Updated 2009-02-17 12:10:07 ID=271:0

© 2009 The Romantic Table
©2009 The Romantic Table 2009-02-17 09:52:55:123
©2009 The Romantic Table

Larry McGourty writes about wine and food

The persistent snobbery of wine drinking.


Is there really snobbery attached to wine drinking? Perhaps a bit, but at this point, it is primarily engendered by the industry itself.

Saturday morning I attended a grape vine "head pruning" demonstration sponsored by the Independent Grape Growers of Paso Robles Association (the IGGPRA). Head pruning is a technique of growing a wine grape vine as a kind of small bush instead of on a trellis as a "vine." The demonstration was done by Richard Sauret. Those of you who love Zinfandel wine, know about Mr. Sauret, the legendary Paso Robles Zinfandel viniculturist. He has been growing grapes for 52 years, and his grapes are used in the world's top ranked Zins.

I don't think you can find a more down to earth and patient man in the wine industry. He still does all his own pruning, not because he has to, but because it is something he loves to do. Even those of us who "think" we know something about pruning will take the time to listen to what he has to say. He is master of the art, and is very generous with his advice and help. He is the polar opposite of a "wine snob." I think he is very indicative of the kind of men and women in the Paso Robles wine industry who came out Saturday to listen to Mr. Sauret as well as enjoy the company of fellow vineyard workers (no one really owns a vineyard, its the other way around). This is hard work and it is down to the ground and dirty. It's not glamorous, you do it because you love it.

A little story to illustrate this. Late this summer we harvested a block of Portuguese varietal grapes for port wine. These grapes were very ripe, sweet and STICKY. The local wine maker and his brother who was visiting from back East came out to pick up the load. Since we were not quite finished with the harvest they jumped in to give a hand. As we were loading the full bins on the truck, the wine maker bent down and grabbed a bit of dirt to "clean his hands." I couldn't help myself. I turned to the visiting brother and said, "there you have it, a glimpse of the real glamor of the wine industry." We all laughed. The brother had been helping make wine for a week and was already well on his way of getting acquainted with the "glamor" of wine making.

So imagine my surprise later that Saturday to see a blog on Vinography Wine drinking still perceived as an "Elitist" preoccupation? complaining about residual snobbery in the wine industry.

Now, I think the blogger may have a bit of a point. To a lot of us, the personification of dull is an evening of social wine drinking with the effete "White Wine and Brie Set." To be honest, I like white wine and I love brie cheese -a bit too much. But here is my point, for some reason at one time at least I associated that combination with a group of people that bore me to death. Very unfair to white wine and brie cheese I might add, and I try my best to make it up to them whenever I can!

Then, to top it off, on another website I saw a story about a new wine shop in Manhattan, the first ever devoted exclusively to California wine California wines find exclusive wine shop in New York City.. The new owners commissioned a study to gauge the preferences of wine drinkers. California came out on top, with France and Italy second and third respectively. So the owners decided to open the first ever shop dedicated to California wine. Bravo to the new owners.

But, why so long for this to happen? This is not genius. Here you have a majority group of consumers who prefer California wine not being served - this is marketing 101!

Buried in the story was a little gem. The new owners had extensive contacts in the industry, which of course is good. But the article pointed out that some of the wineries they were distributing were "quite selective" in their product placement. Give me a break! That is the same attitude that leads wine shops to ignore customer preferences for so long. After all, the public is to too dumb to know what they like, right? And heaven forbid we might look for new customers in places we are not "comfortable with." Geeze... if you have a great product your pricing power will dictate where is it going to be placed. I don't think we will see a lot of Sauret Vineyard Zinfandel on sale at Walmart.

Reflecting a bit on these odd stories and my experience of the morning, I realized that there must be two groups of wine enthusiasts, the wine cult members and the wine enjoyment crowd. These stories were about people who are into the "cult" of wine versus those into the "enjoyment" of wine.

To a cult member it is all about exclusivity. Owning a marquee bottle of wine is more important than actually drinking the wine. And like anything else, a group of winery entrepreneurs has stepped up to the plate to serve them. Part of that service is to create a palpable sense of the mystique of wine. It's a magic elixir that must never be tasted, only worshiped from afar. Of course anyone who has actually harvested wine grapes and sees what goes into the bins to make wine has any notions of mystique quickly dispelled - it's from God's hands into your bottle ...with a little help from all his creatures along the way.

Part of the reluctance for cult members to actually taste the marque wine might actually be due to fear that the cult member won't recognize the 101 subtle layers of various fruits, spices and minerals that are supposed to be there. Thus indicating not that the wine is a dud and they were cheated, but they are inadequate not worthy enough to own the wine - which would be unbearable to a cult member.

There is no travesty here, it's all about the company you keep and where you place the value of wine. If you hang with the cult members, its all about exclusivity and collecting expensive wines. For the rest of us, it just about simple enjoyment.

On a final note I have noticed that Generation-next has adopted wine at least as their favorite dinner adult beverage. They have grown up with wine drinking as a common part of our culture, not as a social class distinction. I imagine some will eventually join the cult anyway. Good luck to them. they are just a different part of the wine market and all contribute to the whole.

But once in a while it might not hurt all of us, even the cult members, to stop, bend down and grab that hand full of dirt to remember where it all starts.




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A tip from Sue!

Frying high fat meats

You can cut down on the calories of high-fat meats, by just adding a little water (instead of adding oil) to your frying pan until the meat's fat starts releasing and lubricating the pan, then cook with the frying pan covered. If you want a crispy coating, you uncover the pan or cook with the lid partially ajar.