Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bring on the depths of Wikipedia!

As I mentioned earlier there was an ongoing discussion at enobytes about the Old World vs. New World debate. Craig camp is the moderator and his statement is here. This is an interesting question for me because it deals not just with the merits of individual wines but with questions of wine culture, tradition and, I think most importantly, the role of the consumer in contemporary wine marketing and the role of global markets and trade in the production and discussion of wine. Craig’s main point is that European (Old World) winemakers make wine that is inherently tied to the food of their region and that European wine drinkers consume wine almost exclusively with food. While I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule I think he’s pretty much spot on. In the U.S. he points to wine consumption being increasingly popular as a cocktail alternative to liquor or beer and that winemakers who wish to be successful in this market must make wines that are “enjoyable” by themselves; big, soft fruit flavors softened even more with oak and low in acidity and/or tannin. Again, I think this is basically correct. But it leaves a lot of questions for me and that’s what I’d like to focus on. So here’s a list of thoughts that I hope to address in future posts.

1. What is the historical role of wine as commodity? Before the emergence of global trade was wine still often produced to be sold (bartered) or was it simply meant for consumption by the producers and their family or village? And was there always a food/wine connection? What about wine producing regions in Europe that aren’t part of the Mediterranean culture; Germany, Russia, Hungary etc.?

2. When Europeans began to trade globally did wine immediately enter into this or was it exported only for consumption by the traders? (The Madeira story comes into play here). What is the role or legacy of British wine trade and culture in the U.S.?

3. What’s the real story in the exportation of vitas vinifera vines to the New World? What about the indigenous vines of America?

4. Craig mentions that 30 years ago or so wines in California were hard to distinguish from European ones. Is this true? Or was there already a natural occurrence of more fruit flavors and less structure and was this what led to events such as the Judgment of Paris and the rise of critics like Parker? This is a chicken vs. the egg question but still an interesting one.

5. This discussion often focuses on the U.S. consumer and their palate vs. the European one and how winemakers cater or don’t cater to this. But what about other wine producing regions? What are the wine cultures of Argentina, Chile, Australia, South Africa or even Canada like? We know that what these places export here falls almost exclusively into the cocktail wine category, but what about what is made and consumed in their own backyards?

6. When Hugh Johnson coined the Old World/New World phraseology was he identifying clearly noticeable differences in approach and style or was he simply engaging in a bit of British/European wine colonialism?

Clearly all of this will take some research so any help or suggestions or tips on good references will be greatly appreciated. I’m limited in time and money so I’ll be relying heavily on the old internet and the few encyclopedias and wine books I have lying around. But a trip to the library may be necessary at some point. Sorry if this seems tedious and uninteresting, I’ll try to use as much brevity as possible and break up posts with more entertaining ones on occasion. If you find these questions to be a bit juvenile because you already know the answers feel free to clue me in or just move on to another blog. But I’m interested in this and I think it’s a good summer project. If anyone knows someone or some school who wants to give me money to do this as a PHD dissertation please let me know.


enobytes said...

I think you bring up some good questions. I’d like to add them to our list of “Vino Exchange” upcoming topics; we have many great industry professionals lined up to discuss various subjects and I would encourage participation!

Here is a link to our upcoming topics:

Pamela @ enobytes

Beau Rapier said...

Thanks Pamela, I'll check it out and get over my phobia of online discussion boards just like I got over my fear of blogging.

enobytes said...

We'd love your two cents on many of the upcoming subjects so please feel free to stop by – everyone is friendly on the forum and we have members that vary from newbie's to professionals. Stop by – it'll be fun and you can rely on a few of our pro's to answer some of your questions rather than having to do all the research yourself :)

I'll let you decide if you want to add your questions to our forum. I think they are worth visiting, and if you prefer I would be happy to simply add them to our list.


Beau Rapier said...

Sure, you can add any or all of them to the list. I'd be honored and I'll definitely navigate my way over to participate. Cheers.

Christy said...

I'm going to chime in on Q5, with regards to Australia. If you look at the wine that's imported to the US, the vast majority of it, probably around 95% is from South Australia, with a huge amount actually coming from the even larger South East Australian area. At the higher end, you'll often see Barossa or Mclaren Vale which are sub-regions of , you got it, South Australia.

We rarely see the wine from the Yarra Valley, Heathcote, Margaret River, Hunter and Clare Valley, Coonawarra – regions with expressive styles that are vastly different from the Parker wines that Oz made its rep on stateside. But since we don't get many of these wines over here, it's not a big surprise that most American's think a country the same size ours can only produce one style of wine.

If you're really interested in understanding what wines are important in specific local markets, pick up a wine guide from the top critics within those markets - James Halliday in Australia, John Platter in South Africa. As a retailer, I find it a good way to stay on top of what's new and interesting and different - even if it doesn't fit with the stereotypical vision of what a given market should be producing. In terms of your project, it will give you some insight into the drinking culture of these various markets.


Beau Rapier said...

Thanks for all the info. Christy. I'll definitely check out those wine critics. I'm sure it's true that what Australia exports is not exactly the same as what they keep at home. But at some level they have to work within the confines of their geography and geology; I've had wines from some of the lesser known areas you mentioned and though they had some individuality they were still well inside the umbrella of big, international style wines. I'd love to taste a lean, low alcohol wine from AUS that had no oak, bright fruit, little color or extraction and crisp acidity or structured tannin. But if they only exist there then it may be awhile.

Maybe you can help me w/ the question of wine drinking culture there. And I certainly don't mean to lump AUS and the other New World producers into one monopole, but I'm just playing the game as defined by the old school critics. Part of the project is to determine if they're rules are still appropriate today. Cheers.