Tag Archives: arto koskelo

The Thirst for Natural Beaujolais

- Back in the day farmers used to spray their fields with toxic chemicals and when their plastic containers became empty, they burned them at the site, tells Christophe Pacalet, shaking his head and laughing.
As an aspiring producer of natural wine, Christophe Pacalet embodies the undiluted version of the Beaujolais region – the one that everybody is currently talking about. The Beaujolais that is about respecting the environment and the local traditions alike. The results are nothing short of stunning, as I’m just about to find out.

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Monsieur Pacalet pouring his 2012 Fleurie from the barrel

Though Christophe Pacalet carries himself with notable modesty and doesn’t make too much noise about himself, he is not an ordinary farmer guy. Well he is, but at the same time he isn’t. He is the nephew of the late Marcel Lapierre who was considered the pioneer of the natural wine movement which has received a lot of worldwide attention in the past few years. Though originally a chef, when Christophe decided to become a vigneron, he learned the ropes from the best.

The last vintage of Beaujolais, the 2012, was a difficult one with almost all possible problems, from frost to hail and to mildew. A catastrophe from the viewpoint of volume. Some producers, like Domaine de la Grand’Cour, got only 15% percent of the yield they usually get. Jean-Louis Dutraive was able to produce tasty wines, but economically speaking situation is obviously dire. The fact that it was raining cats and dogs most of my time in Beaujolais makes one hope that the 2012 doesn’t repeat itself.

But let’s get back to the cellar of Christopher Pacalet. He pours me a glass of his 2012 from the small cru of Chiroubles, located at a higher altitude than other nine Beaujolais crus. It is a tightly knit and vibrant wine, the kind of firm but succulent interpretation of Gamay that cleans your palate without drying your mouth and is at the same time able to appeal to you in a more thoughtful way. Rare quality in the world of wine, though pleasingly often available with high quality Cru Beaujolais.

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- I want to make the same kind of wines my grandfather used to. That means hands off approach. Well almost like my grandfather. Sometimes his wines turned into vinegar, which hasn’t happened to me, he laughs.

- Back then people didn’t understand the fermentation process thoroughly. Working with the vines was more difficult too. For example, mildew was a huge problem. That’s why they built the chapel on top of Fleurie, next to the famous vineyards of La Madone. They used to pray in the chapel so that mildew would stay away, Christophe explains.

That fact tells you something quite essential about the region in itself but especially about the relation of its people to wine. The chapel on top of Fleurie was built to gain divine protection for the vines, not for the people. I kind of like the idea.

Marcel Lapierre, or uncle, as Christophe calls him, was one of the unpretentious pioneers who were able to change the image of Beaujolais with their own example. Lapierre was among first to travel vastly abroad. It was no coincidence that it lead to a revolution of quality.

- When he came back he was full of new ideas. This was in the late seventies, Christophe says.
As paradoxical as it may sound, the ones who wanted to go back to the traditional methods were the ones who’d been around the world most.

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Rusty indicator at Domaine de la Grand’Cour

The quiet revolution that was ignited by Lapierre has made Beaujolais one of the most interesting wine regions of France at the moment. Thanks to him and people like Foillard, Metras, Balagny, Brun, Dutrieve and Pacalet, the story in the wine media is no longer one of declining sales of Beaujolais nouveau but of the new Beaujolais, that has gone natural.

- The generation before me didn’t choose. They didn’t decide to become vignerons. They were born into families making wine and become vignerons because of that. That’s the big difference with today. If someone makes wine now, he or she has chosen it independently. It’s not the easiest way to make money, so many of the people who do it today, do it properly, Christopher tells.

Indeed, passion seems to have come back to Beaujolais. The region is full of aspiring producers making interesting wines, like Sunier, Jambon, David-Beaupère and Thillardon.

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The young guys of Beaujolais

But now that nouveau was mentioned, let’s talk about that for a minute here. Nouveau seems to be the blessed curse of the region. It has made some people rich but at the same time destroyed the quality image of the whole region. I see Beaujolais Nouveau as a typical short term gain, long term loss –situation leading towards all kinds of trouble, but the locals seem to be more forgiving towards it.

- Well it did make the region famous worldwide, says the great Jean-Paul Brun before continuing that it however might be one of the reasons why a Moulin-à-Vent goes for one tenth of the price of a Vougeot from neighboring Burgundy, though they used to be at same price level a hundred years ago. Yes, that might have something to do with it.

Cédric Chignard, the wine maker of the brilliant Fleurie company Chignard making wines with piercing purity and long aging potential puts it the other way around.

- The problem is not in my opinion the nouveau. The problem is the crus. They’ve been badly marketed, Cédric says.

The man does have a point there. The majority of Bordeaux is cheap low quality wine, but no-one thinks that would affect the image of Pauillac crus.

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Foillard is one of the very best in the region. Here having a lunch with the family

Christopher Pacalet seems to agree with Cédric Chignard, since Christophe too makes nouveau. In fact 50% of his production is nouveua and especially the Japanese are crazy about it. But one shouldn’t confuse his nouveau with the thermovinificated industrial stuff the big houses push out. We are talking here natural nouveau. If it sounds crazy, listen to this:

- I’d want to put my wine into a bag-in-a-box. Why not? Natural nouveau in a box, imagine that, he says.

I try to, but the whole concept sounds almost too out of the box, pun intended. After chewing on the idea for a while, I start to like it. Especially the idea of drinking Pacalet’s nouveau. Maybe this could be my ticket back to world I’ve actively avoided for many years?

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Yvon Metras is a living legend and a true character. His car on the other hand, is an environment crime on wheels

The low quality industrial nouveau is mostly to blame for the situation many Beaujolais producers are currently facing. Since nouveua isn’t selling anymore like it used to, producers that have grown dependent on it are struggling.

- The markets for giants like Duboeuf are shrinking. Some smaller wineries have two vintages of wine in their tanks, but they are stuck with it because Duboef doesn’t buy it. It’s of course not Duboeuf’s fault. The market just doesn’t need that kind of Gamay in that quantity. The Beaujolais has to concentrate on quality, Christopher says.

The man has a significant point here. The Beaujolais cannot compete on low level markets with international players that have almost infinite access to cheap land and labour. France cannot win that match.

- In my mind the future of Beaujolais is firmly in terroir wines. Authentic wines that are connected to the soil they come from. The region is already making 50% less wine than just 25 years ago, he says.

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Mathieu Lapierre checking his vineyard in the rain

Mathieu Lapierre, the owner and winemaker of legendary Lapierre seems to agree here.

- You know I did my first vintage 2004 with my father, but before that I worked in different places. In Chile and South-Africa for example. Based on that experience it was obvious to me that Beaujolais can’t compete with them with price. France is expensive. Nevertheless, I’d say 95% of the wine produced in Beaujolais has even today gone through industrial thermovinification. One has to remember that wineries like Lapierre are in the minority, though I do hope more winemakers will start making wines with traditional methods. The problem is that it takes a lot more work and skill and produces less wine to sell, he says.

Among the natural wine enthusiasts Beaujolais is a hotspot offering personal wines and bang for a buck. It is much more than industrial wine consumed once a year. To me two things became clear during my three days stay at the region: first, I think Beaujolais has never been more interesting. And the second thing? I love Beaujolais.

Disclaimer: The trip was partially supported by Beaujolais

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There it is!

A contract for my next book, all signed and looking fresh. And yes, it will be in Finnish like the one before. But not to worry, the time for English book will come later, I’m sure. Have a good Friday and enjoy a nice glass of wine!
Photo 3.5.2013 14.36.49

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Bullas – Ice wines from Spanish wasteland

- There’s often a generation long gap. Grandpas used to produce wines, but the next generation didn’t continue the tradition. Now the grand children are getting back to their roots with fresh ideas. Crianza, reserva and gran reserva don’t mean much anymore. Wines are bottled and shipped abroad instead of sold in bulk for local consumers, Alfonso García Sánchez of Bodega Monastrell explains.

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Bodega Monastrell is situated in the middle of a conservation park, in the region of Murcia, in South-East Spain. An odd place to visit, to be honest. Untamed and rugged, yet inspiringly beatiful. At this time of spring the bare vines sprout out of the rocky soils like it was a fertile take on the landscape of moon.

The vineyards are surrounded by mountains. On a hot summer day the air stays still and the temperature rises.

- The temperature can get to a level of unbearable, over the forties, Alfonso says.

During winters it gets freezing and snow regularly covers the vineyards. From one extreme to another. This means tasty wine, as I’m just about to find out.

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This is the Monastrell country. The variety can sustain the conditions where others fail: the hotness of summer, the coldness of winter and the extreme drought of the growing season. The combination of 3000 annual hours of sunlight with a precipitation of under 200 ml is brutal and comes with a price: typical vine can carry as little as one kilo of grapes. That means a bottle per plant. A stubborn variety.

Monastrell benefits from its long history in the area. According to scientific studies it arrived to the area whooping 2500 years ago from the Middle East and spread into France only quite a bit later. Something the producers of Bullas remember to mention.

Even Phylloxera had problems with the sandy soils and though it did break out, many of the vines are still ungrafted.

We are about to enter the winery of Bodega Monastrell. First we have to wait for a while though. Public power grid isn’t allowed at the conservation area and Alfonso has to go and start the generator. Lights turn on and in we go. That is good news since though it’s only April, the sun is able to scorch the skin of a Nordic barbarian. They tell me it was sub zero a week ago, but now it is beyond thirty Celcius degrees.

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Down in the cellar Alfonso pours me some of his 2010 Monastrell. The wine has a texture gently leaning towards inky, but it comes with a fresh spine and acidity one can only describe lively. It’s a crunchy interpretation of a usually heavy Monastrell. Fruit is pure and isn’t hiding behind layers of oak. The new Spain clearly doesn’t need too much wood to blur its intrinsic character.

Alfonso pops open his rarity. An ice wine crafted out of Monastrell. Yes, ice wine from Southeast Spain and from warm dry lands. Some Spanish wineries produce ice wine with cryoextraction, that is to say by freezing the late harvest grapes in the winery with hi tech machinery, but Bodega Monastrell has no need for these kinds of short cuts. Biting freeze comes in Decemeber regularly enough to make sense out of ice wine production. Wine has a spicy nose, candid fruit character, long taste, and though it is an ice wine, it has delightfully low level of residual sugar. Tannins appear in the end and the slightly bitter finish makes the package truly tasty.

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Wines of Alfonso García Sánchez are one of the few who are leading the way for the Bullas region, looking to export more. 5.500 hectares used to be all about bulk wine, but the latest generation wants to look beyond local markets. According to Alfonso, even today 78% of Bullas DO is produced by one cooperative, and though the coop also bottles its wines and is quality orientated, it’s a clear token of the transition taking place in the region.

The wines of Bullas are predominantly tasty. The key seems to be retaining of the freshness, which has a lot to do with the acidic structure of the end product. Other key factors seem to be the purity of the fruit, sometimes a problem with Monastrell and of course the control of the ABV. 15,5% is most times too much for any variety.

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Wines of Bodega Monastrell, coming from the middle of mountains, are a proof of the winning concept. The quality of wines is only half of the coin, though. In the times of global markets other half is marketing. When I’m looking the rugged rocky soils and listening to Alfonso talk, I keep thinking about Bullas on a general level and what the distant region is about. I’ll put it for you in short form.

Ungrafted vines producing miniscule quantity of organic wines in extreme conditions with more than two thousands of years of history with its main variety. Phew… How many other regions can claim the same?

Something tells me the story of Bullas is a story we’ll be hearing more frequently in the years to come.

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Disclaimer: the trip was done in collaboration with the Spanish embassy in Helsinki and the DO

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The Hidden Stashes of Mosel

It’s an exceptionally chilly morning for late March. Random snow flakes are falling down from the steely sky. Spring is late. ”Look around you, there may still be stashes buried in the ground”, the winemaker of Staffelter Hof says, standing on the verge. The vineyard is steep enough to cause vertigo even when viewed from the bottom, not to mention from all the way up. He lets go his signature trait, a booming hearty laughter, and stuffs his hands deep into pockets. Stone’s throw away runs the river Mosel, steadily, the way it has done for generations, just like it should.

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Mosel is one of the very best, maybe even the best, white wine region in the world. It has cracked the code of success a long time ago. If you compare contemporary scenery to black and white photos of the area, the region appears to have remained unchanged for decades. Immutable to the point of being uncanny in perseverance. The vineyeards continue as far as eye can see, conforming to the shapes of the arduous hills that seem to guard the river flowing through it.

But let’s introduce the man properly before we continue with his story. He is Jan Matthias Klein, the latest generation in helm of Staffelter Hof Weingut that produced its first vintage year 862. Yes, you read correctly, there is no 1 in front of the number. We are talking seriously old school. Think about Crusades, Black Death, Little Ice Age, Thirty Years’ War and many other things written in Capital letters. Staffelter Hof has withstood and witnessed all of them. It is in fact one of the worlds oldest businesses still operating.

Career in wine was never self-evident for Jan. As a youngster he wanted to become a mathematician. Now as a man in his thirties, he works with wine. Gravity of the family heritage, I suppose. While not working in the vineyards, he drives a van around Mosel listening to strange industrial German hip hop with metal influences (and apparently owns only one CD). But let’s not hold these things against him, because he makes great wine and has a story waiting to be told.

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”The stashes…” he says. ”We have to go back a bit in time to understand. You know, back in the day Mosel wines used to fetch top prices on the markets. Like really high prices. That’s why the impossible slopes were cultivated in the first place. Then something happened. Namely we, starting two World Wars (put here a booming laughter). The prices never quite recovered.

Back in 1945 the Nazi regime was about to collapse and the French troops marched into Mosel. They were a thirsty bunch, cause French know how to appreciate wine. Locals had been making wine through the war as well as they could under the circumstances. When they heard the sound of the boots, they tried to save their stock by hiding bottles in the most imaginative places. Some were hidden behind fake walls, some buried below ground, into the soil, at vineyards. Who knows how many stashes were recovered after the chaotic times?” Klein asks rhetorically. Group of Winelovers listening seem to look around their toes like they’ve just lost something.

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One of the local winemakers tells a story about his grandfather. During the days wine making was a dangerous profession. His grandfather was relieved from the military service for being the oldest son in the family. Nevertheless, without seeing any real trenches, he almost ended up getting shot in front of his own winery. Drunken French soldiers decided to shoot the man cause he didn’t surrender them more wine at late hours.

Now if someone is willing to take a bullet before giving his wine away, he must love his wine enough to dig deep, I think to myself and take another look at the vineyards trying to think like a stubborn German wine maker. Where would I bury my treasure?

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Though Jan tells stories about the regions past in a chattering manner, the weight of history is present in many layers. The fleeting moment at the vineyard kind of crystallises Mosel to me.

Klein, in his thirties, is making organic wine, still considered progressive in Mosel, in a winery that has a track record of whooping 1151 years. That is seemingly a paradox. Like most companies of the region, Staffelter Hof is still family run and relatively small in size, so very much traditional way. Still in his chatter the past intertwines with the present seamlessly. His story and history are the same thing. And while talking about it, he wears a neon green beanie and looks more like surfer than a wine maker. …And it all makes perfect sense.

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Mosel keeps making moreish wines with power, focus and finesse and its people keep finding new ways to express its unique features, whether we’re talking about Thorsten Melsheimer’s hands off natural wines that keep fermenting for a year, Staffelter Hof’s Riesling und Electro parties in the middle of a medieval dorf, the crazy project of Tobias Treis at the red soiled slopes of Sorentberg or Konstantin Weiser’s Riesling with Weiser-Künstler that carries a striking preciseness, structure and freshness. As old as its primeval soils, as young as its beanie wearing winemakers working at the steepest vineyards. This is Mosel.

The beanie generation has no need to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t have to break anything in order to thrive. From a winelovers perspective, the region works like a charm offering superb wines with modest prices. The new kids have inherited the wisdom of the previous generations (Jan also got the booming laughter of his father). But small adjustments, minor tweaks here and there… Definitely, absolutely.

What the future holds for Mosel remains to be seen, since it is in a constant slow transformation without a clear goal, like most wine regions. One thing is clear though: meanwhile the region marches to the fresh beat of the drum of Jan, Thorsten, Tobias, Konstantin and others alike, the mythical wine stashes buried deep into the soils are left lingering in our tickled minds.

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The Riesling gang on top of Sorentberg. Photo stolen from Ralf Kaiser at right, http://www.weinkaiser.de

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Jan Klein, Lotte Karolina Gabrovits and Thorsten Melsheimer

Tobias Treis ready to make people climb all the way up the slope

Tobias Treis ready to make lazy winelovers suffer all the way up

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Wild boar. It was finished at a Riesling frenzy of 20 people.

Konstantin Weiser is new in the region, but already enjoys huge respect among his peers

Though a relatively new guy, Konstantin Weiser already enjoys well earned respect

Marvelling the view with port evangelista Andre Riberinho

Port preacher Riberinho and guerrilla communicator Koskelo showing happy faces

Imagine working here? You know what, wines are cheap.

You know what, Mosel wines are too cheap, if you think about the amount of labor involved

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Panorama from high. Pretty amazing corner of the world.

 

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Languedoc state of mind

This was suppose to be one of those only pictures updates but what the heck, let’s write something since I’m too hangoverish to continue tasting wines after enjoying way too many glasses yesterday at a wine bar in Beziers serving only magnums and the connection is so shoddy uploading pictures takes five minutes a piece.

Yes, I’m currently in Languedoc, trying hard to understand the vast region with simple outer layer but very complex core. The new world of the old world, some say. I can see where they are coming from. But you already know all of this so let’s get to the business to make it worth your time.

Faugères is one of the more interesting sub regions of Languedoc that I find very agreeable in over all quality. It consists of seven villages with 40 something producers and a few co-operatives. What separates Faugères from it’s neighbors is the schist found in the soil that provides wines with the kind of firmness in the mid palate one has to appreciate. Call it minerality if you will.

At its worst Faugères suffers from the same shortcomings as it’s neighboring Saint-Chinian: over extracted style that is intense on flavors but flabby on structure, ending with this semi-bitter black olive flavor common in Chilean icon wines (suggesting to me excessive heat) and a hefty amount of fine grained wood tannins that make you gasp for air instead of cleansing the palate. Thankfully these are in the minority and mostly the balance is comfortable even for me, usually having problems with this style of reds.

The area is dry to the point of being arid and the soils are very poor as you can see in the picture below. Back in the days these poor soils were worked by the poor because wine was basically the only thing able to succeed on the land. Besides chick peas that aren’t exactly a money making machine either. Marry a farmer from Faugères and stay poor was the concept for hundreds of years.

I was surprised to see how many of the Faugères producers have gone organic. These days 30 percent of the domaines are bio and numbers are rising year by year. I’ll stop the rambling here and try to get myself into professional state of mind to carry on tasting wines of Languedoc as I know they have at least a hundred bottles open in the close vicinity. Meanwhile, the pictures.

Poor soils of poor Faugères. *sob*

How cool is this label? Yes it is Frida Kahlo

Tasting blind

Rieeeeeen, non, je ne regrette rien

Disclaimer: I’m visiting the region as a guest of a generic organization promoting French wine

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Expertise in transformation

I know my shit

When the Age of Enlightenment got off in the 18th century weird things followed. Reason replaced religion and the church lost its monopoly on ultimate truths. New authorities were needed to fill the void. They were found within science. The idealists of the time hoped that the scientific method would eventually eliminate irrationality in our lives. This has been partly achieved: Helsinki Airport would probably not work if the flight control would rely on faith instead of mathematical patterns. On the other hand, irrationality didn’t go anywhere. The priest was kicked from the limelight but the expert was put on the pedestal previously reserved for the priest. But let’s make a jump to wine shall we? You ready?

Keep your shitty parachute


Think about the traditional wine expert. He or she has read a hundred books on the subject, toured the wine regions thoroughly and is able, if needed, to give an ad hoc lecture on some trivial subject. He or she (from here on only “he”) is almost like a walking encyclopedia, whose main purpose is not so much to generate new knowledge, but to manage already existing knowledge.

Knowledge is his source of power. That’s why he prefers to keep his clearance from the crowd he’s communicating to, enforcing the power distance between the ones who do the talking and the ones who do the listening. Many times he is not really into dialogues because the value of his professionalism is partly measured in his ability to portrait himself as somewhat infallible. That’s why the most respected experts are sometimes referred to as gurus, that are masters of sacred knowledge. Bit like priests.

Yes, it’s been about knowledge. How well experts are capable of expressing themselves by writing or speaking is less important than the sheer amount of knowledge accumulated by meticulous studying and experience. After all, encyclopedias are supposed to be boring.

From this shit…

…To this shit roughly in a century

These experts of Enlightenment had their golden age. In wine it was very late, starting in the 1970’s (when mass markets for wine gained momentum in the USA) and peaking in the 90’s. But it has now ended. You see, something crucial happened. Internet saw day light.

When Internet began to show first dawning signs of maturity, the cloud emerged and Google works as a bridge to it. With no need for knowing all the books by heart, a random person with a portable device can look for even the smallest detail and find it. You still need the big picture but all the details are starting to be available for anyone, anywhere, anytime. Information has become the air we breathe and since we don’t usually think about the undeniable significance of air while we are doing it, its value goes into inflation. That’s why nobody wants to pay for news anymore these days. The uninterrupted stream of information is taken for granted.

As a result the keepers of knowledge are now amidst one of the biggest information revolutions mankind has witnessed (in my opinion proving to be even more important than the crucial invention of printing press). In the core of the change is the concept of knowledge turning ubiquitous. We are all on that roller coaster.

Yes, we know more shit than we used to

Since the changes in culture tend to follow technology with a substantial lag, we seem to be in the middle of two eras, standing on a narrow bridge above a gorge. What does this mean in terms of the future of wine writing?

Before the ongoing information breach started it was both necessary and sufficient requisition for someone claiming to be a wine expert to know world of wine thoroughly. These days general expertise is still necessary, but not alone sufficient. This is essential.

One answer to the task thrown by the structures in transition is to become a specialist, basically an old school expert owning a territory only a fraction of what the kings and the queens of the field used to rule with sovereignty. Expert on the wines of the Greek archipelago. Expert on emerging regions of Portugal. Expert on cold climate wines of Southern America. Expert on natural wines.

This information shit is addictive, need another fix

Even if you are one of the respected MW’s but with no specific area of ​​expertise, when it comes to wine communication, you might soon find yourself playing in the loosing team. Why? Because even if you spent a hundred years learning the details of different wine areas, a passionate wine pro born to a certain viticulture village will most probably know more about the local wines than you’ll ever do. Most importantly, the quality of information he can tap into will  be more dense, relevant and valuable to most followers than something learned mostly from books with a certain general view on the topic. And if you’re missing the mark, he will let you and the world know about it instantly. It’s a competition and a single person can’t beat someone born to it empowered by efficient communication, not to even mention a community tapping on crowd intelligence. You just can’t win that match.

If you want to continue to be a generalist wine communicator in the future, you should have a dimension in your work that cannot be reduced back to mere knowledge. Such as excellent skills in writing or speaking, a charming appearance, the ability to entertain, a vision clearer than most or the ability to combine different spheres of intelligence into one. Something that sets you apart from the others that have similar access to the data in the cloud. To put it simply, if you needed to be good before, you now have to be brilliant.

Technology’s making many things easier. That’s why we invest in it. It’s not exaggeration to expect that in fifteen years technology will assist pretty much anyone with a high school diploma to produce flawless text in a similar way the GPS is helping us find our way today (if your inner compass is as broken as mine). In fact I’m already utilizing this kind of technology by resorting to several online dictionaries while writing this. MS Word helpfully corrects some of my misspellings automatically and WordPress hopefully the rest.

The age of  general expert with no exceptional talent is coming to an end. Enter the long tail. Enter the rise of the rest.

But even the specialist has to adjust himself to the new world even within his field. Mere broadcasting is no longer considered enough by audiences. People want insight, well formulated arguments and informative opinions. Describing has to be enhanced with active and ongoing interpretation. That’s why traditional illusory objectivity as a paradigm is in the decline and making room for sophisticated subjectivity. No longer can an expert justify hiding behind technocratic objectivity in matters of great importance. You need to have an opinion about things that fall on the field of your expertise and you can’t withhold it like a keeper. You need to spit it out and take a stance. Sounds self explanatory but has been far from it the past decades.

This shit you expected didn’t you?

What I’ve described above happened to the uomo universales, the polymath geniuses of Medieval times, preceding the Age of Enlightenment in their scientific ethos, but failing to make the leap to the new era of incremental complexity. They flourished in a world that was not too fragmented and complex for a single person to absorb and master whole areas of expertise. Their disappearance took a hundred years to happen. I promise you this one will take significantly less. The question is: are you willing to jump? Take a look at the picture of the jumping man in the beginning of this post. If I’m not mistaken, you now understand it in a completely new way.

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Sacred juice

“Puritanism: strictness and austerity especially in matters of religion or conduct”
– Merriam-Webster

The favorite one liner wine professional like to do is the ‘wine’s just a beverage, a simple agricultural product’ mantra trying to make wine easier for people intimidated by the number of crus within a radius of kilometer in Côte de Beaune. I’ve used that catch phrase more than my share. But as it happens, if you put emphasis on the history, wine’s not just an ordinary beverage. Though certainly mostly used for everyday consumption, it’s been utilized for religious purposes for quite some time. Its ties with things considered sacred are tight as a knot.

Fancy talking about wine in slow-mo? This writer of Gilgamesh did

We need to rewind couple of thousands of years back to see the big picture. Though the initial connection of wine and religion is very much unclear for obvious reasons we do know that when primitive religions gradually evolved into monotheistic redemption religions with scriptures, wine already played an important role in them.

In the first monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism, wine was used to put a friend of Zarathustra into trance that gave the fellow an epiphany where he saw himself ascending to heaven. Pretty celestial stuff.

Wine is also present in Quran how counter intuitive it may sound. All fairness it’s not completely clear whether the wine described in the texts had alcohol in it or not (that’s at least the favorite argument of mullahs) but the Quran does state, however, that there’s a river of wine flowing through the paradise so one could argue Allah knows a thing or two about the good stuff.

In the texts of old testament shared with Jews and Christians wine is all over the place with quite a number of examples. In the new testament one of the key miracles includes turning water into wine at a wedding making Jesus a winemaker. Wine played also an important role in the last supper on which Jesus went symbolically cannibal with his followers. The story doesn’t tell whether Judas enjoyed his wine turned blood turned wine more than the others.

So as Eurasian commodity wine is pretty much part of all the religions of the region. But what I find particularly interesting is the thought that maybe it’s not just about wine playing its part in religion but also religion playing its part in wine thanks to their intertwined history. This is where it gets interesting.

Fancy giving your paleo-pal a sip of something?

Anthropologists claim that in the early forms of religion there was no concept of sin the way we know it today. The notion of sin was coined later to support the notions of heaven, hell, redemption, omnipotent benevolent god and all that stuff invented after the high civilizations were build stone by stone.

Back in the good old paleo-days it wasn’t good versus evil in our minds or in the world. It was about sacred pitted against profane not virtue against sin. In those times purity equaled sanctity and profane equaled corruption of sanctity brought to you with an element of abomination to make it stick. You didn’t want to piss off the forces greater than yourself and you tried to avoid it with superstitious bans and rules very much fixated on the DO’s and DON’T’s governing the dangerous border between sacred and profane.

To get rid of the abhorrent contaminating corruption in ourselves and around us, we’ve used rituals of many sorts, magic, prayers and sacrifices (burning cattle. Or burning people. Especially dead ones. Sometimes not so dead). We still recognize the intuitive need to repel corrupt elements by taking action and to resort to black and white thinking while doing it.

If you’re like myself, non-religious scientifically minded person, you sort of think you’re vaccinated against all sort of spiritual fuss. Think again. Here’s why. Sometimes we, as wine drinkers, make wines the vessels of our spirituality without even recognizing it ourselves.

Fancy some corruption? Hieronymus did

Interestingly enough, purity is the thing many of us seriously dedicated to wine are looking for in the glass. We are looking for the pure expression of terroir or pure expression of variety. We see purity as an intrinsic value. This is especially true with natural wines that are in a paradoxical way undogmatic dogma of purity in themselves.

When a wine is seriously impressive, we may call its taste ethereal, surreal or even out of this world. If you’ve ever seen someone having his first sip of Romanée-Conti (with a tight history with Christian monks like the whole of Burgundy), you know what I’m talking about. The taste is just a part of the equation. The wines hierarchical position at the very top of the symbolic system makes the moment special (which also explains why fake bottles sometimes get these 99 scores from respected critics). The moment is so loaded with significance it becomes a ritual by its own right. Almost like searching for answers on eternal questions in the glass, the silent, almost fervent, moment of the first sip is the moment the prehistoric man inside reveals himself to us.

Turning it the other way around: as wine idolators(sic!) we shun the idea of someone using semi-synthetic products like Mega Purple to give the wine some artificial color. Wines manipulated with tannin enzymes or aroma enzymes strike us as wrongness of epic scale. Someone has contaminated the sacred of nature with corruption of men. That’s a profane abomination for you.

This is quite telling: sometimes if we don’t know what we’re dealing with but kind of like the wine, we get anxious because our palates are not good at giving answers to questions concerning metaphysics. Is it corrupt? If we learn the truth our relation to the bottle may change.

Fancy a tannic sacrebleu?

Why do we react like this? I believe there are relics within our thinking carrying the code of the primitive era, bit like tailbones of a cognitive sort. My makeshift theory goes that because purity is still closely connected to the concept of holy in these primitive parts of our brain, we tend to see pure things also examples of sanctity and that’s why great wines can sometimes provide an experience best described as spiritually uplifting. Easy.

From time to time we dislike things “endangering the typicité” not because we want to hang ourselves on to some point of time in history when they passed the laws governing how a wine style should be made because we don’t really think in our right state of mind that the people in the 50’s where infallible like the pope and we know the tradition has changed pretty much constantly. We are against change because we sense a rupture that may put purity at risk.

This is why we don’t have a problem with English using Champagne varieties or Napa doing Cab. In our mind there was a void before the somewhat dangerous by nature alien elements came and therefore there was nothing to be corrupted. This is also the reason why some arguments made against the use of international varieties in Chianti are deep down Tower of Babel arguments.

This is not to say that Chianti Classico 100% Sangiovese couldn’t in fact be better than one including Syrah. Absolutely it can be. And to be clear: this is neither a justification for spoofing wine with industrially produced chemical shortcuts meant to make things easier for the producers (in my opinion that shouldn’t happen without total transparency along with it, but oh boy).

So in the end, what is this rambling about? It’s about the point that sometimes stances we firmly take don’t have much to do with taste, ecology or morals. Sometimes they are just channeling paleolithic intuition within us. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that.

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The Hades of Parker


“A tragedy is a representation of an action that is whole, serious and of a certain magnitude. It has a beginning and middle and end. “ – Aristotle


If you are like me and find it interesting to follow the twists and turns of the so-called Murciagate I can assure you, we’re not alone. What I find most interesting, even above the essential question whether the abuse of status has been systematic or just a wrongdoing of a single person (or the evidence shown at Jim’s Loire a forgery) is not what most makes me tick. The incidents are not the most important thing for me, neither the people involved. For some reason it’s the story itself. The way it unfolds. While sipping my coffee this morning I realized that the very moment Parker released this statement Murciagate became not only a scandal but a Greek tragedy in its purest form.

The story of Murciagate has some archaic appeal to it, no doubt. As people we are drawn to stories and myths with such vigor. They work within the structures of culture interwoven in the texture so seamless that we don’t know whether we act in these structures or these structures more in us.

Let’s see what the good old Aristotle has to say about tragedy and read these real life events as a text. A tragedy obviously needs a plot but who’s the protagonist of this story? One might easily be inclined to think it was Mr. Pancho Campo, because he is undeniably in the core of events now unfolding. That, how ever, would be a mistake. Although Mr. Campo’s agency has been most vital for the plot to build up he’s not the protagonist of the story. In fact, the role of the villain falls on Mr. Campo.

Mr. Jay Miller isn’t the character either though it’s claimed Mr. Campo did the accused deeds in his name. In fact in this text, he’s only a vessel for the villain used to for many purposes. At the same time Mr. Miller might be seen as the false hero according to Vladimir Propp and a catalyst for a tragedy potentially of epic-scale.

The protagonist of the story is in fact Robert Parker himself. He was pulled in reluctant without a choice, drawn in from a distant location, just the way the protagonist should be. This is not the only thing that makes Parker a great main character, because as Aristotle put it:

The protagonist should be renowned and prosperous, so his change of fortune can be from good to bad.”

The protagonist’s has to conduct a hamartia, a tragic error of epic scale; a wrong doing which he carries out either by ignorance or mistake. If the protagonist is malign, sinister or evil, the play isn’t a true tragedy like this one. This part of the tragedy becomes self evident when you read Parker’s latest response on the evidence provided at Jim’s Loire.

“The change should come about as the result, not of vice, but of some great error or frailty in a character. That is hamartia.”


Hamartia
needs to be a mistake. Here it’s Parker’s dismissive and evasive attitude towards the evidence that has been laid out for the whole world to be weighted and measured. The unfortunate consequence of the chosen approach (that seems to be some kind of a version of the hedgehog defense) is that all the sudden without a warning the Wine Advocate empire and the honor of Mr. Parker is on the line, no more, no less. A whole legacy. All thanks to the deeds of others. Never the less, the stone has been cast and it has already broken the surface tension of the pond. The splashing sound’s been heard over long distances. By denying the very existence of the rock, you see the Greek tragedy growing to it’s full potential.

According to Aristotle, a tragedy must have a beginning, middle and an end, in order for the play to be complete. “The beginning, called the incentive moment, must start the cause-and-effect chain but not be dependent on anything outside the compass of the play. The middle, or climax, must be caused by earlier incidents and itself cause the incidents that follow it.”

We’ve now witnessed the first two acts of the play. The middle part’s climax was the exhibition of the evidence showing that more than one person has lied during the procedure and is now caught pretty much red handed (if the evidence isn’t fabricated). Like the bow of Artemis ready to go off, we are entering the third and final act. In this part the energy trapped in the climax has to be discharged, in a disastrous way for many characters of the play.

The play displayed in front of our eyes is staying true to Sophocles whom Aristotle had in mind when he wrote Poetics more than two thousand years ago. The story is the same but this time the implementation is done with ubiquitous technology in real time without a rehearsal. It’s something quite likely never seen before in the history of play.

“The end of the tragedy is a catharsis of the tragic emotions of pity and fear. Spectators are purged of their own emotions of pity and fear through their vicarious participation in the drama.”

We, as the audience, go on looking for the catharsis without knowing how the story will end and what will happen to the involuntary protagonist. We know that the divine intervention, the deus ex machina, the enemy of a Greek tragedy, won’t likely happen, and at the same time we understand that tragedy isn’t a tragedy if it ends like a comedy. We need to see how it ends.

We need the catharsis because the plot has tied our emotions as the audience in to the play and the knot has to be opened. And it will be.

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