Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hoage rewrite #1: The question story

Terry Hoage
A former pro football player tackled me with the toughest question I've faced in wine this year.

Terry Hoage played defensive back in the NFL for 13 seasons; now he's a farmer and winemaker in Paso Robles.

Sitting next to Hoage, even in a nice restaurant, is like facing a blitz. He wears grubby clothes from harvest and won't take polite demurrals for an answer.

I was yakking about the natural wine movement, which hasn't made a lot of headway in Paso Robles. I don't remember what I was saying people should try -- biodynamic farming, dry farming, wild yeast; it doesn't really matter.

Hoage's question was this:

"If you like a wine, is there anything you could learn about it that would make you not like it anymore?"

It's a fantastic question.

If I like a wine already, I guess I don't care what was done to it in the winery.

That means that if the wine tastes good -- keeping in mind that my "tastes good" isn't the same as Jay Miller's -- and I later find out it was treated with oak chips, reverse osmosis, fining with fish bladders, or even (sigh) blending with unlisted varietals (hello, Pinot/Syrah), I forfeit my right to complain once I give it the thumbs-up.

I might not buy such a wine, if I know that stuff beforehand. But once it's in my glass, and I like it, I'm not going to unlike it. That would be hypocritical.

However, there is a whole category of stuff I could learn about a wine that would make me unlike it, and all of it has to do not with winemaking, but with farming.

If I learned a wine was made from vineyards heavily sprayed with herbicides and/or pesticides, I would unlike it.

If I learned the winery washed its chemical waste into a river, I would unlike it. If the winery abused its grape pickers, I would unlike it. (This could also apply in a winery but cases are rare.)

If a proprietor bulldozed pristine forest land to plant the vineyard, I might unlike it, depending on the story. And I confess, I'm enough of a wine geek that if I learned the winery grafted over 100-year-old vines of some native variety to, say, Chardonnay, I might just unlike it.

Here's a heavy implication. Writing about wine, I want as much accurate information as possible. But what if there's a story like this? The winery would be better off not telling me.

So what would you do if you first liked a wine, then found out that how it was made goes against what you believe in? You're a hypocrite one way or the other: either you forswear your palate, or your beliefs.

I told you it was a tough question. Terry Hoage still hits hard.

How would you answer it?


Mark Sinnott, Issaquah WA said...

Totally agree with what Jeff V said in his comment to the original post.

There has been lots of debate about wine 'styles' - big and juicy versus lean and mean, etc etc. I like many styles, so for me that is not really the burning question.

However, I do admit I would rather consume a wine - in whatever style - that is honestly made versus manipulated as if it were a bottle of Coca-Cola. Understood that all wines are 'produced', it just seems to me that if you can't rely on traditional methods to make wine, perhaps you are either in the wrong business, or trying to make the wrong juice in the wrong place.

Blake, I do find it interesting that you don't believe this would lead you to feel less about the wine, knowing that it is essentially an artificial product (versus something of the land). Your other (extensive) list of potential issues is interesting by comparison.

Anyway, I do believe that my sentiments are probably not all that rare, and this is exactly why winemakers who must resort to over-manipulation will never tell us all they do/add/subtract from the 'raw material' - they know it will kill their sales. They'll continue to 1) defend the practices because 'all wine making is manipulation' - as if every intervention was created equal, 2) say there is not enough bottle space to list the treatments/ added ingredients, and finally 3) claim no one cares anyway.

For anyone who cares, I am not in the business, just a passionate consumer with an addiction to wine blogs.


W. Blake Gray said...

Mark: You have changed my statement in an important way. I did NOT say I would not "feel less about a wine." I wrote that I would not disavow the fact that I liked it.

Almost all wine is an artificial product; that's why the "natural wine" movement is so powerful. But it's a very slippery slope as to what's OK or what's not. A hundred years ago there were no fruity white wines because nobody had refrigeration, for either fermentation or storage. Does that mean all fruity white wines are artificial?

Kent Benson said...

To me, there is a more interesting question, and one that I think few natural wine advocates would answer honestly: Are you more likely to praise a wine you know has been made with methods of which you approve, and conversely, are you more likely to pan a wine you know has been made with methods of which you disapprove?

I assert that natural wine lovers are utterly predisposed to hate anything that smacks of manipulation and adore virtually anything that doesn’t, irrespective of the actual level of sensual pleasure derived from each. Consequently, I place very little credence in the reviews of natural wine advocates.