Brent Gushowaty and I at the #WineBloggersCon2014

Brent Gushowaty and I at the #WineBloggersCon2014

Recently, I sat down with Brent Gushowaty (@BCPinotNoirInfo), avid Pinot Noir lover and respected colleague. We met briefly while I was doing a pouring at a local VQA liquor store, and once again at the wine bloggers conference in Santa Barbara, California. Early in the morning of July 24th, 2014, shortly following the conference, Brent and myself met up to have a little chit chat about what other than…wine!

 

 

 

A Little Background

Brent is, for lack of better words to describe it, a devoted assessor of British Columbia’s very own Pinot Noir offerings. Every three weeks, he gathers a set panel of tasters in order to evaluate and critique this province’s wines, all in a seriously standardized setting. Brent says the purpose for running his tastings (and website www.bcpinotnoir.com), is that he began tasting B.C. Pinot Noirs again a few years ago, and felt that the world simply didn’t know enough about how well the heartbreak grape variety was doing in the hands of local winemakers. His mission was to provide others with as much info on B.C. Pinot Noir as he could. And so he does.

As mentioned, Brent also attended the conference, and while we were there, we attempted to meet up to discuss some ideas that I had been entertaining. However, with both of us doing what we do, we had to set time aside once we were back in Canuckland.

The Idea

The idea: as a blogger/wine writer/wine lover, how likely are you to be 100% honest about a wine? As “advertisers” of a product, negative criticism is not usually welcomed. What does “free speech” mean to you as someone who is writing about wine?

The Discussion

After I had provided the idea to Brent, he promptly wanted to clarify how blogging fits into his purpose. He spoke seriously when he said, “My approach hasn’t been about blogging; it’s been about enjoying wine. Blog posts are only one element in this.”

I agreed. The term “blogging” conjures many things. For some, blogging may mean simply stating your points of view or sharing stories. For others, blogging is merely a component to the entire experience of enjoying wine.

As we began to further penetrate the idea, Brent brought up a curiously challenging point. When he addressed the idea of “free speech” as someone who is writing about wine, Brent frankly said, “The winemakers are our audience.”

IMG_1388

Wine Bloggers eagerly learning about Georges Duboeuf wines. Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride 2013

I admit that I was initially confused by his bold words, as I had personally never entertained the idea that winemakers were ‘listening to others’. Yet, upon further thought, I realized that Brent had brought up an interesting point – the point that those who are drinking the wine are the ones that have the biggest say in the world of wine. Think about it for a minute. Broken down into its very basic form, if a winery puts a wine on a shelf in a liquor store and people buy it but don’t like it, then eventually the winery is crap out of luck because people won’t consume what they don’t like. If winemaking is a capitalist-based model, then it is in the best interest of the wineries to listen to those who are not only buying their products, but also talking about those products.

Essentially, consumers have more power than they realize, and those writing about wine have a lot of power, too. This, once again, brought me back to the article I passionately wrote in August about how bloggers need more respect. If you are so inclined… http://demystifiedvine.com/2014/07/16/wineries-need-to-give-wine-bloggers-more-respect/

As such, Brent and his team of tasters publish their notes on B.C. Pinot Noir unedited. One of the reasons that they do this is because of the fine line between being objective and subjective. Brent explains his reasoning behind this:

“B.C. Pinot Noir should be considered as being in the first circle of pinot noir producing areas along with France, New Zealand, Oregon, Australia and California. As far as wine criticism/blogging is concerned, there is no gain for anyone in being harshly overcritical or bitchy when reviewing a wine. All you are doing is making it about you and not the wine. I think you have a duty to touch honestly on its shortcomings, and you can also opt to simply withhold or simplify praise for what you consider a lesser wine and lavish it on the ones you feel are better.

There is no point in being an uncritical cheerleader either. I like to think that everyone including consumers, winemakers and the wineries are genuinely interested in an honest, balanced assessment of a wine’s positive and negative attributes.”

My interpretation of this was that being publicly open about a varietal, through posting unedited tasting notes from professional tasters, creates an objective opportunity for others to learn about specific varietals, and well, possibly for winemakers to utilize to make better Pinot Noir. However, I returned with the idea that his approach to posting unedited tasting notes is uncharacteristic of the average blogger. The idea is that most wine bloggers, whether by choice or not, do not provide detailed positive or negative notes to begin with.

Brent replied quickly. “My impression is that they do this because they aren’t very articulate – for the most part – [and] it’s not their objective.”

I questioned: “So what is their objective?”

Brent returned with, “Their objective seems to be to convey an impression of a fun lifestyle. That’s just where they’re at; they’re celebrating wine.”

Nodding my head in agreement, I responded, “I think this is a good point. Essentially, the average wine bloggers’ objective is to be subjective. Personally, I always attempt to find what works with a wine and focus on that. This is because I know that liking a wine is a matter of personal taste.”

“You have to have confidence in your palate.” Brent replied. “It’s subjective and that’s good. There are variations in human physical palates, but you can’t let things slide into not being irrelevant.”

This reminded me of a quote I saw in Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible. I was reading the section discussing what makes a great wine great, and MacNeil stated,

“One of the most insidious myths in American wine culture is that a wine is good if you like it. Liking a wine has nothing to do with whether it is good. Liking a wine has to do with liking that wine, period.”     [pp. 3]

the_wine_bibleThe point that MacNeil is attempting to make, is that you can’t judge an entire varietal based on one experience of a single made brand/vintage/etc. It is ridiculous to assume that all, let’s say Pinot Noir, is good just because you like that particular bottle you bought at the corner liquor store. She continues with,

“Wine requires two assessments: one subjective, the other objective. In this it is like literature. You may not like reading Shakespeare but agree that Shakespeare was a great writer nonetheless. Getting to the point where you are knowledgeable enough to have both subjective and an objective opinion of a wine is one of the most rewarding stages in developing wine expertise.” [pp. 3]

I remember having this lightning bolt thought. “Where do you then draw the line between subjectivity and objectivity in wine?”

Brent grinned. “It’s always a snapshot, and that’s the lovely thing about wine. It is a complicated distinction to be sure, but I think it is more difficult if you don’t have a wide experience of the subject. How well can you objectively rate what is in front of you (or understand your own preferences and prejudices) unless you have experienced great examples of it? A local painter could seem wonderful… and then you set eyes on a great Picasso (or Braque or Titian or Pollock)!”

[sigh] I love talking wine philosophy.

For more information on B.C. Pinot Noir, head on over to Brent’s website. You can search on his website by entering in a winery or a vintage. www.bcpinotnoir.com.

Cheers!

Artisanal products seem to be the “in thing” right now. Everything from cheeses to jams to coffee are included under this category. Apparently, all the cool kids are buying artisanal products. What does this mean, really, and how does it apply to consumer choices around wine? I rarely buy into bandwagon persuasion, and this whole artisanal culture has me entertaining a number of ideas.

As a result, I have been playing with the idea that many people subscribe to the notion that “small is beautiful and better” when it comes to choosing wines from smaller producers over giant wineries. Is this true?

Local produce tastes better than large-grocery chain options.

Local produce tastes better than large grocery chain options. Photo Copyright © 2012 Valerie Stride

It could be argued that smaller producers are more likely to “take care” of both their vineyards and wine as compared to larger ones. Why? Well, it stands to reason that smaller producers have more of an investment on their hands than larger producers, and thus, there is a larger risk involved with growing grapes and making wine. One could argue that they take more care (and have more interest in) their vines and grapes, or if a small producer is sourcing, then they are actively seeking out and utilizing farmers who they feel they can trust to provide good quality grapes. My experience is that smaller wineries want to make sure that “things are right”.

So, where does this “artisanal” word fit in?

Most small producers claim to be “artisan”. This opens up an entirely new set of questions to examine. I say “most” because I can confidently say that “most” of the small wineries I have visited have used this word to describe themselves.

First, let us get some definitions clear. Artisanal, according to www.dictionary.com, is defined as:

pertaining to or noting a high-quality or distinctive product made in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods

Clearly, many, if not most, smaller wine producers are making distinctive products and in small batches. Does it need to be stated that large producers do just the opposite? No, of course not. However, the next question remains at what point does a winery move from artisan status into, well, non-artisan status? Furthermore, does this mean that the quality of the wine changes?

Does one draw the line as soon as a producer gets big enough to have to stop hand-picking their grapes? Does one draw the line at 15,000 cases per year? Can we even call all small wineries or producers artisanal?

'06 Oak Bay Chardonnay Photo Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

’06 Oak Bay Chardonnay Photo Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

I will argue that smaller is beautiful, and that quality, from my personal experience, has been higher from small case production wineries as compared to corporate giants. I can smell and taste the differences. Does this mean that “big” is “ugly”? No, not necessarily. However, big producers, in my mind, lack the kind of in-depth quality that I want out of wines. Will I never drink wine from big producers like Yellow Tail? No. However, I try not to because I know that I can spend a few more dollars and buy better, local wine. Am I implying that giant wine-making companies make less-than-beautiful-wine? Sometimes, yes.

 

 

 

Karen MacNeil, in The Wine Bible, states:

In the past, a wine couldn’t help but taste like the grapes from which it came. That is not true today. Advanced technology allows winemakers and viticulturalists to act like plastic surgeons, changing the wine’s acidity, making it taste bigger than it really is, altering the impression of tannin, adjusting the amount of alcohol; even the wine’s basic flavor–its very soul–can be modified. This can be good for jug wines–their deficiencies can be mollified with the right technological help. [...] Winemakers who muck around too much with the integrity of a grape end up making overworked wines that taste muddled. Wise, talented winemakers on the other hand are like wise, talented chefs. (pp. 50)

I will entertain the idea that there is a correlation between the size of a winery and how much quality their wines might have. Surely, there are small wineries out there who muddle with their wines and modify the life out of overly-high yields. As such, I suppose this whole idea that “artisanal means better quality” boils down to a matter of reputation, perception, and belief.

Recently, I had a down-to-earth conversation with Luke Whittall, of Wine Country BC, on this very topic. Here is a transcript of parts of our conversation.

The Demystified Vine: Do you subscribe to the notion that “small is beautiful” when it comes to choosing wines from smaller producers over larger ones? How does the word “artisanal” effect perception of quality?

Luke Whittall of Wine Country BC

Luke: I think quality is entirely dependent on expectations. If what you like from a beer is predictability and consistency, and your favourite beers are Bud, Miller, and Coors, then a large scale production brewery for you is going to make quality beer. If you are into micro brews, and single malt scotches, then smaller producers are going to be higher quality, although the consistency may vary from year to year. And that’s okay. Quality doesn’t have to equal consistency, but for some people, that’s a huge deal. It depends on where you are in the continuum.

TDV: So, what does the word artisanal mean within the wine industry today? And then how does that effect perception of quality?

Luke: I would say that artisanal — truly artisanal wines — are wines that have a focus from the winemaker.  They are directed by the winemaker to such a degree that the wines have a kind of uniqueness based on the winemaker’s vision or the terroir (although sometimes the weather isn’t the same from year to year especially for an artisanal winery). Artisanal wines are the artistic wish for the winemaker for that year. A commercial winery could say that they are artisanal, but really, when you’re making wine in such huge volumes, that homogeneity of the product is going to be less perceivably unique as a wine because of its homogeneity, than would a small batch of 500 cases from a more independent artisanal winery. Not only that, but the sales goals and marketing strategies are going to be vastly different based on the winemaker’s desires from a small winery as compared to a corporate directive that’s not from a single person.

TDV: Do you think that large producers can make beautiful wine?

Luke: Yes. It depends on your expectations. The only metaphor that I can use is music. Corporations can make music, for example, pop music that is consumable by the largest number of people who will find it pleasing and will offend the least amount of people. On the other hand, the smaller producers will create more interesting music that will challenge your notions of what music is. Every now and then it’s nice to hear a song that you’ve never heard before, that is effectively unpredictable. The likelihood is that this will upset you, but this difference can be good. Remove the metaphor, and it shows that the people who want that predictability in a wine, that is fine for them. Then there are those who are open to experiencing aromas that they’ve never smelled before. These challenges make them think. If you’re looking for a challenge to change your perception on something that is beautiful, go to an artisanal winery.

 

I am left with drawing the conclusion that it boils down to personal preferences. The word “artisanal” only really effects one’s perception of quality if they care enough about a product being made by hand and of high quality.

Additionally, I am left with even more questions surrounding how wineries are using the term “artisanal” to make sales pitches. Maybe I should look more into this…

Cheers!

Why yes, yes you would.

[Grin.]

Most folks know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. All too many of us know of at least one person who has had breast cancer or who is currently battling it. The statistics are insanely alarming. According to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada:

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women and its cause is unknown.
  • In 2014, an estimated 24, 400 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,000 will die from it.

  • 1 in 9 women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime (age 90) and 1 in 29 will die from it.

 

How You Can Care For a Pair of Boobs

Photo Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

Photo Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

Okay, let’s move on from those terrifying statistics, and remain hopeful that a cure will be found. I’m going to let you in on a little-big secret. YOU CAN HELP BY DRINKING B.C. WINE.

British Columbia’s own TIME Estate Winery decided that they were going to step-up to the plate and make two wines called The Girls in order to raise money for Breast Cancer research [BC/Yukon Region]. No, I’m not kidding.

The better part: 100% of the profits of this wine goes to #charity. [Excuse me while I take a sip of the Gold Winning rosé…]

 

 

Upcoming Event & Fundraiser

On Friday, October 24th, 2014, there will be a showcase and fundraiser at the Village VQA Wine Store (3536 W 41st  Ave & Dunbar) from 8-10pm. If you’re keen on buying a bottle of local wine sooner, supporting this charitable cause, and enjoying some company while raising a toast to universal good, then you can find these two wines at more than 40 BCLDB wine stores or private liquor stores. For a full list of supporting retail locations, click on charitablewines.org.

 

The Girls! Don’t forget About The Girls!

I haven’t. Here is the lowdown.

Photo Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

Photo Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

The Girls “Vivacious Rosé” 2013 is a sexy blend of primarily Merlot, with Riesling, Chasselas, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you will know I’m not the biggest rosé fan. This is quite possibly one of the nicest rosés I have ever had. I feel like I should leave it at that, but if you’d like some tasting notes, here goes:

A youthful wine with delicate strawberry-kiss notes. Bring along a white-floral bouquet with hints of raspberry and you’ve got yourself a real date. A gorgeously dry wine with good flavour intensity, but delicate enough to keep you intrigued. Pucker up, folks. $19.99.

 

 

Photo Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

Photo Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

The Girls “Voluptuous Red” 2012 is, quite frankly, an everyday-drinking kind of Bordeaux-style blend. I’m impressed with its structure; confidence is always key, no? With Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, there are no surprises in the tasting notes:

Deep and intense notes of black cherry, blackberry, cocoa, and luscious plum. Good acid structure, medium (+) intensity, and a long finish…just like a lingering kiss. Aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months. $24.99.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me, Town Hall Brands, or TIME Estate Winery.

Here’s to caring for the women in our lives and helping to find a cure!

Cheers!

Tweet! @TheGirlsWine
Tweet! @CBCF_BCYukon
Tweet! @DemystifiedVine

Olfactory vs. Gustatory Wine Experiences: A Discussion

In July 2014, I sat down for a candid discussion with Ken Trimpe, a Washington-based photographer and oenophile who runs the website Decanter Banter. We met at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara, and it was delightful to be able to engage with such a creative mind.

All weekend, I had a surplus of questions swirling around my head. I already had plans to adjust my website content, and as such, I began brainstorming (and interviewing) folks about their thoughts on many of these questions. The reaction I had from a number of wine industry professionals was very positive. As a result, I am now here attempting to reiterate these conversations in blog form.

For sake of fancy definitions, olfactory refers to the sense of smell and gustatory refers to the sense of taste.

The Curiosity

One of the ideas that has been floating around my brain is how people generally interpret wine.

As a trained professional, I evaluate wines in a systematic and methodical way. Factors around wine colour, glycerol levels, bouquet & palate notes, aging potential, etc., are all components of my engagement with wine. While it is fairly safe to say that most wine industry professionals experience wine in a similar way that I do, I have gained a curiosity around how untrained people experience wine, particularly through olfactory and gustatory means.

The Question

Why do you think people are more interested in how wines taste [gustatory involvement] as opposed to how they smell [olfactory involvement]? Which do you have more interest with?

Ken Trimpe of Decanter Banter Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

Ken Trimpe of Decanter Banter
Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

The Discussion

Ken’s initial reaction to this question was not silence, but vibration.

Most people trust their tastebuds over their “sniffers”. I think the nose is important, but less people have the nose to pick up the subtleties. My wife thinks I have a good nose, and I don’t. I pick up tastes quicker. If you have a good sniffer, it’s a key in tasting wine.

There is no doubt that having a good sniffer is a key in tasting wine and that most people trust their tastebuds over their olfactory senses. Why is this? Has the ability to pick up subtleties with our noses been on a natural decline throughout evolution? Or have we simply trained ourselves through time to trust our tastebuds more than our noses? Either way, after having spoken with a number of people, it appears that people trust one more than the other.

Attending the Vancouver Int'l Wine Festival Blind Tasting Challenge February 2013

Attending the Vancouver Int’l Wine Festival Blind Tasting Challenge February 2013

Coming back to Vancouver and mulling over this topic led me to look at things from a different perspective. Undoubtedly, experiencing food and wine transcends olfactory exposure. From the information that I received through discussions with people, the consensus is that most people have a stronger experience of food and wine on their palates. Generally speaking, many people jump straight into a taste experience and tend to forget (or pass by) the olfactory part of the journey. I questioned Ken whether or not he thought a lack of being able to make quick olfactory associations hinders part of the enjoyment process. He did not hesitate, again, to infer confidence as a key factor in how people approach wine.

I do. I think some people don’t trust or have the confidence to make associations. I can usually pick up on general associations like fruit or other categories. For me, it takes a while longer to figure out what it is that I’m smelling. Sometimes it hits me over the head and other times it’s just something familiar that I can’t put my finger on.

Confidence is a critical factor when attempting to understand a wine through olfactory and gustatory means. Of course, this requires knowledge gained from being acquainted with wine. Essentially, the more wine one consumes, the clearer associations will typically become. For example, having a good memory of what cherries smell and taste of is meaningful when experiencing a Pinot Noir. One who understands cherry smells and flavours will more confidently be able to interpret Pinot Noir. Confidence in making correlative associations is one of the missing links that can help bridge the gap between wine snobbery and the approachability of wine.

Maybe this is just my passion shining through, but I have frequently pondered how wine snobbery intimidates the general public and results in less-than exciting tasting experiences for them. Thus, I am left with the curiosity revolved around how a deeper focus on olfactory experiences might assist the general public in enjoying wine on a deeper level more so than they might already. While Ken has had his nose in a number of glasses, he admits that, for him, the olfactory experience is still more challenging when tasting wine.

I think sometimes the nose is a bit harder. I need to work at it a bit more. Not always, though.

Agreed. Not always. I think this boils down to personal sensitivities, and how swiftly we can draw on our memories of previously-learned smells and tastes.

Baked apricots Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

Baked apricots
Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

Mushrooms Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

Mushrooms
Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

Orange Zest Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

Orange Zest
Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While it cannot be argued that a full tasting experience requires the use of both one’s olfactory and gustatory senses, sometimes we will naturally identify more on the bouquet than on the palate, or vice versa, because the wine simply expresses itself in that way. This can come into play particularly when attempting to understand how a varietal is expressing itself or when blind tasting. I agree with Ken when he said:

Wines have clues, and you have to use all your senses to [understand it]. It becomes a process of elimination.

Other questions that arise revolve around individual sensitivities. When tasting a wine, do you, reader, find that your nose is more sensitive to smelling wine than your palate is with tasting it? Or do you find your palate is more in tune with wine than your sniffer? How do sensitivities play a part for you, or do they at all? Do you think that an awareness of sensitivities alters your confidence levels?

Better yet, does it even affect your enjoyment of a wine?

I do not feel that I am satisfied; I am clearly curious about how others experience wine. I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment, or vote below!

Cheers!

The Demystified Vine’s Wine Story – Videoblog 001

September 1, 2014


Hello wine lovers!

Look! It’s my first video blog!

Last year at the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, British Columbia, I began thinking about doing some video blogging or podcasting. This year, the intrigue continued. I finally made a short 4 minute video about how I stumbled upon wine. It’s nothing over-the-top, as I filmed it on my webcam. However, I hope you enjoy the story!

WARNING: Cheesy video about to be played.

Cheers!

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