in defense of terse [wine] communication

This old article by Jamie Goode, happily republished in The Science of Wine, discusses a few factors worth considering while we, as lay consumers or educated insiders, sip our wines and flip through the latest point spread of our favourite wine rag. On first reading, my gut reaction was to hold up the piece in triumph, to happily proclaim that we should finally be free of the shackles of overzealous, Tolstoy-inspired reviews that take up half a page. After all, here are actual Doctors who've spent decades specialising on areas of the body that could fit in the palm of a hand. It's a hard thing, trying to step down from a soap box so happily placed in front of you. However, there is information not included or addressed by Goode.

There's no mention, for example, of considering the changes that take place in a wine as it oxidises in the glass. If any human can only identify up to four distinct odours, be they single molecules or combinations thereof, at what point does the evolution of the oxidising wine reset this small value? If I've returned to the same wine every 5 minutes for the past 30 minutes, am I, as to me the article suggests, simply a victim of my own free-association? Am I imagining that the wine's nose went from tar and sage to leather and blacker fruits? Or, perhaps my olfactory epithelium has been desensitised to the more prominent aromas, which leaves me free to "look" at other components previously overwhelmed, held under the blanket by Tar while Sage gave them a few lumps.

As well, how does this one, surprisingly low, number apply so evenly across three different genetic groups? If it appears that super-tasters may have greater taste and retronasal abilities (thresholds?), it seems out of place that they should be confined to this same average ability. Of thresholds, do these three groups also display differing thresholds of perception and identification beyond bitterness, or are their distinctions limited more to levels of intensity? If a friend is a super-taster and I'm a medium-taster, will they taste the whole jar of strawberry jam while I get only a lick at the jam spoon? Perhaps it's more accurate to suggest that they taste the jar in all its strawberry glory, while I fuddle around with a flavour I can only describe as "cooked fruit".

The research Goode has done is tremendous, as he demonstrates just how little we know about wine and our interaction with it. I have a lot of respect for what work of his I've read (his Wine Bottle Closures is in the reading queue beside my bed), and on a personal level I agree with the closing question posed by his article. I too think there's much overuse of flowery and, worse, imprecise language used to describe wines - please, if anyone out there can define good acidity to me, I'd be eternally grateful. Likewise, wouldn't it be more useful to see a tasting note that clearly addressed levels of acidity, alcohol, and tannin structure rather than being preoccupied with whether the berry character is raspberry, blackberry, or loganberry?

That debate I doubt will ever fade, but in the meantime, I'm happy to keep reading. Doing so provides a chance to examine my own assumptions, experiences, and conclusions, and I find myself less likely to cling madly to an idea when it's challenged. That's a comforting feeling.


riesling means everything

If you're one of the three original publishers of this piece, please know, I'm a big fan... and that this post was inspired by half bottles of Selbach-Oster 2003 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Spatlese and 2006 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Auslese. Yummmmmmm.

Taken from "Riesling Manifesto" without permission:

If we consider it futile, and if we don't waste our time over a word that means everything...the first thought that comes is of an enological order - at least to discover its ampelographical, historical, or psychological meaning. We read in the wine-papers that the Germans of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer call the tale of a sacred vine: RIESLING. A masked sheep cubist, and his mother-vine in a certain region of Alsace is also called: RIESLING. The word for roaming Rhine Ranger's bobby horse is also RIESLING. Some learned journalists see it as an art for Babes, other Galetcallingthehybridsuntohim saints see it as a return to an emotional noble varietal primacy. We are compelling anyone who follows us, because everyone makes wine in their own way, if he knows anything about the joy that rises up like a CO2 bubble to the stony rooftops. The RIESLING ASYLUM was born, out of a need for independance, out of mistrust for the hegemony of the cabo-chardocentric paradigm. People who join us keep their pocket protectors. We don't accept any tannin-mongering. Do we make wine in order to earn money and keep the dear bourgeoiste happy? Besides, what else can one serve with soluble fish?

Here we are dipping our wine-thief into fermenting vessels. Here we really know what we are talking about, because we have experienced the revelations of acidity. Drunk with energy, we are homecoming trusting the sawblable into heedless oak chips. We are streams of blessings in the tropical abundance of esters and vertiginous plantings. Rain is our sweat, we bleed and burn with thirst, our blood is wine. We are always looking at the world with newborn eyes, turning over a fresh slate.
Chardonnay was born out of a simple manner of looking at objects :
Charlemagne planted a vine twenty times lowlier than Riesling. The Colonies looked at it from above, and complicate its appearance by shameful marketing dollars. The New Winemaker protests: he no longer makes wine, but creates directly from the cellar structures capable of being spun and spun in centrifuge by the limpid wind of the momentary sensation even if it is a sickly-sweet monster to adorn the sad fable of humanity.
The way people have of hurriedly looking at things from the opposite point of view, so as to impose their opinions indirectly, is called Parker.

- Randall Grahm "Riesling Manifesto" 1999

work yourself up and circulate lees

Wine folk can be an odd assortment, and in my experience rarely boring. Take Randall Grahm, of Santa Cruz winery Bonny Doon Vineyard, for example - the man's comments just keep me coming back for more. I'd love to meet him one day, Herr Randall Riesling Grahm.


timing is everything

As it turns out, moving to New Zealand for a period of time longer than 6-12 months is a fairly involved process. Who knew? A student visa, for example, is fine for 6-12 months (provided you can prove your studies will take up to that amount of time), but if the program you want to complete takes longer than 1 year, which mine does, there are one or two extra hoops to jump through.

First off, there are the medical examinations. Each applicant has to arrange for a doctor to give them a thorough inspection, and then head to a lab for chest x-rays which will hopefully prove a complete lack of tuberculosis. At around the same time, there are criminal records checks [for civil purposes] which certify that the migrant is of good character. As of the time of this post, the RCMP website claims that these checks are taking upwards of 120 days to complete.

So, "what's the problem?", you may ask. Well, there are stale dates imposed by NZ on each of these pieces of paper, and they differ. Your medical certificate must be no more than 3 months old at the time of application, while the police certificate must be no more than 6 months old come application time. It's not a big deal, really, to get these things timed properly but a bit of planning is needed.

While I'm feeling impatient about getting over there and getting on with life, there are moments where it feels good to have more time to digest this stuff.


the rough list

More for my own needs, possibly with the side effect of boring away any potential readership, I'm posting this list of things I think are important:

Make a budget, and make it realistic. Set regular, real goals which are quantitative.

- Save money. Lots and lots of money. International Student fees are generally astronomical. Fortunately, rent in NZ is less than half of what I pay here. Unfortunately, I can eat for 2 days up here for what a kilo of tomatoes costs down there.

Talk to more banks and credit unions about student lines of credit, Canada's Lifelong Learning Plan and whether it applies to overseas study, and gather/absorb any other financial information.

- Talk to Canada Student Loans about eligibility for international loans as a mature student.

- Possible stumbling block: CSL will not be offered for an international program which is comparable to a degree offered in Canada, and Brock has just that. I ain't living in Niagara for 4 years.

- Get a Canadian passport, which shouldn't be difficult seeing as I've had one before.

- Convince Lincoln University to accept me.

- Spend the remaining time learning, learning, learning. Find local soil science courses, talk to friends in wineries about visits, anything to gain experience and insight. Its been a hell of a long time since I sat in a classroom, so it's probably a good idea to learn the lifestyle before meeting culture-shock and isolation on the other side of the globe.


an introduction


I'm One Guy and welcome to my blog. If you've stumbled across this post from somewhere, and aren't finding any content more recent, it likely means you're far more net-savvy than I. This is why I have a blogger.com blog, made from a stock template which has been oh-so cleverly tweaked to meet my wants (note the red hyperlinks!), whereas you may well own a collection of domain names, many of which aren't in use but are kept around for sentimental purposes.

Back to me. I've been working in, around, or with wine for a little over 5 years now and frankly, I love the stuff. It hasn't always been this way, but it's a place I've grown into and it fits me well. I've worked a variety of jobs that have involved wine; everything from being a busboy to restaurant manager, importer, agent, retailer and educator. The problem is that they've always just been jobs, even the ones I really love (like the work I do now). Jobs were always a means to an end, except the end itself was never really considered in that process. I'm not content to work just jobs anymore, meandering along with a loose sense of connection to life without having a particular path in mind. Being able to look back on my life and see something that I've created is growing increasingly important for me, and so, changes are afoot! Big changes!

This blog is about me, One Guy, selling off most of his possessions, taking out massive loans, and moving to New Zealand to study winegrowing. They call it winemaking, but we all know better - I would never claim to be a yeast culture!