August 10, 2011 | He Said, She Said | REX HILL

California Pinot Noir is like…

He Said...
- Mike Willison

Largely becoming irrelevant. Don't get me wrong, there are some ground breaking, supremely talented Pinot producers in California that have done a world of good for the grape the world over, but I believe it is overwhelmingly going to their heads.

Most importantly, California has become the home of a style of Pinot Noir that is becoming harder and harder to distinguish from varieties usually grown in the Rhone valley of France, a harsh and unforgiving climate reserved for heartier grapes. While I am all for wines to express a certain personality indicative of their provenance, winemaking style, regional enological methods or whatever, I find the dark, syrupy morass of monolithic, garish and flamboyant Pinots oozing from California to be a sure sign of the total flatlining of distinctiveness in wine.

I get that the mentality of "bigger is better" has its supporters and wine shops all around the US are littered with the platinum cards of score-seeking customers looking to "say they were there." I also know that getting a cab hungry nation to try something largely considered to be "feminine," "delicate," or "elegant" can be a bit challenging. I further know that being the kid in school who played by his own rules either made you a hero or an outcast depending on what all the cool kids thought. So, how is any of that different now? It isn't, except no one is really sure who the cool kids are so we all just continue to play our Huey Lewis cds and dance in the bedroom with a hairbrush instead of taking a risk for fear of having your pants pulled down at the big pep rally. A cool pair of underwear can make all the difference and right now most California Pinot producers are wearing something their mom's picked out for them.

It would be refreshing to see more than the few maverick Pinot producers in California step out and express themselves so that the needle skips off the record when they enter the room.


She Said...
- Carrie Kalscheuer

Unfortunately, that just isn't the case. On the global scale California Pinot Noir is as relevant today as it has always been. The reasons are simple: marketing, celebrity, and the American palate.

When the average Joe goes to the store and is confronted with 5 shelves of Pinot Noir, he's likely going to choose a wine based on things he knows rather than take a chance on something new. First, he'll choose based on name recognition. Has he heard of Dundee? Not likely. But Napa? Sure thing.

Things like price, bottle placement and even label design play a role, but I'd say the other most influential wine marketing tool is the ubiquitous score you mentioned. The wine world is intimidating. We all want to be experts, but really, how much do I have to study just to get a good bottle of wine to go with the spaghetti I'm making tonight? If someone else has taken the time to become an expert, and subsequently rates the wines for me, then heck, I'm off the hook. And no one considers who is churning out these scores. In reality, the taster has likely tasted upwards of 100 different wines in that day, so which stands out? The huge, fruity, alcoholic ones.  So, really, bigger is better, and until Americans start caring about 1-2 percentage points of alcohol (extremely unlikely), California Pinot Noir's corner on the market is here to stay.


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