Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Offensively Defensive?

First of all I hope you both will forgive me my once a week, at best, posting right now. My life is not in total upheaval but between some emotional/personal wrenching, changes at work complete with brand spanking new hires, half the storage and back stock space I had last holiday season, and having to entertain the idea of piles of wine in the ladies room, the full court press from sales reps and importers needing to get their own ducks in a row and what has been a wonderfully full social calendar lately, well I simply haven’t had the time to devote to this place and the handful of you that come here to read, listen, lurk and feel me. It is a gift I never stop thinking about, please trust me on that. I am sure I am craving and thinking about you more than you are me but I can’t seem to muster more than the semi occasional, nearly always, mindless scroll and blurt over on Facebook these days. Killing me as that spot, while a fun outlet for my profound goofery, doesn’t bring me one one thousandth of the joy that being here does, readers and comments or not. Part of my whole being better to myself deal that I am building…or trying to build in the spare 10 minutes a day I have to devote to it right now. Pisser. Bugging me but not as much as another issue that has had me all arms folded and mouth shut lately…

“Yes, I’m calling from Texas and I was wondering, could you give me a recommendation for a red wine to serve with Thanksgiving?” a friendly enough caller that I was thankful was a slow talker so I could stand there hunched over trying to catch my breath seeing as I had to sprint across the shop to answer the ringing phone. I did explain to the nice gentleman that we wouldn’t be able to ship him any wine due to his state, (read controlling asswads) doesn’t allow us to but I would be happy to offer some suggestions anyway.

“Oh okay, well I am at the Target here in (insert whereeverthehell Texas city here) and I was hoping you could help me pick a wine from their selection here.” Sigh. Big huffy one actually. My mind was whizzing about with, “What the hell dude? How did you get our number? Why are you calling me? How can you have no idea how freaking nutty this is? You think my boss likes paying us to share the knowledge, he paid us to acquire, helping people spend their money somewhere else?” face scrunched into such a wrinkly mess I must have looked like a big fat walnut standing there. I was able to calmly (shut up, it was) clear my throat and say, “Sir, I honestly have no idea what wines they have there at the Whatecverthehell Texas Target” which I thought was pretty damned friendly for a sort of brush off. “Well it’s just your standard stuff, Castle Rock and Estancia” he continues….humpf. “Sir, I can’t help you. I don’t know those wines at all and wouldn’t feel comfortable giving you a holiday recommendation, from the Target wine department seeing as I haven’t had the wines in forever, if ever.”  Once I hung up I had one of those moments where I stand still for like 5 minutes wondering if that actually really happened before I dash across the store, arms flailing, back sort of arched in a “Oh no he did-int” fashion as I track down whichever employee I can wrestle down first to share that story with. 

Happened to be in Target, (don’t judge) a few days later and made a beeline for the wine department. I think I was just more curious than anything else and I have to say, at least in the Target I was shopping in, there were fewer big brands like Estancia and more, sort of silly labels. Lots of Mommy’s Time Out, Layer Cake, Ooh La La Pinot Grigio. I strolled through the aisle, (there was only one at my Target) very few things I’d seen before in front of me, feeling a little female pandered to, kinda cheesed out and that was when I saw, Fancy Pants Cabernet Sauvignon…yes! I whipped my phone from my bag and snapped a photo which I quickly uploaded to Facebook, you know, to share seeing as I had of course shared the Texas Target story there, with the caption, “Shopping the Target wine…depot”. 

The whole thing stupidly cracked me up. The Texas guy, my reaction, my staff’s response, just the wonder of human behavior that is retail. The reason I posted the Fancy Pants Cabernet picture kind of a jab at all of us, including myself. Got home to find that I was being taken somewhat to task for “making fun of people that buy those wines”. Say huh?! I found myself scrolling up and down trying to see what would make anyone think I was mocking, there was nothing. It was merely the picture and the name that, in my estimation, had someone else feeling defensive or feeling as if those wines needed defending from the big bad French buyer lady. I was taken aback and after hearing “I would bet that most imports in the $8-$12 price point are factory made” when I had not once brought up, or even thought about imports, well I fell into the protective mode of trying to figure out what I did that was offensive  enough to have someone telling me, “If those wines get people to drink more wine than I am all for it” and my own defensiveness responding, “I’m not convinced those wines do in fact create more wine drinkers. In fact, I think they do more harm than good.” Which just had us lobbing shit back and forth, and enough to pull some wanker in that couldn’t wait to point the, “You are being defensive” finger at me.  Kinda hard to defend yourself and not come off…well, defensive. Especially to those that see every comment as loaded and from an import specialist, a nip on the neck. Not very unifying that….

Felt the same kind of kerfuffle, discomfort and bile loaded ugly offensively defensive crap when I read some of the reactions to a Kermit Lynch interview in The New York Times Magazine. It’s like those waiting to be offended folks were just aching for something to snarl about. Running each line through their tense and sensitive meters looking for something to get their undies twisted about. I read Tom Wark’s recap and it felt like we had just watched two different movies. 

I read those answers Kermit gave, an eyebrow raised looking for those snarky and shitty comments I had heard swirling about and…um, not so much. I read things like, “I find myself asking sommeliers, “where’s that from?” it’s a treat. One of the most exciting things happening is sommeliers turning customers on to new wines” I’m sure he meant French wines and only French wines. He didn’t say anything even remotely like that but whatever. Noticed the “Pop wines” reference that got everyone frothing and seething and he didn’t once mention California wines in that part of the answer, in fact Tom tacked on a piece of another answer to that part of the recap which made it read that Kermit gave up on California wines because they were “Pop wines”. I don’t mean to imply that it was misleading, nope not implying at all, it was down-right misleading and funny there was no mention about the part where Kermit said that not drinking wines that were a certain alcohol percentage or higher meant you were missing out on great wines. Well shit no, couldn’t include that because that mucks up the whole hater image.

To clear it up, Kermit said he gave up on California wines when they started chasing scores, and even uttered a modicum of regret that he had missed out on some great wines because of that, which to Tom’s credit he did mention, as well as an appreciation for Kermit’s lack of dogmatic, “If you aren’t drinking this way you suck” which was a nice breather. There was a final bluster or rant about how higher alcohol, richly extracted wines sell and aren’t going anywhere and I agree, nor should they if they sell and make people happy but to completely ignore the fact that the more restrained and less rich wines have also always sold, continue to do so and have a growing audience, and increasingly so here in California amongst winemakers and consumers, well then you are selling your agenda and maybe being a little defensive.  Oh and one more thing, anyone looking to Kermit Lynch for advice or commentary on the wines of California is “touched”. Just as touched as anyone asking Charlie Olken or Steve Heimoff about French or Italian wines. Go talk to Parker’s Wine Advocate, the Spectator, a great retailer, (ahem) or some other publication that has specialist in each region. Kermit has been a French wine advocate for 35 years. He is the reason those of us that love, no, need French wines, drink as richly as we do and to waste his time asking about California wines, even though he lives here in California, (also lives in Provence, just saying) is just, well sort of shady. He isn’t an expert on California wines, he doesn’t love them and personally I think pinning him to the felt and using the looking glass to inspect him is an exercise in nut tugging. Just as I would should someone pin Charlie on the wines of the Loire, Alsace and Burgundy. Why are we all this way? Really? Can’t people like what they like without someone else thinking it means we are calling their baby ugly?

 Before anyone starts thinking I’m making myself out to be some fucking patron saint of wine drinking or appreciation, well just back on up off it. Just yesterday got myself tangled in a rat’s nest of bullshit and side picking. Dammit...beginning to wonder if I might need some industrial strength tape to press against my lips…to bind my fingers.

Found myself scrolling once again. Lost in the mindless flashes of kitty photos, memes, pictures of Pho and various political reposting crap over on Facebook, (fuck, am I selling that joint or what?) in an effort to not think about the go-jillion issues that have been pressing tightly against my skull and chest. Arrow up, arrow back down, click the like thingie, add an “LOL” where it applies. You can pretty much picture a drooling 5 year old and have a pretty clear picture as to what much of my time wasting Facebook stint looks like. That is until my puddling drool and thoughtlessness is brought to a screeching halt by a picture of two bottles of wine, both domestic, one Pinot Noir the other Grenache with a caption, “Two Burgundian reds”…everyone out of the drooling pool! Read that and felt like someone had slammed a 2x4 against the back of my skull. Literally felt like my brain imploded. Burgundian Grenache? Um I’m sorry but…what the?!

So of course I commented. Did a “???? Grrr” thing to start but goddamn it if I wasn’t sucked deeper into the lair of discontent. Found myself arguing with people whom I don’t know and have never heard of, (even the writer who posted I’ve only heard of via Facebook, never once has anyone in my 17 years mention her and I’m sure in her world no one knows me) had a newer blogger, (and someone that does it for fun, of course) tell me that I should read his post about why people use the term Burgundian to describe Pinot Noir, in an effort to straighten me out and got plungered into the spinning cycle of defensiveness that seems to weirdly encapsulate this wine stuff. Felt the fur on my neck getting all spiky with each, “Oh Samantha, you need to relax” comment that made me feel like I was uptight for thinking using the term “Burgundian" for Grenache, a variety not grown in Burgundy of course, is about as stoopid as “SonomaCoastian Chablis” and having a circle of jerks make me out to be the asshole while not one of them answered my inquiry about what Burgundian means and if it is the same as California Champagne? Think that was a fair question…I mean if it is a style then it’s a style and by using that term you just let me know you have much, much to learn about Burgundy. There isn’t one style and if you mean restrained, elegant, feminine or graceful…well guess what, there are other words that don’t fuck with the consumer (and make them look silly when they ask for a Burgundian Grenache…as opposed to what, a Bordelaise Grenache?) but once again when all the teeth left their mark and the jerking was over I was left with the slippery stain of elitism and snobbery because I am on “the other side”. 

“What did you expect if you splash around in the kiddie pool other than diaper rash? They are right Sam, you need to read that bloggers post, it’s such an original idea that has never been discussed before he came to the table and written about Ad nauseam, by you especially. Time to cash in that first ticket to the rodeo and stand your ground.You do need a drink, might I suggest a glass of Burgundian Grenache? Why argue with the noise? Use your unique voice and power, your draw, to pull the people, like me, that are here waiting to hear.” The email in response to my sniveling and fussing. A wine business friend that does happen to be on the same side but is also one of the most fair and balanced humans I know. Like me he just wants us all to find a way to talk, buy, discuss, feel impassioned by and drink wine. I was tucked into his firm chest and cuddled by the comment, no matter how shortly. The fact that I was tugged about in all sorts of directions just reminds me how much I love this wine stuff. None of us have the right answers for everyone. The trick, if there is one, is to kick some of the mud off the path in an effort to make big broad steps and room for the next firm backed and strong hearted bunch of pourers, talkers, writers and  teachers…

Hopefully with a little less offensive defensiveness, from both "sides" 


Thomas said...

Well, I always try to support my friends, but anyone who expects either civility or smarts on Facebook needs a reality check.

All that supposedly social media site is good for is to sell your information to advertisers. The rest is indeed like playing in the kiddy pool--or is it kitty litter?

Samantha Dugan said...

Well I can't say I agree. I'm growing increasingly irritated with Facebook as there is much of what you say here, but not all of it is and much like this place I've made some very close friends because of it. Like most things it is what you make of it, and there are plenty of steaming piles to fall into....which I did with that Burgundian Grenache business, but used correctly it can be a great resource for quick chats and some interesting articles that one might not come across otherwise. The other "fight" was with someone I've known for 17 years, so someone I knew long before Facebook, but the venue did give us a place to sound off on one another. No different than blogging really, just much, much bigger.

Marcia Macomber said...

That was quite a post, Samantha! I was kinda wondering why you hadn't gotten down into the mudpit over at Tom's!

My eyebrows did more than raise a bit when I saw that "Burgundian Grenache" comment on your thread. I was waiting for your comeback (which I just loved today - had me guffawing over my coffee)!

As for the Target guy and your Smarty Pants cab, with any luck that buyer will one day cross the street to you door asking for Burgundian Grenache (something not available at Target). And you'll have the opportunity to say, "Unfortunately, we have not a single one. But let me show you some other fine wines you may enjoy even better!"

Unknown said...

Soooooooooooooo, don't get pissed with me,k? Cuz, really, I am on your side ;)

Consumers need experts/specialists in areas where we have no expertise. At the same time, there's a huge need for a common language, which is difficult, I think, with things that are so subjective, like, say, what wines we like. So, someone with limited experience likes to have a frame of reference. One may not always be able to describe the nuance, but may like the "style" (again, could cover a wide range) of wines made by winery XYZ. How does Chateau du I-Can-Only-Butcher-The-Name compare?

And this is where a purveyor or sommelier, that may indeed have a preference, but also is familiar with more, "common" offerings can really help bring someone along and open them to new adventures in wine drinking. Alas, those experts are probably really hard to find and/or talk to, whereas your shop’s number is “in the book.” And while it all "makes sense" that nobody can know everything, a lost consumer will still think someone working in a wine shop certainly does know everything, at least when compared to themselves.

So, I take your points...I agree that a term like Burgundian is essentially meaningless and was used poorly. But, as we don't really have a common set of references/metaphors that can all be agreed to, it seems we, as humans try to make them. We should still do a better job of it and not mislead people by trying to sound more accomplished than we are. Hell, maybe the choice of that term was a deliberate obfuscation or simply showing off. Clearly, Burgundian meant something different to you than it did to the writer, but I’m not sure the writer was seeing your point any more than you were seeing hers (assuming there was one).

In the end, consumers need to be educated, and just like with school education, not everyone learns in the same way, nor even speaks the same “language.” The challenge for those in retail (or in tech support) is to find that way to connect, understand and be understood. Maybe that poor fella in Texas just needed a "Ya know, generally a lighter red works with turkey dinner. You may look for a dry rosè or you might like a pinot noir, although I can't really recommend a particular winery for you..."

All that being said, it’s also kind of like correcting people’s spelling/grammar on the interwebs…aggravating and sometimes pointless, but I’m often helpless to not do it…so I do understand. :)

Unknown said...

Oh...I forgot to mention my own frustration when I walked into a wine shop in upstate NY one time and asked for a Zinfandel, and was shown to a small selection of White, NO, you can NOT work in a wine shop and not understand that if I wanted White Zin I would have asked for it...slap my head ;)

Thomas said...


Whenever someone says something to me like, "I just love Pinot." I always ask, "Which one?"

When I worked retail, my question didn't go over very have to give even a retail worker some slack, as they deal all day long with the great unwashed. ;)


Whatever you say, but I still don't cotton to Facebook--for more than one reason.

In any case, I forgot to say that maybe the phone call you got from Texas was a prank. It certainly sounds like one.

Samantha Dugan said...

Long as hell right?! Has to be one of two things, either I am trying to find some sort of rhythm again or, once I start babbling I can't seem to stop. I fear I have taken so much time "off" that I have too much to share and just barf it up and junk.

I didn't get involved over at Fermentation for several reason, not the least of which is that I honestly believe no one gives two shits what I think...not do I believe that they should. Kind of why I was bugged that I got so sucked into that stupid argument on Meg's Facebook post. I felt dumb and that is because I probably looked that way to them. Doing it Tom's at least my voice would have been squished out by a bunch of louder ones. So yeah, maybe I should have gone there to practice my puffery as it were.

Not pissed in the least kid and I once again thank you for coming out of lurking to post here from time to time. Need all the voice I can get, they quiet that chatty fuckers in my own head.

On eh Burgundian Grenache we are just going to have to agree to disagree. I think a paid wine writer using that kind of sloppy, lazy and frankly reckless language is doing the people she is paid to educate a massive disservice....which is why I did speak up. She's a writer she can find lots and lots of other, more accurate words to describe that Grenache. Plus it just proves she needs an education on Burgundy, they have more than the one style.

Texas guy was sort of a hoot really and I did in fact give him a guideline in the very beginning of our conversation. I first told him I couldn't ship him anything and then went on to explain the complexity of the meal and how a lighter red like Beaujolais or Pinot Noir would be best. I only got slightly tweaked when he pressed on and tried to have me make his Target shopping decision for him. Not my job dude and with those wines your guess is as good as mine.

As for the fancy Pants Cab people, one can only hope that the result will be a curious wine drinker but I do worry that the wines are in fact so, dull, lifeless and worst shitty, that people will shrug and go back to beer or cocktails assuming they just don't like wine. One can only hope they do come my way, and I pray they aren't asking for Burgundian Grenache!

Was you Punking me?!

Charlie Olken said...

By the way, Sam, it is not like Kermit has had no knowledge of CA wines. His first little wine store, not far from his big and admittedly great for some French wines wine store, had plenty of CA wines. He was among the first to recognize the change in styles in CA back forty years ago as the local wines moved from dull, redwood tank-aged stuff to more vibrant and representative bottlings. I purchased more than a few CA wines from him back in the day.

My bitch with Kermit is that his abandonment of the local wines is part and parcel of a larger bias. Yes, he admits now that he missed some very good wines, but where the hell was his head when those wines were all around him? It is not like he was off in some dark corner. He was smack in the middle of Berkeley with good wine stores in every direction.

Now, I have no problem with Kermit or anyone else liking what he, she or they like. But when writes off an entire state, it takes more than a bit of arrogance.

I continue to shop at his store when I want what he is selling. And I do not question what he has done to open up wines from all over southern France and now beyond. Good on him for that.

But, please do not confuse the good that he has done with the incredible closeminded that it takes for a man of his experience and background to refuse to even consider anything from California.

That would be like one of your friends saying to you, "Don't bother me with grower Champers. They are from France".

Romes said...

I honestly think you keep your cool way better than I could if I was doing your job everyday. I too hate the misuse of language, all my friends and "champagne"... Just kills me, but I also can't stand the "you are a wine snob" comments when I correct them. Unfortunately I've somewhat given up, although I still use the right words when I answer questions "are you thinking champagne or a sparkling wine"? I get the looks, but also know those that love to drink wine are different than those that love wine. Some can be converted and others will never change. I take inspiration from you my lovely friend, to appreciate what we love and to educate those we can and to not fret over those we can't. I love you and the amazing broadening you have brought to my palate and hope you never stop giving us all your passion, even the kiddy pool kind!

Samantha Dugan said...

Sir Charles,
Well mister, that was, a lot to ingest. You even had me waiting until after dinner and some down time before responding. You always have much to say when it comes to one sided-ness and I appreciate that but I can't help but crave flashing a mirror in your handsome face. That thing that bugs you about Kermit, Eric, and gots it too love just on another side. As someone that used to cringe each time, you wrote something about my beloved French wines, how shrill, thin and lacking in enjoyment they are, well I can tell you that you, my dear sweet Charlie, are just as guilty of shunning and showing which kid you like best. I'm fine with that, it's your gig and what you love...just wish you were kinder to the others that feel the same towards other wine growing areas.

So I see you, much like Tom opted to ignore the part where Kermit defended higher alcohol wines. I get it, doesn't fit. Okay. Just had to point it out again because it bears repeating if for no other reason than to point out how we all pick the pieces we want to hear...or in some cases, don't want to hear, in order to stroke our own beliefs. You think Kermit is "A bit more than arrogant" for not, what stocking California wines, (forgive me, can't figure out what you guys want, from this...importer) at his store and I can't help but feel it is also quite arrogant to call a man out on his life's work. Sort of wondering who anyone thinks they are telling someone else how they should run their, very successful business. Also curious how many times Kermit, Bonne, and Asimov have called you out for not focusing on imports...oh wait, that's right, your publication is about California wines, sort of like Kermit Lynch's Import business. But I'm sure it's totally different. I love you Charlie but if you can't see that you are the pot calling the kettle black on that one, well then you're refusing to listen.

You are correct that Kermit did notice a change from the redwood tank-aged stuff, he stocked the wines that he liked, and then he watched them change again and he went another way. A way that for many of us, was busting a gate wide open and exposing many of us to the wines that suited us better. He could spend his time seeking more wines from here but, why? There are hundreds of stores doing that, why not have a niche with the wines that you are so passionate about that they inspire a book and then a legion of fans that ask for them? Cannot fathom why you are seemingly demanding that this importer stock wines that can be found everywhere in this great state of ours.

They are cutting me off here...hold that thought

Samantha Dugan said...


You say he refuses to consider California wines, consider them for what? They just aren't his bag. He doesn't bad mouth them he just talks up others. That's what I'm getting all twisted about, can't we, as in those of us that like other things, say what we like without you guys acting like we are calling your wine loves bullshit?! Crazy making to me. I'm not demanding that you taste Meursault and Pouilly-Fuisse alongside your domestic Chardonnays and saying you are closed minded and shitting on France because you don't. You do and love your thing just as we do. Why would you hold Kermit, who has made his living importing wines, to any standard higher than your very specialized and niche corner of the wine world? Isn't that what makes some of demand and important, that we've focused our time, energy and palates on certain areas that light us afire and send us out to spread the word? Find others to share those wines with?

Maybe I'm wrong Charlie, and maybe I'm "confusing" things but I'm not a child nor am I a foolish follower. Much like your readers believe and trust you for your comprehension and passion for the wines from California, and they don't expect or demand that you water that down by including the four corners of the wine growing world...I mean, fuck Charlie, where's the issue on Pinotage?! I appreciate Kermit for his steadfast belief in, and pursuit of, the wines that thrilled me right into the wine business. I respect his voice, his wines and his right to stock the wines that work for him just as much as I respect your right to focus on, write about, study and preach the gospel of the places, faces, flavors that move you.

Thanks for the visit Charlie. I do miss you and hope you and your family are well, laughing a bunch and drinking well.

Samantha Dugan said...

Sorry sweet lady, got wound up there and I suspect half of what Charlie says he does to push my buttons. Works dammit.

I thank you so for your wonderfully sweet comments and trust in my palate and voice. You have been one of my longest supporters here and now, now I consider you a very dear friend. We have years of reading and drinking in us yet lady...can't wait.

TWG said...

Kermit is in business to sell wines. The French "only" was part of his shtick, perhaps unconsciously, but a salesman none the less.

Unknown said...

Samantha, you're a great blogger, and this was one of your best. I'm sure anyone who reads wine blogs has found themselves cast in the role of wine snob, or accidental defender of a certain wine style. I'm amazed by the way you pulled back a layer, and told the stories behind those stories.

Ed H. said...

Why is it okay for everyone except one person to specialize, to focus their attentions on what moves them, to follow their bliss? It’s okay for Frank Sinatra to sing instead of playing the dulcimer. Okay for Jimi Hendrix to turn his back completely on the glockenspiel and stick with his guitar. Okay for Baryshnikov to do ballet instead of square dancing, and okay that despite all the other things she could have also done with physics or chemistry, Madame Curie focused purely on researching radioactivity. Okay that my dentist doesn't do root canals, and that my mechanic only works on my brand of car, that the cardiologist isn't also a proctologist, and that the guy who imports Spanish lace doesn't also sell lace from Ireland. It’s okay that my favorite sushi chef won’t make a hamburger for me, and my favorite Bourbon distiller doesn't make gin, too, and that my favorite Italian chef doesn't have a single French item on his menu. It’s okay that I've never been able to get scrambled eggs and bacon at my favorite dim sum joint. It’s okay for the Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wines to focus on wines from –no surprise—California, and for the Burghound to focus on Burgundy, and for Peter Liem to focus on Champagne and Sherry. Somehow, all of this is okay for everyone but one person on the planet. Everyone described above gets to focus on what interests them, gets to turn their backs on entire universes of endeavor without having their character, moral fiber or sanity called into question, and isn't despised for it. In fact, quite often, we're all profoundly grateful that the folks above and many more chose to be specialists. But Kermit Lynch isn't allowed to focus on the wines outside of California. He's the only guy in the world who isn't allowed to focus on what he loves. He doesn't get to specialize. Unlike everyone else above, he’s “arrogant,” he’s “incredible closeminded (sic),” and we have to “wonder where the hell was his head?” because he dared to specialize in the wines of France while living in California?


The Woo said...

Hey Sam,

It's been a long time! I have to admit that I have not been as a regular reader of your blog recently than I had been in the past. That is my loss and I will absolutely remedy this going forward. Your writing remains world class and I keep hoping to find you in a more open press so that more people can enjoy your style of prose.

When I saw your posts about the guy in Target, I remembered a case when I was at a very high end hotel talking to the concierge about setting up some stuff and one of the other ones gets a call to ask for restaurant and activity reservations... FROM SOMEONE STAYING AT ANOTHER HOTEL... because "The Four Seasons has the best concierges." OH DEAR GOD. And when the concierge politely said that he had to get off the phone to help guests that were staying at the hotel he worked at, I could actually hear the guy on the phone yell at this poor concierge while dropping F-bombs at the "poor service". Shocked. The reality is we should never be surprised at the depth of stupidity inherent in our fellow man. It just is. I am sure that there are things these nimrods are expert in that are completely beyond my ability in anyway, but I also doubt that these idiots would treat our ignorance in those areas with the same level of courtesy and aplomb that you exercised. Again, such is life.

It was REALLY interesting to see the dialog between you and Eric. My bet is that relative to all of the people who read this blog and see you on Facebook, there are probably only a small group of us that know about you guys when you were both starting at the Wine Country and the pals that you were then and since then. Also, I doubt that people truly understand the regard you hold him in and that you revel in his success in his wine career. It is really, REALLY cool for me to see him succeed at ZM in such a great way. Especially when I "knew him when...". I also buy and enjoy his own Sauv Blanc!

So when I read the back and forth between you and Eric, it immediately took me back to the early days of the Wine Country and imagined the two of you having the similar type of discussion about any number of subjects. Basically, two pals talking about something that they both saw from different angles. Stuff that happens every single day all over the world. Not rancorous at all. Just two people talking about something. And yes, friends can call each other out about things they don't agree on without ill will. That is part of being someone's FRIEND - the real kind, not the FB kind. I totally pictured the same conversation between the two of you in the shop... just completely saw it in my minds eye. Of course, I know I am in the minority of people who saw that and understood. But my bet is that is how you saw it too, and it just went way over the heads of the faceless FB masses. Again, such is life.

Sorry... have to run to a second post. To be continued below...

The Woo said...


I guess what I am trying to say in a very longwinded way is that you should not stress about this stuff. The "you're a wine snob" attack/response/comment is the absolute default of anyone who WANTS to like wine or WANTS to act like they have wine knowledge or worse yet, believes that they are the only ones with a valid and legitimate position on wine, but have some hidden insecurities about their actual level of knowledge. You and I both know that most TRUE wine experts that when they make a mistake like "Burgundian Grenache" and it is pointed out, will laugh about it and easily move on. Defending the indefensible is what the idiots do. Or the insecure.

So if someone calls you a wine snob, let 'em. Anyone who matters knows the truth. You are WAY ahead of me in wine knowledge and experience, and yet you would be shocked at how often I am accused of being a wine snob or some less polite variant of that. I guess living pain in the ass community in south OC among the "lily white entitled" and looking like I belong here doesn't help in this regard. I get it. But it doesn't define me. I am still that poor immigrant kid from the 'hood trying to make his way in a white man's world.

Here is what I say to myself when the great unwashed try to judge me in matters such as this...

"Bitches be bitches... that is what bitches do."

You are a special and singular talent Sam. Don't let the bad guys get you down. There is an entire world of people who value and love you.

Yer Pal,


PS. I am now really waiting for the one year countdown.

John M. Kelly said...

Gotta say I had a fantastic glass of Burgundian Moscato yesterday. I'm pulling up all the Pinot Noir and Rhones - including Grenache - at our vineyard as we speak, and planting Moscato as well as this great new grape variety a customer insisted he had tasted a month ago: "Bordeaux." I think the Bordeaux grape should do very well right next our Burgundian Moscato.

TWG said...


The dentist doesn't tell you all periodontist are no good. He refers you to the apppropriate specialist.

Those who complain about Kermit aren't doing so because he only sells French wine, it's because they think he had dismissed California wine.

You try criticizing someone's work and see how receptive they are.
If you think BMW is the greatest and you tell someonr their Audi is inferior, they're not going to like it or you.

Charlie Olken said...

Let's be clear about a couple of things so that the conversation can stay on track.

No one is criticizing Kermit for the structure of his business. And no one need criticize my business either. Both were created back in the 1970s in response to needs in the marketplace that were not being filled. Both are niche business and both have been very succesful at the chosen tasks.

What Kermit did, and he admits it in his NYT interview, was to close his mind to all CA wines regardless of style or maker or newness of trend or approach.

Most of us, including me, do not do that. My cellar has lots of wines from all over the world, and my personal travels (vacations) have taken me to Tuscany, Argentina, Australia, Spain, Provence, Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, etc. So, let's get past the finger pointing and focus on the issue at hand.

When a person lives in the heart of CA wine country and purposefully ignores, dismisses the very wines from that area, that is a level of closedmindness.

It cannot be anything else. Personal preference is one thing. Ignoring every single wine in every single style from your immediate neighborhood is criticizable for its level of bias.

Kermit now agrees with that.

Being a specialist is one thing. Being narrowminded to the point of intentional dismissing everything from CA is another.

The Woo said...

I am very torn in the position that Charlie takes. Here is why...

- It's not up to Charlie to direct this or any conversation. It is up to him to respond to comments directed towards him or about him. If we want to discuss wallpaper, we can. Not your call Charlie.

- I do agree that it makes no sense to have a blanket dismissal of any geography categorically without regard to any other factor than place... and a very broad place at that.

- I also vehemently disagree that it is any of our place to judge what Kermit wants to do or not want to do, or say or not say about wines that he likes, sells and promotes. That is entirely, without exception, HIS right and purview. The marketplace can and does decide how to react to that.

We can and do express our disagreement with what he does, but insisting or pushing him to change how he views and runs his business just rubs me the wrong way.

I am an avid wine collector and wine drinker. I have had the good fortune to travel to many places and drink prodigious amounts of incredible wine. I am not "in the business". I am a rank amateur. I own and buy a lot of wine, so to some I am a valued customer, to others I am a pain in the ass. I vote with my dollars. I have TONS of California wines and I also have TONS of French wines. There are definitely wines I like and those I do not.

I also completely understand where Kermit is coming from... he doesn't like California wines because of what they are now. Not all wines are like that, but too many of them are and he would rather focus his time an energy elsewhere.

When reading the article in the NYT, and the subsequent comments, it became clear to me that people are reading into things that Kermit did not mean or say. Charlie, I think you blow this way out of proportion. Not cool.

The completely prevailing theme in Kermit's responses is best summed up by one of his closing comments... drink what you like. It really is as simple as that. I don't see why this is being made such a big deal. Does not smell right.

And yes, I do see the "pot calling the kettle black" aspect of my entire comment.

Charlie Olken said...

I get your points but would respectfully ask for reconsideration in some details. To me, the notion of the pot calling the kettle black is too much of a reach. One need only look at my cellar and my great delight at tasting all over the wine world.

That was the distraction in the conversation I think was unnecessary as it focused on me instead of the question of whether there is too much easy dismissal of CA wine. Remember Kermit's was not a reaction to the recent increase in CA ripeness. We are talking decades of history.

We do agree absolutely that people should drink what they like. I just wonder how one can not even taste CA wine for decades when one lives at the center of the California wine country as Kermit does? His right, of course, just as it is my right to find his actions too narrow-minded by half And I do think that his latest comments in the NYT show that he now realizes that he closed his mind to some very good wine.

Thanks for your thoughtful response.

Samantha Dugan said...

Right? May not have been the way he started but it was the way he went and not to rub salt in anyone's was a really fucking wise choice.

You called me the "B" word. Rude but I forgive you. Bloggers are those people that crave awards and post badges, even the "I didn't win but someone voted for me, (thanks mom!)" ones. I'm not so much a blogger as a blather-er but I am grateful that you keep coming round again..

Feels odd to comment to your comments here as we have already discussed much of this but...I get your point and know that it is the same as mine. We once revered specialists and sought them out when help was needed, wasn't aware that if you left California wines off your list of specialties that you were close minded and arrogant. Color me so surprised...and fucking arrogant. Been a French wine maven for over 15 years and seeing as there have been maybe two wines from anywhere else that might have me changing my mind, (any guesses where they weren't from?) I'm going to wear my Charlie given scarlet A.

You kill me. Make me melt and kill me seeing as I know that you are a huge California wine lover/supporter and you and I have always been able to feel each other. Strange for me to see that not everyone is as open and accepting as you.

With regards to the Eric and I "fight" you so nailed it. It was the, "Shut up stoopid" conversation of an old love/friendship that was full of fangs but the good kind. Eric and I are kind of cats and dogs, always have been. It has brought us seething anger, hunched over laughter, neck tightening passion and the kind of kinship that can't be bucked by a silly wine disagreement. It was the other guy that made things feel weird, just as it always has with Eric and I. He and I issues. Love him with all I got and he knows it.

So long as you plant some Chablisiane Cocovine...

Samantha Dugan said...


I love you but you are coming off like a bully here, which more than a few people have pointed out to me in private messages and as much as it literally pains me, I have to totally agree. You won't listen to reason and you are seemingly unwilling to see what the rest of us do. You win? Well love, in your close minded little corner I guess you do. I've messaged you outside of here and tried. You have your way and it isn't my course, job, or desire to change you. You and Steve can talk about how the world envies California and the rest of us shake our heads and wonder why you two don't give a shit about what moves us. We see you just as you see them. Thankfully the others are a little more open to listening to us. Never heard more vitriol and accusations than from your side and can I just say, kills me that there are even "sides" to begin with. I was on yours, as in respecting that you liked a specific kind of wine better, for like five years kid...not sure why you opted to beat up on mine but I assure you, I can and will take it. Especially if it means those little bite marks you leave assure others that their taste is something I'm willing to fight for.

You don't have it right Charlie and your little wine vacations to the rest of the world's wine regions are sweet but anecdotal. I've been to Napa like 7 times, that means I get and fully understand those wines, right? Kermit, Eric and I never pretend to get your wines because we are far too busy being enraptured by the wines from other places, the wines that move us. No matter how much it pisses you off and no matter how much I love you, on this here Sir Charles, you are just wrong. You can't be a California wine specialist and advocate and be pissed to shit that some of us are doing just as you are, but for another side. You hating on an importer, a world renowned one no less while you make your living screeching the praise of wines from one tiny region of the world makes you look like the most delusional hypocrite, ever. So please Charlie...stop. I have been defending you all day, some of these cats here can attest to that. I love you but this fight? One you are going to lose...

The Woo said...

Hey Chucky,

I think you need to seriously get your story and motivations straight. You are really, truly coming off as a pompous ass who is sanctimonious beyond belief and lives in a universe where you are the only one who can have the right opinion. Yes, that is my "thoughtful" response. PUH-LEEZE.

Let's start off by looking at what Kermit ACTUALLY SAID in the interview published in the NYT. Here is the direct cut and paste from their website.

"Q: You stopped selling American wine 30 years ago. Do you still drink any?

A: When a lot of California wineries started chasing high Parker scores, I lost interest. But last year I had a 1968 Joseph Swan zinfandel that lit me up, and an older Ridge cabernet. I wish I had purchased more California cabernets and zinfandels back then. It bugs me, all those great bottles I missed.

Q: How about recent California wines?

A: Right here in Berkeley, I found a great winemaker, Steve Edmunds, working with Rhone varietals. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised — I eat better in Berkeley than I do in France these days. My son now works for me, too, and he’s been talking about California wineries dropping the heavy-oak, heavy-alcohol style. He wants me to consider adding some to our portfolio, and I’ve given him the green light to scout around."

Show me where he said all California wines suck. Show me where he put down the entire state and every wine and every vintage.

No, in fact, he even said how he liked a winemaker from California!

Has he said other things that reinforces his PREFERENCES? Very likely.

I think the clearer reality is that you don't like what he says because he "put down" what you think is awesome. You openly accuse him of dismissing the entirety of California when in HIS OWN WORDS IN PRINT he is saying how he likes a local winemaker! The reality is that he is a truly well respected and actual, not perceived, giant in the wine industry and he says that other stuff (stuff other than what you SELL and PROMOTE, and probably like) is better that the stuff around him... actually better than the MAJORITY of the stuff around him locally.

I can see how as someone whose livelihood is centered on the local stuff, you would feel threatened by that and use thinly veiled attacks to put him down and call him narrow minded because it is the only way you feel you can defend your business. But let's see what the reality truly is. You are defending your business. You should defend your business, but I think and hope you are smart enough to do so without attacking someone and calling them narrow minded.

And please spare me the "this is my passion that happens to be my business" diatribe that is forming in your head right now. Followed by the usual hiding place of "I have a very successful business and I don't need to defend it" position that is bubbling up next. We get it. You are awesomely successful and don't need to do this, but are doing all of this for OUR own good to point out how the bad man is wrong. Please let me know where they erect your statue so we can pay appropriate homage to it when we next visit the center of all that is good in wine at the Mondavi center.

And yes, I am a huge California wine lover as Sam says. But also LOVE old world wines. And yes, I do spend significant dollars on wine regularly as most crazy, insane, dumbass wine collectors with more money than good sense do. I guess I just won't be spending them with you.

Hope this response was "thoughtful" enough for you. And for the record, I was not saying you were the pot calling the kettle black. I was referring to me. I guess since English is not my native language I need to work at being more clear in my writing. I can't imagine that anyone would read into something that was different than what was actually written.

The Woo said...

Sam - just remember....

Bitches be bitches. It's what bitches do.

Samantha Dugan said...

You weren't kidding, you are pissed. I keep this place open for debate and value everyone's input, even when things go, "off the rails" as it were. I think many of us saw the comments from Charlie one way and he clearly saw what he was saying, or trying to say, in another. I hate it when that happens, but that was the entire point of this post. We all, including me, need to be less sensitive to each others preferences and opinions.

My take away from this ended up being that I can't help but feel there is no winning with some people if you are an imported wine drinker, lover, specialist. If we aren't talking about California then we are shitting on it and if we say something nice we get clobbered with, "Why haven't you been doing that all along?!"....can't win. The thing is, even though some of this stings, I'd rather get a nip on the ass from someone that is impassioned than a fake ass hug from someone wishy-washy and insincere.

I'd hate to think I'd lose any friends from writing this piece and speaking my mind....if I did I have to wonder how strong and honest that friendship was.

Thanks for the debate everyone. Now get out there and drink what gets you off.

Romes said...

Sam -
Thanks so much for this fun! It has been so fun to read such articulate responses - I LOVE it. And when do I get to meet this fabulous Woo guy?

Wishing you a very happy day loving all your snobby French wines, hon hon oui oui... :-)

Samantha Dugan said...

Well fun is a way to look at it. You are such a sweetheart, and with such a warm heart. I had a day and now it's done but tomorrow I get to pour, talk about and taste the wines from my first love, from Alsace. I so wish you could be there...that sweet face of yours would warm my chilly heart that's for sure but, well for now the wines will just have to do. Chin-chin beautiful.

Thomas said...

Did I miss something? ;)

Samantha Dugan said...

Nope. Just me winning friends and influencing no one again.

The Woo said...

Shit got real...

Thomas said...

After a number of years online, I've finally reached the point where I will no longer argue over opinions. The fact that someone holds an opinion so dearly is indication that the argument may go nowhere.

The other problem is that many people have an uncanny ability to read what they already think in place of the words on the page, er, screen.

Thomas said...

Should have been a comma after the word "think."

Now doesn't that read better?

Samantha Dugan said...

I was at a dinner party last night and this all came up again. We are all so passionate and I love that part but with that comes the sting when people bite back. Thankfully last night this guy was on "My Side" and it was the others he was nipping at. Don't think the argument is ever going to end...just gotta figure out what I want my voice to sound like.

Thomas said...


Try shrill.

It works for other bloggers...

Samantha Dugan said...

Good call. Always been a dream of mine to sound like other bloggers. How else am I going to win the ever coveted Wine Blog Award?!

Anonymous said...

i wish to say that you have nice post, the way you explain the whole thing, you simply made it easy to understand and the rest of the website is extremely good.

andrea chiu said...

I understand that every person has the passion in any aspects or things. If you love something and it came in front of you it completes your day and your mood turns into something you won't expected. I love your work and I want to read more about it. Visit my site if you have time . Thank you.

Unknown said...

You are an awesome blogger. This is one of the best blog I had visited so far. Hope to read more post from you in the future. Keep it up. God bless.