Tasting with “wine tourists”

I just finished reading Alder Yarrow’s blog on the MOVI association in Chile. MOVI is a new association of independent winemakers – mostly small, several are “garagistas” – who are aggressively pushing the concept of truly indvidual wines in what’s often thought of (incorrectly!!) as the “bulk” or “factory” winery capital of the world.

This is one of the most important developments in Chile’s wine industry in the past 20 years, and promises a whole slew of exciting possibilities for the future. I believe I was the first to publish news of MOVI, in my South American report in the Sommelier Journal  last November, so I was pleased to see more journalists are aware of this exciting development.

Anyway, I wanted to highlight this comment that was posted on Alder’s blog:

” This is a welcome development. When I visited Chile a year ago I found it almost impossible to visit a winery that was not a visitor mill. There was no chance to talk to a wine maker or, really, to anyone who knew anything about wine other than what they’d been trained as part of the tour guide training. My favorite was the mandatory tour at Vina de Concho y Toro factory winery. They tell you the tale of Cassilero de Diabolo, a spirit that may haunt the wine cellars. Then they take you into the cellars and suddenly click off the lights so that you can see the red glow of el Diabolo himself!”

THIS is why I bring people to vineyards, and why the small number of people who come with me do so, instead of going with “real” tour companies. This is also why I need to continue to bring my customers into direct contact with winemakers, and why I continue to push for “special” attention (and insist on not making my clients pay exorbitant tourist tasting fees) when I visit. My customers are not tourists. They’re serious wine connoisseurs, and from a winemaker’s point of view, should be THE most important people they receive at their wineries. Travelling 8,000 miles or more on their own dime, solely to come and learn about a region’s wines, is evidence enough of their dedication – and sufficient investment in their self-education without being asked to pay to learn when they get there.

So, when I arrange tastings for magazine articles, like the ones I’m planning on my next trip to Chile and Argentina in early March, I include my guests. I take my own notes, and I also get theirs. I keep them separate, for 2 reasons. Firstly, I believe that a single palate is a more useful tool to the consumer than a panel (which is better for a competition where you’re looking for a ranking amongst the widest possible range of expert palates) since the reader can get to know the personality and taste of the writer and, whether they concur or not, can use that as a benchmark to get real information about the wine. Secondly, I like to get the group’s impression from a consumer’s point of view, rather than a professional’s. They’re the ones who’ll be going to the store (especially the ladies) to buy the wines, and their perspective is what counts if you really care about your customer, rather than the number of points you get in some magazine.

If you’ve ever talked to me, you’ll know that I hate the points system in wine reviews (except for competitions, where it’s of course the only way to rank) as I don’t believe it gives real information or guidance about the wine or what to do with it. If my editor lets me, I try to use both my own single-palate notes and my group’s notes in my reports, though often I have to compromise, but I try to intelligently interpret the group’s opinions to give a consumer-useful commentary. So my published notes are my own, but usually with either supplementary and separate notes from my guests, or generalized comments from the amalgam of their notes.

So anyway, that’s not meant to be a rant, but really an explanation of why I feel that including my guests  adds an important dimension to my tasting and reporting. I’m possibly the only wine writer who has real in-depth experience (17 years now) of visiting and tasting from a consumer’s point of view, rather than living in the ethereal world of the “wine writer” superstar…

Thanks for listening!

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