taunt the beast mechanism into creating a demand far greater than hand wringing can supply, and once again tempt behaviors that might send you to the big house? Crafting humane wines seems to require that the real work be in seeking and connecting with the proper recipients for the message, so to further undermine the forces of alientaion. Upon reaching this post and finding myself staring into the eyes of Toshiro Mifune and a member of the high order looking vaguely like Chevy Chase, I at least knew that I had come to the right place.
      Maybe you should see if the SETI folks are interested in a Cigare Volant only version of the club.

      • Thanks for excellent suggestions. Obviously it is impossible for me to go back to making “commercial” wines; could not live with myself. The issue is as you point out, how does one engage in a truly meaningful way with the most receptive audience. For the record, we were in touch w/ SETI a few years back, but somehow we (or at least one of us) seem to have drifted off into space.

    6. Randy Caparoso says:

      You have always been a Cardinal Zinnish conscience of the wine industry, Randall — long may your habit wave.

      I have always, as it were, sensed a disconnect between the wines you make (decidedly “for the people”) and the wines key critics are looking for, as I’m sure you know — not exactly in lockstep. Part of the continuing growing pains of our industry; and, I think, the price of perpetual existence on a slightly different plane.

      From me (at least) to you: thanks for all you do, and will continue to do!

      • Thank you so very much, my friend. I’m afraid that we may have the critics (and politicians) that we deserve; the irony being that in some sense their sensibilities really do reflect the aesthetics of the typical consumer. The complicating problem of course is that the typical consumer really does like a range of different styles on different occasions, but important critics have found it more useful for their own brand consistency to be scrupulously consistent in their recommendation of a certain “correct” style.

    7. David Tindall says:

      At the risk of oversimplifying, at issue may be the paradox that in fact the smaller, “boutique” distributors (and brokers) actually rely MORE on scores from Parker/Spectator than do the big liquor-driven wholesalers, who push sales using money and manpower.

      • Lovely to hear from you, and yes, I think you are absolutely right about scores being a lot more important to most small, boutique wineries than to mega-brands. As far as the small boutiques, and perhaps the example can be extended to all species of humankind, there is an essential bifurcation of those who look outside themselves for validation and those who find it within themselves (and certainly every gradient of gray in between). Because the wine business is now so much of a business, and great or even good wine is now so expensive, people feel less inclined to trust themselves, and have seemingly become more dependent on other people to validate their own perceptions of what tastes right.

    8. Donn Rutkoff says:

      Your labels are terrible. No serious person drinks comic books. Can’t read em, can’t figure out the gimmick, don’t want to spend time to figure out the gimmick, no decoder ring. Why don’t you ask someone from either a successful winery (there are many) or from Proctor & Gamble or Sunkist or Oreck or Coca Cola. They just might have a clue for you. But you won’t find answers in the famous school in Florida where your marketing and advertising and promotions come from, the clown school. Out of all the known clowns, how many were financially successful? Two? Yellow Tail is horrible wine but they beat you to a pulp. Joel & Sarah Gott. There. “nuff said.

      • I must take some issue with you in your aesthetic judgment of our labels. While we certainly had a few goofy labels – mostly for our wine club when we were producing 12 new wines every year for them – many of the labels were quite lovely, if not exactly to the taste of the mainstream. In fact, I feel tremendously honored to have been able to collaborate with such brilliant artists as Ralph Steadman, Bascove and Gary Taxali. But, even if the artwork is not to your liking, isn’t one drinking the wine not the label?

    9. Jeffrey Mar says:

      Willy Wonka used golden tickets in chocolate bars. Could easily apply to Dooniverse. Also, your wines are already enjoyed by a cult-like following of intellectuals, you just need the same presence among wine buyers. Golden tickets.

      • Thanks for excellent suggestion. We have once before handed out ray guns to deserving customers, but golden tickets may be easier to disperse on a larger scale. I know that we have the thinkers on board; there’s just every more every day to think about.

    10. David Tindall says:

      I must take exception to your characterization of Bonny Doon’s labels. First, there would likely be no Yellow Tail (a mixed blessing perhaps) were it not for wines like Cardinal Zin, Big House and others released by Bonny Doon over the years that pushed the envelope of what consumers expect/accept on a bottle of premium wine.
      I note from your blog you work at Von’s in San Diego – I would bet there are quite a few labels/wine names on your shelves which owe their inspiration (once or twice removed, in some cases) to Randall pushing the door of consumer acceptance open a bit farther: Cupcake, 7 Deadly Zins (of course), Fat Bastard, House Red (not to be confused with Big House Red), Bitch, Mad Housewife, Pinot Evil, Goats du Roam, Layer Cake, etc. Not to mention any American wine you carry that has syrah and/or grenache blended with any other grape.) Disregarding what one may think of the wine that is in these bottles, one could make the case that their lack of self-impressed, things-were-better-in-the-old-days, heavy-handed, don’t-you-know-who-I-am SERIOUSNESS has actually brought an entirely new group of consumers to wine.
      I read today that over the last 30 years for every dollar spent on alcohol in the U.S. the percent spent on beer has remained flat (about 48%), while the percentage spent on spirits has declined from 34% to 14%, and the amount spent on wine has risen from 16% to 38%. I’m certain there are a number of factors contributing to this, not least of which is less bad wine generally available, but I suspect the fact that the shelves in the wine aisle look a lot more interesting than they once did may also factor in. And among American winemakers, more than any other single person you have Randall Grahm to thank for this.
      Lastly, you may want to take a look at the current labels for the Cigare Volant wines if you haven’t seen them lately. Despite the fact that there’s a (funny) story behind them, they are about as classic as any from Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Barolo (your cutting-edge favorites mentioned on your wine page).

      • Thanks so much for coming to my defense at least as far as those cute labels. Still and all, I’m going to Wine Hell for my zins, Cardinal and otherwise.

      • Donn Rutkoff says:

        To Randall & David, a.k.a Dense & Denser. I don’t want to look at the new Cigar label. That is not the solution or the problem. The PUBLIC $$$ does not associate anything with the Steadman or other Doon labels. Or they have a mild negative. So now you go figure it out.

        And the statistic of 16% to 38% share of wallet GROWTH only adds more to Doon’s shame that it has failed miserably in spite of the market growth. It does not matter if you, David, revere Randall. Many more revere Kermit, Corti, R. Mondavi, Andre Tchelistcheff, or even Merry Edwards or Adam Lee. And Gustav Dore for fav. illustrator. The PUBLIC. The PUBLIC. Not your own inner wobblies.

        What is the point of asking for input if you ignore it? When your vine ignores input, it dies.

    11. Donn Rutkoff says:

      My conscience is bothering me. Yellow tail is not actually terrible, it is obviously good enough for many to enjoy. It is just too sweet for me.

    12. Ditto – cashed up and second time around much harder to please accountants, made some of the same mistakes. We too, are making the wines we want to drink: constrained elegant Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs. For us, Organics & Biodynamics a “philosophy” at the expense of profit, longer to break even. Howevr, also totally over big Sauvvy screaming down my throat, destroying every subtle flavour in its path. Hang in, stay true

    13. DR says:

      I agree, your wines do over deliver. My only point is that you’re so enthusiastic about uniqueness and expression of place, yet at the same time you can come off as quite negative about the potential of the wines from our beautiful state. So for people who may not be regular drinkers of your stuff, but are following your social media output, they can get the impression that you feel that your wines will, by default, be inferior to their French and Italian counterparts.
      Clearly they are NOT and I expect that you don’t feel that way. However, enthusiasm for products starts at the top and in this case, Mr G, that is YOU!
      So get out there and brag!!!

      • Roger that. Let’s begin w/ the ’08 Cigare Volant Réserve “en bonbonne.” Very esoteric élevage in glass carboy, extended lees contact achieved through bâtonage magnetique. Extraordinary texture, umami central. A shape-shifting wine that will fascinate for an evening (and beyond). How’s that?

    14. John Artmann says:

      Although critics are not stupid, they’re not intellectually independent either; and in most cases follow one another like a flock of sheep.
      If you don’t mind engaging in a little Faustian bargain, you could try producing a very expensive wine ($100-plus Icon??? Please, no laughs) exactly in the same style that critics feel safe to praise and routinely hand out huge scores.
      You know better than I the kind of wine I’m talking about.
      My guess is that (as sad as it may seem) this move would deeply change the perception of your brand in the minds of consumers, distributors and critics.

      • John, Thanks so much for your suggestion. It is actually an extremely practical notion, but in doing so, I would feel that spiritually all was lost. Our ’08 Cigare Réserve is actually pretty cool – not a big, fruit bombastic wine to be sure, but I’m hoping that it will have enough of an intriguing sensory profile to capture the attention of at least a few influential critics. But maybe it’s not expensive enough. #whatcouldpossiblygowrong

    15. Carl Helrich says:

      Randall, As a winemaker, grapegrower, and winery owner, I am always keenly aware of the two hats I wear. One has as its guiding force the need to make great wine, while the other needs to steer the business to success. I flip back and forth constantly between these two. Winemakers make wine, wineries make money. And ne’er the two shall meet….. it’s enough to drive you crazy. Best of luck!

    16. Randall, this took amazing courage and gives much food for thought. It also makes me proud to have known and interacted with you both vinously and philosophically for over 25 years.

      • Thank you, Robert, for your kind words. Maybe this sort of extreme candor is a bit unseemly, but I think that we are living in a different world now, where maybe it is not so important to maintain “appearances.” Maybe the actual truth serves us all much better. We shall see.

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