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Spoof or Consequences

By Dave Buchanan
Late last night, as I was heading home after a couple hours of tasting some wines that carried the deep flavors of local dirt and the devotion of an honest winemaker, I thought back on a tasting I had participated in just about a year ago this week. I was with a small group of writers skirting through Napa and Sonoma, looking at some wineries a publicity agent had lined up for us, and on the second day we were at a fancy house just upstream from Oakville, smack in the middle of the Napa Valley where land might sell for $300,000 per acre, if anyone is selling. The owner (not the winemaker, although he pretended he was) still commuted regularly to his big-money job in the Bay Area. He left most of the winemaking to someone else, although he impressed us with the fact he had the final say on what went into the bottle. We tasted his wines, and they tasted like so many other over-blown California reds, blowsy and over-ripe and jammy with fruit that hung too long on the vine. Someone had added some designer tannins and bit of acid to balance the ripe fruit, an act that didn't go unnoticed by another writer, who nodded and winked when I whispered, "Spoofed." We asked the winery owner, who seemed so sincere in his desire to "let the vineyards speak" in his bottlings why he tinkered with so much new oak and special yeasts and maybe even something to lock in the color, and he shrugged and said, "That's what these wines need to be noticed." Later at dinner, a couple of bottles empty, he became more profusive and virtually admitted that "If we didn't do these things, we'd never get high marks" and the wines would languish on the shelves. And last night I finally figured out what that means: This guy was playing a vinous high-stakes version of the old game "Spoof or Consequences." If he didn't spoofilate his wines, the consequences are he'd never live in the fancy house with Italian marble floors and a century-old olive grove next to his bocce ball court. I guess since I've never lived in a house with marble floors I don't know what I'm missing. But I'd miss true, honest wine a lot more than I'd miss marble floors. I'd take the consequences of a wine that shows honest character and the convictions of the winemaker over one that is made to pay for a big house with marble floors.

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