The Illogic of the Ancients

Ah, I remember a time when wine blogging was new on the face of the earth, full of enthusiasm and the heady rush of youth. A time when it bore the full brunt of disdain and contempt from the so called “traditional” wine writers and journalists who looked at the blogosphere from their lofty perches of experience and saw only drivel. Dangerous drivel at that, for these blatherings of bloggers were free for the taking and inexplicably appealing to so many young wine drinkers.

Luckily we’ve moved on from that era. Many of the most vocal opponents of the new wave of wine journalism were the first casualties of the underlying systemic shifts that gave rise to the era of the blog. The last ten years were not a good time to have your income depend solely upon editorial or journalistic wine writing.

Now, of course almost every professional wine writer left working in the English language has a blog, regardless of whether they are dyed-in-the-wool, old-school wine stringers, or part of the new guard born of the digital revolution.

All of which makes it so much stranger to hear the occasional strangled, solitary voice in the wilderness railing against “those wine bloggers.” But wine writer Dan Berger seems proud to bear the standard for the confused and curmudgeonly among the “old school” of wine writing.

Those who know Berger would never be surprised to hear him voicing strong, perhaps even slightly belligerent opinions. He’s never come up short in that department.

Still, you’d hope that a guy with that much writing experience under his belt could tease out a little subtlety from his prose rather than take the easy way out and throw the pronoun “bloggers” around like it actually meant something. In his recent column for the Napa Valley Register, Dan continues the grand tradition of tarring wine bloggers with a single color brush, flippantly suggesting that wine bloggers learned how to describe wine while watching Beverly Hills 90210. OMG, indeed.

It’s not that Berger’s throw-away line has no basis in reality. I’ll be the first to admit there’s a lot of crappy writing on blogs of any subject. But haven’t we really moved past the point where journalists can use “blogger” as a pejorative? Apparently not. You’d think Berger had been reading Robert Parker’s handbook for media relations.

Now if most journalists have by now realized the idiocy of speaking and thinking of “bloggers” as a categorical, monolithic group, so too have most serious wine bloggers gotten past the point of being truly sensitive to the occasional flagrant rant by a journalist about the ambiguous ethics, lousy writing, or lack of wine knowledge possessed by said wine bloggers.

Consequently, I’d have easily given Berger a pass for his recent comments, as I have the last two times he categorically impugned wine bloggers.

But this same column also contained two mind-bogglingly ridiculous statements that he immediately nominated himself for the subject of this rant (which I promise will be over soon).

Actually, one of these two things was an absence rather than a prominence. Though the column Berger wrote was ostensibly about wine language, he found a few paragraphs in the middle ripe with the opportunity to praise wine competitions and their noble judges. These august institutions, he goes on to suggest, cut through the noise and the hype to award those whose wines do not cost $150 or more with the attention they deserve, thereby turning consumers on to wines of true value.

Berger clinches his piece by proclaiming that to him, “the most important chatter about a wine is what the judges at a wine competition think about it.”

And nowhere in this article is there anything remotely resembling a disclaimer that Berger makes a substantial portion (my speculation) of his wine-related income running two large wine competitions (the Riverside International Wine Competition and the Long Beach Grand Cru) and serving as a judge for several others.

I find that just the tiniest bit shocking, given Berger’s principled stance on most issues.

But the real shocker in this article was the baldfaced declaration that Berger believes the sales volume of a wine directly correlates to its quality. To wit:

“Barefoot, part of the giant E&J Gallo organization, has gotten better and better over the decades. The company wouldn’t be selling millions of cases of this stuff if it wasn’t exceptionally fine.”

If like me, you happened to spew wine out of your nose when you read that, now would be the time to clean it up. This statement, of course, is the oenological equivalent of suggesting that McDonald’s sales numbers prove they serve exceptionally fine hamburgers.

Now I’ve got nothing against McDonald’s or Barefoot in principle. They both serve a very important market need. People want cheap burgers and they want cheap wine, and our economy knows how to deliver in those departments.

But that doesn’t mean their products are high quality. The idea that sales volume correlates to quality is laughable in most consumer arenas, but especially so in wine.

But let’s get personal about this. For years, Barefoot has been sending me their current release wines. And while it’s been a few months since I’ve gotten a box of them, I’ve been dutifully tasting them every time they have arrived.

Before you ask, no, I haven’t tasted them blind against other wines in their categories, so be advised, what follows is my horribly suspect, subjective and highly unscientific personal opinion.

No single brand of wine is more statistically likely to earn my coveted DNPIM rating. That’s right, not only are my scores for Barefoot wines among the lowest I record for any of the thousands of wines I taste each year, but many of the tasting notes I write for these wines include the phrase: Do Not Put In Mouth. They are so bad that I won’t even give the opened bottles to my neighbors, which is what I often do with the wine samples I’ve opened on any given evening.

I don’t normally go in for bashing wines for three reasons. They change every year, the wines can get better but nasty reviews live forever thanks to Google, and other than the snarky, most people don’t want to read what not to drink, they want to know what they should drink.

But sometimes there’s a point to be made. So there you have it.

But what is there to be done with Mr. Dan Berger? I’ve clearly succumbed to the temptation of being reactionary. But now that I’ve gotten it out of my system, perhaps the more appropriate tack would be to merely smile and nod, and help the poor guy carry the lunch tray back to his seat next to Mrs. Robinson.

Photo of “handsome journalist writing with typewriter” courtesy of Bigstock.